Sunday, January 23, 2005

Remembering the Holocaust

The Auschwitz concentration camp was formally liberated by Soviet forces on January 27, 1945. In the 60 years since, Auschwitz has come to symbolize the Holocaust. However, Auschwitz (where about 1,200,000 people died) was only one, albeit the most efficient, of six specialized "death camps," all of them in Poland. The other five were Treblinka (800,000), Belzec (600,000), Majdanek (300,000), Sobibor (250,000), and Chelmno (200,000). Other camps, mostly devoted to slave-labor industries, were not specialized death camps, although millions died in them from disease, maltreatment, and execution for various offenses.

The numbers (link and link) of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, military prisoners of various allied countries, and others who died can only be approximated. It's generally accepted that the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust is about 6,000,000; that's about half of the total number of deaths. The real numbers will never be known.

Even those Nazis intimately involved in the killing give different numbers, and the much-vaunted precision of German record-keeping is, at least in this case, a myth. For example, this from the Nuremberg trial of SS Sturmbannführer (equivalent to the military rank of major) Rudolf Höss, Commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex:

I commanded Auschwitz [from 1 May 1940] until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease making a total dead of about 3,000,000. This figure represents about 70 or 80 percent of all persons sent to Auschwitz as prisoners, the remainder having been selected and used for slave labor in the concentration camp industries; included among the executed and burned were approximately 20,000 Russian prisoners of war (previously screened out of prisoner-of-war cages by the Gestapo) who were delivered at Auschwitz in Wehrmacht transports operated by regular Wehrmacht officers and men. The remainder of the total number of victims included about 100,000 German Jews, and great numbers of citizens, mostly Jewish, from Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Greece, or other countries. We executed about 400,000 Hungarian Jews alone at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.

Although sometimes quoted, some of these numbers are almost certainly wrong. Most serious researchers and historians put the number of dead at Auschwitz in the range of 1,100,000 to 1,600,000, about 90 percent of them Jews. Why would the commandant of the camp himself be wrong? Höss gave strange numbers in both his autobiographical book, written while a prisoner in Poland, and his Nuremberg testimony. Perhaps he just didn't know, or perhaps he was using numbers obtained from others, when he went from Auschwitz to the SS camp inspectorate office and worked with the administrators of many camps. Some believe Höss may have written the book under pressure from his Polish captors.

One doesn't have to be a Jew to consider the holocaust the most disturbing event in Western history. I've spent a lot of time, both academic and personal, studying it and the historical period in which it occurred. This has included reading a large number of books and academic studies, participating in discussions and seminars, and studying informally with a rabbi who himself survived two camps in France and is a legitimate expert.

I know about the camps. I've only been to one, Bergen-Belsen in Germany, which was razed by the British after it was liberated to stop a typhus epidemic. All that's there now is a small memorial center, a monument, and large, low mounds beneath which the remains of human victims are interred. Row upon row upon row of mounds, thousands and thousands of people. I know about the einsatzgruppen, SS killer formations which, along with their associated reserve police battalions, roamed through Poland, Russia, and other regions. I also know that some countries, and their people, tried and largely succeeded in protecting their Jewish citizens; the people of Denmark and Bulgaria were heroic indeed. Other countries chose instead to hand over their Jewish countrymen to the Nazis or, in some cases, to kill them themselves. France, Hungary, Romania, and Poland come to mind. Countries allied in the war against fascism knew enough, at some point, to have saved many lives, but they largely did nothing. And the Vatican knew enough early on to have saved possibly millions, had they but wished to. This profound failure calls into question the belief of the Church in the most fundamental principles upon which it exists.

I've pondered the questions everyone else grapples with. Why did the Nazis consider less than one percent of their citizens (about 580,000 of 62,000,000) to be such a serious threat? The answers can only lie in centuries of anti-semitism, certainly from the time of the Crusades, and the need for a revolutionary movement to have scapegoats. How did a country of cultured refinement descend to such unspeakable depths? Did the German people really know what was happening? Perhaps not all knew, at least not the details, but there were literally hundreds of thousands of Germans directly involved in and helping manage the enterprise. They knew, and through them so did millions of other Germans. And why did so many in other countries, themselves at war with Germany, willingly surrender Jews to the certainty of death? To simply say "anti-semitism" is accurate but far from sufficient.

And perhaps the most irritating question, often heard from Holocaust-deniers and others who question the overwhelming burden of historical evidence, is this: Why did the Jews permit themselves to be slaughtered? Why did they march off to their deaths like so many docile sheep? There are several answers, none of them very comforting. Any subset of any people can be systematically slaughtered if those in charge wish to do it and the vast majority of their fellows support it or at least acquiesce. When the sheer power of the state is applied against a relatively small number of civilians, it cannot be resisted. A few trained and armed soldiers and policemen can control a large number of average people, especially people who consider themselves full-fledged citizens of their country and who cannot bring themselves to believe such a monstrous crime could be instigated by their state. Until it's too late. Of course, there were some who saw it coming and got themselves and their families out of danger, and there were others who resisted as much as they could. But generally, it was too few and too late.

There are many reasons why the Holocaust should never be forgotten, but one may be more important than all others. It's true, of course, as some say, that there have been other examples of the horror of large-scale genocide, and there will be others. But there is a critical difference. This genocide was carried out against an accomplished people, a people who have contributed more to humanity than any other, by another people, meaning much of Europe, to whom the world looks for leadership and example in culture, achievement, and humanitarian impulse. If humanity could so seriously fail in that case, who is ever safe, anywhere?

The anniversaries of various events in the history of the Holocaust are useful for remembering, which is a fundamental obligation we owe to all those who perished. And it's an obligation of every fortunate beneficiary of Western culture, Jews and non-Jews alike. The state of Israel is the homeland created by and for Jews all over the world in the aftermath of the Holocaust. As the citizens of that small country of a few million struggle daily to defend their very lives against hundreds of millions who would see them slaughtered in yet another Holocaust, the rest of us cannot lose sight of the simple fact that history can repeat itself. And if all of us are not vigilant, it most certainly will. For the benefit of all humanity, the civilized people of the world must draw a line beyond which we will permit no transgression. For the sake of us all, we must embrace as a guiding principle the solemn obligation not only to remember but to ensure that it never happens again. Never again.


Blogger RomanWanderer said...

Very good post, you obviously put lots of thought into it.
Holocaust deniers are out in full force. I agree with those who say that we shouldn't call out the 'H' word at every occasion, but on the other hand the world is not allowed to forget.

5:32 PM, January 23, 2005  
Blogger carla said...

Very thought provoking and moving post, Tom.

I have never been to that part of Europe and I've never visited the Concentration Camps. I did visit the Holocaust Memorial in Paris (which is just across the street from the Cathedral at Notre Dame...if you don't know it's there it's easy to miss). The memorial in Paris is a very stark and cold place. It evokes much of what went on, or so I'm told.

You bring up some important points...why were the Jews such a threat? Why did they go so willingly to their deaths? I suspect the answers are probably very complex and scary....

It is important, as you note, to never forget what happened.

I have some thoughts about Israel...but not for this post. Perhaps another time.

5:38 PM, January 23, 2005  
Blogger Ms. Lori said...

As you stated so eloquently, Tom, we mustn't ever forget, not for one minute. It’s so important for our young people to learn of the horrors perpetuated by the Nazis, and not just by instruction or text book -- for example, my oldest daughter recently attended a play based on Anne Frank’s writings, and she also had the privilege of speaking with a woman who knew Anne. That play, of course, affected my daughter more than any textbook could have, but it was meeting with that survivor that truly moved and enlightened her.

6:01 PM, January 23, 2005  
Blogger Rick Heller said...

My mother's cousin survived the Holocaust, and wrote a memoir (The End of Days by Helen Sendyk) which I was naturally interested for family history, but exceeded my expectations in being well-written. She was a teenager, and therefore was sent to a work camp rather than a death camp. Most of her family were sent to death camps, my great-grandmother among them. My parents and grandparents were in America during WWII, so I am not from a Holocaust-survivor family.

The answer of why Jews did not resist, for the most part, is that they didn't realize what was going to happen to them, until they were already confined. Jews of that era were used to being oppressed, and the most successful survival strategy was meekness.

As far as why the Nazis felt Jews were such a threat, it's seems somewhat crazy. Jews were not blowing up bombs or terrorizing Germans. They were not a threat whatsoever in a homeland security sense. However, many Germans saw them as a threat to German values. In this, perhaps it could be compared to fear of "militant homosexuals" on the part of the religious right. I don't think any right-wingers are afraid of being beaten up by homosexuals. Rather, they are afraid that their way of life is in danger. Similarly, in Germany, Jews were prominent both among capitalist businessman and communist radicals, and the Nazis represented an anti-modern nostalgia for "the good old days"

6:30 PM, January 23, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Tom, that was very moving and well done. I will definitely link to it come the 27th. A friend of mine survived Bergen-Belsen. She won't even take a flight that goes over Germany, never mind ever step foot in the country. While I've never visted a concentration camp (I'm on the fence about whether I could handle it or not), I have been to Yad Vashem in Israel as well as the Holocaust Museums in both Washington, DC and in Los Angeles -- all very powerful.

As for why the Germans did it, I think Hitler probably genuinely hated Jews but also saw their usefulness as scapegoats, to rally the people to take their anger out on them instead of on his government. My great grandparents never made it to a concentration camp. In their 90s (obviously a huge threat), they were simply taken behind their farmhouse and shot to death.

6:55 PM, January 23, 2005  
Blogger Junebugg said...

Even now the word "jew" is used to denote someone who tries to get advantage of someone else. The youth of today have gotten into the "skinhead" movement, Nazi symbols are used as fashion, Hitler is considered a role model in some places, and tolerence for anyone different that one's self is rampant. It's a shame that history is set to repeat itself instead of people learning from the past and at least trying to do better (the deniers). This is a well written post, and I'm sure that it'll keep coming back to haunt me tonight here at work. 6am is far away, and this is one of the most thought provoking things I've read in a while.

7:45 PM, January 23, 2005  
Blogger Markkind said...

This was excellent. Anti-semitism in Europe is on the rise. One could get the feeling that those in power in the EU might think that peace could be achieved in the Middle East if only those "jews" could be dispatched. It's hard to imagine that we've evolved so little in over 2000 years. It's simply frightful that after all this time and with all of the shared information the world still hates Jews.

Thanks Tom for writing this.

9:11 PM, January 23, 2005  
Blogger John said...

Excellent post.

Not to disagree, but there was something on TV that said "how could it ever have happened?"

I replied that it happens quite frequently that a government sets out to murder large numbers of its own population: in Iraq, Cambodia, North Korea, Rwanda.

Sure, the horrors aren't being committed by poeple the world respects as a cultural elite, but we choose to avert our eyes anyway.

3:52 AM, January 24, 2005  
Blogger howard said...

Good post, Tom. It caught me a little off guard, but it's an excellent change-up, none the less.

I don't know if you had any current EU nations in mind when you wrote this, but I have to say I've been very disturbed, especially over the last few years, at some of the old European nations that have seemed to endorse anti-Jewish sentiment. And I have had the displeasure of having some chilling arguments with people who think that any defense of the right of Israel to exist is patently Zionist (a word that seems to carry several different connotations to boot).

5:50 AM, January 24, 2005  
Blogger cass said...

I, too, have read and studied extensively on the Holocaust. I've wondered how the people could have just went to their deaths. I guess some people didn't want to believe what was happening. Dissenters were quickly rounded up and suppressed, shot where they stood in some cases. Fear does things to people. Jews were stripped of all rights and they became noncitizens of different countries. In other countries, the population lived in poor villages and were considered to be backward peasants--who cared about them? No one. At the Chelmno death camp, I believe only 2 people survived. As for my own theory, how else was the German war machine going to carry on if all their able-bodied men were on the front? They needed a ready supply of slave labor. I've been to Dachau. It's located in a lovely area outside Munich. I cannot imagine living around there and NOT knowing what was happening. But when you live in a dictatorship, would you stand up in dissent? Dachau started operating in 1933, as a prison camp for political prisoners. I just keep thinking of the children...

11:09 AM, January 24, 2005  
Blogger RomanWanderer said...

About antisemitism in Europe: The media reports about France and Russia. Here's something about Pasta-land (just thought your readers mught find this interesting)


2:32 PM, January 24, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

E-mail msg from John at Crossroads Arabia, Jan 24, 05 (posted with permission):


Thanks for bringing your post to my attention. I agree with almost all of it, but have a few historigraphical comments. They don't change your points, but may color them slightly differently.

The first thing that caught my attention was your assessment of the Poles. According to the histories I've read, some 6 million Poles were killed by the Nazis. Probably 60% of those were also Jewish; that leaves some 2.4 million who were killed simply for being Poles, an interior race. The survivors of the initial assaults were being squeezed for their very survival. People under that kind of pressure do strange things, some heroic, others horrific. By your comment

Other countries chose instead to hand over their Jewish countrymen to the Nazis or, in some cases, to kill them themselves. France, Hungary, Romania, and Poland come to mind.I think you unintentionally denigrate the circumstance of the Poles. Poland, in fact, was the only European country throughout the 19th C. that gave Jews full political and economic rights. I can recommend some reading. One book, currently out of print, is The Other Holocaust, which gives more detail about the anti-Slav killing machine the Nazi instigated. Jan Karski (who was a young Pole who slipped back and forth from Poland and the UK, reporting on the death camps) is the subject of the book Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust, which you might find interesting. (Disclaimer: I had Karski as a professor.) Equally, Norman Davies' Rising: 1944 talks about the cooperation between Jewish and non-Jewish Poles in their fated attempt to push the Germans out of Warsaw (this is different from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but that also saw cooperation.) Davies is also very good in setting the political scene for the Poles, Germans, and Russians.

To understand part of the reason why Jews were so strongly seen as an internal enemy, I think you need to take a hard look at those internal politics. While it was used as an over-broad hammer with which to beat the Jews, Germans, Poles, French, Czechs, and others equated Jews with Communism. The logic was weak, but it went, "Marx was a Jew; Rosa Luxemburg was a Jew; Trotsky was a Jew; Lenin was reportedly a Jew; Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister during WWII was either Jewish or married to a Jew". I will be the first to shout that there was a great deal of erroneous conflation of two "other" categories, but will point out that this was not "mindless"; it was simply wrong. An interesting piece by Rabbi Wein can be found at You might also find this article interesting:

Nineteen hundred years of calumny, either directly believed or strongly supposed, that the "Jews killed Christ", did not help to set a tone of friendship. Speaking a different language, having secretive (seeming) religious rituals, and having social and religious practices at wide variance with those of the majority, all mark differences and "otherness".

I am not blaming the victim, either, when I note that because the majority of Jews in the east, both for their own reasons and for reasons imposed upon them, were separate from the mainstream society, the sense of "other-ness" was enhanced. Unfairly, immorally, but the fact remains.

When, in the ruins of WWI the Russians started pushing Jews westward, disruption in existing societies was stressed. Jobs in an already depressed economy (part of the global depression) were scarce and people reacted with bias and hatred. (My Irish grandfather was greeted with "Irish need not apply" signs in the US in the same period.)

Your argument for the necessity of an Israel is excellent. But it misses the point that is at the root of the Arab-Israeli issue. The land on which Israel was founded was already occupied with a people. You can learn a lot by going back to the original Zionist documents to see just how the indigenous population was reacting to the influx of Jews during the late 19th and early 20th C. in Neville J. Mandel's The Arabs and Zionism Before World War I, which is also out of print, alas. Mandel does no editorializing, but offers quotations from the original documents held in various Jewish and Zionist libraries in Israel, Germany, the UK and US. Those documents tell of a people, Arab and Muslim, who as part of the decaying Ottoman Empire, were concerned about the influx of Jews—both Zionist and not—into Palestine, then a political entity, part of that Ottoman Empire. All, Arabs and Jews alike, got caught up in the mess that followed WWI. What the documents also show is not anti-Semitism so much as concern about immigrants. Do try to find Mandel's book in your local library; it's an important book.

My point is not to be pro or con Zionism, but to say that Arabs—particularly Palestinian Arabs—feel very real grievances about the imposition of a foreign population in their midst. They believe that if Israel was established as either reparation or guilt for the Holocaust, it would have been more properly established in what is now Germany, or one of its Axis allies' lands. They do not see the justice of an equation that says, "We can share your land."

I believe the Palestinians have reached the end of the road in fighting against the existence of Israel. They know they cannot win that fight and to continue it will spell their own dissolution. There will be peace. But it will not be a peace that is cheerily accepted. Resentment, with outbreaks of violence, will continue until there is some sort of acknowledgement by Israel—and the world—that the population of 1946 Palestine was wronged.

If you'd like a cogent example of how long a grudge can be held, I'll just suggest that the English-Irish problem with N. Ireland is reaching a solution now, after only 400 years.

Best regards, John

4:54 PM, January 24, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

John, thanks for your message (quoted above). You make valid points, and in general I agree with you. A few comments:

I gave quite a bit of thought to naming specific countries in Europe and discussing the lack of action by the Allies and the Vatican. I decided to do it to make the point that there were people and governments who could have done more to help, or at least could have cooperated less with the Nazis. I could have listed other countries in both categories; the ones I used were just examples.

I didn’t have Poland in the original draft but added it later. I understand the complexity of the issue. Poland did have a long history of generally welcoming and protecting Jews, at least in part because of a recognition of their many contributions. However, all was not always peaceful for Jews in Poland, as evidenced by pogroms before and after WWII.

Undoubtedly there were Poles who helped Jews, and elements of the Polish underground provided important but inconsistent support. However, there has been a lot of criticism of how many Poles reacted to the Holocaust, ranging from individual Poles seizing Jewish property, looting their possessions, turning them over to the authorities to gain access to their property, etc. Some Poles also actively worked with the SS.

No doubt conditions in some countries made it easier or harder to try to protect Jewish populations, but to some extent pre-war reality was also part of the problem. As Peter Novick said in The Holocaust and Collective Memory,

Where the conditions of German Occupation were relatively mild, and where Jews were well integrated into local society—as in Denmark—more help, and more effective help, was forthcoming. In places where Germans behaved with particular brutality and where Jews were less well integrated—as in Poland—there was less help, and it was less often successful.So, given that about half the Jews killed in the Holocaust were Polish Jews and given that Poles could indeed have done more to assist their Jewish countrymen, it seemed appropriate to mention Poland.

The explanation that European anti-semitism was based in part on equating Jews with communism is valid for the period, but does nothing to explain centuries of hatred before Karl Marx was born. The fact is, there has been significant anti-semitism in Europe since before the Crusades, and it’s still present today. The Nazis simply built on what had always been there, and their passing didn’t end it. That’s why their will always be a need for remembrance and vigilance.

Arguments about why Israel was founded, where it was founded, who was there first, who has the first claim, who is and is not a foreigner, and so on are endless. The important fact today is that Israel does exist, and it’s surrounded by primitive societies led by despots and Muslim clerics bent on its destruction. They’ll talk about peace, a democratic Palestinian state, and just about anything else you’d like to hear, but their primary goal isn’t going to change. The rest of the world, and certainly Western countries, shouldn’t permit them to realize that goal. As for the United States, we can work with both sides and try to achieve peace, as we are doing, but ultimately we must always side with Israel.

4:56 PM, January 24, 2005  
Blogger Zelda said...

Hi Tom,

What an excellent post you have here on the Holocaust.

This week, I'm one of the guest bloggers over at Ace of Spades HQ, so I'll link from there to this post, and from my blog as well. Ace gets a lot of traffic. So hopefully I'll send more readers your way -- you certainly deserve them.

Regarding the causes of anti-Semitism, a while back, I read Leon Uris' book "Armageddon." It was the fictional story of an American soldier stationed in Germany just after WWII. Anyway, Uris had an interesting point to make on Germans and their culture. In his view, despite the Christian veneer, they were deep down, pagans whose gods represented racial purity. So they hated Jews, because the Jew was responsible for the concept of One G-d.

I've read in other places that along with bringing the world monotheism, Jews are hated because they bring to the world an objective standard of right and wrong -- not just doing whatever you want because it feels good.

Anyway, thank you very much for posting this. I'll go and do another post over at Ace's now.

9:46 PM, January 24, 2005  
Blogger Kevin said...

Hmmm... Let me preface my comments by stating that I have both Jewish and Germanic (Aryan) ancestory. Although it's not possible that I could have had any direct ancestors involved on either side of the Halocaust, due to both lines having emigrated to America many decades before WWII. But it's likely that I did have relatives involved both as persecutors and the persecuted.

That said... I wouldn't describe the Jews as having contributed more to humanity than any other ethnic group. At the very least we would have to consider the ancient Greeks as arguably having a greater claim to that distinction.

Also, I think it can't be understated how great an influence the native cultures had on post-diaspora Jews. Yes, the Jews retained their unique identity. But, they also adapted to their adopted cultures in ways which I think could be argued to have contributed to the accomplishments of such luminaries as Einstein and Freud.

Einstein and Freud both were born and raised in Germanic cultures. Which leads to another observation. And that is that pre-WWII Germany was a very permissive society. I don't see much in the way of popular anti-Semitism there.

It needs to be noted that the Nazis kept their own people on an exceptionally short leash. Which is to say that Nazi Germany was very much a police state. Germans were informing on other Germans.

In that respect Nazi Germany paralells the manner in which Saddam kept the Iraqi's on a short leash. A minority backed by the very real threat of absolutely unconstrained brutality can control a significantly larger population. We saw that in Baathist Iraq, in Nazi Germany, in the Communist Soviet Union and in Communist China, not to mention Communist North Korea as I type these words. Heck, most of us saw that same dynamic via the schoolyard bully as we grew up. All it takes is the mere threat of brutality and a huge swath of any population will react meekly so as to avoid incurring the wrath of whomever is doing the threatening.

2:48 PM, January 25, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Here are two more e-mail messages from John at Crossroads Arabia, Jan 25, 05 (posted with permission).

This is a long comment, and it departs from the subject of the post to some extent, but it's well-informed, well-written, and certainly worth the time to read.

* * *


Sorry to send a comment by e-mail, but I can't get into your comment program for some reasons.

I understand your reasoning behind the inclusion of Poland. I don't agree with it, though, because I think you're placing people (the Poles of the 1930s and 40s in this instance), on a pedestal beyond the reach of most men. I do suggest you read some books about the conditions Poles had to meet in both the expanded Reich in the west and the General Gouvernement in the middle of the country. Poles were being shot for nothing other than a whim. Under true terror conditions, you do not find much in the way of great heroism. Iraqis under Saddam are an immediate instance of this. Ordinary Iraqis stood by while Saddam was killing at whim, grateful that it was not they and their families who were being killed. It's too easy to say—as I fear my own government says—"could do better, could do more". In an idea world, perhaps….

[Incidentally, I'm arguing Poland because that's a country I do know a bit about. I'm sure others can argue for other countries. I do think things were uniquely bad in Poland, though.]

I respect Novick's opinion, but see it as just that, opinion. Documentary evidence suggests a much harsher reality.

On reasons for pre-20th C. anti-Semitism, there are books galore. What makes most sense to me—thus, making it my opinion—is that being the "other" was the main problem, almost equaled by being "Christ killers". Perhaps because much of my life has been spent as an "other" colors my impression. I've lived for more than half of my life in countries where I was instantly identifiable as "not us". Whether it was my skin color, my hair color, my height, I was certainly not Asian of any sort. I've seen how not being part of the general culture and society not only can cut one off, but also limit social intercourse. If I did not take steps to ignore the "other-ness" placed upon me and simply act as though it didn't exist, I couldn't have done my job successfully. That doesn't mean to buy into the culture, but to understand where it's coming from. Empathy, not sympathy.

I believe there are a few groups who seek the destruction of Israel. Most of the Arab world may still hold that as a dream, but do not see it in any sort of plausible future. Israel has proven itself too strong to be eradicated. The world—at least in the West—will not accept its eradication. It's not going to happen.

Those groups, however unrepresentative of the majority—speak louder and more violently than their numbers justify. Most Arabs want the damn problem solved. If that means all Israelis and Palestinians disappeared, that would be acceptable, but not something that Arabs can bring about. If both parties were to sit down tomorrow and sign a comprehensive peace agreement, that would also be acceptable—and equally out of the reach of the average Arab to achieve.

I think you err in trying to apply a stereotype that fits more than a hundred million people, built on the words and deeds of a true minority. Those words and deeds need to be condemned and fought.



The Saudis'—and other Arabs'—attitude toward the Palestinians is complex. On the one hand, they're seen as "uppity", ungrateful, prone to corruption, and whiney bastards who have dragged the entire Middle East into years of non-productive politics. On the other, they're family members who were wronged. You know what they say about "blood" and "water".

For decades, the Palestinians were a low, annoying murmur in the background of daily life for most Arabs (clearly not the case for Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and Syrians, but they represent the Levant branch of the family and with not only geographic proximity, but also closer blood and marriage ties, more immediate family). The advent of satellite TV and opening of the media in the Arab world changed that.

Today, you can be assured that every "atrocity" visited upon Palestinians will be front-page material, leading the news broadcasts. Even worse, those stories will be accompanied by graphic images of death and destruction that never, ever, are seen on American (or most international) TV. Is this unfair use of emotional images for political purposes?

I honestly don't think so. That it's being done for political purposes is certain. That it's unfair… well, that's the real question.

This is an instance where differing cultural values have an enormous impact. It all comes down to religion—no surprise there.

For Christians and Jews (and Western civilization in general), the dead are given certain protections and honors. Most of it is religious, an attitude summed up by the Catholic concept of the body as "the temple of God". We protect our dead from exploitation, offer differing levels of protection against slander, and hide the visuals of people in their worst possible state. Jews do that, too, to a large extent. Not being Jewish, I cannot quote a particular religious doctrine that requires this, but I'm sure it exists. But even if there's not a particular verse somewhere, as part of the general West, this is one of the shared attitudes.

When a bomb goes off in Israel, there are no pictures of shattered bodies, of body parts. In fact, the Israeli security forces push the media a block or two away. This is done, officially, for safety, to protect them from secondary explosions. It also helps protect crime scenes from contamination. But what it achieves is to make those dead and dismembered invisible to the world. At most you will see body bags and blood stains—this in itself is a recent innovation, less than three years old.

In the US, we do not want to see ugly pictures of dead people. By Sept. 12, 2001, TV stopped showing pictures of people jumping/falling from the towers: too gruesome. There were no media pictures of body parts. The only picture of a dead person that remains in the public memory is that of Father Mychal Judge, being carried from the scene in the arms of firemen. The terror of 9/11 is a mental exercise, dominated by iconic images of shattered architecture. It is sanitary. It is cold. It is all intellectual.

Muslims have a different attitude toward death. They actually practice the often-cited Christian belief of "dust unto dust". Once a person's spirit has left the body, that body is an empty husk. While under normal conditions certain respect is paid to a body, it is not with nearly the same importance as elsewhere. Bodies are to be disposed of quickly—by religious law, before sundown of the day of death whenever possible. Mourning is very limited, with a remembrance service 40 days after death, and perhaps (depending on the country) on the anniversary of a death. The political use of the dead is not promoted, but it's not prohibited, either. So when people can make a strong political point by using the body of a "martyr", they will.

This isn't just an intellectually different practice; what's now comes in is emotion.

Pictures of a dead child, with half of his head missing, are powerfully emotional. The image goes straight to the guts, bypassing the brain entirely. And in the guts, it turns to rage—an emotion not mediated by reason. If you have not seen them, you cannot imagine the impact of these pictures. As a retired soldier, you may have personal experience with images like this. Recall your own, visceral experience of seeing a member of your family torn to pieces by a bullet or explosion. If you haven't that personal experience, then picture a six-year-old girl, half under a tank, with her guts literally pooling in the street. With training, with strongly exercised abilities to abstract the real, with great effort, one can push this experience through mental circuits and get control of the rage. If they're suddenly popping up, with limited context, then disgust, horror, shame, and rage result. [Similar images accompanied, and still accompany, coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.]

Is this an "unfair" use of emotion-packed images? In a way, yes. It's only showing one side of a story. The dead and dismembered Israelis are invisible and, for emotional purposes, simply don't exist because they're not seen. It's bad journalism in that it's not telling a full and balanced story, and with a clear but unstated political objective.

But again, we're dealing with emotions, not a mental category of objective truth. Nor are we discussing the "professionalism" of the Arab media.

In 2002, the Saudi Crown Prince went to Crawford, TX, to meet with the President. Part of the visit was to discuss Iraq. Part of it was to discuss the Palestinian/Israeli issue. The Crown Prince brought with him two photo albums and a videotape of the images seen by the average Saudi in media accessible to him. Reports I got back on the visit said that the President was both shocked and horrified. He immediately re-energized the US engagement in the peace process. He understood, clearly, that on the emotional level, one side was winning the battle for hearts, if not minds.

So, put yourself in the place of Arabs. You've got a cousin who's a real pain in the neck in the best of circumstances. But he's your cousin, and what's being done to him, by a gang of others, is gruesome and horrific. How do you react?


5:22 PM, January 25, 2005  
Blogger American On Line said...

Never forget.

Never again.

9:50 AM, January 27, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments! A couple of short responses:

h2, I've lived in five European countries and travelled in others, and I can assure you that anti-semitism is alive and well. Unfortunately.

RW, thanks for the links to articles on the nutso professor. Somebody should retire this guy.

Kevin, "the glory that was Greece lasted, what, 300 years?" The principles of Democracy, some good philosophy and history, good classical plays, etc. In contrast, Jews through the millenia have contributed massively in every field of human endeavor and thought. I don't see much of a comparison. And I can't see how you can say that pre-WWII Germany wasn't strongly anti-semitic. It was, overwhelmingly so.

11:12 AM, January 27, 2005  
Blogger Guy S said...

Excellent, well thought out post. And a question...I was always under the impression the reason the Roman Catholic Church did not make any waves regarding the "Final Solution", was (for the most part) due to them striking a deal with both the Germans and Italians "You leave us alone, and we will not make any (moral) waves." I am not trying to defend the Church, as , by the very nature of their calling, they should have been making a very loud noise to the rest of the world. I wonder, however, had the Church, made known to the world what was going on, would it have made a difference? The more I see of the open resurgence of anti-Semite feelings in Europe, the Middle East, and other places 'round the world today, I wonder.

1:46 PM, January 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The murders of the Jewish people saddens me. The murders of the Indian Nations and Black Americans by our very own forefathers saddens me. Will we be guilty of the next murders of a particular group of people by the mere political vote we cast or do not cast? Junebugg sent me to your site.

6:30 PM, January 27, 2005  
Blogger Kevin said...

Tom, I think that divorcing post-diaspora Jews from the cultures in which they lived for generations sets up a flawed conclussion. If there had been no diaspora, would Frued have had the impact that he had? Would there have been an Albert Einstein that upended our view of the universe?

Look at the evidence. There have been Jews in a great many countries for a great many generations. How many Moroccan Jews can you name who contributed greatly to humanity? How many Argentine Jews?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to whitewash the Jewishness of those who contributed to humanity. I'm just saying that it needs to be put into context.

And while we're at it... Adolph Hitler was, by Jewish reconing, a Jew since his mother was a Jewess. If we're to single out Jews as an ethnic group, then to be fair it has to include the totality of Jews and not just those who contributed things that we approve of.

6:43 PM, January 27, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin, I just don't accept the idea that the huge number of accomplishments of Jews is to any significant extent a result of the societies they lived in. Logic just doesn't support that, except that if they were being murdered or seriously discriminated against, they probably didn't have much chance to do great things.

Hitler's mother was not a Jew. I read long ago an account by Hans Frank saying that his grandfather may have been a Jew, but most serious historians I've read seriously doubt that. A quick search found this link. It's very short, but some Googling would probably turn up more.

7:48 PM, January 27, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Here's an excellent item from MaxedOutMama:

Mass Murder and Its Roots

6:47 AM, January 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,
As you will be aware,the British Goverment has now omitted the Holocaust from the school curriculum, due to not offending certain factions of our so called British society.
This leaves me absolutly speechless,if we are going to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and call ourselves a free British society, this decision must be reversed.
Are we going to stand up and be counted, man or mouse?
Please start a blog site or whatever, aimed at all decent people in the UK and elsewhere asking to sign a referendum refuting this.
I will be the first to sign.


Roy Mcarthur

11:28 AM, December 03, 2008  
Anonymous Tom Carter said...

Mr. Mcarthur, I've started a new blog, and I'll be publishing on the Holocaust in January. Please visit Opinion Forum.

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