Wednesday, October 24, 2018

My Victimhood is Bigger than Yours, or, “Genocide” Isn’t What It Used To Be

“My victimhood is bigger than yours” (hereafter MVBY) is a very popular game these days, particularly around election season.  MVBY is easy to play, but you can best acquire expertise by going to a university, any university, and major in one of the “studies” disciplines – Women Studies, Gay/Lesbian Studies, African American Studies, Latino Studies or maybe Queer Theory or Post-Colonialism. There are a lot of options to choose from, and the best part is that when finished, you are fully equipped to make life miserable for anyone who doubts the particular version of victimhood you espouse. Almost all of the degrees come with an easily mastered vocabulary of handy accusations, insults and slurs, an in-your-face attitude that will intimidate most people, and a self-righteous certainty that is invincible to counterarguments and can withstand the response of anyone courageous enough be critical or skeptical of your point of view.  

Some of the more gifted graduates go on to prestige jobs at cable networks like CNN or national newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post. They get well paid to complain about “racism,” “sexism,” "anti-Semitism" and “white supremacy” and enjoy unmasking the bigotry of the rubes who voted for Trump. Other graduates become teachers in the schools and universities. They conduct the “consciousness raising” so that the next generation of victims knows how even better to articulate its grievances, formulate its demands, and as former President Obama put it, “Get in their face.” Those who prefer administrative-human resources “work,” will find that the “Diversity Industry” is an employment growth-sector. The rapid expansion of victim groups has stimulated demand for appropriately credentialed personnel to pursue the workplace perpetrators of microaggressions, racist dog whistles and hate speech. For the more physically oriented and less intellectually gifted victim-credentialed folks, there are opportunities for street work. Join Antifa or BLM, put on a mask, smash some storefront windows, and beat up anyone who appears to display racist tendencies or Nazi sympathies. For the less physically oriented, lawyers are aplenty. They will help you target and maximize the impact of your accusations of discrimination, harassment and abuse.

However, to get a better sense of how the politicians and the educators help make MVBY a national past time and turn schools into propaganda mills, consider this recent development in Connecticut. From the Hartford Courant, October, 21, 2018.

Connecticut lawmakers moved closer on Monday toward requiring the state's school districts to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides, voicing concern about an uptick an anti-Semitic acts and an apparent lack of knowledge among many young people about such atrocities. While the state Department of Education has made an optional course on genocide available to districts, legislators said many have not used it. ‘We have not done enough to educate the young,’ said Democratic Rep. Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford, who voiced concern about recent polling that has shown a lack of awareness about the Holocaust and the six million Jewish victims. ‘It's not clear why we would have districts not teaching this profoundly important subject.’”

The article goes on to add that “The House of Representatives voted 147-0 in favor of the bill following a somber and poignant debate.” Really? One has to wonder: just how “somber and poignant” a “debate” could be with a vote of 147 to 0 as the outcome? How long did it last? It sounds more to me like the sorts of voting that took place in the Council of People’s Commissars back in the halcyon days of the USSR. “No” is not a career-enhancing move, as everyone, wink-wink, understands. “It's not clear why we would have districts not teaching this profoundly important subject.  Come on Commisar Fleischmann! You are just being polite. We all know what is going on in these districts. 

Did anyone in this somber debate raise what seems to be the most obvious question: Why should the teaching of “Holocaust and other genocides” be mandatory? Representative Fleischmann says that this is a “profoundly important subject.” Fine, but let’s drop the preacherly pose, set the scolding aside for a moment and be upfront and honest: what is “important” is an outcome heavily conditioned by self-interest and self-identity. Engineers argue that mathematics and physics are profoundly important subjects for instruction, for English teachers, literature and grammar. Devout Catholics want their children to be taught to believe in the sanctity of life and the mortal sin of abortion, for feminists, the equality of women, access to abortion, and the social construction of gender are very important.

Why then does the Holocaust merit privileged status as a mandatory topic in the schools?  The last 3000 years or so of history is full of mass murder, atrocities, rape and pillage. So much to choose from, so where do you draw the line? You could fill up the entire K-12 years with nothing else. Given the heavy moralizing that energizes the teaching of these sorts of topics, unfortunately, the efforts inevitably twist themselves into tendentious, fact-selective enterprises of enforced dogma that suffer absolutely no critical or skeptical reaction – true believers are the intended outcome, anything else is punishable heresy. Look what happened to Larry Summers a few years back at Harvard. Being a certified victim, or related to a victim of any atrocity gives the claimant enormous moral, and possibly political, leverage, which is why, it should seem obvious, that victim-status has become such a coveted commodity that comes with a vast advocacy network and legal enforcement apparatus. To wit: “Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation making the commission of a hate crime a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Violence and threats based on a person's gender also were deemed hate crimes. The state's previous law only protected gender identity or expression, not gender,” also from the Hartford Courant article.

But on with the somber Connecticut lawmakers: Who then should teach the American children about the “Holocaust and other genicides”? Before attempting to answer the question, it is reasonable to conclude that the upper-case “Holocaust” is going to be the centerpiece of attention given the “uptick of anti-Semitic acts” that young people seem to be unaware of, as noted by Alan Levin, the regional civil rights chairman of the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League, who was cited in the Hartford Courant article. One can speculate about ADL priorities operating in this venue, but what about the lower-case afterthought, the “other genocides”? Well, to borrow an old Cricket metaphor, that is a bit of “sticky wicket” because, you see, from the very beginning of its coinage by Raphael Lemkin and its attachment to Hitler and the Third Reich, “genocide” has been a tool of cynical ideologues used in the service of self-interest.  In a review, of Stalin’s Genocides by Norman Naimark (Princeton University Press) Aaron Rothstein writes in “Bodies Count”:

Norman Naimark, the Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor of East European Studies at Stanford, wonders why Lemkin, and those who followed his analysis at the United Nations in writing the Genocide Convention, created a concept that incorporated Hitler’s killings—the attempt to extirpate the Jews was an attempt to exterminate an ethnic group (and nation)—but did not extend as far as Stalin’s murders. Naimark points out that Lemkin’s 1933 argument, unlike his 1944 book, included a reference to the extermination of a “social collectivity.” Such collectivities include political parties or groups organized around particular ideas; they could be almost any group considered to be a political opponent. In Lemkin’s earlier analysis, the attempt to exterminate such groups would also have been considered genocide. But not in 1944. And not in 1948, either, when Lemkin’s work influenced the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. That document also leaves out social and political collectivities, stating that genocide includes the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Naimark suggests that the reason for this alteration in the concept was simple, but it has had large consequences: Lemkin did not want to upset Stalin who, despite brutally exterminating political groups in the Soviet Union, was vital to the Allied war effort against Hitler.

Yes, it was extremely important not to “upset Stalin” which meant that his mass-murders – millions of Ukraine peasants, the Katyn Wood massacre, as well as his extensive mass-deportations and ethnic cleansing during WWII, and the million-plus slave-laborers in the Gulag – would have to be conveniently overlooked. Lemkin himself in a recent study by Anton Weiss-Wendt, who directs research at the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Oslo, Norway, emerges as an unsavory opportunist. In a review:

Rather than the ‘saintly figure’ of popular accounts, Weiss-Wendt instead presents Lemkin as ‘a rather odious character— jealous, monomaniacal, self-important, but most of all unscrupulous’, complicit in the gutting of his own creation. As early as 1947, Lemkin himself favored the exclusion of political groups in order to secure adoption of the treaty, and enlisted the World Jewish Congress in this effort.” (Holocaust and Genocide Studies, September, 2017)

Genocide as a moral and legal concept from its establishment by the United Nations Genocide Convention in 1948 has been selectively applied and politically manipulated so as to make its current application a dubious polemical ploy that certifies victimhood with an exclamation point. The Wikipedia “List of Genocides by Death Toll has a total of thirty-five genocides that range back to 135 BC, “the Punic battle of Carthage.”  It also cites the “Canadian residential school system (Canadian genocide)” that claimed somewhere between “3,200 and 32,000 lives over 120 years” (a multi-generational conspiracy apparently). Not on the list was Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” that in five years killed between 20 and 40 million Chinese. The Wikipedia list also states that “Scholars are divided and their debate is inconclusive on whether the Holodomor [Stalin’s terror famine that killed three to five million Ukrainians] falls under the definition of genocide.” When what counts as “genocide” is elusive enough to put the “scholars” in opposition over 3 to 5 million dictator-designed dead people and inclusive enough to put the Canadian residential school system in the dock over 32,000 or is it 3,200 or maybe 32?), it is time, the next time you hear the word, to kick the dog and go out and mow your lawn.    

In 2012 Paul Preston, a prolific British historian of the Spanish civil war, published a massive work entitled, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain. Preston just couldn’t help himself: he says so in the Prologue to the book (xi). So now, it seems, “Holocaust” is going the way of “genocide” with Franco joining the ranks of Hitler in the “circles of evil” rankings. This made Preston wildly popular with the Spanish leftists who are now set to evict Franco from the hated Valle de los Caidos and who will probably soon blow the place up. I don’t know, however, if Preston heard from the Anti-Defamation League and Deborah Lipstad, the self-appointed guardian of Holocaust orthodoxy, with accusations of trademark infringement, but, clearly, there are powerful incentives to push the envelope of guilt and inflationary pressure at work for those who toil at manipulating the nomenclature-of-evil, trying to move their favorite victim-class to the front of the line.

So, to return to the question: Who then should teach the American children about the “Holocaust and other genocides”?  Here, from the Hartford Courant, is the Connecticut solution:

Under the legislation, local and regional school boards must include the topic in their social studies curriculum beginning with the 2018-19 school year. It is estimated the mandate could cost districts less than $5,000, but the legislation allows local school officials to use free, online resources and to accept grants and donations to cover the cost.”

Churchill’s firebombing of 131 cities during WWII, immolating hundreds of thousands of German civilians, including women and children – war crimes under international law (Jörg Friedrich, Der Brand: Deutschland Im Bombenkrieg, 1940-1945, Propylean, 2002);

The predominant role that Jewish Bolsheviks played in the murder of the Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, fourteen year old son and four daughters -- bayoneted to death (Mark Weber, “The Jewish Role in the Bolshevik Revolution and Russia's Early Soviet Regime,” (The Unz Review);

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