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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Was Hitler a Christian? Was Nazism Christian?



This article appears at FrontPage Magazine here

Hitler is the trump card. Even if you hold a royal flush, if your opponent plays the Hitler card, you lose. Those arguing for Western Civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition frequently fold when confronted by the mustachioed monster. Mention of Hitler is used to insist that we need to throw out the baby, throw out the bath water, and accept just about any alternative to Western Civilization as more peaceful, less genocidal, shinier and newer.

What is the genesis of Political Correctness? One good place to start seeking for that genesis is the West's horrified backlash against, and attempt to compensate for, Nazism.

In the early twentieth century, society's best and the brightest, including US presidents, The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly, Ivy League Universities and Congress accepted scientific racism. This Darwin-inspired worldview placed Nordic people at the pinnacle of human evolution. Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger advised abortion and sterilization for less-evolved humans. Carl Brigham invented intelligence tests, the ancestors of the SAT, that proved Polish immigrants incapable of education. Madison Grant, cofounder of the Bronx Zoo and board member at the Museum of Natural History, recommended elimination of the unfit. Hitler dubbed Grant's 1916 book Passing of the Great Race his "Bible." At the Nuremberg Trials, Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth, would blame another publication from America's scientific racism era, Henry Ford's The International Jew, for his becoming an anti-Semite.

Grant and Lothrop Stoddard positioned their scientific racism in opposition to Christianity. Racism was supported by science, they insisted. Christianity was absurd, and its championing of the oppressed weakened society. 

What happened? How did a society that had been excessively arrogant a hundred years ago become a society that expresses Politically Correct self-condemnation and shame today? World War II happened.

Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin killed more people than Hitler. Tamerlane, the fourteenth-century "Sword of Islam," killed five percent of the world's population. There are two important differences between other notorious genocides and Nazism. We read of Tamerlane's mountains of skulls, his 1398 massacre of a hundred thousand infidels in Delhi, and his burying alive four thousand Armenian Christians in the name of Islam, but we do not witness these horrors. Hollywood directors did not film the eighteen million prisoners of the Soviet Gulag. Hollywood directors like Alfred Hitchcock and George Stevens did participate in documentation of Nazi concentration camps. We don't just read about Nazi horrors; we see them in documentary footage produced by experts.

There is a second important difference between the Holocaust and other horrors. Russia with its serfs, czars, and commissars, perennial enemy of Bond films; China, land of foot-binders and dog-eaters: they are alien to us. The Nazis are us. Germany was democratic, secular, capitalist, educated and industrialized. Beethoven, Einstein, Thomas Mann, hot dogs, hamburgers, Christmas trees: all German. More Americans trace their ancestry back to Germany than to any other country. English is a Germanic language.

Americans watching film footage of Nazis horrors felt shattered in a way that reading of a fourteenth-century massacre of Hindus by a Muslim could never shatter them. We in the West have looked at Nazi crimes and said, "There is something wrong with us. We must change."

If quality X is associated with Hitler, we want to reject quality X. Hitler was a vegetarian; if someone wanted to prove that Hitler did what he did because he was a vegetarian, we might reject vegetarianism. This "logic" is fodder for jokes: "Do you drink water? So did Hitler!" an internet meme mock accuses.

It is exactly because the Hitler card is played against Western Civilization that everyone ought to read Richard Weikart's new book, Hitler's Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich. The book's substance justifies Weikart's clam that it is "the most extensive to date in the English language" on its topic. Weikart makes the case that Hitler's God was a Darwin-inspired, non-personal, pantheistic deity exacting a pitiless survival-of-the-fittest-through-struggle morality. Neither Hitler nor Nazism were Christian, and the elimination of Christianity was certainly one of the long-term goals of Nazism. Previous canonical scholars have asserted part or all of Weikart's main thesis; thus, his book should not be controversial.

Certainly when Nazism was arising, its flamboyant flirtations with Neo-Paganism and its attacks on Christianity were so obvious that in 1942, Polish-Jewish artist Artur Szyk depicted Hitler as the anti-Christ. Nazism declared itself a break with the Judeo-Christian tradition, obedient to science in a way that Christianity could never be, and a return to Pagan values rooted in one's natal blood and soil. In his 1930 book The Myth of the Twentieth Century, Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg declared the "collapse" of all that had come before and a "new dawn" and "new faith" a "new light" a "new mission:" "blood and blood, race and race, folk and folk." "That is the task of our century; to create a new human type out of a new view of life." Goebbels wrote in his novel Michael of "demolishing his old faith world." "The churches have failed. Totally failed. Millions await a new religion."

The Third Reich flag is one of the most famous and in-your-face graphic designs in history: red field, white disc, black swastika. Dating back at least 11,000 years, the swastika is a near universal Pagan symbol for eternity, representing the path of the sun in the sky. TIME film critic Richard Corliss called the Hitler of Leni Riefenstahl's infamous 1935 film, Triumph of the Will, a "Wagnerian deity." Riefenstahl's 1938 film Olympia, documenting the 1936 Berlin Olympics, opens with a lengthy homage to Ancient Greece and Rome. Marble gods appear to spring to life in the bodies of German athletes. This homage makes clear that Nazism plans to skip over the inconvenient rise of Christianity and resurrect virile Pagan virtues. Hitler regarded pre-Christian Rome as humanity's high point. The Luftwaffe bombed Coventry's 14th century cathedral to a ruin, but Hitler would not allow Athens to be bombed.

Nazi Neo-Paganism was a lived experienced that bonded followers to one another and inspired them to reject their own reason and adopt the group's morality. Historian Manfred Gailus wrote that Nazi religiosity was felt as "a mass experience, cult, ritual, as highly symbolic and sacred actions in the context of a novel NS annual calendar of festivals and celebrations of life." "The whole country was as if under a kind of a spell," reported Brunhilde Pomsel, Goebbels' secretary, in 2016.

Living, nocturnal swastikas constituted of thousands of marchers carrying torches high aloft, the Blutfahne ceremony, in which a new swastika was consecrated through physical contact with a flag bearing Nazi blood, or the roll call for the martyrs of the Beer Hall Putsch: Nazis were diabolically clever at creating rituals that erased the past and sucked the participant into a new ethic. These rituals intoxicate audiences, even today. The London Times called Olympia "visually ravishing." The spectacle, the camaraderie, the meaning, order and self-discipline, the loss of self and sacrificial surrender to a moving historical wave: watching Nazi spectacle, one is both moved and one is horrified by being moved. We are not immune to fascism's appeal.

Nazi Neo-Paganism was inscribed into material culture including grave markers, jewelry and clothing. The SS insignia is in fact two runes: the doppelte Siegrune. Runes were letters of an ancient Germanic alphabet used in divination and magic. During the Nazi era, an extra key was added to German typewriters to make possible the typing of the double sieg rune with one stroke. The hagal rune was used at weddings to symbolize unshakeable faith in Nazism. The todesrune replaced the Christian cross in death notices and grave markers.

Nazi ritual inserted itself into spaces previously occupied by Christianity. Speer's "Cathedral of Light," created with anti-aircraft searchlights, was a new kind of church. The swastika was paraded through the streets at the center of a simulated monstrance – the golden container of the Eucharist. In classrooms, crucifixes were removed and replaced with Hitler's photo. Hitler youth meetings were held on Sunday morning to make it impossible to attend church. Hitler youth sang "We need no Christian virtue. We follow not Christ but Horst Wessel." "This [Nazi] cult cycle competed with the traditional Christian cycle," writes Gailus.

Nazism's targeting of Christianity, like its Neo-Pagan spectacles, was also obvious to the nervously watching world. By 1937, 12,000 Catholic priests had been persecuted by the Nazi regime. The Dachau concentration camp established a priests' barracks for clergy in 1940. Catholic presses were closed. Catholic dissidents were murdered during the 1934 Night of the Long Knives. In 1935, seven hundred pastors of the Confessing Church were arrested. Catholic schools were disbanded. One of the first and one of the few wartime Hollywood films to address concentration camps was titled The Seventh Cross. The film's title suggests American awareness of Nazism's anti-Christian stance.

In short, it's hardly a leap to refer to Nazism as anti-Christian and Neo-Pagan.

Why, then, is Weikart's book so essential?

Because Hitler is the trump card, and cultural warriors want badly to play him.

Recent years have seen a new trend in publishing about the Holocaust. Authors link Nazism to Christianity. Richard Steigmann-Gall's 2004 The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity 1919-1945 is one such book.

The Holy Reich states that "Christianity did not constitute a barrier to Nazism." And that Nazi Germany was waging "a war in the name of Christianity." Steigmann-Gall quotes John 16:2 "Whoever kills you will think he is offering a service to God." This verse appears to support Steigmann-Gall's insistence that Nazis were Christians murdering in obedience to unambiguous Biblical commands to do so. An Amazon reviewer says that Holy Reich convinced him that "the Nazis were inspired by Jesus' message as delivered by the New Testament."

New Atheists also play the Hitler card. The Richard Dawkins Foundation hosts a piece by Michael Sherlock stating "Hitler was a Christian … Christianity played a pivotal part in the heinous atrocities [committed by Hitler's] Christian Nazi Party." In his last interview, Christopher Hitchens insisted that 1930s fascism was equivalent to an "extreme-right Catholic party." Atheist actor Stephen Fry attributed the Holocaust to right-wing Polish Catholics.

Are recent revisionist histories and New Atheist proselytizers correct? Was Hitler Christian? Was Nazism? No. And that "no" matters a lot.

None of us are Ancient Greek Pagans, but it would matter to us if Ancient Greece were misrepresented, because Ancient Greece is our roots. It matters to non-Christians when Christianity is represented as inherently genocidal and sadistic, because Christianity is one of the foundations of Western Civilization. When presidents insist that Islamic terror is merely payback for crimes committed by Christian Crusaders against inoffensive practitioners of the Religion of Peace, that matters. When universities teach that the only place Jews could thrive in pre-modern Europe was the "paradise" of "tolerant" "Golden Age" Al-Andalus, that matters. When social engineers declare that our Founding Fathers' understanding of the right to life or the concept of marriage are merely waste products of a benighted worldview, that matters. When atheist ethicists like Peter Singer tell us that parents should be allowed to murder their own children, that matters. When Michael Shermer and Steven Pinker produce well-reviewed books that insist that as time passes evolution makes mankind more secular and more ethical, that matters.

It always matters when a scorched-earth Utopian comes along and says, "Everything about the past is corrupt, and everyone who came before us was a fool. Let's erase the past and start fresh with a blank slate." "Pure" people who offer this menu item tend to rack up large body counts. Christianity's impact on Western Civilization is one baby and one basin of bath water we cannot allow to be falsified. The hero we need in this battle in the culture war is Richard Weikart.

Weikart points out that anyone who, as Hitchens does, quotes Hitler as if his every word were scrupulously true is naïve at best and consciously lying at worst. Hitler was a ruthless opportunist. Hitler's 1938 insistence that the Sudetenland was "the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe" was one of the most notorious and consequential lies in history. Hitler mentions God in Mein Kampf; New Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens insist that these mentions prove that Hitler was a Christian.

Let's get real. Hitler mentioned God for two reasons: he was playing to his audience, and he was couching his own beliefs in language his followers would naively swallow. Hitler recognized that most Germans were Christian and that overt expression of his own contempt for Christianity would unnecessarily alienate people he wanted to keep on his team. Weikart makes this point abundantly clear with ample and unambiguous quotes from Hitler speaking with trusted intimates like Albert Speer, Martin Bormann, and Joseph Goebbels.

When Nazis did praise "Christianity" or "Jesus," they were invoking an invented version of each, a version exclusive to Nazism, a version that Nazis themselves jettisoned when it ceased to serve their purposes. The Nazi Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. He performed no miracles. He was a violent, armed, blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan warrior against Jewish capitalism. Jews crucified him for this and he died, period. His death saved no one.

The Bible records that Jesus was the divine son of God. He performed miracles. Jesus was Jewish, the Temple was Jewish, and Jesus' milieu was Jewish. Romans crucified him. Jesus chose not to fight back, but went like a lamb to slaughter. He rose from the dead, thus saving mankind. His opponent was not capitalism but original sin. Hitler denounced these beliefs as a "Jewish plot" to destroy the Ancient Pagan world. In any case, by 1940, Nazism's so-called "Positive Christianity" was abandoned as a failed scheme.

When Hitler mentioned God, this is what he meant: the laws of nature reward unquestioning loyalty to one's own breed and constant struggle to the death with outsiders and inferior specimens. God – in the form of natural cause and effect – rewards those who struggle for their own folk. This struggle is so ruthless that Germans ought to have many children in order that the bulk of them die, preserving the most fit. Hitler guestimated that killing seventy to eighty percent of German babies would result in an improved species.

The Lebensborn program mass produced German babies through breeding SS men with unwed women. Also, Nazis kidnapped tens of thousands of Polish children who showed what the Nazis assessed as Aryan traits. Kidnapped children were tested. If tests showed these children to be undesirable, they were killed in Auschwitz. If tests proved that they exhibited authentic Nordic traits, they were forcibly Germanized. Discipline of these kidnapped children was harsh. In one instance, institutionalized children undergoing Germanization were required to watch an SS man use a butcher's ax to decapitate a misbehaving twelve-year-old Polish boy.

Conversely, 400,000 Germans with illnesses like epilepsy, alcoholism and depression were sterilized. Aktion T-4 murdered 200,000 handicapped Germans. The doctors and nurses who carried out these killings began the program by murdering German newborns and children under three years old.

Nazi mass-murder began with German babies and ended in an orgy of suicides. "We spoke about committing suicide as other people talk about fashions," reported Traudl Junge, Hitler's secretary. Suicidal Nazis often took entire families with them. Magda Goebbels rejected offers of escape. Rather, she fed her own six children cyanide before killing herself.

If Weikart is correct, what to make of all the new books identifying Nazism with Christianity? An Amazon reviewer called The Holy Reich "The most important study on Nazism. Ever." Is that Amazon reviewer wrong? Yes, he is wrong.

In 2007 and 2013, The Journal of Contemporary History published several scholars' critiques of The Holy Reich. These scholars include Manfred Gailus, Irving Hexham, Ernst Piper, and Samuel Koehne. These scholars make the following points about The Holy Reich. The book includes numerous errors of fact, including, in one instance, misspelling one historical figure's name three different ways. "So considerable is the catalogue of skewed and distorted constructions and misinterpretations, of factual errors and slapdash work that I cannot pass over them without comment," complained Manfred Gailus.

There's more. Steigmann-Gall does not refer to pertinent scholarship, and he cherry-picks quotes that support his thesis, and leaves out material, often from the same source, that contradicts his thesis. Steigmann-Gall never addresses why Christians resisted Nazism while citing Christianity as their motive for that resistance.

Historian Ernst Piper simply states that "the contention that National Socialism was a profoundly anti-Christian movement endured for so long not because it was convenient for researchers not to prove otherwise but because it is a fact." Samuel Koehne dismisses Holy Reich in similarly global terms.

As mentioned above, Steigmann-Gall quotes Christian scripture in a way that implies that the Bible orders Christians to murder Jews. It doesn't. That quote is about early Christians being martyred for their faith.

Most readers will remain completely unaware of scholarly detractors from Steigmann-Gall's work. Most readers will see a book entitled Holy Reich, view its cover photo of Hitler under a cross, and decide that yes, Nazism was Christian.

In Hitler's Religion, Richard Weikart takes Steigmann-Gall on repeatedly. In a telling passage, Weikart reveals some hidden truths about Steigmann-Gall's deceptive cover for Holy Reich. The cover depicts Hitler exiting a church. A brightly lit cross appears to spring from Hitler's head.  

Not so fast, Weikart warns. He reveals that the 1932 photograph was used in the 1933 propaganda pamphlet Hitler as No One Knows Him. Under it appeared the caption, "Hitler, the supposed 'heretic' leaving the Marinekirche [sic]." (Alas the Nazi pamphlet even misspelled the name of the church. The correct spelling is Marienkirche.) The photo's original caption is telling. It reveals that Christians were condemning Hitler as a "heretic," and that that criticism was causing damage. Nazis realized that they needed to sell him as a Christian. The cover of Hitler as No One Knows Him is a hideously awkward shot of Hitler casually lounging in an alpine meadow, a dog next to him. No intelligent person would accept this warm and cuddly Hitler at face value, nor should anyone uncritically embrace Hitler in the doorway of a church. Indeed, in the 1938 version of the pamphlet, the cross has been airbrushed out of the photo. The caption has been changed. The 1938 caption reads, "after sightseeing in the historic Marinekirche [sic]." By that time, Nazis were closer to abandoning the pretense that they were Christian, and more willing to signal that to them, Christianity was ready to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Jews and Christians are important allies in the culture wars. An artificial construction of Nazism as Christian should not be a roadblock to our alliance. To anyone tempted to support this fallacy, please consider.

Understanding genocide as something Westerners, Christians, or white people do hampers our understanding of genocide as a phenomenon. In 1969, anthropologist Christy Turner began presenting evidence of a genocide of Anasazi by Toltecs in the Four Corners area. Toltecs mass-murdered Anasazi, and then ate their flesh. This genocide took place a thousand years ago, before Columbus arrived. Native Americans and Turner's fellow anthropologists were scandalized and refused to believe his irrefutable forensic evidence. Many insist that genocide was strictly a practice of European Christians, and they insist on denying that this Native American genocide ever took place.

Christophobes allege that only two thousand years of uninterrupted hatred could cause humans to commit genocide. There are two things wrong with this assertion. First, the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides were not preceded by millennia of training. We need to acknowledge that humans commit genocide even without thousands of years of rehearsal.

Second, anti-Semitism is a pathology. Like TB and plague, it spreads and retreats with historical circumstances. Christians have not practiced two thousand years of hate. There have been periods and regions when Christians were anti-Semitic, others when they were philosemitic, and still others when they were more or less indifferent. To understand genocide, we must understand temporary and local conditions that facilitate hatred.

Understanding anti-Semitism as a purely Christian phenomenon forces us to ignore the Roman, Pagan persecution of Jews of 70 AD, arguably the most cataclysmic persecution Jews endured before the Holocaust. Roman Pagans drove Jews out of Jerusalem and into diaspora, ending Temple Judaism and beginning rabbinical Judaism, and contributed to a massive drop in the world population of Jews, a population drop from which Jews did not recover for centuries. Roman Pagans renamed Judea "Palestine" in order to erase even the memory of Jews ever having lived there. We can't understand Pagan anti-Semitism, Islamic anti-Semitism, or left-wing anti-Semitism on today's campuses if we insist that anti-Semitism is a Christian monopoly.

Falsely identifying Nazism as a Christian phenomenon prevents us from understanding Nazism. Sam Harris, in his "Atheist Manifesto," writes, "The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi crematoria brick by brick was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity." Harris insists, without support, that the Vatican perpetuated the blood libel "as late as 1914." Harris doesn't mention that popes, going back at least to the thirteenth century, took the lead in repeatedly and emphatically condemning blood libel.

I have three questions for Sam Harris. First, why did the Nazis themselves explicitly reject what you say? Again and again Nazis said that any anti-Jewish statements in Christianity were wrong, because they were about theological disagreements, not blood. Nazis did cite exactly the Darwin-inspired, race justifications that Weikart quotes at length. Read the actual words of scientific racists and Nazis, from Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant to Heinrich Himmler. Again and again, you will discover them speaking words that New Atheists themselves speak: "Christianity is absurd and unproven and it causes us to err through sentimentality. Science alone represents objective truth." Christians have confronted and atoned for Christians' failures. When will New Atheists acknowledge that their approach contributed to genocide?

Nazis didn't murder only Jews. Nazis murdered three million Soviet POWs, and caused the death of an estimated 13.7 million Soviet civilians. In justifying their crimes against Jews, Slavs, and others, Nazis cited identical race-based justifications.  

In speeches to his men, Heinrich Himmler offered a new ethic that justified the murder of Christian Slavs and Jews. Himmler said, "In Poland in weather forty degrees below zero, where we had to haul away thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, where we had to have the toughness – you should hear this but also forget it again immediately – to shoot thousands of leading Poles … The proud soldier says, 'My God, why do I have to do that, this ridiculous job here!' – It is much easier to go into combat with a company than to suppress an obstructive population of low cultural level, or to carry out executions, or to haul away people…

One basic principle must be the absolute rule for the S.S. men. We must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood and nobody else. What happens to a Russian and a Czech does not interest me in the least. What the nations can offer in the way of good blood of our type we will take, if necessary by kidnapping their children and raising them here with us.

Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished."

I ask Sam Harris, if, as you say, the crematoria that incinerated Jews were constructed of Christian ideas, what about the crematoria that incinerated German children culled as evolutionarily unfit, or the Polish Catholics identified as Germans' enemies in Nazism's "survival of the fittest" morality?

It is undeniable that Nazism focused on Jews in a way that it did not focus on others, and that Nazis murdered almost six million Jews, or sixty percent of the world population. This is exceptional and is deservedly treated as exceptional. It is also true that anti-Semitism has been a plague in Christianity, and that Christians must never shirk the struggle against anti-Semitism. We all know that most Germans, including Germans who committed atrocities, identified as Christian. All these facts demand and receive massive attention. I have only praise for books like Robert P. Erickson's Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany that demonstrate how Germany's best and brightest, from university professors to theologians, abandoned their core values. There's a difference between saying that Christians distorted their faith to support Nazism and saying that Nazism is Christian.

Every semester I ask my university students what group the Nazis mass murdered first and last, even after they surrendered to the Allies. "Nazis murdered Jews first," my students respond. No. Communists. No. Homosexuals. No.

When I tell them it was handicapped Germans, they are dumbstruck and unbelieving. They have no pattern into which to fit this fact. They have been taught that Nazism is a function of Christianity, and a damning blot on Western Civilization. They have not been taught about how Nazi anti-Semitism fits into a Darwin-inspired, Neo-Pagan, nationalist worldview.

My students don't know that Hitler expressed genocidal intent for Poles: "I have placed my death-head formation in readiness … with orders to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language." Poles were shot by Einsatzgruppen. Approximately two million non-Jewish Polish civilians were murdered. Auschwitz was initially created, and run for its first 18 months, as a center of internment of Poles. Poles were tortured, dispossessed, and the subject of medical experimentation. Polish bodies were turned into soap. Between 1.5 and 3 million Poles were conscripted into forced labor. Almost twenty percent of Polish priests were murdered.

Even as the advancing, victorious Red Army was within sight of soon-to-be-defeated Germans, even as the Allies advanced from the west, German soldiers went building to building in Warsaw, killing civilians with flamethrowers, targeting churches, museums, and libraries. Himmler ordered, "The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth … No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation." There was no military reason for this. Sam Harris' "explanation" that Christianity is responsible for Nazism is revealed as patently inadequate when one considers what Nazi Germany did to Catholic Poles, or the German handicapped, or Soviet POWs, or Romani.

Richard Weikart's explanation works.


Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

Monday, December 19, 2016

Street Fruit

Just Out of Reach by Jim Daly 
This piece appeared in The Drowning Gull special issue on "Encounters with Nature" here: https://thedrowninggull.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/issue-2-encounters-with-nature/

Street Fruit

Instead of growing fatter, the mulberries on the Dodds Street tree are growing longer, like blistered black pinkies, dangling. The tree has an unblocked southern exposure. I stood in the street and went over it like a cedar waxwing. Waxwings are fruit-eating birds; sitting on a power line, they will pass a berry from mouth to mouth, so all can share. This is a community-building behavior. With avian attentiveness I carefully selected the longest, blackest fruit, which, just jostled, dropped into my hands, my mouth, onto my sneakers, and, splattering purple onto the white cotton, into my breast pocket.

A young woman in a plain beige skirt and white blouse worked in the yard; when she bent over I could see her underpants and down the front of her shirt, though I sought no such access. Her front door was open and Henry Purcell's "Fairy Queen," rang from the house. Maybe she's a music student at Indiana University, Bloomington. At first she and I did not speak, or even acknowledge each other's presence. I finally remarked, "You have the best mulberries in town."

"Well, thank you," she said. "Would you like a container?"

I didn't know how to say no. I didn't know how to communicate how I feel. "Eating fruit for free on the street," I'd have to say, "reminds me of being a kid." I'd cruise the shimmering hot asphalt streets of Wanaque, NJ, on my bicycle, dressed as I was now, in cut-off jeans and shirt tail hanging, shoeless. scouting out ripe choke cherries and gobbling them down by the handfuls, knowing full well that eyelash-sized worms wriggled their way through every one, and that I crushed them under my molars along with pulsing magma-red wild cherry flesh, not caring that I was eating bugs, feeling that this was the closest I'd come to being what I wanted to be: a peasant child who had never immigrated to America, a wild animal, invisible to humans and unable to speak their language, a hunter-gatherer eons before civilization had set in, a welfare brat crafty and slick enough to survive on what I could find each day, my skills rescuing my unschooled immigrant mother from knuckle-gnawing factory labor thus defying the last-name-ends-in-a-consonant, native-born, 1960s American welfare state for sustenance.

"No," I said. "The mulberry skins are too fragile. They get mooshed if you try to collect them."

"Well, come get them anytime," she said. "I tried them a couple years ago, and I don't like them."

We went about our respective activities: garden work and gathering, until I took off after I ate so many mulberries I began to get queasy, that summer-queasy when winter has been long and pinched and summer fruit are free. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Trying to Talk to Trump Supporters


I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I read a post from a friend. I felt like I was reading someone else's vomit. I walked away from the computer and tried to forget. I knew if I responded I would not be heard. I knew if I responded I risked hurting someone. I knew that someone had already hurt me, and nothing would erase that post from my memory. Even as I tried to forget the post, a reply kept formulating itself in my head. The post, and its hate, were a puzzle. I was compelled to piece its disparate parts into a pattern in order to make better sense of the world I suddenly found myself inhabiting. The post was a diabolical labyrinth constructed of words; I need to craft my escape, marshalling my own words.

A woman for whom I feel genuine affection and respect re-posted a thousand-word rant by "Mark."

Mark was excoriating anyone who criticized Donald J. Trump. Trump's critics, Mark insisted, were intolerant, convulsive, tyrannical, dictatorial, reactionary, insidious, pablum-feeding lapdogs of left-wing academics and little snowflake students who are crippled by anxiety when viewing the American flag and therefore outlaw its display. These teachers and students want to force America into a homogenized, contrived, politically correct image. These inflammatory words are all Mark's, taken directly from his rant. The rant took special exception to any comparison of Trump to Hitler.

Mark identified the populations to blame for turning America into a dystopian nightmare: teachers, students and the press. He named no other individual or group as guilty. Not Bernie Madoff. Not Wall Street and the 2008 crash. Not drug dealers and the heroin epidemic. Not mass shootings like Newtown or absentee fathers or misguided wars or lead-polluted water or income inequality or Kim Kardashian. No. Just teachers. Just students.

One response to Mark's screed made mention of how Trump would protect America from "dangerous immigrants."

Nowhere in the screed did Mark mention by name any real critic of Donald Trump. Mark never cited a single article critiquing Donald Trump. Mark never quoted a single real teacher or a single real student or one real immigrant.

Mark said that leftists say that Trump is exactly like Hitler. Mark seemed to find it important to insist that Trump would never murder tens of millions of civilians.

I haven't seen any serious commentary by a significant journalist or other public figure saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler, and no serious critique suggests that Trump will murder tens of millions of civilians.

Clearly, Mark was not talking about real opponents.

Clearly, Mark was condemning the monsters plotting under his bed, the gremlins slithering through his nightmares, the worst possible imaginings of alt-right conspiracy theorists. He located all of America's enemies in classrooms and in media.

Mark's hatred of teachers and students reminded me of some great dialogue from Ship of Fools.

Siegfried Rieber: You know it is a historical fact that the Jews are the basis of all our misfortunes.
Julius Lowenthal: Of course it is. The Jews and the bicycle riders.
Siegfried Rieber: Why the bicycle riders?
Julius Lowenthal: Why the Jews?

Why the teachers? The students? The immigrants?

Mark was shadow-boxing a caricature of a fantasy of a right-wing man who hates students and teachers and people who didn't vote for Donald Trump.

This ritual erection and defeat of straw men, constant in Team Trump rhetoric, matters.

Straw men, imaginary enemies, stereotypes rather than flesh-and-blood persons: these are what you encounter in the Malleus Maleficarum, The Witches' Hammer, the go-to manual for witch hunters. You encounter straw men in the transcripts of Stalinist show trials, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: in propaganda that panders to and reflects the fears of the paranoid or merely misanthropic. Lies crafted to stir up hatred and make any reconciliation or even mere respect impossible litter propaganda.

Ethics require that we encounter real persons. Civics require that we encounter real persons. Truth requires this encounter. Solving problems requires it. Friendship is impossible without this encounter, as is compassion. You must encounter the person in front of you, not your imaginings about that person. Ecce homo. Behold the man. Not the man your imagination dreamt up – the man God created.

I wondered if Mark had ever entered a university classroom, or met a teacher or a student. I wanted Mark and my Facebook friend who shared Mark's screed to come to my classroom, to meet me as a teacher, as a child of immigrants, to meet my students. Flesh and blood. Real people.

Would they call me a "dangerous immigrant" to my face? Would they mock my students as "special snowflakes" to their young faces?

Would Mark look me right in my big blue eyes and call me a convulsing, tyrannical, dictatorial, concentration-camp-capo wannabe?

Why would Mark, a successful person, a published author, lie like this? Fantasize like this?  Catastrophize like this? And, at a moment of national tension, work to stir up hatred against his fellow citizens?

Why?

More on this question, below. Because I think I've found the answer, and it's probably not what you think. And you can tell me if I have it wrong.

Look, I said. No serious person is saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler.

But responsible people have pointed out that Trump is a demagogue, that he plays some of the same devious games that all demagogues, including Hitler, play.  

Patriots need to address this:  

The ADL report on the unprecedented flow of hate during the Trump campaign. See here: http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/press-center/CR_4862_Journalism-Task-Force_v2.pdf

Teachers report an increase in bullying at schools, bullying overtly inspired by Trump, e.g., "Trump is going to throw you over the wall." "Trump that bitch" is now a phrase. Students shout "Hail Trump" or merely "Trump, Trump" when harassing others. See here https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

Frank Navarro, a 1997 Mandel Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and a teacher with forty years' experience, pointed out some parallels between Trump and Hitler. And was promptly told he had to stop teaching.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/11/14/a-holocaust-scholar-compared-donald-trump-to-hitler-his-high-school-placed-him-on-leave/?utm_term=.aa22dc854180I

Two-hundred fifty Jewish scholars, on November 15, 2016, released an agonized statement. They wrote

"As scholars of Jewish history, we are acutely attuned to the fragility of democracies and the consequences for minorities when democracies fail to live up to their highest principles … in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory, it is time to re-evaluate where the country stands. The election campaign was marked by unprecedented expressions of racial, ethnic, gender-based, and religious hatred."

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/jewish_historians_speak_out_on_the_election_of_donald_trump

I mentioned celebrated Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt's stating that Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon was "a game-changer" in how decent people address bigotry.  


Facebook friend Otto Gross also felt compelled to speak up. Otto's essay "Ripples of Sin" describes growing up with parents who had been Nazis. His perspective is wise, unique, and worthy of respect. (Otto's essay here: http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2011/12/ripples-of-sin.html)

In response to our posts, Otto and I were called "presumptuous" "rotting," "corrupt," "anti-intellectual," "profoundly ignorant," and "violently anti-Semitic" "leftists." We "denigrated" the actual suffering of Jews in order to express "annoyance" at a "politician." We were told we had contributed to the "devolution" of the conversation, like drunks at a bar. We were "separate" from real "working class Americans" who would reject us like the deviants that we are.

We were told that we had just "called your fellow Americans Nazis" and that we had just said that "Trump is Hitler."

We had never called anyone a Nazi. We had not said that Trump was Hitler. Otto laughed at being called a "leftist." He's never voted for a Democrat in his life.

Working class? My father was a coal miner. My mother cleaned houses. Otto's father was a metal worker. His mother did farm labor. I have worked as a nurse's aide, carpenter, and live-in domestic servant. Otto has pumped gas and mopped up hospital waste.

The Facebook posters shouting at us that we are not "working class" live lives of wealth, power, and influence.

These objective facts made no difference to Team Trump. Team Trump was doing what Team Trump does: obstinately erecting and strenuously demonizing a completely imaginary straw man.

They could work up fuming outrage to condemn Otto and me, people who posed no threat to them, but could not even acknowledge the hundreds of hate crimes that spiked directly after Trump's election. (See here: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/18/update-incidents-hateful-harassment-election-day-now-number-701).

I threw in the towel and retreated. My friend was choosing a fact-free world in which I, a teacher and a child of immigrants, was the ogre.

Then something odd happened.

A couple of the participants communicated to me, in public and in private, virtual resumes.

In one follow-up, thousand-word post, the poster used the word "I," "me," and "my" fifty times: "I've done this, this, and this. I have this and this accomplishment. I have done all these important things! I have been well-assessed! I am a good person!"

I was confused. All of this "I" stuff struck me as complete non-sequiturs. Weren't we talking about the Big Picture? About our nation, the United States of America?

And then it hit me.

People who voted for Trump feel shamed. It's a stigma, a taint.

Those who feel shamed are doing two things:

First, they discredit those who note Trump's flaws as beyond the pale – as drunks, as extreme leftists, insidious, special snowflakes, anti-American, elitist. We are so bad our perceptions are worthless.

And they must distort any criticism of Trump into a parody – "You are saying that Trump is just like Hitler! That's ridiculous! Trump will never murder millions!"

When you distort critiques of Trump that badly, he comes out looking relatively good. "Hey! He'll never murder millions so he must be an okay guy!"

As a teacher, I struggle to play my part in keeping the American dream alive. That's why I keep trying to talk to Trump voters. So far, though, I have gotten nowhere. The Team Trump trademark post-truth approach pulverizes language and drives us all lightyears apart.

Mostly what I encounter are logical fallacies.

Ad hominem: "You are an insidious leftist."

Change the subject: "Hillary Clinton is Satan."

Outright lies. "Trump won in a landslide. The votes for Hillary Clinton were illegal. Hillary Clinton murdered JFK Jr!"

Now that Trump has won, it appears to be important to Team Trump to reduce all of us who didn't vote for Trump to a marginally inhuman status, and to dismiss any criticism of him as extremist violations of Godwin's Law.


I'm worried for my country. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Dog Named Mercury: Missing and Mourning



Hey there, my Little Frenchman.

Of course I received the news this past summer that you had gone on a very long trip, perhaps to a farm, a farm with other doggies and bunnies, where it's always sunny and warm until it snows and you can chase the flakes and tunnel and play and never get tired or cold ... and that we'd never see you again.

I haven't spent time at your house since I got that word.

It's now December, four months later, and here I am.

As I packed up the car, I thought, I have to get there at such and such a time, because Mercury will be waiting for me.

I had to remind myself. No, no he won't be waiting for me. And I thought that that was it.

As I drove, I felt warmed, anticipating spending time with you. I slapped myself, as it were, reminded myself. And I really thought that that was it. But no.

I got to the house. I immediately opened the fridge to see what food Robin had left – some baby carrots. And I had this split second thought, "I can't eat those baby carrots. I must save them to give them to Merc for treats." And then ... realizing ... no. And thinking that that moment of realization will be it.

I then stood at the kitchen sink, where I used to prepare the insulin shots you needed in your senior years. When you were first diagnosed with diabetes, I had thought I wouldn't be able to babysit for you anymore because of my lifelong horror of hypodermic needles, a fear so bad I was once bitten by a stray dog and I did not get rabies shots.

Time changes us, though. Since your diagnosis I myself have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and I myself have had to have so many needles stuck in me I feel like a porcupine. And I stuck so many needles in you it became routine. Always standing in that same spot, like a sentry. Right next to the sink.

Mark was very helpful. He said, "It's just like pinching someone's cheek. You grab a wad of the scruff of his neck, and jab the needle in that pocket of flesh."

After that, every time I stuck you, I imagined myself as a babushka grabbing a grandchild's cheek.

I still feel, when I go for a walk, that I can't tarry outside too long – Merc is waiting for me. Before I cook my own dinner, I feel I have to prepare yours.

The strangest thing. I keep hearing that metal jingle of the D ring on your dog collar hitting your dog tags. That little metallic tinkle a dog makes when he moves. I guess it's just an auditory hallucination.

So, though I learned of your long voyage last summer, and I thought I had stopped mourning and missing, I guess this is how mourning and missing work.

I am in the house we shared, the house I visited to babysit you, and every square foot of the house and the yard is embroidered with a memory, and they are all coming back now.

Someone said to me once – I think it was Bruno – it was the kind of thing he'd say – that the great tragedy of life is that love does not last.

Though he was older and smarter, I felt him to be so naive and so young.

Oh, no, I thought, but did not say. The great tragedy of life is that it *does.*

Love lasts at least until this moment, a December evening, four months after your passing. Love blasts into my brain every morsel of every memory I have of you. I go out at night to look at the moon and I see your oh-so proper little French form, all white, bouncing along the wooded path, as if you were strolling along in Montmartre, seeking out your favorite cafe, with me stalking behind you, making sure no bears or coyotes were afoot.

Why? Why, Mr Darwin, Mr Atheist, why does love last so long past its sell-by date, in a way that weakens us?

In the ways that this house is so reminding me of you, to the point where I hear you, I am realizing how tough it would be to walk into my sister's house right now. Her husband sold it right after she died. I am spared that experience. But I experience Antoinette at Skylands.

Ah, Mercury, my Little Frenchman. Je souhaite that you are living la vie en rose maintenant, and that we shall reunite someday.

One of my favorite quotes is from Ludwig Wittgenstein. "If lions could talk, we wouldn't understand them."

As much as I love dogs, and that is as much love as I've got, I do not understand them. and I want it to be that way. I love you, Mercury, for being beyond my ken.


When we meet in Heaven, I hope you are not anthropomorphized by the transition. I want you to take a long time to sniff at fire hydrants when I walk you, and annoy me by eating garbage off the floor when company comes, and occasionally pooping in the wrong place. That's all part of the package. I also want you to sit on the mat next to the door and wait for me when I go for a walk. I want your tail wagging me welcome to be the first thing I see when I get home.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Trump and Hate. Let's Not Normalize Hate.

I don't know if Trump is personally a racist and I don't care.

Trump's behavior includes the following red flags:

Trump denied housing to African Americans.  

See here: http://www.npr.org/2016/09/29/495955920/donald-trump-plagued-by-decades-old-housing-discrimination-case

Trump set up a front group whose sole purpose was to defame Native Americans as drug abusing criminals.


For almost twenty years, Trump refused to pay Polish workers he treated abominably.


Trump prefers to hire Romanians and other foreigners rather than black people born in the US. See here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/26/us/politics/donald-trump-taps-foreign-work-force-for-his-florida-club.html?_r=0

Black employees were hidden from his view http://fortune.com/2016/06/07/donald-trump-racism-quotes/

And of course he called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five *after* they were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Trump repeatedly lied about having evidence proving that Barack Obama was not born in America.

Trump refused three times, on camera, to denounce David Duke and the KKK.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9geYl9J_Mc

When Trump encountered backlash, Trump lied about his words. He blamed a "bad earpiece," saying that he could not hear Jake Tapper. In fact he repeated Jake Tapper's words.

Trump denounced a heroic judge as unworthy to adjudicate a case for no other reason than that that judge was the son of immigrants.

Trump disseminated an anti-Semitic meme defaming Hillary Clinton.

Trump's final two-minute campaign advertisement dog-whistled anti-Semites by depicting three prominent Jews, Janet Yellen, George Soros and Lloyd Blankfein, as being part of a conspiracy against decent Americans.

Trump's followers now insist that any bad press Trump receives is part of a conspiracy by an evil Jew who controls the world, George Soros.

For an example of this, see this comment under the "Sieg Heil" video, here Comment: "Reminder that all of this is staged by George Soros to discredit Trump and his supporters as racists and neo-Nazis." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o6-bi3jlxk&lc=z13dxhxzuzbhcd5gm04cdtfxgry1jpwauqs0k




And then there is this GIF of Trump, dressed as a Nazi, gassing Hillary Clinton: http://www.infostormer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Trump-Gassing-Hillary.gif



And then there is this ADL report: http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/press-center/CR_4862_Journalism-Task-Force_v2.pdf

White supremacists celebrated Trump's election and his initial appointments of Jeff Sessions, who joked about the KKK and was deemed unfit for a federal judgeship on that basis, and Steve Bannon, who identified his website as a platform for the alt right. See here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/11/donald-trumps-white-nationalist-bannon-sessions-alt-right

***
During the campaign, Team Trump released lie after lie. Fake news flooded my Facebook page, all posted by Trump supporters.


Hillary Clinton murdered an FBI agent. See here: http://www.snopes.com/fbi-agent-murder-suicide/

Hillary Clinton admires Sharia Law http://www.snopes.com/hillary-clinton-sharia-law/

Hillary Clinton told the Des Moines Register she will shut down the NRA and/or confiscate guns: http://www.snopes.com/nra-hillary-clinton-quote/

Tim Kaine is in an open marriage: http://www.snopes.com/tim-kaine-open-marriage/

Fake news writers make up to $30,000 monthly. The man who wrote the fake Hillary-murders-an-FBI agent story said he tried to write fake news for liberals but they wouldn't buy it. Trump supporters bought his swill, no matter how absurd. See here: http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs

***

Under pressure from journalists, Trump has issued tepid words against hate. But only when prompted, and only tepid. Compare his denunciations of race hatred with his attacks on beauty pageant contestants and Broadway musical actors.

***

White supremacists and Neo-Nazis play at "passing," at speaking under the radar to see how much they can get away with.

Richard Spencer, the man in the Hail Trump video released earlier this week, said, "Hail victory." In German, "hail victory" is "sieg heil."


Spencer could have said "sieg heil." That is clearly what he meant. He's playing at passing. Playing at how much you will swallow.

Another "passing" game. Spencer used the word "lugenpresse," or lying press.

Remember Joseph Goebbels February 10, 1933 speech at the Sportspalast. Hitler had just won a victory and the first thing Goebbles did was attack the press. Beware, my friends, of those who attack the press, artists, universities, and Jews. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcjvpQ86zPc

"Lugenpresse" is a Nazi term. Spencer used a Nazi term, that few Americans would be familiar with.

And guess what Breitbart, which is virtually an arm of team Trump, is now doing. Breitbart is now covering for Spencer and for the term lugenpresse.

http://www.breitbart.com/…/20…/11/23/kassam-bbc-lugenpresse/

When haters play passing, they are seeing how much you will put up with before they move on to the next level.

You put up with calling Mexicans rapists? Okay. Let's move on to the next level.

You put up with demeaning a heroic judge? Okay, next level.

You put up with an anti-Semitic meme? Okay, next level.

You *voted* for *all this* for president? Okay, next level ...

***

Otto's dad served in Hitler's army. Otto is working on a book about WW II.

Otto understands how all this works.

Otto:

First he's already mobilized the dogs of war on the racist front, so if he didn't believe in the hate group mentality he should have said that before the election. But it appears he had plenty of time to consider his words, support for hate, and his political appointments and it was only when he felt it didn't suit his aspirations did he change his stance. Political game of tag and not moral awakening.

Kristallnacht at the hands of the Fuhrer followed up by speech suggesting all he wants is safety for the German people in the Sudetenland … I'm expecting the Reichstag will burn down mysteriously.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me the thousandth time vote for Trump.

We see how loose and free he is with the truth. Does 1984 newspeak proud. Today's speech is old by the end of the day and we've seen he'll flip his beliefs on a dime. Given how many times he's reacted to things on video that he's said that are ugly and claimed he never said I'm just putting it down as an another random thought de jour on today's menu board that gets wiped clean as the menu offered changes day to day.

***

Finally, neither Otto nor I is saying that Trump is Hitler or that Trump is even like Hitler. I don't think he is.

Rather, hate is a game. It is played in a predictable way. Exploiting hate to gain power is a game. It has predictable moves. Trump is playing the game of exploiting hate to gain power. That much is clear. What he does with the power he gains is yet to be seen.

That his supporters are turning on patriotic Americans who reject hate is also part of the game.


Ben Shapiro faces ongoing attacks and threats from Trump supporters. See here: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/435527/donald-trumps-anti-semitic-supporters


And Trump supporters, rather than confront and condemn the hate crimes that have followed his election, have labeled all such crimes fabrications. At least one pro Trump website falsely blamed Jews for faking hate crimes. See here: http://www.jta.org/2016/11/17/news-opinion/united-states/huckabee-apologizes-for-blaming-vandalism-on-jewish-liberals-seeking-to-smear-trump

From the above linked article: 

"Mike Huckabee apologized for posting a false news report blaming “liberal, Jewish” students for an alleged hate crime that involved a mention of President-elect Donald Trump.

The story, appearing on the Conservative Tribune website, blamed an attack in March at Northwestern University on “liberal, Jewish Northwestern students” seeking to smear Trump and his supporters....

Huckabee proceeded to apologize for posting an out of date story as if it was news, and for misidentifying the students as Jewish — although he appeared to persist in the belief that the claim that they were Jewish had been in some way credible. He stuck to the unproven claim that the vandalism was an attempt to smear Trump.

Huckabee, who has millions of followers on Facebook, frequently posts poorly sourced stories from conservative websites....

“They’re two liberal, Jewish Northeastern students who were trying to smear Trump and his supporters,” Huckabee’s post said.

The Conservative Tribune story made it appear as if the vandalism was recent, although it took place in March...

The Chicago Tribune did not identify the accused, Anthony Morales, 19, and Matthew Kafker, 18, with any political allegiance or otherwise suggest that the attack was a false flag bid to smear Trump, nor did it say they were Jewish...

The Jewish identification remained on the Gateway Pundit’s posting Wednesday night. It’s not clear why the Gateway Pundit made the assumption; it linked to a New York Jewish Week account of the vandalism, which did not identify the students as Jewish.