Commentary Magazine


Topic: Adolf Hitler

Did Beck Cross the Line? Yes.

Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

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Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

First, even if that is a picture of Lenin, Beck chose one in which the Bolshevik’s arm is raised in a manner that is suspiciously like that of the Nazis. That there is an armband on the figure’s arm is reminiscent of Hitler, who habitually wore the swastika in that fashion, rather than Lenin and the Communists, with whom that image is not generally associated. So even if it is proved that the original image is not that of Hitler, Beck and his staff clearly were trying to fudge the issue in order to make it seem more like a villain whose picture is far better known in the United States.

The imposition of the slogan “You Will” on the image of Bloomberg was also the sort of phrase that is more associated with the Nazis than Communists. Leni Riefenstahl’s classic Nazi documentary was entitled “Triumph of the Will.” Communist rhetoric, especially that of Lenin, often sounded more utopian than authoritarian even if it covered an equally murderous intent.

Nor did Beck tell his audience that it was Lenin that he wanted them to see and not Hitler when inveighing against Bloomberg. Given the concerted attempt to confuse onlookers in this matter, Beck had no right to cry foul if they drew the conclusion that he was clearly trying to entice them to arrive at.

Second, even if we were to concede that Beck was trying to associate Bloomberg with Lenin, that is not a whole lot better than the Hitler analogy. While the image of Lenin would take the use of the Holocaust out of the equation, it must be pointed out that the man who transformed Russia into the evil empire of the Soviet Union was also a mass murderer. Estimates about the number killed in the Red Terror that followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917 vary, but there is no question hundreds of thousands died. The toll of those who perished in Soviet jails and camps or at the hands of the secret police he unleashed is equally high. If one considers that he set in place the mechanism by which Stalin murdered tens of millions, he must be placed in the pantheon of the 20th century’s worst murderers.

I happen to share Beck’s disdain for Michael Bloomberg’s nanny-state liberalism. A year ago when the mayor first proposed his soda ban, I wrote here to condemn the measure and reminded readers the issue was “freedom, not soft drinks.” But comparing this infringement on personal liberty to mass murder, whether committed by Nazis or Communists, is not a rational or reasonable argument. At best, Beck’s stunt could be called hyperbole. At worst, it is the sort of demonization that undermines public discourse in a democracy.

It is true that many on the left play this same game. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is just as guilty as Beck. Indeed, in denouncing Beck for what he, too, assumed was an inappropriate Nazi analogy, the left-wing talker called the tactic “Hitlerian.” That was hypocritical as well as over the top.

The bottom line in this discussion remains the same. By using this sort of imagery against Bloomberg, Beck is doing more than making a fool of himself again. He is doing serious damage to the cause of defending the Second Amendment. He deserves no apology. He and the NRA (which sanctioned his stunt) owe one to Bloomberg as well as to conservatives whose cause he has damaged.

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Beck Crosses the Line Again

The dynamic in contemporary American political warfare tends to treat any offenses by those figures that we consider to be on “our side” on many of the great issues of the day as insignificant while treating those of our opponents as earth-shaking crimes. There are conservatives who may overcompensate for this by joining in the liberal demonization of some of the left’s favorite targets, but that kind of disappointing appeal for the respect of the mainstream media ought not prevent us from holding the right accountable for bad behavior.

That’s why Glenn Beck’s appearance at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention is the sort of thing that cannot go without comment here. In his remarks to the conclave, Beck denounced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for financing campaigns against politicians who defend Second Amendment rights. Placing it in the context of Bloomberg’s nanny state style of governing New York, which has led to soda bans as well as a myriad of other measures designed to tell people how to live, Beck put forward a critique of the mayor that rightly painted him as an opponent of individual liberty. But then, as he has often done in the past, Beck went too far.

It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.

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The dynamic in contemporary American political warfare tends to treat any offenses by those figures that we consider to be on “our side” on many of the great issues of the day as insignificant while treating those of our opponents as earth-shaking crimes. There are conservatives who may overcompensate for this by joining in the liberal demonization of some of the left’s favorite targets, but that kind of disappointing appeal for the respect of the mainstream media ought not prevent us from holding the right accountable for bad behavior.

That’s why Glenn Beck’s appearance at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention is the sort of thing that cannot go without comment here. In his remarks to the conclave, Beck denounced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for financing campaigns against politicians who defend Second Amendment rights. Placing it in the context of Bloomberg’s nanny state style of governing New York, which has led to soda bans as well as a myriad of other measures designed to tell people how to live, Beck put forward a critique of the mayor that rightly painted him as an opponent of individual liberty. But then, as he has often done in the past, Beck went too far.

It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.

In writing this, I can already hear the complaints of conservatives who will say those of us who oppose Bloomberg’s politics should not attack Beck since that undermines the cause of defending gun rights as well as the cause of liberty that Beck said in his remarks was his sole motivation. But anyone who doesn’t understand the difference between an anti-Semitic mass murderer and a liberal American Jew need not bother deluging my email inbox with their pointless criticisms. Calling liberals Nazis doesn’t hurt liberalism. It hurts conservatives. Making such comparisons is not just a manifestation of a lack of good taste or an unwillingness to treat the Holocaust as a singular historic event. Resorting to attempts to delegitimize the other side is a sign of an inability to make reasoned arguments.

It should be stipulated, as Ron Kampeas noted at his JTA blog yesterday, that this is not the first time Beck has crossed the line when it comes to the Holocaust. As I wrote here in November 2010, his attack on leftist financier George Soros as a Nazi collaborator was just as inappropriate. Soros is a scoundrel, but Beck had no business pontificating about what a teenaged Jewish boy trapped in Nazi-ruled Hungary might have done. Similarly, Beck mischaracterized Soros’s efforts to undermine Communist governments when he was one of the good guys in that struggle.

As I wrote then:

Political commentary that reduces every person and every thing to pure black and white may be entertaining, but it is often misleading. There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo. Instead of providing sharp insight into a shady character, all Beck has done is further muddy the waters and undermine his own credibility as a commentator.

By depicting Bloomberg as a Nazi, he has repeated that offense. And the fact that he is generally on the same side on many issues as me and is a warm supporter of Israel doesn’t render him exempt from the criticism he richly deserves about this.

As for those who will dismiss this as just a joke, I’m afraid I have to point out there are some topics that just aren’t funny. It is an axiom of political combat that the first person to call someone a Nazi always loses. Call Bloomberg what you like, but to portray him as a Nazi simply crosses a line that no responsible person should even approach. That Beck finds it impossible to engage in political debate without behaving in this manner tells us all we need to know about him.

Beck owes Bloomberg an apology. So does the NRA. Just as important, they owe supporters of Second Amendment rights an apology for debasing the debate and undermining their cause in this manner.

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Rand Paul, Brennan and the Rule of Law

Senator Rand Paul is at this moment on his feet in the U.S. Senate rekindling memories of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. The Kentucky senator is doing a filibuster the old fashioned way: non-stop talking and refusing to yield the floor in order to delay a vote on the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. Like the fictional Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Paul will keep going until he literally drops. The C-Span feed from the Senate does not show the apple and the thermos of coffee that Mr. Smith relied upon to keep going but I imagine if, as Stewart did in the movie, the Kentuckian starts reading the Constitution of the United States very slowly, Majority Leader Harry Reid will forget about getting the Senate back to business anytime soon.

Whether you consider this is an edifying spectacle or merely a political sideshow may depend up on your point of view about the reason why Paul has decided to prevent a vote on Brennan. There are good reasons for senators to oppose his bid to run the intelligence agency. But Paul’s belief that the president’s determination to carry the fight against Al Qaeda via drone strikes is a threat to American civil liberties is misplaced. Attempting to hamstring the ability of the government to carry on a foreign war is not defending the rule of law.

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Senator Rand Paul is at this moment on his feet in the U.S. Senate rekindling memories of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. The Kentucky senator is doing a filibuster the old fashioned way: non-stop talking and refusing to yield the floor in order to delay a vote on the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. Like the fictional Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Paul will keep going until he literally drops. The C-Span feed from the Senate does not show the apple and the thermos of coffee that Mr. Smith relied upon to keep going but I imagine if, as Stewart did in the movie, the Kentuckian starts reading the Constitution of the United States very slowly, Majority Leader Harry Reid will forget about getting the Senate back to business anytime soon.

Whether you consider this is an edifying spectacle or merely a political sideshow may depend up on your point of view about the reason why Paul has decided to prevent a vote on Brennan. There are good reasons for senators to oppose his bid to run the intelligence agency. But Paul’s belief that the president’s determination to carry the fight against Al Qaeda via drone strikes is a threat to American civil liberties is misplaced. Attempting to hamstring the ability of the government to carry on a foreign war is not defending the rule of law.

Paul’s argument is that granting the president the ability to launch drone strikes on enemy combatants without first going through a legal process threatens our freedoms. Though he has been at pains to say that he doesn’t question the motives of the president, he worries that this power could be used wrongly in the future. The principle he is defending is a good one but he is confused about what is happening in the war against Islamist terrorism. It is not a police action or a civil investigation but a war that must be conducted and judged by very different standards that we would apply to criminal activity at home.

To buttress his view during his nonstop stream of rhetoric, Paul cited the experience of Weimar Germany as an example of an evil leader being democratically elected. Though he was careful not to call anyone in this debate a Hitler, he still claimed that the principle at stake is one in which our freedoms could be lost in a similar manner.

The mere mention of Hitler or of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” (as he did later in his speech) even with disclaimers is both foolish and inflammatory. The executive branch of the government has the responsibility to defend the people of the United States against their enemies. It would be nice if those tasked with fighting Al Qaeda could do so as if they were detectives on the beat, but such an expectation betrays a lack of understanding of this conflict.

The liberty that Rand Paul wants to defend is sacred. He does well to worry about the growth of government and the accretion of power in the hands of the executive without checks and balances provided by the law. But preserving that liberty requires an active defense. Stopping our armed forces and the president from killing the enemy wherever they can be found cannot preserve the rule of law.

There is good reason to fear that President Obama doesn’t have sufficient respect for the limits that the Constitution places on his power to act. But whatever we might think about his domestic power grabs, his willingness to order strikes on those plotting to kill Americans is not a threat to freedom. To use the example the senator repeatedly invoked, the president can’t wait until a plane is about to hit an American target. Waiting until the threat is imminent in that manner would be a dereliction of duty on the president’s part, not a defense of liberty.

 The only real analogy to Hitler and totalitarianism in this debate is to the ideology of those Islamists that the administration has targeted. Paul has every right to keep talking and Brennan is not a good choice to run the CIA but using this nomination to stop drone strikes abroad is ill advised.

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Allen West’s Reckless Rhetoric

Republican Representative Allen West, a Tea Party favorite from Florida, weighed in on President Obama’s 10-year security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In the agreement, Obama pledged continued support to Afghanistan once NATO combat troops leave in 2014. “I look at what happened between President Obama and President Karzai as a 1930s, Chamberlain, Hitler moment,” Representative West told radio host Frank Gaffney. “There is not going to be peace in our time.”

I’m not quite sure what this analogy is supposed to prove. Is Karzai supposed to be Hitler? Whatever complaints one has with Karzai – and I have plenty of my own – he’s clearly no Hitler, and he doesn’t appear to have designs for world conquest.

As a general matter, the Chamberlain-Hitler-appeasement analogy is much overused and is often a sign of lazy thinking, as is the case here.

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Republican Representative Allen West, a Tea Party favorite from Florida, weighed in on President Obama’s 10-year security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In the agreement, Obama pledged continued support to Afghanistan once NATO combat troops leave in 2014. “I look at what happened between President Obama and President Karzai as a 1930s, Chamberlain, Hitler moment,” Representative West told radio host Frank Gaffney. “There is not going to be peace in our time.”

I’m not quite sure what this analogy is supposed to prove. Is Karzai supposed to be Hitler? Whatever complaints one has with Karzai – and I have plenty of my own – he’s clearly no Hitler, and he doesn’t appear to have designs for world conquest.

As a general matter, the Chamberlain-Hitler-appeasement analogy is much overused and is often a sign of lazy thinking, as is the case here.

Representative West, it’s probably worth pointing out, also recently told a town hall meeting that “there’s [sic] about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party who are members of the Communist Party,” referring to their membership in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (West’s defense of his comments can be found here.)

This is not simply an unfortunate comment but an ugly one. Communism is associated with immense and even incomprehensible humor horror, from the estimated 65 million deaths under Mao in China; to the more than 20 million Russians who perished under Stalin and Lenin; to the almost two million Cambodians – comprising around one quarter of the entire population – who died under the Pol Pot regime. Communism has been responsible for forced labor, slavery, starvation, mass executions, and wholesale slaughter. Surely West must know this. And so for him to characterize his (very) liberal colleagues as Communists, and then to defend the claim, is a form of slander.

West would do himself, his party and his cause a world of good if he decided to jettison the corrosive and insulting rhetoric.

 

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Neo-Nazis Versus Jihadists?

Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.

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Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.

While we may dismiss this argument as the sort of thing that is, as Goldberg joked, for people with nothing better to do, the fact is, a lot of liberal Jews really are more scared of the dangers that existed in the past than they are of their people’s current foes.

For many liberal Jews (a group that I should stipulate does not include Goldberg), raising the question of Islamist hate for Jews — something that is the source of the rising tide of anti-Semitic agitation around the globe — is somehow in bad taste if not evidence of the dread charge of Islamophobia. They are so conditioned to believe that Muslim distaste for Israel’s actions is the reason for enmity that they ignore the vicious stream of Jew-hatred coming out of the Middle East and prefer to worry about an altogether mythical post 9/11 backlash against Muslims.

Instead, they prefer to dwell on the far less potent danger posed by the tiny groups of Hitler-lovers who are generally too weak and isolated to do anything more than disturb the peace. While such groups are despicable and deserve the attention of law enforcement, to focus on them is to re-fight the last war.

We don’t know yet who committed the Toulouse massacre but we do know that it was the work of a Jew-hater who sought out and murdered Jewish children in cold blood solely because they were Jewish. It would have been reassuring in some ways to think that this crime was only the work of outliers like the neo-Nazis. The thought that it is part of a rising trend of Islamist hate — which has been aided and abetted by the anti-Zionist attitudes of European elites — is far more troubling.

Worrying about Nazis is an exercise that is far less distressing than forcing ourselves to deal with the real dilemmas of our age. Chasing ghosts may be of little utility for contemporary Jewish security, but it is easier to think about than coping with real live Muslim terror.

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More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

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The Difference Between COMMENTARY and the Jewish Funds for Justice Rabbis

Earlier today, Alana wrote about the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal taken out by the left-wing group Jewish Funds for Justice in which the organization called for the News Corporation to “sanction” Glenn Beck of FOX News and to force Roger Ailes, that network’s chief, to apologize for remarks Beck has made relating to the Holocaust. Alana rightly noted the one-sided nature of this group’s advocacy about the Holocaust. Though they clearly want Beck canned for what he has said, they’ve never uttered a word of complaint about the numerous misuses of Holocaust imagery by left-wing figures such as Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee or filmmaker Oliver Stone.

In the body of their ad is a quote from a COMMENTARY Web Exclusive article written by me about Beck’s willingness to raise questions about George Soros’s behavior during the Holocaust. In it I made it clear that while we consider Soros’s political stands abhorrent, his alleged activities as a 14-year-old boy during the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary ought to be out of bounds for his critics. As the Jewish Funds for Justice ad states, the piece said Beck’s attack on Soros on this point was marred by ignorance and innuendo, and I stand by that characterization.

At the time, COMMENTARY’s decision to denounce Beck’s behavior was criticized by some who thought that the TV host’s support for Israel and the fact that his target was a man who was no friend to Israel should have obligated us to be silent about his foolish slurs. They asserted that our willingness to lay out our differences with someone with whom we were otherwise in agreement would be used by left-wing groups who have no such scruples. That prediction has been vindicated by the Jewish Funds for Justice.

The difference between COMMENTARY and the rabbis who speak in the name of the Jewish Funds for Justice couldn’t be clearer. We agree that Holocaust imagery and related topics ought not to be abused for partisan political purposes, though we have to say in passing that Beck’s idiotic attack on Soros is nowhere near as great an offense as Rep. Cohen’s calling his Republican opponents Nazis on the floor of the House of Representatives. But unlike those rabbis, we do not do so only when the offenders are people we disagree with on other issues. Had these rabbis sought to denounce both right-wing and left-wing figures that have called their foes Nazis or made specious comparisons to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, they might have done so with some credibility. But since they have invoked their status as spiritual leaders as well as the prestige of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements solely to silence a conservative political speaker whom they dislike, they have none.

Earlier today, Alana wrote about the ad in today’s Wall Street Journal taken out by the left-wing group Jewish Funds for Justice in which the organization called for the News Corporation to “sanction” Glenn Beck of FOX News and to force Roger Ailes, that network’s chief, to apologize for remarks Beck has made relating to the Holocaust. Alana rightly noted the one-sided nature of this group’s advocacy about the Holocaust. Though they clearly want Beck canned for what he has said, they’ve never uttered a word of complaint about the numerous misuses of Holocaust imagery by left-wing figures such as Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee or filmmaker Oliver Stone.

In the body of their ad is a quote from a COMMENTARY Web Exclusive article written by me about Beck’s willingness to raise questions about George Soros’s behavior during the Holocaust. In it I made it clear that while we consider Soros’s political stands abhorrent, his alleged activities as a 14-year-old boy during the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary ought to be out of bounds for his critics. As the Jewish Funds for Justice ad states, the piece said Beck’s attack on Soros on this point was marred by ignorance and innuendo, and I stand by that characterization.

At the time, COMMENTARY’s decision to denounce Beck’s behavior was criticized by some who thought that the TV host’s support for Israel and the fact that his target was a man who was no friend to Israel should have obligated us to be silent about his foolish slurs. They asserted that our willingness to lay out our differences with someone with whom we were otherwise in agreement would be used by left-wing groups who have no such scruples. That prediction has been vindicated by the Jewish Funds for Justice.

The difference between COMMENTARY and the rabbis who speak in the name of the Jewish Funds for Justice couldn’t be clearer. We agree that Holocaust imagery and related topics ought not to be abused for partisan political purposes, though we have to say in passing that Beck’s idiotic attack on Soros is nowhere near as great an offense as Rep. Cohen’s calling his Republican opponents Nazis on the floor of the House of Representatives. But unlike those rabbis, we do not do so only when the offenders are people we disagree with on other issues. Had these rabbis sought to denounce both right-wing and left-wing figures that have called their foes Nazis or made specious comparisons to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, they might have done so with some credibility. But since they have invoked their status as spiritual leaders as well as the prestige of the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements solely to silence a conservative political speaker whom they dislike, they have none.

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Soros-Funded Jewish Group Calls for Fox to Sanction Glenn Beck

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, an organization called Jewish Funds for Justice sent an open letter to Rupert Murdoch asking him to sanction Fox News host Glenn Beck for using “Holocaust and Nazi images” on his show:

We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and Roger Ailes apologize for his dismissive remarks about rabbis’ sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.

Jewish Funds for Justice was referring to an episode of Beck’s show that looked into left-wing philanthropist George Soros’s actions as a child during the Holocaust. As Jonathan wrote at the time, Beck’s portrayal of Soros as a teenage Nazi collaborator was inappropriate and unnecessary.

But as wrong as Beck’s Holocaust references were, the intentions of this open letter are questionable, to say the least. First, Jewish Funds for Justice is actually funded by Soros, which makes the group’s campaign appear to be more of a personal vendetta than anything else.

It’s also interesting that Soros and his organizations have suddenly become so sensitive to anti-Semitism. That’s certainly a new development.

Anti-Semitism and Holocaust imagery didn’t seem to bother Soros back in 2004, when his organization MoveOn.org aired a video comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, which the ADL rightly denounced as “vile and outrageous.”

And it was Soros who apologized back in 2003 for anti-Semite Mahathir Mohamad, who said he understood why people believe that “Jews rule the world by proxy.”

Soros has also blamed anti-Semitism on U.S. and Israeli policy. “There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” he said, adding that if “we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish.” Soros has also funded anti-Israel groups, including J Street.

And of all the people in recent months who have used Holocaust or anti-Semitic rhetoric — including Helen Thomas, Oliver Stone, and Rep. Steve Cohen — it’s telling that Jewish Funds for Justice has come out only against Glenn Beck, especially since Beck’s statements were far less offensive than those of the others.

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Jewish Funds for Justice has no real interest in combating anti-Semitism — unless, of course, it helps the group’s political goal of demonizing conservatives.

And if that’s the case, then this letter is far more offensive than anything Beck has ever said on his show. Anti-Semitism is a serious charge, and throwing it around based on a political motive isn’t just counterproductive; it’s dangerous.

In the Wall Street Journal this morning, an organization called Jewish Funds for Justice sent an open letter to Rupert Murdoch asking him to sanction Fox News host Glenn Beck for using “Holocaust and Nazi images” on his show:

We respectfully request that Glenn Beck be sanctioned by Fox News for his completely unacceptable attacks on a survivor of the Holocaust and Roger Ailes apologize for his dismissive remarks about rabbis’ sensitivity to how the Holocaust is used on the air.

Jewish Funds for Justice was referring to an episode of Beck’s show that looked into left-wing philanthropist George Soros’s actions as a child during the Holocaust. As Jonathan wrote at the time, Beck’s portrayal of Soros as a teenage Nazi collaborator was inappropriate and unnecessary.

But as wrong as Beck’s Holocaust references were, the intentions of this open letter are questionable, to say the least. First, Jewish Funds for Justice is actually funded by Soros, which makes the group’s campaign appear to be more of a personal vendetta than anything else.

It’s also interesting that Soros and his organizations have suddenly become so sensitive to anti-Semitism. That’s certainly a new development.

Anti-Semitism and Holocaust imagery didn’t seem to bother Soros back in 2004, when his organization MoveOn.org aired a video comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, which the ADL rightly denounced as “vile and outrageous.”

And it was Soros who apologized back in 2003 for anti-Semite Mahathir Mohamad, who said he understood why people believe that “Jews rule the world by proxy.”

Soros has also blamed anti-Semitism on U.S. and Israeli policy. “There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that,” he said, adding that if “we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish.” Soros has also funded anti-Israel groups, including J Street.

And of all the people in recent months who have used Holocaust or anti-Semitic rhetoric — including Helen Thomas, Oliver Stone, and Rep. Steve Cohen — it’s telling that Jewish Funds for Justice has come out only against Glenn Beck, especially since Beck’s statements were far less offensive than those of the others.

The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Jewish Funds for Justice has no real interest in combating anti-Semitism — unless, of course, it helps the group’s political goal of demonizing conservatives.

And if that’s the case, then this letter is far more offensive than anything Beck has ever said on his show. Anti-Semitism is a serious charge, and throwing it around based on a political motive isn’t just counterproductive; it’s dangerous.

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Is Loughner Insane or Evil?

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

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A Bad Christmas Card, and in Retrospect, Even Worse

I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out on British Liberal Democrat message boards. But a friend has pointed out a wonderful post — I hesitate to say it’s really in the spirit of the season, for reasons that will soon be obvious — by Stephen Tall on LibDemVoice, reproducing a Christmas card contained in the Conservative Party Archive and sent in 1938 by R.J. Rosie, a prominent physician, to Percy Cohen, a Jewish Conservative and then a member of the Conservative Research Department.

As Tall puts its:

The year is 1938, and you’re looking for a suitably seasonal picture for the front of your Christmas cards. A festive image which will convey seasonal goodwill to all humanity.  What could better symbolise those eternal truths than an international peace treaty signed by the two major European powers which had once been at war?

And so Rosie’s card for the year featured Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, complete with swastika armband, and included an insert with the infamous “peace in our time” pledge. Really not a good choice, and an object lesson in the dangers of making political points with Christmas cards. As an alternative, Tall links to one of Clementine and Winston Churchill’s Christmas cards that — though not very seasonal — does feature a beautiful summer-time view of the Weald of Kent from Chartwell, painted by Churchill himself.

I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out on British Liberal Democrat message boards. But a friend has pointed out a wonderful post — I hesitate to say it’s really in the spirit of the season, for reasons that will soon be obvious — by Stephen Tall on LibDemVoice, reproducing a Christmas card contained in the Conservative Party Archive and sent in 1938 by R.J. Rosie, a prominent physician, to Percy Cohen, a Jewish Conservative and then a member of the Conservative Research Department.

As Tall puts its:

The year is 1938, and you’re looking for a suitably seasonal picture for the front of your Christmas cards. A festive image which will convey seasonal goodwill to all humanity.  What could better symbolise those eternal truths than an international peace treaty signed by the two major European powers which had once been at war?

And so Rosie’s card for the year featured Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, complete with swastika armband, and included an insert with the infamous “peace in our time” pledge. Really not a good choice, and an object lesson in the dangers of making political points with Christmas cards. As an alternative, Tall links to one of Clementine and Winston Churchill’s Christmas cards that — though not very seasonal — does feature a beautiful summer-time view of the Weald of Kent from Chartwell, painted by Churchill himself.

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Is President Obama the New Woodrow Wilson?

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

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Israel Lobby Author Compares Pro-Israel Pastor to Hitler

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

Over at the Foreign Policy magazine website, Harvard professor and Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt weighs in on Germany’s decision to continue to ban the publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf even after the Nazi leader’s 70-year copyright expired in 2015. Walt is right when he says that banning the publication of this evil book is pointless and does nothing either to suppress racism in Germany or to promote a proper understanding of the history it evokes.

But that said, there is also something ironic, if not downright creepy about the author of a book that promoted its own dangerous conspiracy theory about Jewish power and sought to demonize American Jews and others who support Israel, pontificating about Hitler’s work.

Granted, The Israel Lobby is not to be compared to Mein Kampf in its intent, vitriol, or historical impact. The former, written by Harvard’s Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, is far more sophisticated in its language and purpose than Hitler’s screed. But its agenda, while not as avowedly vicious or murderous as the Nazi book, still sought to single out the advocates of a particular political cause and not only to treat them with opprobrium but also to brand them as working against the national interests of the United States. Of course, The Israel Lobby was widely excoriated not just because of its clearly anti-Zionist bent, but because Walt and Mearsheimer’s error-filled book painted a picture of a pro-Israel conspiracy that was so large it included virtually everyone in the mainstream media and just about the entire political system in this country — except, of course, for anti-Semitic elements of the far Right and far Left. The book tars Jews and a vast number of non-Jewish Americans who back the State of Israel as an alien force subverting United States foreign policy. Which is to say that there is a clear path from its pages to those who espouse more overt forms of Jew hatred and Israel-bashing.

Yet just as egregious as Walt posing as the scholarly arbiter of questions about the publication of hate literature is his notion of contemporary analogies to Mein Kampf. Walt writes: “When you actually look at the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were. And while Hitler may be the extreme case, we live in an era where plenty of political (and I regret to say, religious) figures offer all sorts of memoirs and tracts of their own, some of them nearly as bizarre and illogical (if not as murderous) as Hitler’s infamous tome.”

So which religious figure is Walt referring to here? His link is not to the many Muslim religious leaders whose works have inspired not only hatred of Jews, Israel, and the West but also actual attempts at mass murder. It is rather to an American pastor whose primary claim to fame is his support for the State of Israel: Pastor John Hagee.

Hagee’s religious beliefs may seem a bit loopy to non-evangelicals. And he is the sort of fellow who is prone to saying foolish things for which he must apologize. But the main impact of Hagee’s life work has been to try building support for the one democratic state in the Middle East and to fight against those — like Walt — who have aided those who seek to delegitimize both Israel’s existence and its right to self-defense. The idea that this cleric is the best analogy to Hitler in our own day is more than ludicrous. This analogy is quite an insight into the mindset of an academic who, while happily condemning the work of a great anti-Semite and mass murderer of the 20th century, is so full of hate against Israel and the Jews of our own day that he views anyone who supports them as somehow comparable to Hitler.

Walt is right when he writes about Mein Kampf that while the marketplace of ideas in a democracy is not perfect, it is generally competent enough to sort out hate speech from legitimate comment. That is why The Israel Lobby has had little impact on American politics or foreign policy. It is also why his anti-Israel policy prescriptions, though given a bully pulpit by Foreign Policy, will continue to be ignored by the overwhelming bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus in this country.

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Bookshelf

• Of all the myriad phrases that should be banned from the vocabularies of critics, “definitive biography” belongs at the top of the list. No such book exists, least of all when its subject is a person of major historical significance. About such rare birds no last words can ever be uttered. I’ve published one large-scale primary-source biography of an important writer and recently finished writing another about an important musician, and in neither case did it ever occur to me that I had said everything there was to say about my subjects.

Even less did Ian Kershaw exhaust the subject of Adolf Hitler in his impeccably researched, coolly well-written two-volume biography, in part because Kershaw, a professor of modern history at the University of Sheffield, sought to describe Hitler’s life in the light of the contemporary historical point of view that emphasizes the power of society over the significance of the individual. Like all such books, Kershaw’s Hitler, for all its great value, sometimes resembles a handsomely crafted picture frame with nothing in it. So it is in certain ways even more profitable to read Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (Yale, 394 pp., $32.50), a collection of essays written between 1977 and the present day and assembled by the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Here we can see Kershaw working out his interpretation of Hitler step by step.

The insufficiently vivid literary portraiture that is the chief weakness of Kershaw’s “Hitler” is by definition less of a problem within the narrower compass of a single-topic essay. Without exception, the 14 pieces collected in Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, which range from an analysis of Hitler’s early speeches and writings to an exceedingly hard-headed essay that asks why “the ultra-violence that characterized the first half of the [20th] century had no equivalent in the second half,” are penetrating and illuminating. The introduction, in which Kershaw offers the reader “a clearer glimpse of the historian behind the history,” is no less worthy of close consideration. What led him to devote the greater part of his adult life to studying Nazi Germany and writing a two-volume scholarly biography of a monster like Hitler? As Kershaw explains it:

I had come to German history via an increased competence in the German language-German was a subject unavailable at my school, so I was able to begin learning it only in 1969, and then for three years purely as a casual hobby-and what really, and increasingly, intrigued me, as a product of postwar British democracy, was how Germany had so completely succumbed to a dictatorship which had brought about world war and, to ratinal minds, a scarcely intelligible persecution and extermination of the Jews.

By such unlikely routes are life-shaping decisions reached.

Kershaw’s prefatory excursion into intellectual autobiography ends with “a rather gloomy look into the crystal ball”:

At least, a replication of the conditions which produced the Holocaust is, mercifully, nowhere in sight. The problems are now very different to those which gave rise to Hitler and genocidal antisemitism. Even so, it is difficult to view the future with great optimism. The threat from an international order in disarray, most obviously in the Middle East, is palpable. And humankind’s capacity to combine new forms of ideological demonisation with bureaucratic refinement and unparalleled technological killing power is far from eradicated. So far, with great effort, the combination, which would be truly dangerous if marshalled by a powerful state entity, has been held in check. Will it continue to be?

To read these words in a book that bears the name “Yad Vashem” on the title page is at once sobering and tonic.

• Of all the myriad phrases that should be banned from the vocabularies of critics, “definitive biography” belongs at the top of the list. No such book exists, least of all when its subject is a person of major historical significance. About such rare birds no last words can ever be uttered. I’ve published one large-scale primary-source biography of an important writer and recently finished writing another about an important musician, and in neither case did it ever occur to me that I had said everything there was to say about my subjects.

Even less did Ian Kershaw exhaust the subject of Adolf Hitler in his impeccably researched, coolly well-written two-volume biography, in part because Kershaw, a professor of modern history at the University of Sheffield, sought to describe Hitler’s life in the light of the contemporary historical point of view that emphasizes the power of society over the significance of the individual. Like all such books, Kershaw’s Hitler, for all its great value, sometimes resembles a handsomely crafted picture frame with nothing in it. So it is in certain ways even more profitable to read Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution (Yale, 394 pp., $32.50), a collection of essays written between 1977 and the present day and assembled by the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Here we can see Kershaw working out his interpretation of Hitler step by step.

The insufficiently vivid literary portraiture that is the chief weakness of Kershaw’s “Hitler” is by definition less of a problem within the narrower compass of a single-topic essay. Without exception, the 14 pieces collected in Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, which range from an analysis of Hitler’s early speeches and writings to an exceedingly hard-headed essay that asks why “the ultra-violence that characterized the first half of the [20th] century had no equivalent in the second half,” are penetrating and illuminating. The introduction, in which Kershaw offers the reader “a clearer glimpse of the historian behind the history,” is no less worthy of close consideration. What led him to devote the greater part of his adult life to studying Nazi Germany and writing a two-volume scholarly biography of a monster like Hitler? As Kershaw explains it:

I had come to German history via an increased competence in the German language-German was a subject unavailable at my school, so I was able to begin learning it only in 1969, and then for three years purely as a casual hobby-and what really, and increasingly, intrigued me, as a product of postwar British democracy, was how Germany had so completely succumbed to a dictatorship which had brought about world war and, to ratinal minds, a scarcely intelligible persecution and extermination of the Jews.

By such unlikely routes are life-shaping decisions reached.

Kershaw’s prefatory excursion into intellectual autobiography ends with “a rather gloomy look into the crystal ball”:

At least, a replication of the conditions which produced the Holocaust is, mercifully, nowhere in sight. The problems are now very different to those which gave rise to Hitler and genocidal antisemitism. Even so, it is difficult to view the future with great optimism. The threat from an international order in disarray, most obviously in the Middle East, is palpable. And humankind’s capacity to combine new forms of ideological demonisation with bureaucratic refinement and unparalleled technological killing power is far from eradicated. So far, with great effort, the combination, which would be truly dangerous if marshalled by a powerful state entity, has been held in check. Will it continue to be?

To read these words in a book that bears the name “Yad Vashem” on the title page is at once sobering and tonic.

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Bookshelf

• Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry. As a result, we know far more about the individual innocents who died in the Holocaust than about those who were murdered at Stalin’s command.

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s (Yale, 295 pp., $30), a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University. For the past several years, Kuromiya has been examining the files of the secret police in Kiev, which in the 30’s was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city. (Now it is part of the independent state of Ukraine, whose rulers are more willing than their opposite numbers in Moscow to let outsiders study what Stalin wrought.) Like all bureaucrats, the killers of Kiev kept detailed records of their activities, right down to the late-night death warrants that were signed minutes before their prisoners were hustled out of their cells, shot in the nape of the neck and dumped into mass graves. In order to write The Voices of the Dead, Kuromiya examined the surviving dossiers of several dozen victims of the Great Terror, paying special attention to the handwritten notes in which official interrogators recorded the results of their attempts to extract confessions out of their prisoners prior to having them executed. The result is a book whose deliberate flatness of tone does not make it any less sickening.

Kuromiya’s own description of The Voices of the Dead is no less eloquent in its plainness:

The present book is a modest attempt to allow some of those executed in 1937-38 a voice. The focus is on individuals, in particular those whose lives meant absolutely nothing to Stalin: innocent people who were swept up in the maelstrom of political terror he unleashed. Most of the people discussed here are “unremarkable”: they left no conspicuous imprint on history. . . . Stalin was certain that no one would remember them. The “all-conquering power of Bolshevism” condemned them to oblivion, but it could not suppress their voices completely. Ironically, Stalin’s efforts to extinguish their voices helped preserve them, in the depths of their case files.

The people we meet in The Voices of the Dead are indeed “utterly unknown, ‘ordinary’ Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.” All they had in common was that they ran afoul of Stalin’s killing machine. Many appear to have been tortured before being sent to the execution chamber. Some confessed to crimes that they may or may not have committed, while others went to their graves swearing that they had done nothing wrong. To read about them is a jolting experience, no matter how much you may already know about the regime that sentenced them to die.

The Voices of the Dead is illustrated with reproductions of some of the documents examined by Kuromiya, including two harrowing “mug shots” of a pair of victims that appear to have been taken not long before they were executed. The book also contains contemporary photographs taken at the site of the mass graves on the outskirts of Kiev where tens of thousands of Stalin’s victims are buried. It is now a memorial park dotted with crosses, though few go there: “Except on commemorative occasions…the graves are deserted—dark, serene and eerie. History weighs on visitors here.” The main grave is marked with a monument inscribed with just two words: Vechnaya pamyat—eternal memory. It is a devastatingly simple reminder of the evil that men do in the name of ideas. So is this disturbing, invaluable book.

• Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry. As a result, we know far more about the individual innocents who died in the Holocaust than about those who were murdered at Stalin’s command.

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s (Yale, 295 pp., $30), a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University. For the past several years, Kuromiya has been examining the files of the secret police in Kiev, which in the 30’s was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city. (Now it is part of the independent state of Ukraine, whose rulers are more willing than their opposite numbers in Moscow to let outsiders study what Stalin wrought.) Like all bureaucrats, the killers of Kiev kept detailed records of their activities, right down to the late-night death warrants that were signed minutes before their prisoners were hustled out of their cells, shot in the nape of the neck and dumped into mass graves. In order to write The Voices of the Dead, Kuromiya examined the surviving dossiers of several dozen victims of the Great Terror, paying special attention to the handwritten notes in which official interrogators recorded the results of their attempts to extract confessions out of their prisoners prior to having them executed. The result is a book whose deliberate flatness of tone does not make it any less sickening.

Kuromiya’s own description of The Voices of the Dead is no less eloquent in its plainness:

The present book is a modest attempt to allow some of those executed in 1937-38 a voice. The focus is on individuals, in particular those whose lives meant absolutely nothing to Stalin: innocent people who were swept up in the maelstrom of political terror he unleashed. Most of the people discussed here are “unremarkable”: they left no conspicuous imprint on history. . . . Stalin was certain that no one would remember them. The “all-conquering power of Bolshevism” condemned them to oblivion, but it could not suppress their voices completely. Ironically, Stalin’s efforts to extinguish their voices helped preserve them, in the depths of their case files.

The people we meet in The Voices of the Dead are indeed “utterly unknown, ‘ordinary’ Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.” All they had in common was that they ran afoul of Stalin’s killing machine. Many appear to have been tortured before being sent to the execution chamber. Some confessed to crimes that they may or may not have committed, while others went to their graves swearing that they had done nothing wrong. To read about them is a jolting experience, no matter how much you may already know about the regime that sentenced them to die.

The Voices of the Dead is illustrated with reproductions of some of the documents examined by Kuromiya, including two harrowing “mug shots” of a pair of victims that appear to have been taken not long before they were executed. The book also contains contemporary photographs taken at the site of the mass graves on the outskirts of Kiev where tens of thousands of Stalin’s victims are buried. It is now a memorial park dotted with crosses, though few go there: “Except on commemorative occasions…the graves are deserted—dark, serene and eerie. History weighs on visitors here.” The main grave is marked with a monument inscribed with just two words: Vechnaya pamyat—eternal memory. It is a devastatingly simple reminder of the evil that men do in the name of ideas. So is this disturbing, invaluable book.

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Unlearning History

In today’s New York Times, Ian Kershaw seems to suggest all this “never again” talk is bit alarmist. After comparing Adolf Hitler’s rise to power with some of today’s totalitarian threats, he concludes: “Mercifully, what happened in Germany in 1933, and it’s aftermath, will remain a uniquely terrible episode in history.”

After describing the Milosevic, Mugabe, Putin, Chavez, Musharraf, and Ahmadinejad regimes, Kershaw offers his reasons for optimism:

. . .neither in their acquisition of power nor in their use of it do modern authoritarian rulers much resemble Hitler. International organizations and institutions that did not exist in interwar Europe — the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund — also provide some barriers to the sort of calamity that engulfed Germany.

Milosevic didn’t resemble Hitler in his use of power? And nothing comes back to Kershaw when he hears Ahmadinejad’s daily promise to erase Israel from history? Moreover, Saddam Hussein is conspicuously absent from Kershaw’s reckoning. Could it be that he would have had an impossible time downplaying the comparisons between Saddam’s penchant for mass-gassings and country annexations with those of Hitler? As for the organizations he mentions, they are all, to greater or lesser extents, enablers of today’s totalitarians. If there’s any reason to think that modern fascists will continue to be marginalized and defeated it’s because the U.S. has made a habit providing that very service for the civilized world.

Ultimately, though, Kershaw is playing a game with the reader: it’s no longer merely states that pose a deadly fascist threat, but trans-national organizations (such Al Qaeda and Hizzbollah) working in concert with sympathetic countries.

Kershaw’s piece is intended as a big slap in the face to unilateralism and the doctrine of democracy promotion. Because Hitler’s rise occurred during German democracy in place between world wars, it demonstrates “the illusory assumption that democracy will always be a favored choice of a population torn apart by war. . .”

But, Sir Ian, wasn’t your point that today’s fascist threats are so unlike the one posed by Nazi Germany?

In today’s New York Times, Ian Kershaw seems to suggest all this “never again” talk is bit alarmist. After comparing Adolf Hitler’s rise to power with some of today’s totalitarian threats, he concludes: “Mercifully, what happened in Germany in 1933, and it’s aftermath, will remain a uniquely terrible episode in history.”

After describing the Milosevic, Mugabe, Putin, Chavez, Musharraf, and Ahmadinejad regimes, Kershaw offers his reasons for optimism:

. . .neither in their acquisition of power nor in their use of it do modern authoritarian rulers much resemble Hitler. International organizations and institutions that did not exist in interwar Europe — the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund — also provide some barriers to the sort of calamity that engulfed Germany.

Milosevic didn’t resemble Hitler in his use of power? And nothing comes back to Kershaw when he hears Ahmadinejad’s daily promise to erase Israel from history? Moreover, Saddam Hussein is conspicuously absent from Kershaw’s reckoning. Could it be that he would have had an impossible time downplaying the comparisons between Saddam’s penchant for mass-gassings and country annexations with those of Hitler? As for the organizations he mentions, they are all, to greater or lesser extents, enablers of today’s totalitarians. If there’s any reason to think that modern fascists will continue to be marginalized and defeated it’s because the U.S. has made a habit providing that very service for the civilized world.

Ultimately, though, Kershaw is playing a game with the reader: it’s no longer merely states that pose a deadly fascist threat, but trans-national organizations (such Al Qaeda and Hizzbollah) working in concert with sympathetic countries.

Kershaw’s piece is intended as a big slap in the face to unilateralism and the doctrine of democracy promotion. Because Hitler’s rise occurred during German democracy in place between world wars, it demonstrates “the illusory assumption that democracy will always be a favored choice of a population torn apart by war. . .”

But, Sir Ian, wasn’t your point that today’s fascist threats are so unlike the one posed by Nazi Germany?

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Hitler Makes a Comeback

It is a cliché to say that Adolf Hitler has become a cliché, and even camp to say that he was a bad man. Perhaps no one in the history of the planet has ever been more universally reviled, or with greater justice, than he. The word “Hitler” is an epithet every place on earth.

Or is it? In the Palestinian territories, Hitler is making a comeback. According to a report issued by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook of Palestinian Media Watch, the Teutonic tyrant’s popularity is on the rise. Parents name their children after him (“Hitler Abu-Alrab,” for example), the Voice of Palestine radio station recently gave out cash prizes in his honor, and in 1999, Mein Kampf was a best-seller. Whereas in Europe, Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by jail time, in the Palestinian authority it is considered one of a number of reasonable views. Even the doctoral dissertation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas presents a range of opinions on the matter, concluding that “it is possible that the number of Jewish victims reached six million, but at the same time it is possible that the figure is much smaller—below one million.” And this is their chief political leader. We all know Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s current views on Israel—but at least his dissertation took on the rather benign subject of urban traffic management.

It is a cliché to say that Adolf Hitler has become a cliché, and even camp to say that he was a bad man. Perhaps no one in the history of the planet has ever been more universally reviled, or with greater justice, than he. The word “Hitler” is an epithet every place on earth.

Or is it? In the Palestinian territories, Hitler is making a comeback. According to a report issued by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook of Palestinian Media Watch, the Teutonic tyrant’s popularity is on the rise. Parents name their children after him (“Hitler Abu-Alrab,” for example), the Voice of Palestine radio station recently gave out cash prizes in his honor, and in 1999, Mein Kampf was a best-seller. Whereas in Europe, Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by jail time, in the Palestinian authority it is considered one of a number of reasonable views. Even the doctoral dissertation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas presents a range of opinions on the matter, concluding that “it is possible that the number of Jewish victims reached six million, but at the same time it is possible that the figure is much smaller—below one million.” And this is their chief political leader. We all know Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s current views on Israel—but at least his dissertation took on the rather benign subject of urban traffic management.

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The Clash of the Titans

Yesterday, the controversial Regina Ip announced her candidacy for a seat in LegCo, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Opposing her is the formidable Anson Chan, dubbed by many as “Hong Kong’s conscience.” The December 2 contest, a by-election, is now called the “Clash of the Titans,” yet it is more important than that. At stake is nothing less than democracy in what is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

“I am now a different Regina Ip from the one before,” the candidate said in making her announcement. That’s good, because few in Hong Kong liked the old one. As the reviled Secretary for Security, she pushed aggressively in 2003 for the adoption of wide-ranging antisubversion legislation known as Article 23. Her hardline tactics triggered a protest of 500,000 citizens and ultimately led to the government’s dropping of the draconian proposal. Ip also made few friends when, arguing against democracy, she said, “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews.” The public reaction to her was so great that she had to resign. Ip then spent three years in Stanford and came back as a self-proclaimed democrat. The candidate began her campaign yesterday by offering “sincere apologies” to the public for making mistakes four years ago in trying to railroad passage of Article 23.

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Yesterday, the controversial Regina Ip announced her candidacy for a seat in LegCo, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Opposing her is the formidable Anson Chan, dubbed by many as “Hong Kong’s conscience.” The December 2 contest, a by-election, is now called the “Clash of the Titans,” yet it is more important than that. At stake is nothing less than democracy in what is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

“I am now a different Regina Ip from the one before,” the candidate said in making her announcement. That’s good, because few in Hong Kong liked the old one. As the reviled Secretary for Security, she pushed aggressively in 2003 for the adoption of wide-ranging antisubversion legislation known as Article 23. Her hardline tactics triggered a protest of 500,000 citizens and ultimately led to the government’s dropping of the draconian proposal. Ip also made few friends when, arguing against democracy, she said, “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews.” The public reaction to her was so great that she had to resign. Ip then spent three years in Stanford and came back as a self-proclaimed democrat. The candidate began her campaign yesterday by offering “sincere apologies” to the public for making mistakes four years ago in trying to railroad passage of Article 23.

“The by-election has come during a critical stage for democracy,” said Anson Chan earlier this week. There seems to be a consensus in Hong Kong that there should be universal suffrage by 2012, the year of the next election for the chief executive, the city’s top post. Beijing, which has consistently opposed broadening the electorate, is now trying once again to defer the issue.

Both Chan and Ip say they are in favor of 2012. Yet Ip wants universal suffrage only if Chinese leaders concur. She also argues that she will be better able to work with China. She’s undoubtedly correct because it’s clear she has the backing of both the Chinese leadership and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Today, some argue that the election of Anson Chan will confirm Beijing’s fear that universal suffrage is dangerous because it will only lead to the election of “hostile forces.” Perhaps that is the case, but if pro-democrats are elected then at least China will have to make its position clear. Ip, if chosen, will never force the universal suffrage issue. The people of Hong Kong have a right to know where China stands on the most important issue they face.

Why elect Anson Chan even if she cannot bring about democracy? If for no other reason, then because of the work she will do to expose autocracy.

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Hitler at Columbia

How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

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How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier? 

The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.

As I noted recently in the Weekly Standard, Elser, who was apprehended by the German border police, handed over to the Gestapo, and subsequently executed, explained his action this way: “I wanted through my deed to prevent even greater bloodshed.”

John Coatsworth, the dean who invited the nuclear-bomb-seeking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia today, would have had a different approach. As he told Fox News on Saturday, he would have extended an invitation to Hitler: “If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.”

Coatsworth’s name will not make it into the standard histories as Elser’s has. But it deserves to be recorded for posterity. The university’s invitation to the genocidal aspirant Ahmadinejad is repugnant on many grounds. The outrage committed by Dean Coatsworth upon the dead of World War II–and, along the way, upon the memory of Georg Elser, who readily sacrificed his own life for the peace of the world–staggers the imagination. 

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Bookshelf

• Is the Holocaust a fit subject for novelists? It’s tempting to reply with the oft-quoted words of Terence, the Roman playwright who declared that “nothing human is alien to me.” As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich made surpassingly clear, it is possible to make humane art out of the most monstrous of historical events. But if there is any act of human monstrosity that resists fictional treatment—especially by those who did not witness it at first hand—it is the Holocaust. The very phrase “Holocaust fiction” makes me squirm, and to look at a list of novels in which that dread occurrence figures is to be struck by how few have succeeded as art, whatever their value as testaments of man’s inhumanity to man. The more I reflect on the problem of Holocaust fiction, the more I find myself inclined to echo Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Be that as it may, novelists continue to grapple with the Holocaust, and on occasion something readable emerges from the struggle. Eugene Drucker’s The Savior is by no means a great novel, but it is exceedingly thought-provoking, and it also has something interesting to say about one of the deepest mysteries of the Third Reich, which is the corrupting effect it had on German art. Drucker comes by his interest in this subject honestly, for he is not a novelist de métier but a member of the world-renowned Emerson Quartet, and his father, a violinist who played in the Busch Quartet, got out of Germany in 1938, just in time. Small wonder, then, that his violin-playig son should feel moved to reflect on the nature of Hitler’s appeal to the artists of the Third Reich.

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• Is the Holocaust a fit subject for novelists? It’s tempting to reply with the oft-quoted words of Terence, the Roman playwright who declared that “nothing human is alien to me.” As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich made surpassingly clear, it is possible to make humane art out of the most monstrous of historical events. But if there is any act of human monstrosity that resists fictional treatment—especially by those who did not witness it at first hand—it is the Holocaust. The very phrase “Holocaust fiction” makes me squirm, and to look at a list of novels in which that dread occurrence figures is to be struck by how few have succeeded as art, whatever their value as testaments of man’s inhumanity to man. The more I reflect on the problem of Holocaust fiction, the more I find myself inclined to echo Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Be that as it may, novelists continue to grapple with the Holocaust, and on occasion something readable emerges from the struggle. Eugene Drucker’s The Savior is by no means a great novel, but it is exceedingly thought-provoking, and it also has something interesting to say about one of the deepest mysteries of the Third Reich, which is the corrupting effect it had on German art. Drucker comes by his interest in this subject honestly, for he is not a novelist de métier but a member of the world-renowned Emerson Quartet, and his father, a violinist who played in the Busch Quartet, got out of Germany in 1938, just in time. Small wonder, then, that his violin-playig son should feel moved to reflect on the nature of Hitler’s appeal to the artists of the Third Reich.

That a considerable number of German artists approved of Hitler, or at least cooperated more or less willingly with the Nazi regime, is incontestable. As I wrote four years ago in COMMENTARY:

The list of distinguished non-Jewish artists who left the country after Hitler came to power is brief to the point of invisibility when placed next to the rogues’ gallery of those who stayed behind, in many cases not merely accepting the inevitability of Nazi rule but actively collaborating with the regime. The composers Carl Orff and Richard Strauss, the conductors Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, the Nobel Prize-winning author Gerhart Hauptmann, the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, the actor Emil Jannings, the stage designer Caspar Neher—all these and many more were perfectly prepared to make their peace with Nazism.

Gottfried Keller, the central character of The Savior, is a small fish in this big sewer, a good-but-not-great violinist who in the last weeks of World War II is forced to take part in a a grotesque “experiment” devised by the music-loving commandant of a forced-labor camp. The purpose of the experiment is to find out whether exposure to classical music will raise the spirits of the camp’s demoralized Jewish inmates high enough to increase their efficiency. Later on in the novel, we learn that Keller was once engaged to a Jewish musician who gave him the opportunity to emigrate to Palestine, but that he chose to remain in Germany instead, and by book’s end we come to realize that this fateful decision has made him an “accomplice” (Drucker’s word) to the Holocaust.

This is Drucker’s first novel, but he has written many program notes for the Emerson Quartet’s concerts, and from time to time he disgorges undigested chunks of technical language that betray his inexperience as a writer of fiction (“An accelerando leads to a Presto that plummets from the highest to the lowest registers, where the music briefly regains its repose”). For the most part, though, he tells his terrible tale with an appropriate plainness. Moreover, Drucker is well aware of the difficulty of saying anything meaningful about the Holocaust through the medium of fiction, going so far as to put the following words into the mouth of one of the inmates of the unnamed camp portrayed in The Savior:

I can’t tell anyone here what I’ve seen. It would be a useless repetition of their story, of what they’ve seen; it would be self-indulgent, a way of asking for sympathy. There’s no place for sympathy here. Only an outsider, who understands maybe one-millionth of it, could feel an emotion like sympathy.

Does The Savior add to our understanding of the camps? Not really. But what I did find striking was its author’s willingness to engage directly with the implications of Hitler’s homicidal dream of purifying German art and culture through mass murder. The commandant is made to speak for all the artists and intellectuals who allowed themselves to share that dream, whether in whole or in part: “You’re surprised to find a cultivated man in charge of such a place. But then you have no idea how closely these camps are related to the core of our culture.” And were they? That we should still be asking that question is a measure of Adolf Hitler’s dark victory over the German soul.

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A French Poet at 100

Last month, France commemorated the centenary of the poet René Char (1907-1988). Despite an exhibit at Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France, which runs until July 29, and various dutiful school commemorations, some observers have noted that Char is receiving as much disrespect as adulation in his native land. The French poet Jacques Dupin told the newspaper L’Humanité that Char, once widely admired, “is now unfairly disparaged.” In true French style, much of the current resentment against Char stems not only from his poetic accomplishments—including the rare honor of inclusion in the prestigious Gallimard Pléiade series of literary classics while still alive—but also from his very real wartime heroics.

During the German occupation of France in World War II, Char joined the Resistance under the pseudonym le capitaine Alexandre, organizing paratrooper insertions and arms drops in the south of France. In his compelling wartime collection of poetic, aphoristic prose fragments, Feuillets d’Hypnos (Leaves of Hypnos; 1946), Char explained what he called the “humanism of resistance” by declaring, “I shall write no poem of acquiescence.” (He added to this a piece of memorable advice for his fellow vanquished Frenchmen: “Bow down only in order to make love.”)

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Last month, France commemorated the centenary of the poet René Char (1907-1988). Despite an exhibit at Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France, which runs until July 29, and various dutiful school commemorations, some observers have noted that Char is receiving as much disrespect as adulation in his native land. The French poet Jacques Dupin told the newspaper L’Humanité that Char, once widely admired, “is now unfairly disparaged.” In true French style, much of the current resentment against Char stems not only from his poetic accomplishments—including the rare honor of inclusion in the prestigious Gallimard Pléiade series of literary classics while still alive—but also from his very real wartime heroics.

During the German occupation of France in World War II, Char joined the Resistance under the pseudonym le capitaine Alexandre, organizing paratrooper insertions and arms drops in the south of France. In his compelling wartime collection of poetic, aphoristic prose fragments, Feuillets d’Hypnos (Leaves of Hypnos; 1946), Char explained what he called the “humanism of resistance” by declaring, “I shall write no poem of acquiescence.” (He added to this a piece of memorable advice for his fellow vanquished Frenchmen: “Bow down only in order to make love.”)

A physically massive rugby player, Char was the antithesis of the neurasthenic Parisian poet of the late 19th century. Born in the south of France (where he would spend most of his life), Char was prescient about politics, writing to his friend, the poet Paul Éluard, in January 1933 to express concern about the rise of Adolf Hitler. Éluard, a leftist, dismissed Char’s fear, believing wrongly that Reichstag Communists would squelch Hitler. After the French defeat in 1940, Char became a target of the German army because, among other things, his wife, Georgette Goldstein, was Jewish.

After the war, according to one French poetry website, Char’s “pose as a living God of poetry, his entry into the Pléiade series . . . wound up irritating people. As a resistant against every kind of military or intellectual invasion, he was a monolithic block of granite in his brusque, willful points of view.” Char was also accused of writing obscurely, to which he replied that he always read his poems aloud to a shepherd in his village, who fully understood them.

Still, Char’s writing can seem hermetic—it’s certainly very hard to translate. Char’s best collection in English remains the 1992 Selected Poems edited by Mary Ann Caws and Tina Jolas from New Directions, with translators including Samuel Beckett, James Wright, and William Carlos Williams. Overdue for translation are the French critic Laurent Greilsamer’s insightful 2004 biography L’éclair au front, la vie de René Char (Lightning from his Brow: a Life of René Char), published by Fayard, and an affectionate 2003 memoir by Char’s friend and fellow Resistance combatant Georges-Louis Roux, La nuit d’Alexandre (Alexander’s Night), from Grasset.

Much by Char remains unpublished in France, including his extensive correspondence with Éluard, which would be fascinating to read in toto. Unfortunately, it seems that behaving heroically during a war is a sure way to invite sarcasm and neglect from France’s literary world.

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