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“Amnesia Peddled As Blithe Counter-History”: Ben Carson Is Wrong About The Holocaust; Jews Did Fight Back

Wolf Blitzer, the improbably named CNN personality, is no one’s idea of an adroit interviewer. His questions have a certain Dada quality, strings of declarative fragments that seem to have been cut and pasted at random. Ben Carson, the suddenly notable presidential candidate, is a slightly better interviewee, if only because, if you can get past his sleepily anodyne delivery, he is almost guaranteed to say something oblivious, terrifying, or both. Carson’s campaign is Your Older Relative’s Facebook timeline, a series of utterly fantastic claims and propositions presented as the commonest sense. It seemed unlikely that Blitzer, in a Thursday interview, would shake anything loose that wasn’t already rattling around under the hood of the Carson express.

So it came as a surprise when the Internet lit up with word that Blitzer had nabbed Carson’s most improbable claim yet, that “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.” But Thursday was not the first time Carson has made this claim.

One of the weirder rituals of the American presidential campaign is the production of the campaign book. These tend to be widely purchased but little read. Their titles echo lyrics of patriotic songs or pull-quotes from historic American oratory. They’re little more than invitations to cable news bookers who would’ve booked the candidates for interviews anyway. Well, Wolf’s producers actually combed through A More Perfect Union, Carson’s latest epistle to the American people, and they discovered the claim that one of the foundations of the Holocaust was civil disarmament.

Whatever else he may be, Ben Carson is not a rigorous thinker, and it’s unlikely he paused to clarify in his own mind whether it was all Germans who would’ve martialed a civic militia to sweep Hitler from power or just Germany’s Jews who would’ve shot their way to freedom like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The notion that private gun ownership prevents tyranny is more an article of faith than a thesis statement. It is worth noting that Hitler’s actual attempt at an armed putsch failed, and the Nazis only later came to power through democratic, parliamentary means. If it’s no longer in vogue to say that all Germans were “Hitler’s willing executioners,” then it’s still fair to note that the Nazis swiftly and effectively consolidated their power and achieved broad support in their country.

But Carson’s comments, thoughtless or no, touch on a troubling undercurrent in the popular Western mythology of the Holocaust: the notion of the Jews as universally passive victims who did not resist their own destruction. This image is amplified in the sentimental portrayals of the Holocaust in so much of our film and media, in which the Jewish victims of the Nazi killing machine are urban, intellectual, and assimilated: city people who would never own a gun or fight back. The shopkeepers and intellectuals and small industrialists are rounded up and packed off to their doom. At best, they hide, or some Schindler saves them.

Eastern Europe, in this narrative, remains vast and undifferentiated. That Jews, cosmopolitan and rural alike, did resist remains unremarked. This serves the American self-image as the singular vanquisher of Hitler’s regime, which was unstoppable and inexorable until our boys made the beachhead at Omaha. But, though it failed and was overwhelmed, there was active resistance in Nazi-conquered Europe throughout the war, and Jews were among the resisters. We do remember the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but we forget that there was armed resistance throughout the ghettos of Poland and the occupied Soviet Union, more than one hundred instances in all. There were uprisings in the camps, in Treblinka and Sobibor and eventually in Auschwitz. Jews fought among partisan resisters in almost every country in occupied Europe. They formed their own partisan resistance groups, like the Bielski partisans in occupied Poland (now Belarus), often facing both German and Soviet forces.

This resistance was not successful. It reveals the lie in Carson’s real central claim. Armed citizens could not prevail against the might of the Wehrmacht. It required the combined power of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union to defeat Hitler, and even then at the cost of tens of millions of lives. But it also reveals the hateful and frankly anti-Semitic assumption that the Jews of Europe stumbled meekly to their own slaughter.

A grim irony is that the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom was blamed on a Jew with a gun. Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish-German Jew living in Paris, upon learning of the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany, bought a gun and bullets (quite legally), went to the German embassy, and assassinated the diplomat Ernst vom Rath. (An additional irony: Rath, though an anti-Semite himself, had expressed regret at the treatment and suffering of Jews.) A citizen with a gun became one of the gross pretexts on which the Nazis began their Final Solution.

As a Jew, I find it uncommonly disturbing to be treated as a delicate historical artifact that must be preserved under armed guard at all times. There are many Jews, and many kinds of Jews. To reduce us to no more than the point of our almost-destruction and then display us forever as a cautionary tale is worse even than hatred—it’s contempt. And using the Holocaust as a debating point in America’s endless Second Amendment tussle is bad enough without the additional implication that mass extermination is just the sort of thing that happens to people who don’t ammo-up and fight back. Ben Carson likely won’t become president, and we will all feel better about laughing on Twitter at his inanity. But there is a very real problem with amnesia peddled as blithe counter-history. It isn’t disarmament, after all, that makes history repeat, but forgetfulness.

 

By: Jacob Bacharach, The New Republic, October 9, 2015

October 11, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Holocaust, Jews | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Undermining The Sacred Right To Lie”: More Fun With Ben Carson’s Idea of “PC”

Back in October I stared at enough Ben Carson remarks to begin to grasp the man’s very unusual definition of “political correctness,” a term he uses constantly. To him, it basically means the practice of contradicting or mocking right-wing conspiracy theories in a way that “intimidates” people into no longer articulating them, which in turn suppresses political debate and thus makes America no longer America or something. So I wasn’t surprised when Carson went into full anti-PC mode after Wolf Blitzer (among others) called him on comparing the United States to Nazi Germany (per David at Crooks & Liars):

Possible Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson on Wednesday lashed out at CNN host Wolf Blitzer for “focusing on the words” that he used when he compared the United States to Nazi Germany.

Earlier this year, Carson had told the conservative news outlet Breitbart that the U.S. was “very much like Nazi Germany” because President Barack Obama was using the government to “intimidate the population.”

“What I heard the comparison of the United States of America — the greatest country in the world, the greatest country ever — to Nazi Germany, I said, what is he talking about?” Blitzer told Carson on Wednesday.

“See, what you were doing is allowing words to affect you more than listening to what was actually being said,” Carson insisted. “Nazi Germany experienced something horrible. The people in Nazi Germany largely did not believe in what Hitler was doing, but did they say anything? Of course not. They kept their mouths shut.”

“The fact that our government is using instruments of government like the IRS to punish its opponents, this is not the kind of thing, as far as I’m concerned, that is a Democrat or Republican issue. This is an American issue. This is an issue that threatens all of our liberty, all or our freedom.”

Blitzer, however, wasn’t satisfied: “But to make the comparison, Dr. Carson, to Nazi Germany, the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis, the devastation that erupted in Europe and around the world to the United States of America, I want you to reflect on what that means.”

“Well, again, you are just focusing on the words Nazi Germany and completely missing the point,” Carson replied. “And that’s the problem right now, that’s what PC-ism is all about: You may not say this word regardless of what your point is because if you say that word, you know, I go into a tizzy. We can do better than that.”

Read that through a couple of times and you get there’s no reasoning with people like Carson. Anyone who doesn’t accept his planted axiom that the IRS is being used as a political weapon by Obama (you know, through that well-known totalitarian tactic of slow-walking applications for a phony “social welfare” tax exemption designed to hide the identity of political donors) is smothering his argument with “political correctness.” Anyone hung up on the meaning of “words” like “Nazi” is undermining the sacred right to lie and make outrageous false analogies. Carson sees no obligation on his own part to be slightly more careful in his characterization of political opponents as akin to slave-drivers and Nazis. And so until people like him are, God forbid, fully in charge of America, any expression of dissent from his bizarre world-view is in fact oppressive, and any debate is the suppression of debate.

Yeah, the more I listen to him, the more it’s clear Dr. Ben Carson is the true and perhaps ultimate leader of the Post-Modern wing of the conservative movement, where “facts” are just an inconvenient artifice.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 4, 2014

December 7, 2014 Posted by | Ben Carson, Federal Government, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Atheists In Tornadoes And Foxholes”: If You Believe Only When There’s An Enemy Army Or A Tornado, You Don’t Believe

If you’ve watched the endless interviews with survivors of natural disasters, you may have noticed that the news media representatives, faced with someone who may be too shocked or nervous before the cameras to offer sufficiently compelling testimony, often do some gentle prompting. “When you saw your home destroyed, were you just devastated?” “You’ve never seen anything like this before, have you?” “Your whole life changed in that moment, didn’t it?” Not everyone who survived a disaster is YouTube clip-ready, so some need to be coached. There was one such interview after the tornado ran through Moore, Oklahoma that got some attention. Interviewing a woman as they stood before the tangled pile of debris that used to be her home and discussed her family’s narrow escape, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said, “You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?” When she hesitated, Blitzer pressed on. “Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?” She paused for a moment before responding, “I’m actually an atheist.” Awkward laughs ensued.

Blitzer’s assumption was understandable; most Americans profess a faith in God, and there is an awful lot of Lord-thanking after a natural disaster. Atheists find this puzzling, to say the least; if God deserves your thanks and praise for being so merciful as to allow you to live through the tornado, maybe He could have been kind enough not to destroy your home and kill 24 of your neighbors in the first place. But at times of crisis, everyone looks for comfort where they can find it.

It’s often said that there are no atheists in foxholes, and I suppose Wolf Blitzer thought the same would be true of tornadoes. But when you stop to think about that old expression, you realize how insulting it is, not just to those who don’t believe in an almighty but also to those who do. It says that the primary basis for religious faith is fear of death, and one’s beliefs are so superficial that they are a function only of the proximity of danger. If you believe only because there’s an enemy army or a tornado bearing down on you, you don’t believe.

Wolf Blitzer will no doubt be more careful next time. And perhaps he’ll learn that those who hold to no religion are a fast-growing group, as many as one in six Americans in most polls, so there’s at least a fair chance that the next disaster survivor he interviews will also be an atheist. Some of those secular folks are becoming more open about it as their numbers increase; for instance, when last week it came Arizona state representative Juan Mendez’s turn to open the legislative session with a prayer, he instead chose an eloquent invocation of “my secular humanist tradition,” including a quote from Carl Sagan. Afterward, Mendez said, “I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non-believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.”

It’s a nice thought, but it may take a while. There are signs of progress, though. Last week, Pope Francis made news around the world when in a homily, he delivered to his flock the shocking news that atheists are capable of doing good. They may not get to heaven, but on this planet they are not necessarily gripped by evil. This was certainly a step in the direction of mutual understanding that his predecessor was not inclined to make; Pope Benedict was aggressively hostile to those who don’t believe in God, essentially blaming the crimes of the Third Reich on atheism.

But I was surely not the only atheist who was a little underwhelmed by Francis’ generosity of spirit. Atheists are capable of goodness? How kind of him to say. If you heard a man say, “You may not believe it, but women can be intelligent,” you probably wouldn’t respond, “What an admirable statement of his commitment to equality—thanks, Mr. Feminist!” But the bar is pretty low for religious leaders; we expect them to hold that all who do not share their particular beliefs are doomed to an eternity of the cruelest punishments the divine mind can devise. We speak of religious “tolerance” as the most we can expect when it comes to the treatment of other people’s religions. But we “tolerate” not that which we love or respect but that which is unpleasant, painful, or worthy of mild contempt. We tolerate things which we’d just as soon see disappear. You tolerate a hangnail.

Nevertheless, we can give the Pope credit for making a start, even if in public life the most vapid expressions of faith will continue to be the norm. Singers will thank the Lord for delivering unto them a Grammy, smiting the hopes of the other nominees, who are plainly vile in His sight. Football players will gather to pray before a last-second field goal, in the hopes that God will alter his divine plan in their favor and push the ball through the goalposts. And presidents Democratic and Republican will end every speech with “And may God bless the United States of America.” As The Atlantic‘s James Fallows has noted many times, this utterly content-free bit of religiosity means nothing more than “This speech is now over.”

I don’t know if hearing that at the end of a speech makes anyone feel more reassured or hopeful about our country’s future. Perhaps it does. But that woman Wolf Blitzer interviewed? The group Atheists Unite put out a call to help her family rebuild their house, setting a goal of raising $50,000. They’re already approaching $100,000. She no doubt feels thankful, but she’ll be thanking her fellow human beings.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 27, 2013

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”: Where Are The Compassionate Conservatives?

We heard plenty of contradictions, distortions and untruths at the Republican candidates’ Tea Party debate, but we heard shockingly little compassion —  and almost no acknowledgement that political and economic policy choices have a moral dimension.

The lowest point of the evening — and perhaps of the political season — came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked.

“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul answered. “This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody. . . .”

Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?”

There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd. You’d think one of the other candidates might jump in with a word about Christian kindness. Not a peep.

Paul, a physician, went on to say that, no, the hypothetical comatose man should not be allowed to die. But in Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care — with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.

Blitzer turned to Michele Bachmann, whose popularity with evangelical Christian voters stems, at least in part, from her own professed born-again faith. Asked what she would do about the man in the coma, Bachmann ignored the question and launched into a canned explanation of why she wants to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees that God commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is no asterisk making this obligation null and void if circumstances require its fulfillment via government.

Bachmann knows a lot about compassion. She makes much of the fact that she and her husband took in 23 foster children over the years. But what of the orphaned or troubled children who are not lucky enough to find a wealthy family to take them in? What of the boys and girls who have stable homes but do not regularly see a doctor because their parents lack health insurance?

Government can reach them. But according to today’s Republican dogma, it must not.

Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Bachmann, Paul and the others onstage in Tampa all had the same prescription for the economy: Cut spending, cut taxes and let the wealth that results trickle down to the less fortunate.

They betrayed no empathy for, or even curiosity about, the Americans who depend on the spending that would be cut. They had no kind words — in fact, no words at all — for teachers, firefighters and police officers who will lose their jobs unless cash-strapped state and local government receive federal aid. Public servants, the GOP candidates imply, don’t hold “real” jobs. I wonder: Do Republicans even consider them “real” people?

Government is more than a machine for collecting and spending money, more than an instrument of war, a book of laws or a shield to guarantee and protect individual rights. Government is also an expression of our collective values and aspirations. There’s a reason  the Constitution begins “We the people . . .” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another . . . .”

I believe the Republican candidates’ pinched, crabby view of government’s nature and role is immoral. I believe the fact that poverty has risen sharply over the past decade — as shown by new census data — while the richest Americans have seen their incomes soar is unacceptable. I believe that writing off whole classes of citizens — the long-term unemployed whose skills are becoming out of date, thousands of former offenders who have paid their debt to society, millions of low-income youth ill-served by inadequate schools — is unconscionable.

Perry, who is leading in the polls, wants to make the federal government “inconsequential.” He thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” He doesn’t much like Medicare, either.

But there was a fascinating moment in the debate when Perry defended Texas legislation that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. “We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you,” Perry said.

The other candidates bashed him with anti-immigrant rhetoric until the evening’s only glimmer of moral responsibility was snuffed out.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011

September 17, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, Freedom, GOP, Government, Health Care, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Immigration, Lawmakers, Liberty, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Religion, Republicans, Right Wing, Teachers, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Candidates Weren’t The Only Ones On Display In Tampa

The point of presidential candidate debates is to offer the public a chance to scrutinize and evaluate those seeking national office. Occasionally, though, voters get the chance to scrutinize and evaluate those in the audience, which is nearly as interesting.

The candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination are a pretty scary bunch — remember, one of them stands a reasonably good chance of becoming the leader of the free world in about 17 months — and the two-hour display on CNN last night was a depressing reminder of what’s become of the GOP in the 21st century. That said, maybe it’s just me, but I’m starting to find the audiences for these debates even more disconcerting.

Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical scenario to Ron Paul, asking about a young man who makes a good living, but decides to forgo health insurance. Then, tragedy strikes and he needs care. Paul stuck to the libertarian line. “But congressman,” the moderator said, “are you saying that society should just let him die?”

And at that point, some in the audience shouted, “Yeah,” and applauded.

Earlier in the debate, Blitzer asked Rick Perry about his attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. “I said that, if you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes, that it would be almost treasonous,” Perry said. “I think that is a very clear statement of fact.”

The audience loved this, too.

What’s more, note that in last week’s debate, the mere observation that Perry has signed off on the executions of 234 people in Texas, more than any other governor in modern times, was enough to generate applause from a different GOP audience.

Taken together, over the last five days, we’ve learned that the way to impress Republican voters, at least the ones who show up for events like these, is to support letting the uninsured die, accusing the Fed of treason for trying to improve the economy, and executing lots of people.

There’s a deep strain of madness running through Republican politics in 2011, and it appears to be getting worse. Those wondering why the GOP presidential field appears weak, insipid, and shallow need look no further than the voters they choose to pander to.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 13, 2011

September 13, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Education, Elections, Freedom, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Individual Mandate, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Tea Party, Uninsured | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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