Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 13, 2007

Weekend Reading

This Sunday, April 15th, is Yom haShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Israeli parliament mandated the creation of this day–which falls on the 27th of Nisan in the Jewish calendar—in 1951, to honor the memories and the unimaginable sufferings of the victims of the Holocaust. Reflecting on the deeper meaning of the Holocaust in COMMENTARY’s very first issue (November 1945), the magazine’s founding editor Elliot Cohen wrote presciently:

[T]he kind of thinking and feeling that set loose this nightmare phenomenon still burns high in many countries, and lies latent in all. We have no gauge to measure the potentialities of this great Nazi secret weapon of World War II. But there are many—and they are not guided by personal hurt alone—who believe that here is a force that, in the political and social scene, can wreak destruction comparable to the atomic bomb itself. It was the ignis fatuus that lured the German people to their doom. It was the flame of the torch that kindled World War II. To resist it; to learn how to stamp it out; to re-affirm and restore the sense of the sanctity of the human person and the rights of man: here, too, our world is greatly challenged. How that challenge is to be met is, of course, of particular interest to Jews, but hardly less to all mankind, if there is to be a human future.

Over the ensuing decades, COMMENTARY has honored the commandment of remembrance by publishing many important articles on the Holocaust—memoirs, fiction, works of historiography, philosophy, religious thought, and literary criticism—by some of America’s and Europe’s most important writers. We present a small selection for this weekend’s reading.

Hannah Arendt on Eichmann: The Perversity of Brilliance
Norman Podhoretz — September 1963

Belsen Remembered
Lucy Dawidowicz — March 1966

Jewish Faith and the Holocaust: A Fragment
Emil L. Fackenheim — August 1968

Iron—A Memoir
Primo Levi — August 1977

Lies About the Holocaust
Lucy Dawidowicz — December 1980

The Lost Transport
Joseph Polak — September 1995

The Rights of History and the Rights of Imagination
Cynthia Ozick — March 1999

Krystyna’s Gift—A Memoir
Lydia Aran — February 2004

This Sunday, April 15th, is Yom haShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Israeli parliament mandated the creation of this day–which falls on the 27th of Nisan in the Jewish calendar—in 1951, to honor the memories and the unimaginable sufferings of the victims of the Holocaust. Reflecting on the deeper meaning of the Holocaust in COMMENTARY’s very first issue (November 1945), the magazine’s founding editor Elliot Cohen wrote presciently:

[T]he kind of thinking and feeling that set loose this nightmare phenomenon still burns high in many countries, and lies latent in all. We have no gauge to measure the potentialities of this great Nazi secret weapon of World War II. But there are many—and they are not guided by personal hurt alone—who believe that here is a force that, in the political and social scene, can wreak destruction comparable to the atomic bomb itself. It was the ignis fatuus that lured the German people to their doom. It was the flame of the torch that kindled World War II. To resist it; to learn how to stamp it out; to re-affirm and restore the sense of the sanctity of the human person and the rights of man: here, too, our world is greatly challenged. How that challenge is to be met is, of course, of particular interest to Jews, but hardly less to all mankind, if there is to be a human future.

Over the ensuing decades, COMMENTARY has honored the commandment of remembrance by publishing many important articles on the Holocaust—memoirs, fiction, works of historiography, philosophy, religious thought, and literary criticism—by some of America’s and Europe’s most important writers. We present a small selection for this weekend’s reading.

Hannah Arendt on Eichmann: The Perversity of Brilliance
Norman Podhoretz — September 1963

Belsen Remembered
Lucy Dawidowicz — March 1966

Jewish Faith and the Holocaust: A Fragment
Emil L. Fackenheim — August 1968

Iron—A Memoir
Primo Levi — August 1977

Lies About the Holocaust
Lucy Dawidowicz — December 1980

The Lost Transport
Joseph Polak — September 1995

The Rights of History and the Rights of Imagination
Cynthia Ozick — March 1999

Krystyna’s Gift—A Memoir
Lydia Aran — February 2004

Read Less

Bookshelf

• In January I wrote an essay for COMMENTARY occasioned by the simultaneous publication of new biographies of Walt Disney and Orson Welles. Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination turned out to be a big, booming bore, so I went out of my way to mention in a footnote that Michael Barrier, author of Hollywood Cartoons, the best book ever written about American animation, had a Disney biography of his own in the pipeline. Now Barrier has delivered the goods. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney (University of California Press, 424 pp., $29.95) is half the length of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination and has twice as much to say about the aesthetic aspect of Disney’s cartoons. Because it is concise, wholly unpretentious, and gossip-free—and because an academic press published it several months after Gabler’s high-profile biography—my guess is that The Animated Man will be overlooked by most book-review editors. Pay them no heed. Barrier is one of the few thoughtful critic-historians to have taken a serious interest in animation, and The Animated Man is a superbly penetrating piece of work.

Having concluded (correctly, in my view) that Disney the man wasn’t especially interesting as a personality, Barrier devotes most of the book to a close but not numbingly detailed account of the breathtakingly rapid artistic development and subsequent decline of his animated films. He lays out his critical priorities with admirable clarity on the very first page:

Disney was, in my reckoning, a stunted but fascinating artist . . . The Disneyland park was, and remains, an entrepreneurial marvel, but it was much more a product of its times than Disney’s films, and its impact on American culture, for good or ill, has been exaggerated. Thomas Edison and Henry ford may have transformed their country, but Walt Disney only helped to shape economic and demographic changes that would have occurred without him. It is his animated films of the 1930’s and early 1940’s that make him uniquely interesting.

Read More

• In January I wrote an essay for COMMENTARY occasioned by the simultaneous publication of new biographies of Walt Disney and Orson Welles. Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination turned out to be a big, booming bore, so I went out of my way to mention in a footnote that Michael Barrier, author of Hollywood Cartoons, the best book ever written about American animation, had a Disney biography of his own in the pipeline. Now Barrier has delivered the goods. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney (University of California Press, 424 pp., $29.95) is half the length of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination and has twice as much to say about the aesthetic aspect of Disney’s cartoons. Because it is concise, wholly unpretentious, and gossip-free—and because an academic press published it several months after Gabler’s high-profile biography—my guess is that The Animated Man will be overlooked by most book-review editors. Pay them no heed. Barrier is one of the few thoughtful critic-historians to have taken a serious interest in animation, and The Animated Man is a superbly penetrating piece of work.

Having concluded (correctly, in my view) that Disney the man wasn’t especially interesting as a personality, Barrier devotes most of the book to a close but not numbingly detailed account of the breathtakingly rapid artistic development and subsequent decline of his animated films. He lays out his critical priorities with admirable clarity on the very first page:

Disney was, in my reckoning, a stunted but fascinating artist . . . The Disneyland park was, and remains, an entrepreneurial marvel, but it was much more a product of its times than Disney’s films, and its impact on American culture, for good or ill, has been exaggerated. Thomas Edison and Henry ford may have transformed their country, but Walt Disney only helped to shape economic and demographic changes that would have occurred without him. It is his animated films of the 1930’s and early 1940’s that make him uniquely interesting.

All true, and Barrier makes an equally striking point about Disneyland when he observes that its commercial success would help to “seal character animation’s identity as a children’s medium and thus make it more difficult to produce films comparable to those that had made Disney himself famous.” This seems to me exactly right.

I wish Barrier had said a bit more about Disney’s critical reception—that’s one of the few things Neal Gabler gets right—but otherwise The Animated Man tells you everything you need to know about Walt Disney and his work. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

• A few days after writing about the Library of America’s Thornton Wilder: Collected Plays and Writings on Theater in this space, I received a letter from Tappan Wilder, the playwright’s nephew. I’d mentioned in passing that I hoped the Library of America would someday get around to bringing out a volume or two devoted to Wilder’s novels, and Tappan Wilder wanted me to know that all seven are currently available in paperback from Perennial. He enclosed a copy of Heaven’s My Destination, which I am now reading with enormous pleasure and fascination, both of which are greatly enhanced by J.D. McClatchy’s foreword and Tappan’s own afterword. More in due course, but for the moment I’ll mention that the other six novels are accompanied by forewords written by Russell Banks (The Bridge of San Luis Rey), Christopher Buckley (Theophilus North), Penelope Niven (The Woman of Andros and The Cabala), John Updike (The Eighth Day) and Kurt Vonnegut (The Ides of March). I’m still hoping for a Library of America omnibus, but these attractive editions will do quite nicely until then.

Read Less

More on the Muslim Brotherhood

Is the Muslim Brotherhood the answer to our prayers for a force to promote democracy and to counter jihadism in the Islamic world? Yes, answer Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs, in an article to which I took exception on Monday. They have replied to my criticisms, and I will answer their replies and continue the discussion about the Brotherhood.

Brooke says of my citation of Mahdi Akef that one should “look at the overall group and not just pull out the most conspicuous bad examples. . . . [W]e can’t get distracted by ‘weeds in the garden.’” But Mahdi Akef is not merely a “bad example” or a “weed.” He is the head of the organization, its General Guide or Supreme Guide (translations vary). When asked in an interview about public statements by other Brotherhood figures, Akef replied:

I am the one and only leader of the Brotherhood in Egypt. Ever since I was elected to the post, I have permitted other prominent members to speak to the media. . . . Ultimately, the Brotherhoood has one head and one elected supreme leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef.

Was this an empty boast?

Read More

Is the Muslim Brotherhood the answer to our prayers for a force to promote democracy and to counter jihadism in the Islamic world? Yes, answer Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs, in an article to which I took exception on Monday. They have replied to my criticisms, and I will answer their replies and continue the discussion about the Brotherhood.

Brooke says of my citation of Mahdi Akef that one should “look at the overall group and not just pull out the most conspicuous bad examples. . . . [W]e can’t get distracted by ‘weeds in the garden.’” But Mahdi Akef is not merely a “bad example” or a “weed.” He is the head of the organization, its General Guide or Supreme Guide (translations vary). When asked in an interview about public statements by other Brotherhood figures, Akef replied:

I am the one and only leader of the Brotherhood in Egypt. Ever since I was elected to the post, I have permitted other prominent members to speak to the media. . . . Ultimately, the Brotherhoood has one head and one elected supreme leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef.

Was this an empty boast?

I also visited the Brotherhood’s website today. It has twenty articles on its front page. The icons for seventeen of these are various different photos of Mahdi Akef. Of the three other articles, two are reports on speeches by Mahdi Akef. On another day, it might be less monomaniacal—but you get the point.

Brooke says in his response to my post: “the group, overall, is headed . . . in a direction generally favorable to U.S. positions on global jihad and democracy.” Here is what Akef has to say:

The Muslim Brotherhood movement condemns all bombings in the independent Arab and Muslim countries. But the bombings in Palestine and Iraq are a [religious] obligation. This is because these two countries are occupied countries, and the occupier must be expelled in every way possible. Thus, the [Muslim Brotherhood] movement supports martyrdom operations in Palestine and Iraq in order to expel the Zionists and the Americans.

What does it tell us about the group’s position on jihad that it condemns terrorism only in (most) Arab and Muslim countries? Not to mention that it is hard to see how one could support U.S. policy toward global jihad and also support the bombers blowing up U.S. troops in Iraq. As for the question of U.S. policy on democracy, Akef has this to say: “We have expressed no willingness to enter into dialogue with America as a country. Moreover, we refused everything it offered in the name of democracy, human rights, education, and the war on terror.” After all, as he put it on still another occasion: “We have no relations with the U.S. It is a Satan that abuses the region, lacking all morality and law.”

Leiken writes: “We never said these were the only moderates Muslims with whom to talk.” But in his next breath, he disparages other possible interlocutors as “an isolated moderate Muslim somewhere [without] traction in Muslim societies.” As if this weren’t enough, in their response to another critic, Patrick Poole (whom Brooke cites in his replies to me), Leiken and Brooke claim: “Without the Muslim Brotherhood, and with Poole’s policies, we stand to lose the Middle East and the entire Muslim world.”

I was stunned when I read that sentence, and doubly stunned when Leiken replied to me here by writing: “Josh comes out where we did: ‘talk with the Muslim Brotherhood.’” My words were: “talk to the Brotherhood? Sure. But to anoint it as the ‘moderate’ force we have been seeking would mean to betray the true Arab liberals as well as our own critical faculties.” Can he really discern no difference between what I wrote and his own claim that the Brotherhood is the fulcrum of our hopes?

Leiken also writes: “We indicated that we rejected the Brotherhood’s ‘defensive jihad’ against Israel or the U.S. intervention in Iraq.” Really? On what page? I failed to find this “indicat[ion]” in two readings. Perhaps I missed it, but what makes me distrust Leiken’s command of his own article is the third paragraph of his response to me. He writes: “We never said the Muslim Brotherhood ‘embraced democracy.’” Let me quote the article: “Jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood . . . for . . . embracing democracy.” And then a few pages later: “The Ikhwan [i.e., Brotherhood] followed the path of toleration and eventually came to find democracy compatible with its notion of slow Islamization.” Further, Leiken misquotes himself when he says that he and Brooke described the Brotherhood as a “vanguard party,” a term which does not appear in the article. Rather they called the Brotherhood a “cadre party,” and compared it to the Communist and Nazi parties—but only to differentiate it from them.

In their response to Poole, Leiken and Brooke write: “Are we really prepared to demand that all other countries embrace Western democracy . . . ? This simpleminded and quixotic approach was tried in Iraq and has failed.” Perhaps, but the article in Foreign Affairs recommended the Brotherhood precisely as a force for democratization. Perhaps that was just a bluff, and they really mean that we should give up on democracy and make our peace with powerful indigenous forces. Maybe so. But if we are to follow that realist path, how realistic would it be to place our hopes on a force that trumpets its hatred for us?

Read Less

The Thompson Candidacy

How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?

Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.

The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”

But what about substance?

Read More

How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?

Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.

The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”

But what about substance?

Thompson frequently fills in for ABC radio host Paul Harvey, and gives short “position paper” talks on issues. If recent ones are a guide, he is pro-defense, committed to winning in Iraq, opposed to civilization-wide surrender to Islamofascism, pro-immigration enforcement, and an economic conservative. It is worth noting, however, that these are only his stated positions. In his Senate years he supported McCain-Feingold on campaign-finance reform and lacked the political skill to turn the Chinagate hearings (which he chaired) into a substantive exposition of Bill Clinton’s arms-for-cash chicanery.

Thompson certainly has as much political experience as anyone from either party in this year’s not overly experienced crop. He served eight years as a U.S. Senator but has been in government and around politics much longer than that. His resume includes an early stint as a deputy U.S. attorney in his native Tennessee, after which he ran Howard Baker’s 1972 Senate campaign. He came to Washington to serve as co-chief counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee. He worked as a lobbyist for 18 years, and began his acting career accidentally enough in 1987, when the director of a movie about one of Thompson’s cases couldn’t find someone to play him, and so asked him to audition. After leaving the Senate in 2003, he joined the cast of the popular legal drama Law and Order.

Can Thompson catch up with the field money-wise, having missed the first quarter of fundraising? He is said to be able to raise “Hollywood money” (though Hollywood GOP money is a new concept). Thompson is not by any means known as a hard worker–and raising more than $1 million a week is hard work. His already-high name recognition, though, could offset the need for advertising dollars. Jumping in late also has the potential advantage of saving him from overexposure. John McCain is already suffering from this malady, having been the candidate-in-waiting since the end of the 2000 primaries. And Thompson polled high in March, beating Hillary in a Rasmussen match-up by a margin of 44 percent to 43 percent, and came in third in the Republican field (ahead of Romney) in a recent Gallup poll.

Last month the evangelical leader and talk-show host James Dobson announced that he won’t support Thompson. Dobson doesn’t think the former Senator is a real Christian, never having heard him discuss his Christian beliefs publicly. This won’t hurt, since no one meets Dobson’s test this year—and polls show Rudy Giuliani, a social libertarian who respondents feel is tough enough to stare down the nation’s very real enemies, running first. What may hurt Thompson, quite reasonably, is the fact that he has no executive experience.

Ten months out from the first primary, the GOP field remains fluid, as Republicans wait to see how the candidates fare over a very long campaign season. Thompson could easily end up on the ticket—but it’s not likely to be in the top slot.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.