Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 13, 2007

Hitler’s Record Collection?

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

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It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

The London Times trumpeted the story about Hitler’s record collection with headlines like “Hitler’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ turn up in a dead Russian soldier’s attic” and “A cultivated taste that went for very best,” lauding the dictator’s musical acumen. This praise was based on information that the collection includes recordings by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and pianist Artur Schnabel, an Austrian Jew, performing a Mozart sonata. These recordings are available on CD from Naxos, Pearl, and Music & Arts Records respectively; they are exceptional performances from a time when the choice of major musical repertory on disc was limited.

The London Times goes so far as to praise Hitler as a recordings connoisseur: “Hitler appeared to enjoy a good tune.” This sentiment echoes such mock kudos from Mel Brooks’s The Producers as “Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill.” Other media reports managed to find a moral to the story. A headline in the Australian proclaimed that “Hitler relaxed to music of Jews”; the article that followed suggested he was guilty of hypocrisy. The cellist Steven Isserlis claims in the Guardian that “racial rules could be stretched where the glory and comfort of supermen were concerned.”

Do we really need new reasons to despise Hitler? The hoopla surrounding this record collection rates as the most frivolous innovation in Third Reich studies since Lothar Machtan’s 2001 The Hidden Hitler claimed that Hitler was gay (an idea also advanced by The Producers). Even during the slow news days of summer, the media would do well to maintain a sense of the ridiculous, as well as a healthy suspicion of reports originating from deceased Soviet intelligence officers.

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The Fulani Follies

It has been proven yet again that New York City’s colorful political scene rivals that of any municipality or state. To wit: Lenora Fulani—the political cult leader—appears to be making a comeback, planning a run for the mayoralty in 2009.

In 1989, Fulani wrote that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color” and “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel.” Last week she said: “The language I used was harsh, and today I would call it excessive.” Irrespective of whether Fulani is an anti-Semite (the fact that she waited eighteen years to repudiate these remarks and has only done so on the verge of announcing her intentions to run for political office renders her motivations highly suspect), she still remains a disreputable public figure. She has long been allied with Fred Newman, who, as a “revolutionary” psychotherapist, playwright, and Marxist political activist, rivals L. Ron Hubbard in his megalomaniacal dilettantism and knack for operating cults behind the veneer of an ostensibly respectable front group. Newman and Fulani eventually manged to gain control of New York’s Independence Party. Yet, like many Marxists, the two are opportunists first and ideologues second, as this 2005 piece in the New York Times (which discusses Newman’s one-time support for Al Sharpton) and this 1999 piece from the Nation (about Fulani’s erstwhile allegiance with Pat Buchanan) demonstrate.

Mayor Bloomberg sought—and won—the support of Fulani’s Independence Party in his 2001 election, and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party’s political coffers. He even went so far as to join with Fulani’s group in the campaign to bring non-partisan elections to New York City, which would have weakened the Democratic Party and strengthened the Newman/Fulani faction. When necessary, Bloomberg has delivered the standard disapproving sound-bite about the wackiness of those running the Independence Party. Politics does make strange bedfellows, particularly in New York. But before the Mayor begins to tread in Presidential waters, he would do well to explain why he spent so many years currying favor with such disreputable politicians.

It has been proven yet again that New York City’s colorful political scene rivals that of any municipality or state. To wit: Lenora Fulani—the political cult leader—appears to be making a comeback, planning a run for the mayoralty in 2009.

In 1989, Fulani wrote that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color” and “had to sell their souls to acquire Israel.” Last week she said: “The language I used was harsh, and today I would call it excessive.” Irrespective of whether Fulani is an anti-Semite (the fact that she waited eighteen years to repudiate these remarks and has only done so on the verge of announcing her intentions to run for political office renders her motivations highly suspect), she still remains a disreputable public figure. She has long been allied with Fred Newman, who, as a “revolutionary” psychotherapist, playwright, and Marxist political activist, rivals L. Ron Hubbard in his megalomaniacal dilettantism and knack for operating cults behind the veneer of an ostensibly respectable front group. Newman and Fulani eventually manged to gain control of New York’s Independence Party. Yet, like many Marxists, the two are opportunists first and ideologues second, as this 2005 piece in the New York Times (which discusses Newman’s one-time support for Al Sharpton) and this 1999 piece from the Nation (about Fulani’s erstwhile allegiance with Pat Buchanan) demonstrate.

Mayor Bloomberg sought—and won—the support of Fulani’s Independence Party in his 2001 election, and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party’s political coffers. He even went so far as to join with Fulani’s group in the campaign to bring non-partisan elections to New York City, which would have weakened the Democratic Party and strengthened the Newman/Fulani faction. When necessary, Bloomberg has delivered the standard disapproving sound-bite about the wackiness of those running the Independence Party. Politics does make strange bedfellows, particularly in New York. But before the Mayor begins to tread in Presidential waters, he would do well to explain why he spent so many years currying favor with such disreputable politicians.

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Kristof Gets It Wrong (Again)

The opinion writers for the New York Times do not seem to have gotten the news that the troop surge is working. (For the latest indication, see this USA Today story reporting that “the number of truck bombs and other large al-Qaeda-style attacks in Iraq have declined nearly 50 percent since the United States started increasing troop levels in Iraq about six months ago.”) Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes today that “staggering on” in Iraq will only delay “the inevitable”—that is, our defeat.

Oddly enough he buttresses this argument with an analogy to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He argues that “the Soviets and the Afghans alike would have been far better off if the USSR had withdrawn earlier.”

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The opinion writers for the New York Times do not seem to have gotten the news that the troop surge is working. (For the latest indication, see this USA Today story reporting that “the number of truck bombs and other large al-Qaeda-style attacks in Iraq have declined nearly 50 percent since the United States started increasing troop levels in Iraq about six months ago.”) Columnist Nicholas Kristof writes today that “staggering on” in Iraq will only delay “the inevitable”—that is, our defeat.

Oddly enough he buttresses this argument with an analogy to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He argues that “the Soviets and the Afghans alike would have been far better off if the USSR had withdrawn earlier.”

We can, of course, quibble with the comparison between a foreign army’s trying to impose an atheist tyranny and a foreign army’s trying to strengthen the authority of a democratically elected government. Much of the Afghan population was mobilized to resist the Soviets, with the mujahideen fielding hundreds of thousands of fighters; in Iraq we face an enemy estimated to number no more than 20,000.

But the more important point here is that, objectively, the Soviet Union wasn’t better off after it withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. In fact, the Soviet Union ceased to exist shortly thereafter. Defeat in Afghanistan was widely seen, in retrospect, to have been one of the events precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union. It also, of course, emboldened Islamist extremists, some of whom (e.g., the Chechen separatists) continue to commit terrorist acts against Russia. Many others continue to wage jihad around the world; al Qaeda, the central coordinating body for such attacks, was formed in Afghanistan immediately after the Soviet withdrawal.

Seen in this light, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, far from serving as an argument for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, makes the opposite case: of the dangers of giving up the fight.

From the Soviet experience there is another important lesson that Kristof never mentions: the need to send enough troops. The Red Army never had more than 100,000 or so soldiers in Afghanistan, and most of them were tied up in large garrisons. This effectively ceded the countryside to the guerrillas and made it impossible to impose stability. The Soviets could mount offensives to kill some guerrillas, but as soon as they returned to base, the mujahideen would reassert their control. That is a mistake we have too often repeated in Iraq since 2003. It is only now that we have substantially increased our troop strength to 160,000, and have begun to carry out the kind of serious counterinsurgency campaign that the Russians never really attempted in Afghanistan.

Given the gains our troops are now making, it is folly to give up the fight, especially considering the serious consequences of defeat. The repercussions would hardly be ameliorated by Kristof’s suggestions to maintain a battalion (a mere 1,000 troops) in the Kurdish region, or to “push for progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.” (Is that why Shiites and Sunnis are killing each other in Iraq? Because they’re mad about the lack of “progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace”?)

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Condoms in Peoria

On the television program, the Gong Show, any of the three judges could sound a large gong if one of the acts being rehearsed by amateur performers was particularly poor. At this past Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was asked a simple question: “Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?” His answer: “It’s a choice!”

Wrong answer! No one sounded a gong, but given the ensuing raised eyebrows, the ensuing criticism, the ensuing Richardson campaign “clarification,” and the ensuing Richardson excuse—“jet lag”—one should have been.

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On the television program, the Gong Show, any of the three judges could sound a large gong if one of the acts being rehearsed by amateur performers was particularly poor. At this past Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was asked a simple question: “Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?” His answer: “It’s a choice!”

Wrong answer! No one sounded a gong, but given the ensuing raised eyebrows, the ensuing criticism, the ensuing Richardson campaign “clarification,” and the ensuing Richardson excuse—“jet lag”—one should have been.

One needs a careful map to walk through the minefield of interest-group politics within the Democratic party. According to gay-rights theology, if homosexuality is seen as a choice, that could weaken the case for equal rights. As Jonathan Capehart sardonically notes in today’s Washington Post, “the forum’s organizers hoped to get the candidates to show their concern for the gay and lesbian community and to see whether their understanding emanated from their consultant-generated talking points or from their hearts. Clearly, Richardson’s head needed some work.”

Richardson is not the only Democratic candidate struggling to get out in front of sexual issues. Whether their sound-bites are emanating from hearts or minds or consultants, they are all engaging in contortions, some of them comical, to say the correct thing.

At a “Presidential Forum” at Howard University in June, Senators Joe Biden and Barack Obama, perhaps competing to be superior role models, both boasted about how they had been tested for AIDS. Biden won the contest by adding: “I spent last summer going through the black sections of my town holding rallies in parks, trying to get black men to understand that it’s not unmanly to wear a condom.”

One can’t help wondering how this sort of sexual politics might play out, not just in the Democratic debates and primaries, but afterward, in the general election. Bill Clinton was hardly the first President to engage in sex in the White House with someone other than his wife. But he was unquestionably the first to put the subject under the spotlight for years on end. Is his legacy now continuing to unfold?

Most Americans, it is safe to say, are deeply interested in sex. But are they also interested in hearing about it from presidential candidates on a daily basis? How, one wonders, will this brand of political exhibitionism play in Peoria?

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Boot Interview

Last week we sat down for an interview with Max Boot, a regular contributor to this blog and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Boot talks about “How Not to Get Out of Iraq” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), General Petraeus’s September report, the war in Iraq, and more.

The video can be seen here.

Last week we sat down for an interview with Max Boot, a regular contributor to this blog and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Boot talks about “How Not to Get Out of Iraq” (his article in the September issue of COMMENTARY), General Petraeus’s September report, the war in Iraq, and more.

The video can be seen here.

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