Saturday, January 21, 2017

Germany, I Owe You an Apology



I really, really, really never thought I'd say this: I owe the German people an apology.

I was about five years old. I was sitting on the couch in the living room with my brother Greg. We were wearing our matching nightgowns that my mother had sewn. They were bright red, bell-shaped, with bell-shaped sleeves. Mommy had originally made them as the angel costumes for a Christmas pageant. Greg and I were engaged in innocent play. Hard to believe, given how distant we became as adults, that we used to be each others' default playmate.

The small, black-and-white TV was on. And suddenly I was wrenched out of the evening, out of playtime, out of that warm cozy feeling kids experience when they've gotten through the day without being eaten by a dragon. Childhood is not only a time of abundant wonder, it's a time of rich and easy gratitude.

I can see, in my mind's eye, the images on the TV screen. Skeletal corpses, stacked one atop the other. The camera moved quickly. Its speed worsened the violation, the horror. If I saw a pile of corpses like that, I would not move quickly. I would have to stop, and it would be a long time before I could move again, and some part of me would remain in place before that sight forever, I think.

And I wouldn't be dedicated to *seeing* the corpses, and displaying them to others. I would want to try to rescue them, at least by covering their nakedness, and placing them under dignified headstones.

My mother hadn't planned for me to see this on TV, but I had, so she had to explain. She did. "This is what THEY did to US."

And that's how I understood the Holocaust, Nazism, World War II, for the longest time. What THEY did to US.

My mother was born in a country that no one could spell, and both my parents came from countries that were part of the world threatening, in the Cold War, the country in which I was living, we were poor, and there was one language in the house and another outside it. I very much grew up in a world of US and THEM.

Czechoslovakia had come to be only after 1918 and the end of WW I. Before that my people lived under the Austro-Hungarian Empire that burned Slovak schools and aristocrats who lived off, and oppressed, the peasants. Czechoslovakia's birth as a country was a big deal to my mother.

When her homeland was only twenty years old, THEY gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler. My mother thought of her birthplace as Hitler's first victim.

Czechoslovakia may or may not deserve that title. One thing is clear, though. The world should have done something in 1938 when Hitler was clearly a threat, and the world did not.

On September 30, 1938, THEY signed the Munich Agreement handing Czechoslovakia to Hitler, and signaled to him that he could do any vile thing he wanted and meet minimal resistance.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, "the man with the umbrella" gave a speech in London. "The question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe … [I bring] peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep." I wonder how many of the cheering Londoners would later be trying to get a nice quiet sleep only to die in the Blitz.

They should have taken Hitler on then. They didn't. "Anglo-German relations" superseded consideration for the Czechs and the Slovaks.

THEY – not just Germans, but the Western world, did that to US.

My mother told me about the Slovak man, Jozef Gabcik, who, with his Czech partner, Jan Kubis, assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the highest ranking Nazi to be killed by the resistance. My mother told me about Lidice, a village in Czechoslovakia, that was erased from the map in retaliation for that killing.

I hated Germans.

It's funny; I live during a time of powerful political correctness, ostensibly all about stopping prejudice, but no one has ever given me a hard time over my most carved-in-stone prejudice.

I've traveled in a dozen or so European countries. Never Germany. If I am listening to classical music on the radio and I can hear recognizably German lyrics, I get up and cross the room to turn the radio off.

Otto's essay "Ripples of Sin" was the first chink in my anti-German armor. Reading that essay, I felt some budge in my anti-German prejudice.

OTOH, I read about WW II regularly, and it's inescapable – the Germans mass murdered people. They. Not us.

Now, I think, my anti-German prejudice is finally dead. Here's why.

I recently posted a review of Richard Weikart's excellent new book, "Hitler's Religion." The book makes clear that neither Nazism nor Hitler was Christian.

The reaction to the book astounded me. Readers of the review insisted the opposite: clearly Hitler was a Christian and Nazism was carrying out Christian values.

I've been working on a blog post that addresses these wacky assertions that both Hitler and Nazism were Christian. In composing this blog post, I've been revisiting the history of the Third Reich. WW I, the Versailles Treaty, the stab-in-the-back, the Reichstag Fire, "we knew nothing": I knew about all this before, but I've been seeing it differently as I compose my piece.

Suddenly I'm getting it, in a way that I never got it before, that atrocity really isn't a German thing. Atrocity isn't a Christian thing. Atrocity is a human thing.

Of course I knew that before. But composing this blog post about Nazism not being Christian brought this awareness to the forefront of my mind. It was like a math problem. You have two. You have another two. You put them together. It's inescapable. You get four.

You hate that four. You rage against that four. You want to blame that four on German national character or Christianity or the man with the umbrella. That provides an escape. This isn't about you. It's about them. The Germans, the Christians, whoever.

You can't. It's math. Two plus two equals four. And human nature is human nature.

Humiliate people. Kill a lot of them in a pointless war. Burn the Reichstag. The kind of thugs who you only registered before as the weirdos on the edges of your high school memories suddenly attain a prominence that they never would achieve in normal times. Suddenly they are at the foot of your bed in the middle of the night causing you terror and pain. And you agree to close your eyes to anything they ask you to.

I fortuitously tuned into "Playing God," a Radio Lab broadcast I had heard before. The previous time I heard it, it didn't really register. This time, it did. It addressed journalist and doctor Sheri Fink's Pulitzer Prize winning reportage of what happened at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina. The hospital lost power and sewage. Over the course of the next five days, hospital staff decided to euthanize patients. It took just five days without electricity for them to reach the conclusion that killing the unfit was their only course of action.

And something else happened while I was working on this piece addressing the "Nazism = Christianity" canard. Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president of the United States.

First, only Hitler was Hitler. No serious person says that Trump is another Hitler.

That fact doesn't excuse us from blinding ourselves to the parallels.

For me the parallels played out on Facebook, and they demoralized me and I may never see humanity in the same way again.

People I liked. People I trusted. People I thought of as intelligent, as decent, as Christian. Some Jews. Voiced their support for a personality disordered conman who disseminated anti-Semitic memes and Mussolini quotes, a man who cozied up to the KKK, a man who acknowledged that he was a serial sexual assailant, a man who mocked women for menstruating and lactating, a man who called for death for the Central Park Five *after* they had been exonerated by DNA evidence, a man who praised a dictator who murders journalists and may have poisoned with dioxin the head of a neighboring country.

Surely my nice, decent, intelligent, Christian, Jewish, Facebook friends would never support Trump.

But they did.

Because they felt humiliated and threatened by political correctness and ripped off by "socialism" – aka Obamacare.

The day Trump was sworn in, three different Team Trump Facebook friends called for death to Clinton voters. We have more guns than they do, they bragged. I want a "body count" of anti-Trump protesters, one Trump supporter said. Follow up posts repeated the call for body counts. And of course Team Trump is calling for an abrupt end to Obamacare, without any replacement. That will, of course, result in some deaths.

And these are people who have never seen war fought over their own soil, who are well-fed and have roofs over their heads and live in the undisputed richest and most powerful country on earth.

Germany, I owe you an apology.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wikipedia Please Correct Entry on Piotr Smietanski

Apparently only Wikipedia contributors can correct Wikipedia. I am not a Wikipedia editor. Wikipedia lists Piotr Smietanski as a Polish Jew. Lukasz, who reads this blog, says he was not. Someone who is a Wikipedia editor should correct this. Here's Smietanski's entry

Monday, January 2, 2017

Man in the High Castle: No Slavs Were Harmed in the Making of this Reich


Polish priests in Bydgoszcz, Poland, September, 1939
Rounded up to be shot. See here
TV steals your soul. To watch TV, you don't have to bathe or dress or leave your house. Studies link extensive TV watching to depression, obesity, loneliness, social isolation, and academic failure. It astounds me that people pay money to watch advertisements.

I don't have a TV and have not had one for most of my life.

I keep hearing, though, that we are living through a second Golden Age of television. Critics say that the best TV shows, including The Sopranos and Mad Men, are better than what can be seen in movie theaters.

The Sopranos' sex, violence, and glamorization of the Mafia disgusted me. Watching fat Italians splatter-murder each other in front of naked strippers with artificial breasts and then breaking to gorge on capocolla was not enhancing my life; I live in New Jersey; I can watch that for free. Mad Men was way too cool and stylized for me. I can get my fix from Jon Hamm's insane physical beauty by looking at a still photo – I must confess that I didn't get much more of a rush from watching him act.  

I recently visited a home with TV and decided to check in on the latest iteration of the glam Nazi: The Man in the High Castle. We know that power is attractive, and we know that Nazis deployed expert marketers and design teams, from Goebbels to Leni Riefenstahl to Hugo Boss. That combo have made the Nazis fav film fare ever since. After Otto charitably tutored me in how to operate the new-fangled TV interface, I tapped into The Man in the High Castle, thinking I'd give it ten minutes of my time, and only as an author interested in how pop culture packages Nazism.

To my surprise, I quickly became addicted. I had planned on going to see movies during the holiday season. Now is when the awards-magnet films, like La La Land and Manchester by the Sea, are released. Instead I became that dreaded creature, a couch potato in sweat pants, my butt glued to a well-worn crater in the upholstery in front of the boob tube.

The Man in the High Castle is inspired by a 1962 Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, but it departs from the book significantly. In the Amazon series, the Axis powers have won WW II. The Nazis got the bomb first and nuked DC. Nazis control the eastern US; Japanese control the west, and there is a neutral zone in between, in the Rocky Mountains.

The viewer is jolted by familiar American imagery branded with the spoor of the new overlord. The stars and stripes feature a swastika or the Japanese sun disk. Students attend a high school named after Fritz Julius Kuhn, leader of the German American Bund. The pledge of allegiance swears fealty to Hitler, who is still alive in 1962. White girls are prostitutes for Japanese men. They bow servilely. An antiques dealer sells American memorabilia to Japanese collectors. America has been reduced to a conqueror's decorative knickknack, like a taxidermed kill. 

There is a resistance, made up of native-born Americans who carry out limited operations. The resistance's work is built around trafficking film. That's right – film. The film footage depicts alternate realities. In one of those alternate realities, America won the war. The viewer is confused and wonders if this MacGuffin will pay off or if it will all go splat in the final episode, as happened on Lost. Maybe we will discover that everyone has actually been dead this whole time.

Anyone making any art that addresses Nazism or its Axis allies like Japan has to make a decision: how grim do you go?

At one end of the spectrum is the film The Grey Zone, a film that almost no one has seen. It takes place inside Auschwitz. The main characters are sonderkommandos, the Jews who processed other Jews' corpses after their deaths. No big spoiler here: everyone dies. Again, no one wants to see this movie.

On the other end of the spectrum you have a film like Casablanca. In this classic the Nazis biggest crime is forcing café patrons to listen to the clunky German anthem, "Die Wacht am Rhein." In Casablanca, everyone is well fed, perfectly coiffed, and very soigné. You can practically smell the cologne. Most important, real opportunities for real heroism abound. No such luck in the slaughterhouse that is The Grey Zone.

Given what I saw on The Sopranos, I assumed that "Golden Age of TV" appellation equaled "graphic sex and violence." One of the things that astounds me most about TMITHC is that it is G-rated. There are torture, seppuku, mass shooting, and other scenes, but they are handled the way a 1940s director would handle such scenes. The audience is informed of what is about to happen, and minimal cues inform the viewer that it has happened.

In the opening show, a resistance leader, we are told, is beaten to death. This is not presented anywhere near as graphically as similar scenes were in the 2016 film Anthropoid, about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Czech and Slovak assassins. In TMITHC, the resistance fighter is tied up and shown bruised and dirty. It is clear what has happened to him and what will happen to him, but we don't have to cringe at every blow.

I've watched many Holocaust-related films. TMITHC created a very subtle scene that will stay with me for a long time. A suspected resistance fighter's sister, niece and nephew are arrested. Axis investigators have discovered that the family has one Jewish grandfather. The woman is a lovely young mother beautifully attired in vintage early sixties fashions. Her two children are attractive but real. The authorities shuffle her and her children into a waiting room. There is a TV playing cartoons and toys for the children to play with.

You can see why the mother would be anxious – the authorities are scary and officious. She is given no reason for being there. But the waiting room is rather like a doctor's waiting room, so one might assume that her nervousness is no more grounded than the nervousness we feel in a doctor's waiting rom.

As the episode progresses and advances other character's storylines, it cuts, again and again, back to the mother and her children. The children are growing increasingly bored and cranky. She is growing increasingly terrified. Eventually she gazes upward and notices the vents in the ceiling. They look like many an innocent ceiling vent, but given the context – a Jewish woman detained without explanation in an Axis-controlled American dystopia – those ceiling vents take on a horrific menace. The woman walks toward the door and attempts to open it. She can't open it. It is locked. And that is the last we see of her. We know exactly what descended from those innocuous, industrial-looking ceiling vents after the woman and her children left our sight.

In addition to its g-rated, 1940s style sex and violence, as opposed to more graphic choices in how to depict sex and violence, TMITHC has chosen a 1940s earnestness. The Sopranos was an ironic show. The viewer was encouraged to laugh at its Mafiosi. "Did you ever think what a coincidence it is that Lou Gherig died of Lou Gherig's disease?" a murderer asks. Ha, ha, ha. These Jersey Wop pimps, drug-dealers and killers are just so colorful, just so funny. The pinky rings, the malapropisms, the loud suits. Sopranos viewers were allowed to wallow in their taste for graphic sex and violence, and to float above it all, as if the Mafia would never deal drugs or strong-arm businessmen in their neighborhood.

I've watched a bit over half of TMITHC and I have not been allowed one single ironic chuckle as an escape from the onscreen dystopia. Everything is so earnest. The deaths are just sad, not sad plus stylized, not sad plus funny. When civilians are rounded up randomly at an outdoor market, separated from their screaming children, stood up against a wall and shot, that is just simply a sad and scary thing. No escape hatch into humor or glitzy camera moves. The resistance fighters are the people we would be if our nation were suddenly hijacked by fascists.

Speaking of which, google "The Man in the High Castle" and "Trump" and find a plethora of think pieces from the New York Times, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and others. I'm not making the news here, just reporting it.

So, I love the 1940s-movie-style absence of graphic sex and violence, and the utter earnestness I have seen in TMITHC. But I love this series' aesthetics.

I was jarred when I heard that Amazon was calling itself a studio. Again, I'm classic Hollywood movie fan. When I think "studio" I think of a cigar-chomping Polish-Jewish immigrant presiding over a huge lot full of props, costumes, dialogue coaches and soundstages. I know that's an outdated model, but it still astounds me that a book seller can apply the word "studio" to itself and produce something as rich as TMITHC.

An example: one of the main characters, Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is chatting with a blonde in a hotel lobby. Behind him moves a bellhop. The bellhop is wearing one of those flat-topped, chin-strap caps. The bellhop is in the frame for mere seconds, and he performs no role in the scene, except to add to depth and detail. Watching TMITHC, I can't help but wonder at how much money, attention, and effort is up on the screen.

The visual effects are stunning. Each episode begins with a silvery, black-and-white montage of the Axis takeover of the US. There are parachute drops, nuclear blasts, and rockets, interspersed with Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. Over this montage, in a whispery, lisping voice, a woman sings a haunting version of Edelweiss. Watching this montage fills me with dread and rage. I want to rescue my beloved homeland from the bad guys. A feeling I suspect I will experience more and more after January 20, 2017.

As much as I like TMITHC, and that is very much, I think the alternate time line / time travel aspect of the film is one gimmick too many. "What if the Axis had won WW II and the Germans and Japanese took over the US" is gimmick, is MacGuffin, enough, for me. "What if the Axis had won … and what if films could be used to travel around in time" is just way too much gimmick. But hey.

What significance does The Man in the High Castle have to the Bieganski stereotype as outlined in my book of the same title?

This.

First, and if you pay any attention at all to onscreen treatments of WW II this will not surprise you at all, many viewers' hands-down favorite character on the show is not a Jewish or other victim of the Nazis. It is not a heroic and self-sacrificing resistance fighter. No. The standout, "I can't help myself I love him" write-a-letter-to-the-actor asking-him-how-he-manages-to-humanize-such-a-difficult-character audience favorite is a Nazi.

Rufus Sewell plays Obergruppenführer John Smith. He is very handsome (oh those cheekbones), the smartest guy in the room, superbly well-dressed (thank you Hugo Boss), and he loves his family so much he would do anything to protect them from harm.

Handsome, glamorous, admirable Nazis are a staple of WW II in pop culture. I've written about the Sexy Nazi phenomenon several times on this blog. See here here here here. But really you should read Bieganski better to understand why the sexy Nazi is such a staple.

A second point, also related to the Bieganski stereotype.

In the episodes I've seen so far, and I have not seen every one, there is no mention of Slavic people. Nazis victimize Jews, yes. Nazis victimize handicapped people, yes. Nazis don't like black people, yes. And that's it.

And it's actually worse than that.

Fans say that in Dick's book, the Nazis have realized their Generalplan Ost (please read about Generalplan Ost if you think Slavs were never targeted by the Nazis.) See the map, below. Eastern Europe's Slavic countries have been erased from the map, in Dick's dystopia. Slavs have been the subject of the Nazis' planned genocide, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement.

The murder of millions of people. Their enslavement and erasure. Apparently not "sexy" enough for Amazon producers. Not even included in Amazon's TMITHC. Think about that. Really. Think about it.

I recently reviewed Richard Weikart's new book Hitler's Religion for FrontPage magazine. You can read the review here.

One person said that by mentioning the suffering of Slavic people under Nazism, I was "ignoring the suffering of Jews." By the way, the person who made this accusation is a Christian, and a woman who rushed to my defense, and to defend mention of the suffering of non-Jewish Slavs under Nazism, is herself Jewish.

Please note that: to mention the suffering of non-Jewish Slavs under Nazism is tantamount to ignoring the suffering of Jews.

People taking issue with my mention of Slavic victimization under the Nazis reminded me that the Crusaders committed atrocities against Jews. I was reminded that Jews were expelled from England. I was reminded that the Soviets were officially atheist and not all the Soviets who died under Nazism were devout Christians.

That German Crusaders committed atrocities against Jews – during the same era when German crusaders were committing atrocities against Slavs and other Baltic peoples – does not change the fact that the Nazis victimized non-Jewish Slavs. That England expelled Jews in the Middle Ages does not change the fact that the Nazis victimized Slavs. How is it that mention of the Nazi victimization of Slavs is some pox outbreak that must be quelled with mention of bad things that English and German people did in the Middle Ages?

Glamorous Nazis. Slavic people never having been victimized by Nazis. Again, I haven't seen every episode of The Man in the High Castle, but that's what I've seen so far. Those who have seen every episode can correct me if I have things wrong.


Polonia, we have a problem. We must do a better job of telling our story. For my take on what's going wrong in our leadership on this question of telling our own story, and what needs to be done to set it right, please see here

Source: Wikimedia commons 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Was Hitler Christian? Was Nazism Christian?



This article appears at FrontPage Magazine here

Hitler is the trump card. Even if you hold a royal flush, if your opponent plays the Hitler card, you lose. Those arguing for Western Civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition frequently fold when confronted by the mustachioed monster. Mention of Hitler is used to insist that we need to throw out the baby, throw out the bath water, and accept just about any alternative to Western Civilization as more peaceful, less genocidal, shinier and newer.

What is the genesis of Political Correctness? One good place to start seeking for that genesis is the West's horrified backlash against, and attempt to compensate for, Nazism.

In the early twentieth century, society's best and the brightest, including US presidents, The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly, Ivy League Universities and Congress accepted scientific racism. This Darwin-inspired worldview placed Nordic people at the pinnacle of human evolution. Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger advised abortion and sterilization for less-evolved humans. Carl Brigham invented intelligence tests, the ancestors of the SAT, that proved Polish immigrants incapable of education. Madison Grant, cofounder of the Bronx Zoo and board member at the Museum of Natural History, recommended elimination of the unfit. Hitler dubbed Grant's 1916 book Passing of the Great Race his "Bible." At the Nuremberg Trials, Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth, would blame another publication from America's scientific racism era, Henry Ford's The International Jew, for his becoming an anti-Semite.

Grant and Lothrop Stoddard positioned their scientific racism in opposition to Christianity. Racism was supported by science, they insisted. Christianity was absurd, and its championing of the oppressed weakened society. 

What happened? How did a society that had been excessively arrogant a hundred years ago become a society that expresses Politically Correct self-condemnation and shame today? World War II happened.

Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Tamerlane, the fourteenth-century "Sword of Islam," killed five percent of the world's population. There are two important differences between other notorious genocides and Nazism. We read of Tamerlane's mountains of skulls, his 1398 massacre of a hundred thousand infidels in Delhi, and his burying alive four thousand Armenian Christians in the name of Islam, but we do not witness these horrors. Hollywood directors did not film the eighteen million prisoners of the Soviet Gulag. Hollywood directors like Alfred Hitchcock and George Stevens did participate in documentation of Nazi concentration camps. We don't just read about Nazi horrors; we see them in documentary footage produced by experts.

There is a second important difference between the Holocaust and other horrors. Russia with its serfs, czars, and commissars, perennial enemy of Bond films; China, land of foot-binders and dog-eaters: they are alien to us. The Nazis are us. Germany was democratic, secular, capitalist, educated and industrialized. Beethoven, Einstein, Thomas Mann, hot dogs, hamburgers, Christmas trees: all German. More Americans trace their ancestry back to Germany than to any other country. English is a Germanic language.

Americans watching film footage of Nazis horrors felt shattered in a way that reading of a fourteenth-century massacre of Hindus by a Muslim could never shatter them. We in the West have looked at Nazi crimes and said, "There is something wrong with us. We must change."

If quality X is associated with Hitler, we want to reject quality X. Hitler was a vegetarian; if someone wanted to prove that Hitler did what he did because he was a vegetarian, we might reject vegetarianism. This "logic" is fodder for jokes: "Do you drink water? So did Hitler!" an internet meme mock accuses.

It is exactly because the Hitler card is played against Western Civilization that everyone ought to read Richard Weikart's new book, Hitler's Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. The book's substance justifies Weikart's clam that it is "the most extensive to date in the English language" on its topic. Weikart makes the case that Hitler's God was a Darwin-inspired, non-personal, pantheistic deity exacting a pitiless survival-of-the-fittest-through-struggle morality. Neither Hitler nor Nazism were Christian, and the elimination of Christianity was certainly one of the long-term goals of Nazism. Previous canonical scholars have asserted part or all of Weikart's main thesis; thus, his book should not be controversial.

Certainly when Nazism was arising, its flamboyant flirtations with Neo-Paganism and its attacks on Christianity were so obvious that in 1942, Polish-Jewish artist Artur Szyk depicted Hitler as the anti-Christ. Nazism declared itself a break with the Judeo-Christian tradition, obedient to science in a way that Christianity could never be, and a return to Pagan values rooted in one's natal blood and soil. In his 1930 book The Myth of the Twentieth Century, Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg declared the "collapse" of all that had come before and a "new dawn" and "new faith" a "new light" a "new mission:" "blood and blood, race and race, folk and folk." "That is the task of our century; to create a new human type out of a new view of life." Goebbels wrote in his novel Michael of "demolishing his old faith world." "The churches have failed. Totally failed. Millions await a new religion."

The Third Reich flag is one of the most famous and in-your-face graphic designs in history: red field, white disc, black swastika. Dating back at least 11,000 years, the swastika is a near universal Pagan symbol for eternity, representing the path of the sun in the sky. TIME film critic Richard Corliss called the Hitler of Leni Riefenstahl's infamous 1935 film, Triumph of the Will, a "Wagnerian deity." Riefenstahl's 1938 film Olympia, documenting the 1936 Berlin Olympics, opens with a lengthy homage to Ancient Greece and Rome. Marble gods appear to spring to life in the bodies of German athletes. This homage makes clear that Nazism plans to skip over the inconvenient rise of Christianity and resurrect virile Pagan virtues. Hitler regarded pre-Christian Rome as humanity's high point. The Luftwaffe bombed Coventry's 14th century cathedral to a ruin, but Hitler would not allow Athens to be bombed.

Nazi Neo-Paganism was a lived experienced that bonded followers to one another and inspired them to reject their own reason and adopt the group's morality. Historian Manfred Gailus wrote that Nazi religiosity was felt as "a mass experience, cult, ritual, as highly symbolic and sacred actions in the context of a novel NS annual calendar of festivals and celebrations of life." "The whole country was as if under a kind of a spell," reported Brunhilde Pomsel, Goebbels' secretary, in 2016.

Living, nocturnal swastikas constituted of thousands of marchers carrying torches high aloft, the Blutfahne ceremony, in which a new swastika was consecrated through physical contact with a flag bearing Nazi blood, or the roll call for the martyrs of the Beer Hall Putsch: Nazis were diabolically clever at creating rituals that erased the past and sucked the participant into a new ethic. These rituals intoxicate audiences, even today. The London Times called Olympia "visually ravishing." The spectacle, the camaraderie, the meaning, order and self-discipline, the loss of self and sacrificial surrender to a moving historical wave: watching Nazi spectacle, one is both moved and one is horrified by being moved. We are not immune to fascism's appeal.

Nazi Neo-Paganism was inscribed into material culture including grave markers, jewelry and clothing. The SS insignia is in fact two runes: the doppelte Siegrune. Runes were letters of an ancient Germanic alphabet used in divination and magic. During the Nazi era, an extra key was added to German typewriters to make possible the typing of the double sieg rune with one stroke. The hagal rune was used at weddings to symbolize unshakeable faith in Nazism. The todesrune replaced the Christian cross in death notices and grave markers.

Nazi ritual inserted itself into spaces previously occupied by Christianity. Speer's "Cathedral of Light," created with anti-aircraft searchlights, was a new kind of church. The swastika was paraded through the streets at the center of a simulated monstrance – the golden container of the Eucharist. In classrooms, crucifixes were removed and replaced with Hitler's photo. Hitler youth meetings were held on Sunday morning to make it impossible to attend church. Hitler youth sang "We need no Christian virtue. We follow not Christ but Horst Wessel." "This [Nazi] cult cycle competed with the traditional Christian cycle," writes Gailus.

Nazism's targeting of Christianity, like its Neo-Pagan spectacles, was also obvious to the nervously watching world. By 1937, 12,000 Catholic priests had been persecuted by the Nazi regime. The Dachau concentration camp established a priests' barracks for clergy in 1940. Catholic presses were closed. Catholic dissidents were murdered during the 1934 Night of the Long Knives. In 1935, seven hundred pastors of the Confessing Church were arrested. Catholic schools were disbanded. One of the first and one of the few wartime Hollywood films to address concentration camps was titled The Seventh Cross. The film's title suggests American awareness of Nazism's anti-Christian stance.

In short, it's hardly a leap to refer to Nazism as anti-Christian and Neo-Pagan.

Why, then, is Weikart's book so essential?

Because Hitler is the trump card, and cultural warriors want badly to play him.

Recent years have seen a new trend in publishing about the Holocaust. Authors link Nazism to Christianity. Richard Steigmann-Gall's 2004 The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1919-1945 is one such book.

The Holy Reich states that "Christianity did not constitute a barrier to Nazism." And that Nazi Germany was waging "a war in the name of Christianity." Steigmann-Gall quotes John 16:2 "Whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God." This verse appears to support Steigmann-Gall's insistence that Nazis were Christians murdering in obedience to unambiguous Biblical commands to do so. An Amazon reviewer says that Holy Reich convinced him that "the Nazis were inspired by Jesus' message as delivered by the New Testament."

New Atheists also play the Hitler card. The Richard Dawkins Foundation hosts a piece by Michael Sherlock stating "Hitler was a Christian … Christianity played a pivotal part in the heinous atrocities [committed by Hitler's] Christian Nazi Party." In his last interview, Christopher Hitchens insisted that 1930s fascism was equivalent to an "extreme-right Catholic party." Atheist actor Stephen Fry attributed the Holocaust to right-wing Polish Catholics.

Are recent revisionist histories and New Atheist proselytizers correct? Was Hitler Christian? Was Nazism? No. And that "no" matters a lot.

None of us are Ancient Greek Pagans, but it would matter to us if Ancient Greece were misrepresented, because Ancient Greece is our roots. It matters to non-Christians when Christianity is represented as inherently genocidal and sadistic, because Christianity is one of the foundations of Western Civilization. When presidents insist that Islamic terror is merely payback for crimes committed by Christian Crusaders against inoffensive practitioners of the Religion of Peace, that matters. When universities teach that the only place Jews could thrive in pre-modern Europe was the "paradise" of "tolerant" "Golden Age" Al-Andalus, that matters. When social engineers declare that our Founding Fathers' understanding of the right to life or the concept of marriage are merely waste products of a benighted worldview, that matters. When atheist ethicists like Peter Singer tell us that parents should be allowed to murder their own children, that matters. When Michael Shermer and Steven Pinker produce well-reviewed books that insist that as time passes evolution makes mankind more secular and more ethical, that matters.

It always matters when a scorched-earth Utopian comes along and says, "Everything about the past is corrupt, and everyone who came before us was a fool. Let's erase the past and start fresh with a blank slate." "Pure" people who offer this menu item tend to rack up large body counts. Christianity's impact on Western Civilization is one baby and one basin of bath water we cannot allow to be falsified. The hero we need in this battle in the culture war is Richard Weikart.

Weikart points out that anyone who, as Hitchens does, quotes Hitler as if his every word were scrupulously true is naïve at best and consciously lying at worst. Hitler was a ruthless opportunist. Hitler's 1938 insistence that the Sudetenland was "the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe" was one of the most notorious and consequential lies in history. Hitler mentions God in Mein Kampf; New Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens insist that these mentions prove that Hitler was a Christian.

Let's get real. Hitler mentioned God for two reasons: he was playing to his audience, and he was couching his own beliefs in language his followers would naively swallow. Hitler recognized that most Germans were Christian and that overt expression of his own contempt for Christianity would unnecessarily alienate people he wanted to keep on his team. Weikart makes this point abundantly clear with ample and unambiguous quotes from Hitler speaking with trusted intimates like Albert Speer, Martin Bormann, and Joseph Goebbels.

When Nazis did praise "Christianity" or "Jesus," they were invoking an invented version of each, a version exclusive to Nazism, a version that Nazis themselves jettisoned when it ceased to serve their purposes. The Nazi Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. He performed no miracles. He was a violent, armed, blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan warrior against Jewish capitalism. Jews crucified him for this and he died, period. His death saved no one.

The Bible records that Jesus was the divine son of God. He performed miracles. Jesus was Jewish, the Temple was Jewish, and Jesus' milieu was Jewish. Romans crucified him. Jesus chose not to fight back, but went like a lamb to slaughter. He rose from the dead, thus saving mankind. His opponent was not capitalism but original sin. Hitler denounced these beliefs as a "Jewish plot" to destroy the Ancient Pagan world. In any case, by 1940, Nazism's so-called "Positive Christianity" was abandoned as a failed scheme.

When Hitler mentioned God, this is what he meant: the laws of nature reward unquestioning loyalty to one's own breed and constant struggle to the death with outsiders and inferior specimens. God – in the form of natural cause and effect – rewards those who struggle for their own folk. This struggle is so ruthless that Germans ought to have many children in order that the bulk of them die, preserving the most fit. Hitler guestimated that killing seventy to eighty percent of German babies would result in an improved species.

The Lebensborn program mass produced German babies through breeding SS men with unwed women. Also, Nazis kidnapped tens of thousands of Polish children who showed what the Nazis assessed as Aryan traits. Kidnapped children were tested. If tests showed these children to be undesirable, they were killed in Auschwitz. If tests proved that they exhibited authentic Nordic traits, they were forcibly Germanized. Discipline of these kidnapped children was harsh. In one instance, institutionalized children undergoing Germanization were required to watch an SS man use a butcher's ax to decapitate a misbehaving twelve-year-old Polish boy.

Conversely, 400,000 Germans with illnesses like epilepsy, alcoholism and depression were sterilized. Aktion T-4 murdered 200,000 handicapped Germans. The doctors and nurses who carried out these killings began the program by murdering German newborns and children under three years old.

Nazi mass-murder began with German babies and ended in an orgy of suicides. "We spoke about committing suicide as other people talk about fashions," reported Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary. Suicidal Nazis often took entire families with them. Magda Goebbels rejected offers of escape. Rather, she fed her own six children cyanide before killing herself.

If Weikart is correct, what to make of all the new books identifying Nazism with Christianity? An Amazon reviewer called The Holy Reich "The most important study on Nazism. Ever." Is that Amazon reviewer wrong? Yes, he is wrong.

In 2007 and 2013, The Journal of Contemporary History published several scholars' critiques of The Holy Reich. These scholars include Manfred Gailus, Irving Hexham, Ernst Piper, and Samuel Koehne. These scholars make the following points about The Holy Reich. The book includes numerous errors of fact, including, in one instance, misspelling one historical figure's name three different ways. "So considerable is the catalogue of skewed and distorted constructions and misinterpretations, of factual errors and slapdash work that I cannot pass over them without comment," complained Manfred Gailus.

There's more. Steigmann-Gall does not refer to pertinent scholarship, and he cherry-picks quotes that support his thesis, and leaves out material, often from the same source, that contradicts his thesis. Steigmann-Gall never addresses why Christians resisted Nazism while citing Christianity as their motive for that resistance.

Historian Ernst Piper simply states that "the contention that National Socialism was a profoundly anti-Christian movement endured for so long not because it was convenient for researchers not to prove otherwise but because it is a fact." Samuel Koehne dismisses Holy Reich in similarly global terms.

As mentioned above, Steigmann-Gall quotes Christian scripture in a way that implies that the Bible orders Christians to murder Jews. It doesn't. That quote is about early Christians being martyred for their faith.

Most readers will remain completely unaware of scholarly detractors from Steigmann-Gall's work. Most readers will see a book entitled Holy Reich, view its cover photo of Hitler under a cross, and decide that yes, Nazism was Christian.

In Hitler's Religion, Richard Weikart takes Steigmann-Gall on repeatedly. In a telling passage, Weikart reveals some hidden truths about Steigmann-Gall's deceptive cover for Holy Reich. The cover depicts Hitler exiting a church. A brightly lit cross appears to spring from Hitler's head.  

Not so fast, Weikart warns. He reveals that the 1932 photograph was used in the 1933 propaganda pamphlet Hitler as No One Knows Him. Under it appeared the caption, "Hitler, the supposed 'heretic' leaving the Marinekirche [sic]." (Alas the Nazi pamphlet even misspelled the name of the church. The correct spelling is Marienkirche.) The photo's original caption is telling. It reveals that Christians were condemning Hitler as a "heretic," and that that criticism was causing damage. Nazis realized that they needed to sell him as a Christian. The cover of Hitler as No One Knows Him is a hideously awkward shot of Hitler casually lounging in an alpine meadow, a dog next to him. No intelligent person would accept this warm and cuddly Hitler at face value, nor should anyone uncritically embrace Hitler in the doorway of a church. Indeed, in the 1938 version of the pamphlet, the cross has been airbrushed out of the photo. The caption has been changed. The 1938 caption reads, "after sightseeing in the historic Marinekirche [sic]." By that time, Nazis were closer to abandoning the pretense that they were Christian, and more willing to signal that to them, Christianity was ready to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Jews and Christians are important allies in the culture wars. An artificial construction of Nazism as Christian should not be a roadblock to our alliance. To anyone tempted to support this fallacy, please consider.

Understanding genocide as something Westerners, Christians, or white people do hampers our understanding of genocide as a phenomenon. In 1969, anthropologist Christy Turner began presenting evidence of a genocide of Anasazi by Toltecs in the Four Corners area. Toltecs mass-murdered Anasazi, and then ate their flesh. This genocide took place a thousand years ago, before Columbus arrived. Native Americans and Turner's fellow anthropologists were scandalized and refused to believe his irrefutable forensic evidence. Many insist that genocide was strictly a practice of European Christians, and they insist on denying that this Native American genocide ever took place.

Christophobes allege that only two thousand years of uninterrupted hatred could cause humans to commit genocide. There are two things wrong with this assertion. First, the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides were not preceded by millennia of training. We need to acknowledge that humans commit genocide even without thousands of years of rehearsal.

Second, anti-Semitism is a pathology. Like TB and plague, it spreads and retreats with historical circumstances. Christians have not practiced two thousand years of hate. There have been periods and regions when Christians were anti-Semitic, others when they were philosemitic, and still others when they were more or less indifferent. To understand genocide, we must understand temporary and local conditions that facilitate hatred.

Understanding anti-Semitism as a purely Christian phenomenon forces us to ignore the Roman, Pagan persecution of Jews of 70 AD, arguably the most cataclysmic persecution Jews endured before the Holocaust. Roman Pagans drove Jews out of Jerusalem and into diaspora, ending Temple Judaism and beginning rabbinical Judaism, and contributed to a massive drop in the world population of Jews, a population drop from which Jews did not recover for centuries. Roman Pagans renamed Judea "Palestine" in order to erase even the memory of Jews ever having lived there. We can't understand Pagan anti-Semitism, Islamic anti-Semitism, or left-wing anti-Semitism on today's campuses if we insist that anti-Semitism is a Christian monopoly.

Falsely identifying Nazism as a Christian phenomenon prevents us from understanding Nazism. Sam Harris, in his "Atheist Manifesto," writes, "The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity." Harris insists, without support, that the Vatican perpetuated the blood libel "as late as 1914." Harris doesn't mention that popes, going back at least to the thirteenth century, took the lead in repeatedly and emphatically condemning blood libel.

I have three questions for Sam Harris. First, why did the Nazis themselves explicitly reject what you say? Again and again Nazis said that any anti-Jewish statements in Christianity were wrong, because they were about theological disagreements, not blood. Nazis did cite exactly the Darwin-inspired, race justifications that Weikart quotes at length. Read the actual words of scientific racists and Nazis, from Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant to Heinrich Himmler. Again and again, you will discover them speaking words that New Atheists themselves speak: "Christianity is absurd and unproven and it causes us to err through sentimentality. Science alone represents objective truth." Christians have confronted and atoned for Christians' failures. When will New Atheists acknowledge that their approach contributed to genocide?

Nazis didn't murder only Jews. Nazis murdered three million Soviet POWs, and caused the death of an estimated 13.7 million Soviet civilians. In justifying their crimes against Jews, Slavs, and others, Nazis cited identical race-based justifications.  

In speeches to his men, Heinrich Himmler offered a new ethic that justified the murder of Christian Slavs and Jews. Himmler said, "In Poland in weather forty degrees below zero, where we had to haul away thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, where we had to have the toughness – you should hear this but also forget it again immediately – to shoot thousands of leading Poles … The proud soldier says, 'My God, why do I have to do that, this ridiculous job here!' – It is much easier to go into combat with a company than to suppress an obstructive population of low cultural level, or to carry out executions, or to haul away people…

One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the S.S. men. We must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and nobody else. What happens to a Russian and a Czech does not interest me in the least. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us.

Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished."

I ask Sam Harris, if, as you say, the crematoria that incinerated Jews were constructed of Christian ideas, what about the crematoria that incinerated German children culled as evolutionarily unfit, or the Polish Catholics identified as Germans' enemies in Nazism's "survival of the fittest" morality?

It is undeniable that Nazism focused on Jews in a way that it did not focus on others, and that Nazis murdered almost six million Jews, or sixty percent of the world population. This is exceptional and is deservedly treated as exceptional. It is also true that anti-Semitism has been a plague in Christianity, and that Christians must never shirk the struggle against anti-Semitism. We all know that most Germans, including Germans who committed atrocities, identified as Christian. All these facts demand and receive massive attention. I have only praise for books like Robert P. Erickson's Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany that demonstrate how Germany's best and brightest, from university professors to theologians, abandoned their core values. There's a difference between saying that Christians distorted their faith to support Nazism and saying that Nazism is Christian.

Every semester I ask my university students what group the Nazis mass murdered first and last, even after they surrendered to the Allies. "Nazis murdered Jews first," my students respond. No. Communists. No. Homosexuals. No.

When I tell them it was handicapped Germans, they are dumbstruck and unbelieving. They have no pattern into which to fit this fact. They have been taught that Nazism is a function of Christianity, and a damning blot on Western Civilization. They have not been taught about how Nazi anti-Semitism fits into a Darwin-inspired, Neo-Pagan, nationalist worldview.

My students don't know that Hitler expressed genocidal intent for Poles: "I have placed my death-head formation in readiness … with orders to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language." Poles were shot by Einsatzgruppen. Approximately two million non-Jewish Polish civilians were murdered. Auschwitz was initially created, and run for its first 18 months, as a center of internment of Poles. Poles were tortured, dispossessed, and the subject of medical experimentation. Polish bodies were turned into soap. Between 1.5 and 3 million Poles were conscripted into forced labor. Almost twenty percent of Polish priests were murdered.

Even as the advancing, victorious Red Army was within sight of soon-to-be-defeated Germans, even as the Allies advanced from the west, German soldiers went building to building in Warsaw, killing civilians with flamethrowers, targeting churches, museums, and libraries. Himmler ordered, "The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth … No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation." There was no military reason for this. Sam Harris' "explanation" that Christianity is responsible for Nazism is revealed as patently inadequate when one considers what Nazi Germany did to Catholic Poles, or the German handicapped, or Soviet POWs, or Romani.

Richard Weikart's explanation works.


Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lukasz Urban: "A Pole Who Fought for His Life" Truck Driver Murdered by Terrorist

Source:  Daily Mail
"It was really clear that he was fighting for his life. His face was swollen and bloodied. Police informed me that he had suffered gunshot wounds. Despite being stabbed he was shot dead." - Urban's cousin, Ariel Zurawski, interviewed by AP. 

Polish Driver Murdered, Truck Hijacked in German Christmas Market Terror Attack

Reports are that the driver of the truck used for the Berlin Christmas Market terror attack was a Polish man who was murdered. Daily Mail article here

Monday, December 5, 2016

Trying to Talk to Trump Supporters



Folks, I know I have not posted on this blog in a long time, and I apologize. The reasons are complex.

In any case, I am posting here an account of an encounter I had on Facebook. I don't mention Poland once in this essay, but astute readers will understand why I post this here, as well as on my other blog, Save Send Delete. 

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I read a post from a friend. I felt like I was reading someone else's vomit. I walked away from the computer and tried to forget. I knew if I responded I would not be heard. I knew if I responded I risked hurting someone. I knew that someone had already hurt me, and nothing would erase that post from my memory. Even as I tried to forget the post, a reply kept formulating itself in my head. The post, and its hate, were a puzzle. I was compelled to piece its disparate parts into a pattern in order to make better sense of the world I suddenly found myself inhabiting. The post was a diabolical labyrinth constructed of words; I need to craft my escape, marshalling my own words.

A woman for whom I feel genuine affection and respect re-posted a thousand-word rant by "Mark."

Mark was excoriating anyone who criticized Donald J. Trump. Trump's critics, Mark insisted, were intolerant, convulsive, tyrannical, dictatorial, reactionary, insidious, pablum-feeding lapdogs of left-wing academics and little snowflake students who are crippled by anxiety when viewing the American flag and therefore outlaw its display. These teachers and students want to force America into a homogenized, contrived, politically correct image. These inflammatory words are all Mark's, taken directly from his rant. The rant took special exception to any comparison of Trump to Hitler.

Mark identified the populations to blame for turning America into a dystopian nightmare: teachers, students and the press. He named no other individual or group as guilty. Not Bernie Madoff. Not Wall Street and the 2008 crash. Not drug dealers and the heroin epidemic. Not mass shootings like Newtown or absentee fathers or misguided wars or lead-polluted water or income inequality or Kim Kardashian. No. Just teachers. Just students.

One response to Mark's screed made mention of how Trump would protect America from "dangerous immigrants."

Nowhere in the screed did Mark mention by name any real critic of Donald Trump. Mark never cited a single article critiquing Donald Trump. Mark never quoted a single real teacher or a single real student or one real immigrant.

Mark said that leftists say that Trump is exactly like Hitler. Mark seemed to find it important to insist that Trump would never murder tens of millions of civilians.

I haven't seen any serious commentary by a significant journalist or other public figure saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler, and no serious critique suggests that Trump will murder tens of millions of civilians.

Clearly, Mark was not talking about real opponents.

Clearly, Mark was condemning the monsters plotting under his bed, the gremlins slithering through his nightmares, the worst possible imaginings of alt-right conspiracy theorists. He located all of America's enemies in classrooms and in media.

Mark's hatred of teachers and students reminded me of some great dialogue from Ship of Fools.

Siegfried Rieber: You know it is a historical fact that the Jews are the basis of all our misfortunes.
Julius Lowenthal: Of course it is. The Jews and the bicycle riders.
Siegfried Rieber: Why the bicycle riders?
Julius Lowenthal: Why the Jews?

Why the teachers? The students? The immigrants?

Mark was shadow-boxing a caricature of a fantasy of a right-wing man who hates students and teachers and people who didn't vote for Donald Trump.

This ritual erection and defeat of straw men, constant in Team Trump rhetoric, matters.

Straw men, imaginary enemies, stereotypes rather than flesh-and-blood persons: these are what you encounter in the Malleus Maleficarum, The Witches' Hammer, the go-to manual for witch hunters. You encounter straw men in the transcripts of Stalinist show trials, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: in propaganda that panders to and reflects the fears of the paranoid or merely misanthropic. Lies crafted to stir up hatred and make any reconciliation or even mere respect impossible litter propaganda.

Ethics require that we encounter real persons. Civics require that we encounter real persons. Truth requires this encounter. Solving problems requires it. Friendship is impossible without this encounter, as is compassion. You must encounter the person in front of you, not your imaginings about that person. Ecce homo. Behold the man. Not the man your imagination dreamt up – the man God created.

I wondered if Mark had ever entered a university classroom, or met a teacher or a student. I wanted Mark and my Facebook friend who shared Mark's screed to come to my classroom, to meet me as a teacher, as a child of immigrants, to meet my students. Flesh and blood. Real people.

Would they call me a "dangerous immigrant" to my face? Would they mock my students as "special snowflakes" to their young faces?

Would Mark look me right in my big blue eyes and call me a convulsing, tyrannical, dictatorial, concentration-camp-capo wannabe?

Why would Mark, a successful person, a published author, lie like this? Fantasize like this?  Catastrophize like this? And, at a moment of national tension, work to stir up hatred against his fellow citizens?

Why?

More on this question, below. Because I think I've found the answer, and it's probably not what you think. And you can tell me if I have it wrong.

Look, I said. No serious person is saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler.

But responsible people have pointed out that Trump is a demagogue, that he plays some of the same devious games that all demagogues, including Hitler, play.  

Patriots need to address this:  

The ADL report on the unprecedented flow of hate during the Trump campaign. See here: http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/press-center/CR_4862_Journalism-Task-Force_v2.pdf

Teachers report an increase in bullying at schools, bullying overtly inspired by Trump, e.g., "Trump is going to throw you over the wall." "Trump that bitch" is now a phrase. Students shout "Hail Trump" or merely "Trump, Trump" when harassing others. See here https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

Frank Navarro, a 1997 Mandel Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and a teacher with forty years' experience, pointed out some parallels between Trump and Hitler. And was promptly told he had to stop teaching.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/11/14/a-holocaust-scholar-compared-donald-trump-to-hitler-his-high-school-placed-him-on-leave/?utm_term=.aa22dc854180I

Two-hundred fifty Jewish scholars, on November 15, 2016, released an agonized statement. They wrote

"As scholars of Jewish history, we are acutely attuned to the fragility of democracies and the consequences for minorities when democracies fail to live up to their highest principles … in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory, it is time to re-evaluate where the country stands. The election campaign was marked by unprecedented expressions of racial, ethnic, gender-based, and religious hatred."

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/jewish_historians_speak_out_on_the_election_of_donald_trump

I mentioned celebrated Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt's stating that Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon was "a game-changer" in how decent people address bigotry.  


Facebook friend Otto Gross also felt compelled to speak up. Otto's essay "Ripples of Sin" describes growing up with parents who had been Nazis. His perspective is wise, unique, and worthy of respect. (Otto's essay here: http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2011/12/ripples-of-sin.html)

In response to our posts, Otto and I were called "presumptuous" "rotting," "corrupt," "anti-intellectual," "profoundly ignorant," and "violently anti-Semitic" "leftists." We "denigrated" the actual suffering of Jews in order to express "annoyance" at a "politician." We were told we had contributed to the "devolution" of the conversation, like drunks at a bar. We were "separate" from real "working class Americans" who would reject us like the deviants that we are.

We were told that we had just "called your fellow Americans Nazis" and that we had just said that "Trump is Hitler."

We had never called anyone a Nazi. We had not said that Trump was Hitler. Otto laughed at being called a "leftist." He's never voted for a Democrat in his life.

Working class? My father was a coal miner. My mother cleaned houses. Otto's father was a metal worker. His mother did farm labor. I have worked as a nurse's aide, carpenter, and live-in domestic servant. Otto has pumped gas and mopped up hospital waste.

The Facebook posters shouting at us that we are not "working class" live lives of wealth, power, and influence.

These objective facts made no difference to Team Trump. Team Trump was doing what Team Trump does: obstinately erecting and strenuously demonizing a completely imaginary straw man.

They could work up fuming outrage to condemn Otto and me, people who posed no threat to them, but could not even acknowledge the hundreds of hate crimes that spiked directly after Trump's election. (See here: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/18/update-incidents-hateful-harassment-election-day-now-number-701).

I threw in the towel and retreated. My friend was choosing a fact-free world in which I, a teacher and a child of immigrants, was the ogre.

Then something odd happened.

A couple of the participants communicated to me, in public and in private, virtual resumes.

In one follow-up, thousand-word post, the poster used the word "I," "me," and "my" fifty times: "I've done this, this, and this. I have this and this accomplishment. I have done all these important things! I have been well-assessed! I am a good person!"

I was confused. All of this "I" stuff struck me as complete non-sequiturs. Weren't we talking about the Big Picture? About our nation, the United States of America?

And then it hit me.

People who voted for Trump feel shamed. It's a stigma, a taint.

Those who feel shamed are doing two things:

First, they discredit those who note Trump's flaws as beyond the pale – as drunks, as extreme leftists, insidious, special snowflakes, anti-American, elitist. We are so bad our perceptions are worthless.

And they must distort any criticism of Trump into a parody – "You are saying that Trump is just like Hitler! That's ridiculous! Trump will never murder millions!"

When you distort critiques of Trump that badly, he comes out looking relatively good. "Hey! He'll never murder millions so he must be an okay guy!"

As a teacher, I struggle to play my part in keeping the American dream alive. That's why I keep trying to talk to Trump voters. So far, though, I have gotten nowhere. The Team Trump trademark post-truth approach pulverizes language and drives us all lightyears apart.

Mostly what I encounter are logical fallacies.

Ad hominem: "You are an insidious leftist."

Change the subject: "Hillary Clinton is Satan."

Outright lies. "Trump won in a landslide. The votes for Hillary Clinton were illegal. Hillary Clinton murdered JFK Jr!"

Now that Trump has won, it appears to be important to Team Trump to reduce all of us who didn't vote for Trump to a marginally inhuman status, and to dismiss any criticism of him as extremist violations of Godwin's Law.


I'm worried for my country.