Gunter Grass, celebrated German novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, sculptor and commentator, is a living legend. When this Nobel laureate speaks, people listen.
His address in Berlin to the annual Congress of International PEN, the worldwide organization of writers, had been much anticipated, especially given his long admonition to intellectuals to speak up on the political and moral issues of the day.
He himself has done so all his life, most famously against the Nazi past and contemporary neo-Nazism and xenophobia. He has not always been right, of course, having opposed post-Cold War German unification.
Grass, at 78 still spry and energetic, quickly gets into his topic, "The hubris of the world's only superpower," and proceeds to offer a sweeping critique.
His words find resonance among the writers gathered here, including another Nobel laureate, South African novelist Nadine Gordimer.
"Armed force is used by this superpower to defeat the terrorism it is itself responsible for," Grass says, citing Osama bin Laden, the by-product of American support for Afghan jihadists in the 1980s. "The war (on Iraq), deliberately started in blatant disdain of the laws of civilized societies, produces still more terror."
Yet George W. Bush is searching for new enemies and targets.
"Dictatorships, and there are plenty to choose from, are referred to as rogue states and threatened vociferously with military strikes, including the deployment of nuclear weapons. But it only further stabilizes the fundamentalist power systems in those countries.
"Whether the term `axis of evil' is used to refer to Iran or North Korea or Syria, politics could not be more stupid and hence more dangerous. Yet the entire world is watching and pretending to be powerless."
Grass quotes liberally from the blistering speech given last year by British playwright Harold Pinter in accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature: "The United States supported and, in many cases, engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world after World War II -- Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador and, of course, Chile ...
"Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place in those countries ... but you wouldn't know it. The crimes of the U.S. have been systematic, constant, vicious, and remorseless but very few people have actually talked about them.
"You have to hand it to America. It has exercised quite a clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's brilliant, even witty, a highly successful act of hypnosis. How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?"
Having cited Pinter, Grass adds his own condemnation of "the hypocritical method of keeping the body count" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Although we meticulously keep count of the victims of terror attacks -- terrible though their number is -- nobody bothers to count the dead caused by American bombs or rocket attacks."
The death toll from America's "three Gulf Wars," as he called it -- "the first one having been fought by Saddam Hussein against Iran, with support from the United States" -- runs into hundreds of thousands.
"In Western evaluation, not only are there first-, second- or third class citizens among the living, but also among the dead."
As for Bush and Tony Blair, he says, "whenever their lies lack persuasive power, they put God into harness. Hypocrisy is written all over their faces. They are like the priests and missionaries of old who used to bless weapons and carry death with their Bibles into distant countries."
The enormity of U.S.-initiated death, destruction and torture, places a burden on the citizens of democracy to be more vigilant: "Who wanted this war? What are the lies that have disguised its true purpose? Who profits from it? Whose shares go up because of it?"
In a post-speech interview, I ask Grass about governments ignoring the electorate between elections, as those did in Britain, Italy and Spain, which joined the war on Iraq despite overwhelming public opposition.
"In the last 10 years, lobbies have become stronger than the government, in the U.S. and other democracies," Grass responds. "They cannot change policy, for example, on health without the pharmaceutical industry, or farming policy without the farm groups. Lobbies are too powerful," the most powerful being the ones wanting war.
Even though Germany resisted the Iraq war, there has been a change of atmosphere since the election of a conservative government (just like in Canada).
"There are voices in this country saying, `the U.S. is our ally, we have to stand by it, we have to do this and we have to do that for it.
"I hope it will not develop like that in Canada," Grass says.