Today I’m sharing my review of a book that’s not new but has new significance for our understanding of geopolitical realities unfolding in Europe today.
CIRCLE IN THE DARKNESS: Memoir of a World Watcher
by Diana Johnstone Clarity Press, 2020
With German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock cheerleading the proxy war in Ukraine and telling reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin had better make a 360 degree turn or else, many of us wonder what happened to turn Green Party members in Europe toward supporting NATO’s wars. Now that I’ve read this rich memoir by Diana Johnstone, former press secretary for the Green Group in the European Parliament that preceded the EU, I can see how it happened. And probably why.
Johnstone’s story starts long before the current three party coalition government took power in Germany. When she found herself a divorced single mother in an era when the history department of her state university declared that they didn’t “give teaching positions to women,” she switched disciplines, moved to France, and still found time to join the vibrant expatriate antiwar movement of the Vietnam era. A self-described “timid militant,” Johnstone found herself studying French literature for a Ph.D. and French colonialism in “Indochina” for her own edification.
It wasn’t long before she found her true path: journalism. Reflecting on the conditions she describes for reporters in the mid 20th century compared with today’s harsh, even fatal consequences for authentic reporting shows how profoundly things have changed. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh once received a Pulitzer prize and was published in major outlets eager to share his exposé of events like the My Lai massacre coverup. He’s now spurned by his former publishers and must self-publish in order to report on “How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline.” Johnstone’s long career straddled this divide.
She identifies the moment when the Green Group in Europe lost its soul as occurring in 1995 during NATO’s war to break up the former Yugoslavia. “Something grave..happened to the Greens. They..allowed mass media choice of star personalities to determine a major policy issue.” As mainstream media today continues its shift toward infotainment requiring colorful personalities to cover in lieu of challenging government officials, her experiences seem prescient. A legion of photogenic performers like Foreign Minister Baerbock continue to entertain while the real decisions affecting the fate of the world are made in secret, deep behind the façade of elected personalities.
A quote from Albert Einstein serves as Johnston’s epigram and the source of her title: “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.” Today, the circumference of darkness is ever widening; in Eurasia with proliferating nuclear weapons, and globally as war moves into outer space, darkness threatens to engulf us.