Bob Schwartz

Tag: Adolf Hitler

Netanyahu Scapegoats the Palestinians for Holocaust

The Jews killed Jesus. The Palestinians started the Holocaust. So who’s the scapegoat now?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that in the early days leading up to World War II, Hitler visited the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and it was that Palestinian leader who came up with the idea of the Final Solution:

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them.’

Historians have already weighed in heavily on how historically bogus this is, given that, among other things, Hitler published Mein Kampf three years before that meeting. The assertion has been described as “jaw-dropping”, with even friendly politicians “agog” at this dark nonsense.

Just when you thought it was the Jews who have for centuries been scurrilously blamed for every terrible thing, Netanyahu goes and turns the tables and scapegoats somebody else. Not just any somebody else. The enemy within and on the borders, the one that you could happily live without.

It appears that the very unpopular Prime Minister is trying to take lessons from Donald Trump, with whom he shares the kinship of attending Wharton. The strategy: Demonize those unwanted immigrants and/or natives. Say anything, no matter how incendiary, explosive, ridiculous or unrelated to fact about the enemies within, and people will love it. And you.

Just one glitch. Trump doesn’t lead a nation at the center of global conflict; actually he doesn’t lead any nation at all. And if America has a history of scapegoating, which it does (take your pick among religious, cultural, political and ethnic groups), it doesn’t compare in long-term viciousness to what the Jews have endured.

Starting, of course, with the big one. In fact, if you look closely at Netanyahu’s indictment, it is not that the Palestinians actually ran the death camps. They just planted the idea, whispering in the ear of an emperor, who was happy to carry out the deed. This time a German emperor, instead of Roman one.

Who’s the scapegoat now?

Ukraine: Adolf Hitler and William Faulkner

Adolf Hitler - William Faulkner
The term lingua franca means a language that is understood across cultures. It literally means “Frankish language,” referring to a hybrid language that was used for commerce and diplomacy during the Renaissance. Today, one might call English a lingua franca, since unofficially and officially (as in air transport), it is the one universally used and understood.

In contemporary history, the person who comes up most often as an historical analogy is Adolf Hitler. For good reason. Others may have killed more. Others may have conquered more territory. But Hitler did it all, ignited world war, and did it in our times, in living memory, and in ways that shaped the world—and thus shaped our thinking and conversation now and for generations to come. He is the historical persona franca.

A previous post pointed out that Putin’s post-Olympics invasion of Ukraine bested Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938. Hitler waited almost two years after his self-promotional 1936 Berlin Olympics before the Anschluss; somewhat bizarrely, even though Putin politely waited for two days after the Paralympics in Sochi closed, the annexation of Crimea was effectively done while the Olympics were still being held.

When Hillary Clinton mentioned in a speech that Putin’s actions were reminiscent of Hitler, she was shushed up by her supporters and her detractors. Talk like that was deemed premature, alarmist, undiplomatic, and, in Hillary’s case, unpresidential. And yet as events have sped along, the mentions increase. Just today, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia had to admit that we have not seen an event like the annexation of Crimea since…the 1930s. And whether Hitler is a persona franca or a trump card, Putin uses it himself, claiming that the Ukrainian ouster of Yanakovych was orchestrated by Nazi thugs who are now in power.

History matters, and Hitler matters in history, whatever use he may be in thinking about the critical issues developing in Ukraine. This year is the centennial of World War I (also known as THE World War and the War to End All Wars, before there was a second one). So maybe take a little time to learn a little more about Europe in the period from 1914 to 1945—a mere thirty years or so in which there were two world wars, one of the most evil men in history, an attempt to eliminate an entire people from the earth, and the development of an apocalyptic weapon that gives God a run for his money.

Why learn this history? Because literally everything that is in the news about Russia and the Ukraine is joined with it. Because history never goes away, particularly in Europe. Or anywhere. As William Faulkner wrote, having lived in the American South where history never goes away, where understanding history is the only way to understand today, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Anschluss 1938

History doesn’t have to be analogical, though that is often tempting. Instead, it can just be generally informative, not predictive about how particular parties may act and should react, but just as lessons in the variety of global experience.

In March 1938—the anniversary just passed last week—Hitler annexed Austria, an event now known as the Anschluss. Here, for general information, and not necessarily for comparison, are excerpts from the BBC Bitesize site:

Hitler wanted all German-speaking nations in Europe to be a part of Germany. To this end, he had designs on re-uniting Germany with his native homeland, Austria. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, however, Germany and Austria were forbidden to be unified.

Hitler also wanted control of the largely German-speaking area within Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Importantly, Austria shared a border with this area.

In an attempt to realise his goals, Hitler was determined to destabilise Austria and undermine its independence. His ultimate goal was anschluss (union) with Austria…

The new Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg tried to preserve the country from German invasion by trying not to give Hitler an excuse for aggression. He tried to co-operate with Hitler as much as possible…

Hitler ordered Austrian Nazis to create as much trouble and destruction as possible in order to put pressure on Schuschnigg. If Hitler could claim that Austrian law and order had broken down he could justify marching German troops into Vienna to restore peace – despite the fact that he was responsible for the chaos in the first place.

Four days in March

Wednesday 9th March 1938

On the 9 March 1938, in a desperate act, Schuschnigg announced a referendum whereby the Austrian people would decide for themselves if they wanted to be a part of Hitler’s Germany. Hitler was furious. If the Austrians voted against joining Germany his excuse for invasion would be ruined.

Thursday 10th March 1938

Hitler told his generals to prepare for the invasion of Austria. He ordered Schuschnigg to call off the referendum. Knowing he would receive no help from Italy, and that France and Britain would not interfere in Hitler’s plans, Schuschnigg conceded. He called off the referendum and resigned.

The Nazi Austrian Interior Minister, Seyss-Inquart, was ordered by Hitler to ask for German help in restoring order in Austria.

Friday 11th March 1938

Hitler reassured Czechoslovakia that they had nothing to fear.

Saturday 12th March 1938

German troops marched into Austria unopposed. Hitler now had control of Austria. A month later, Hitler held a rigged referendum. The results showed that the Austrian people approved of German control of their country.

Note: Czechoslovakia indeed had something to fear. That same year, Germany invaded the German-speaking Czech region, the Sudetenland, and ultimately conquered the entire nation. It was that invasion that prompted the intervention of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who tried to “make peace” with Hitler at the infamous Munich conference.

In 1968, exactly thirty years later, the Prague Spring of political and cultural liberalization led to an invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the spirit of that spring was never fully crushed, and inspired a flowering of sometimes secret creativity and rebellion.

Putin’s Bizarro World: Simultaneously Defending and Attacking Jews

Babi Yar Momument Kiev
In the last few days, Vladimir Putin has represented himself as the enemy of anti-Semitism and therefore the friend of Jews. He says, with a selective bit of truth, that among the many constituencies who deposed former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych were ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis who are themselves anti-Semitic. By this logic, Putin claims that his intervention in Ukraine is in part to restore Yanukovych and deny power to those anti-Semites.

In those same last few days, synagogues in the Ukraine have been vandalized and attacked, according to Russia by those same ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. Few believe that. Instead it is widely believed that Russia is responsible for this anti-Semitic mischief, which conveniently fits the Russian story line.

Jews have had a tough time in Europe, in Eastern Europe, in Russia, and certainly in Ukraine. In September 1941, about 33,000 Jews were rounded up by the Nazis in Kiev, and along with tens of thousands of others, massacred in a ravine known as Babi Yar. Say what you will about the execrable, pathological and murderous Hitler, he knew how to play the strategic blame game. He regularly blamed the Jews for just about everything, but he rarely blamed someone else for hating and attacking the Jews. That was something he wanted full credit for.

So the suggestion for Putin is this: leave the Jews out of this particular rationale. The Jewish community in Ukraine is small, and it is true that in the just-evolving democratic regime, Jews will be uncomfortably standing side-by-side with people who don’t like them. Democracy makes for strange bedfellows, or at least that’s the lesson in America. Jews have enough problems without Putin as their friend and defender. Because with friends like that…

Putin About to Win Post-Olympics Invasion Competition

Putin Olympics
In August 1936 Adolf Hitler hosted the Olympics in Germany. In March 1938 he invaded Austria. He waited about 18 months.

In February 2014 Vladimir Putin hosted the Olympics in Russia. Just a few days after the closing ceremonies, Putin is hosting ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin is also engaging in rhetoric and military movements that reasonably look like a prelude to some sort of Russian intervention in the Crimea region of eastern Ukraine, or he is at least engaging in bullying and sabre rattling.

Putin is on his way to winning the gold for post-Olympics invasions, moving Hitler down to the silver. Well done.

John Kerry’s Munich Moment: Is Political Reporting Too Polite?

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Hunter S. Thompson

About a week ago, President Obama said that if Syria’s Bashar Assad was not stopped from using chemical weapons, we might find those same weapons used against America. When asked about this days later, a presidential spokesman ignored the question. This weekend Secretary of State John Kerry said that the decision to stop Assad’s use of the weapons was a “Munich moment.” Meaning: Just as the Munich Agreement of 1938 condoned Hitler’s occupation of Czech territory, emboldening and enabling his vision of global conquest, so would our failure to respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons further his insidious master plan.

Experts who have bothered to talk about the prospect of these chemical weapons being used against America have dismissed it out of hand. As for the “Munich moment,” that requires a bit more nuance. Nobody claims, at least not yet, that Assad has any extra-territorial plans or delusions of regional grandeur. His plan seems to be simply to punish any Syrians who stand in the way of him and his family fiercely holding on to power. Garden variety despotry; Assad is no Hitler. If “Munich” means appeasing his inhumanity, that is also silly. The bulk of Assad’s inhumanity is also garden variety: guns, bombs, etc. Nothing that Obama has proposed is intended to take care of that.

The region really did have a Munich moment in 1990. Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait. A thirty-four nation coalition, led by the U.S., pushed him back to his own borders. Both the history of the Gulf War and its aftermath—including the decision by Bush 1 to go no further and the decision by Bush 2 to finish the job—are beyond the scope of this note. This is just to say that if you want to know what a Munich moment looks like, that was it.

The authenticity and civility of our political life are always in question. We ask whether politicians and their supporters are speaking truth, saying what they mean, meaning what they say, and saying it all in a way that is reasonably respectful and polite. That’s a lot to ask of them, and our expectations are right now pretty low. It’s also a lot to ask of political pundits and commentators. Unconstrained by the limitations of office or election, some of them, left to right, go wherever their opinions take them. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.

Then there are political journalists. This is where things get tricky. Calling a political statement a lie or stupid, or calling a politician a liar or stupid, is supposed to fail the professional standard on a few scores. It supposedly puts a journalist’s objectivity in question; that sort of discourse is best left to political minions and commentators. And if not carefully couched or softened, it can come off as inappropriately impolite and uncivil, another professional faux pas.

We should all miss Hunter S. Thompson right about now. His suicide in 2005 left a gap in political journalism that hasn’t been filled and probably never will be. He didn’t begin as a political reporter. He came up as a writer during the time of the so-called “new journalism” in the 1960s (Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, et al), when the lines between the factual, the personal and the expressive broke down. By his own admission, Thompson was crazy, formally or informally; he was also a stunningly talented observer and writer. When he hit the political beat, it was right place, right time, right writer. If politics was an exercise in duplicity, venality and near-insanity, it needed a professional journalist just as insane. The collection of his Rolling Stone coverage of the 1972 presidential election, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, is not just on another planet from the classic campaign coverage up to then; it is in another solar system.

Thompson had a special relationship with Richard Nixon. He ended up respecting and applauding Nixon’s brilliant mind as an expert football strategist, but otherwise Thompson despised him. He wrote a 1994 obituary of Nixon.  In it he continues the case for that untempered loathing, but in this excerpt also explains why it is an appropriate attitude for a journalist:

Kissinger was only one of the many historians who suddenly came to see Nixon as more than the sum of his many squalid parts. He seemed to be saying that History will not have to absolve Nixon, because he has already done it himself in a massive act of will and crazed arrogance that already ranks him supreme, along with other Nietzschean supermen like Hitler, Jesus, Bismarck and the Emperor Hirohito. These revisionists have catapulted Nixon to the status of an American Caesar, claiming that when the definitive history of the 20th century is written, no other president will come close to Nixon in stature. “He will dwarf FDR and Truman,” according to one scholar from Duke University.

It was all gibberish, of course. Nixon was no more a Saint than he was a Great President. He was more like Sammy Glick than Winston Churchill. He was a cheap crook and a merciless war criminal who bombed more people to death in Laos and Cambodia than the U.S. Army lost in all of World War II, and he denied it to the day of his death. When students at Kent State University, in Ohio, protested the bombing, he connived to have them attacked and slain by troops from the National Guard.

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

It’s not that we don’t have good and great political journalists working today; we may have more than ever. And it’s not that there aren’t plenty of partisans pointing out gaps in someone else’s facts and reasoning.

It’s just that an amazing amount of stuff gets said and seems to get by far too unchallenged or challenged too narrowly or politely. It wasn’t so long ago that the Republican party produced a nominating spectacle that is widely characterized as a circus or a clown car. But at the time, journalists were unwilling to even hint at how ridiculous some of it was, as the party of Lincoln earnestly considered nominating Herman Cain or Donald Trump as their standard bearer.

Sure we need objectivity, maybe now more than ever in a social media enriched/poisoned environment. What we shouldn’t do is confuse objectivity with comity and politeness. If Hunter Thompson was shockingly blunt—and so much fun to read—it was to wake people up from the soporific effect of treating truth and lies, intelligence and stupidity, as rhetorical equivalents, in the name of objectivity, politeness and respect. In the name of keeping the peace. That would be the media Munich moment.

Update: Rereading this post, I have to add that the closest we come to Hunter S. Thompson’s “gonzo” political journalism is The Daily Show on Comedy Central. This revelation came watching the first few days of Jon Stewart’s return after his summer away, coming back to a grim and arguably ridiculous political crisis. The Daily Show’s trick is to protest (too much) that it is a “fake” news show, which gives it total license to completely get its facts straight while speaking truth to absurdity. And when, as this week, vicious jokes aren’t quite enough, Stewart vents his frustration directly and straight, no humor. Oh, to see what The Daily Show would have made of the Nixon Years.