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« Mel Gibson: "Atrocities happened." | Main | Crisis in Iran? »

February 01, 2004

Comments

Dave Gudeman

First I'd like to clarify my use of "socialism" in the article. I relied on context to make my meaning clear and it seems this was reckless. I wasn't referring to redistribution of wealth, which is only one aspect of traditional socialist thought, and a peripheral one at that. Marxist theory has it that capitalist economies consist of the upper class oppressing a lower class and that inevitably the lower class will rebel, kill all the oppressors, and institute a new communal government. Socialism (as I understand it) is a movement that accepts this view of the world and advocates having the rebellion immediately (which implies, that they want to kill all the capitalists). What is important is the view that the upper class is a set of cruel oppressors. This is slanderous and is meant to provoke murderous hatred against these people (just as Hitler made slanderous claims about the Jews in order to provoke murderous hatred).

This is why someone in the upper class cannot avoid murder by changing his class. In the socialist world view, these people have spent their entire life as cruel oppressors and need to be punished. I'm sure if Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot had given the upper classes a chance to change their class instead of being murdered, a large percentage would have accepted the deal. And the people in the upper class were largely born in those classes too. There is no significant difference between Judaism and "Kulakism" in this sense.

And as to your defense of Stalin on the grounds that he was merely acting to enhance his own welfare, I don't know what was in his head, but it doesn't sound like the kind of defense a lawyer would give. Suppose you were sitting on a jury to decide the punishment of two men who had been convicted of a murder. The first is clearly paranoid and psychotic, he hated and feared the victim because he believed the victim was conspiring against him. The second was involved in the murder because he wanted the victim's money. The second defends himself by saying, "If the victim had only given me all of his money and signed over all of his future salary and moved out of his house so I could live there, then I wouldn't have killed him. But the other guy, he was going to kill the victim no matter what, so he's a lot worse than me." Do you give the second guy a lighter sentence? Perhaps the second one is less frightening to you (not to me), but he is surely no less blameworthy.

So where you accuse me of minimizing the Holocaust, I accuse you of minimizing the atrocities of Stalin. In large part because of the near universal condemnation of Hitler, our society no longer tolerates certain kinds of slander and hatred, namely those kinds practiced by Hitler. Because of our failure to condemn other monsters equally, other slander and hatred is still tolerated.

BTW, my remark about the Democratic party was ill-considered, off-topic and regrettable in context. If I had been writing publicly I would not have made it. I withdraw the comment without repudiating it. Can I do that?

Dom

True, Gibson is an idiot not to realise at this time that any comment on the holocaust mustn't be ambiguous. Possibly he is an idiot because of this film. However, strictly he hasn't overstepped any boundaries with this comment. I get a rough idea of where his parents might be coming from but these particular comments of Gibsons are a non-issue. Also I haven't seen the film and I regret that doing so means contributing to its success. It will be widely viewed anyway, there is no other way to go about it, and though I suspect I will leave none the wiser about it's motives and impact perhaps it will be a pleasant surprise. While there's room for complaint, to call Gibson's view of the holocaust a denial - and it is now prevalent, to compare and contrast the holocaust with *your favourite issues here* - isn't accurate enough.

annika

A fascinating and intelligent discussion.

i have a problem with the following argument, though:

"Yes, it is more contemptible to exterminate a race than a class. Race is, by definition, an ascribed characteristic; i.e., you can do nothing to change it. . . . One can shed one's class by dispossessing oneself of property . . . . These people at least have a chance. The Jews had none but luck and the perseverence of the few who risked themselves to help."

i could raise the semantic point that the Jewish people are not a race, but i understand what you mean. Jewishness is an immutable characteristic for many, though not all jews. But your contention breaks down when one realizes that the holocaust was more than the extermination of jews. A very large number of victims were people who did not have an immutable characteristic to condemn them. i'm talking about dissidents and, arguably, homosexuals.

So, if exterminating people for their race is a ten on a hypothetical "evilness scale" of 1 to 10, might it be fair to say that you would call the Holocaust a 10, while Stalin's purges were, say, a 9. If so, then would you similarly distinguish Hitler's extermination of Jews and Gypsies from his murder of dissidents and homosexuals (assuming arguendo, that homosexuality is chosen.) If so, doesn't that distinction also minimize the holocaust, to some extent?

Brant

Those are all reasonable points to make. I certainly by no means intended to minimize the atrocities that were committed by Stalin, nor the ones committed by the Nazis against other groups. Hell, my wife grew up under Soviet occupation, and her father was sent to work as a slave laborer in Dresden during the war (he was there during the bombing made famous in Slaughterhouse Five). I own a cabin near what used to be Lidice, the Czech village that was leveled in retribution for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. So I have no illusions that Jews were somehow the only ones to suffer under Stalin and Hitler. But Gibson wasn't asked about all that. He was asked about the Holocaust.

What Gibson seemed to be avoiding was the question of the policy of extermination that was systematically carried out against the Jews. He was asked, Do you believe that the Holocaust happened? He could have just said, Yes, of course. But instead he launched into a very weasely sounding equivocation, which under the circumstances seemed damning. He just said, "Atrocities happened." It's almost like saying, Yeah, shit happens, you know? It was this use of the passive voice that I think irritated me the most. There was nothing passive about the Holocaust.

There is also something particularly pernicious about Holocaust denial, or Holocaust minimizing, because the problem of anti-Semitism is still very much with us, both in Europe and throughout the world (especially the Muslim world), whereas the political ideology behind Stalinism has been defeated and largely discredited (Saddam Hussein having been one of its last remaining holdouts), and other forms of racism and prejudice (anti-gay, anti-Gypsy, etc.) are generally fading away. Europeans seem only too eager to brand Israelis as war criminals, because doing so dampens their guilt about the past while indulging their anti-Semitic sensibilities under the banner of "anti-Zionism," all the while forgetting that Zionism was proven necessary by European anti-Semitism. This makes the Holocaust against the Jews just as relevant in today's world as it has ever been.

I also think that my reaction was supplemented, if you will, by the fact that I am in the middle of reading a book by an acquaintance of mine, called The Wiesenthal File. It contains some of the most painful descriptions of Nazi atrocities I have ever encountered, and when I read Mel's statement I was simply incensed.

Yehudit

Jewishness isn't a race, it's an ethnicity. Two different, although interrealted things. Judaism has two modes of transmission: by birth and by conversion. Children of a Jewish mother are halachically automatically Jewish, regardless of the ethnic identity of the father, unless the children convert to another religion at some point. But anyone can convert to Judaism, and people of all races have and continue to do so. It doesn't make sense to talk of Jews as a race when some of us are black Ugandans and some are blond Russians.

Also, it was a German proto-nazi from whom Hitler borrowed many ideas, who first attempted to classify the Jews as a "race."

Otherwise great post. Here's my contribution to the debate.

DBL

Great post. If anyone is interested, the letters column in the current Atlantic Monthly has some fascinating (as in car-wreck kind of fascinating) espistles opining that the mass murders of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al. were less heinous than Hitler's because communism's ideal of equality was noble and the nazi ideal of racial purity was evil. While I believe that genocide is a crime in a category by itself, the left's continued apologies for communism is infuriating.

Michael B

Gibson's quote:

"I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

In the 1st sentence he (Gibson) implicitly acknowledges the holocaust on the basis of direct, empirical evidence. In the 2nd explicitly. In the 3rd the concentration camps are explicitly affirmed. In the 4th the holocaust is again explicitly indicated. When he does forward a comparison with numbers, with statistics, he doesn't make a comparison with something like the Katyn massacre involving tens-of-thousands, but rather with millions that perished, such as in the Ukraine.

What you frame (solely and simply I would note) as the "passive" voice is more properly understood, in this context, as a past tense, he was speaking in a conversational voice about events that occurred 60 yrs. ago, not necessarily with scientific precision, nor is there any indication he was using a passive voice to mitigate the effects of "atrocities" and "war" any more than he was concerning the holocaust per se.

It's true he did not recite, in rote or creed-like fashion, a more standard or common narrative, but his perspective, placing events within the context of WWII and the genocidal programs of the Soviet Union are completely appropriate and reasonable. It is perspective he is lending, not trivialization as you are impugning.

I've always accepted, with some margin for potential error, the six million number associated with the Jewish aspect of the holocaust, and another roughly one million associated with other Nazi non-desirables such as gypsies, the mentally disabled, bolsheviks, dissenting churchmen, etc. As part of a small DVD collection I have a three hour narrative and documentary of the Nazi holocaust and recently went searching for the much lengthier documentary entitled simply, I believe, "Shoah" but could not locate a copy. However, this need for rote-like conformity in how one voices essential agreement is disturbing.

Other facts. Gibson himself has been far more conciliatory than Foxman and the ADL have been. A leading Jewish group from Australia recently indicated Gibson's movie is not anti-semitic, as did an actress from the movie, herself Jewish. Gibson has been branded by anti-religious and anti-Catholic bigots such as Frank Rich and Bill Maher as being anti-semitic or otherwise misanthropic or somehow not sufficiently caring. His own Catholic group, favoring the Latin mass for example, has been characterized as having rejected the entirety of Vatican II, such as that aspect which precludes Jews from being "Christ killers." The one statement about that group I read (I believe it was a press release or similar statement) was that it rejects (some or much?) of Vatican II, but not all and not this particular aspect. As regards Gibson pere, I read a statement from a spokesperson that Gibson does not agree with his father's views on this subject, nor on everything more generally his father has, imo unfortunately at times, voiced.

You may have a case to make by some other means than leveraged innuendo, guilt by association, presumption and trial by ordeal of media intensity. Perhaps you, Yourish, et al will do that sometime. That remains to be seen.

razib

shinto, many groups of hindus and parsis (zoroastrianism) tends to have a strong ethnic component.

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I dont entirely agree with that which you say on your website, I find that you are usually planning a little bit inside a box, but… hello, everybody has their right to his or her own opinion, true? Good post tough!

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