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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wishing We Learned About Atrocity Besides The Holocaust and The Atlantic Slave Trade

I've spent only about half an hour, this Saturday morning, listening to NPR talk radio, in three disconnected bursts of about ten minutes each.

In that half hour of disconnected and distracted NPR talk radio listening, I've heard three separate news features, each several minutes long – relatively long in talk radio terms – devoted exclusively to the German Nazi Holocaust of European Jews.

By "exclusively" I mean no mention was made of non-German Nazis or other evil states from that era like Stalin's Russia or Tojo's Japan. No mention was made of the Nazis' other victims: no Poles, no handicapped people, no Gypsies, no priests or nuns, no homosexuals, no Jehovah's Witnesses, no western POWs, no Slavs, no Russian POWs, no communists.

A new movie opens this weekend, "The Book Thief." The film is based on the phenomenally bestselling adolescent novel of the same title. It's about a German family that hides a Jewish man during WW II. He befriends the family's adopted daughter, a little German girl. Almost everybody dies in the end. Stephen Holden, The New York Times critic, called "The Book Thief" "A shameless piece of Oscar-seeking Holocaust kitsch."

NPR also devotes a huge amount of airtime to white supremacy and black victimization. And of course "Twelve Years a Slave" will compete with "The Book Thief" at this year's Academy Awards.

This is hard to say. It's the kind of statement that might enrage people and will be easily distorted and misunderstood.

I want people to know about and understand the Holocaust. My father was a sergeant, one of millions of American combat soldiers who risked their lives to defeat the Axis. I honor him and the millions of others. The boys at Normandy Beach inspire me no end.

I have a huge amount of respect for the Civil Rights Movement.

At the same time, I really wish Western culture did not continue to treat German Nazis, or white supremacists, as if they were the only bad guys who ever existed, and the Holocaust, and the Atlantic Slave Trade and Jim Crow as if they were the only atrocities that ever happened.

We live in a finite world, and time is finite. NPR has only so many broadcast hours per day. Hollywood will produce only so many Oscar-bait feature films per year. High school students will study only so many events.

The Holocaust. The Atlantic Slave Trade – "The Book Thief." "Twelve Years a Slave."

I wish other atrocities received attention as well, and I wish this for a reason.

I read once that probably no one will ever read all the documents devoted to the Cambodian genocide. No one cares enough to do so. Many of the perpetrators of that genocide died in their sleep, or are alive, free, and comfortable today.

We need to understand that Communists commit atrocity as well as fascists and white Southerners. We need to understand that non-Western people commit atrocities as well as white European males in high shiny boots or with Southern accents.

Will Durant, one of the most famous historians who ever lived, said that "The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within."

K.S. Lal alleges that the loss of Hindus in the Muslim conquest of India ran to 80 million lives. Others say that this number is inflated. Okay, what's the real number?

Why have so few even heard of this atrocity? Why do so few know of the Arab Slave trade, which dwarfed the Atlantic Slave Trade, and which still exists?

We need to understand what happened in India in order to understand what some have called the most likely site of the breakout of nuclear war: the border between Muslim Pakistan and largely Hindu India. We don't. We don't understand that part of the world to our misfortune. Is anyone happy with US - Pakistan relations?

The larger history of Jihad would equip Americans to understand the world they live in now. I am Polish-American. I know of 1683. I know what the date September 11 means. I've never met a non-Polish American who knows what that date means. Their country was attacked on September 11, a date that goes back to 1683, and Americans are clueless.

We say that the Holocaust teaches us "Never again," but, if we learned that lesson, how exactly did we apply it during Rwanda's 1994 genocide, called the world's fastest? And, speaking of Africa, why do we not cover the war in the Congo, the "No Living Thing" campaign in Sierra Leone, Darfur, slavery in Mauritania?

If atrocities concern us, why do we not cover the one hundred million Untouchables in India, Amartya Sen's claim that there are 100 million missing women and girls in Muslim, Hindu, and Confucian Asia, the mistreatment of Native Americans in Central America?

All right, I'm Polish American. Why do so few Americans know anything about what happened to non-Jewish Poles during WW II?

And they should know. The Holocaust is exploited by unscrupulous educators to convince young people that Christianity = Nazism. I know "educated" adults who are convinced that this is true; they "learned" it in school.

Nazism announced itself as the cancellation and death knell of Christianity. If people knew the genocidal force that Nazism exerted against Catholic Poland, if people knew of the Catholic priests rounded up, tortured, and slaughtered, selling Nazism as anti-Christian propaganda would become impossible.

People should know. They don't.

If I ruled the world … If I had a magic wand … education and media would be focused on teaching the next generation about atrocity per se, about what Rwanda and Germany and Cambodia and Katyn and Otranto have in common. Of course students would learn about the German Nazi Holocaust of Europe's Jews and the Atlantic Slave Trade, but they would learn of other events, other victims, other perpetrators, and they would be better equipped to face the modern world.

I greatly admire Jews and African Americans for telling their story. I reject any criticism of Jews or African Americans for telling their story. I say to member of my own ethnic group, Americans of Polish descent, don't criticize Jews and Blacks. Emulate them. If you want people to know your story, tell it to them.

What students learn in school is intensely politicized. Politics is not the best friend of truth.

Quiz: Which of the following killed the most people? If you don't know, you just proved my point. 


  1. "i know of 1683. I know what the date September 11 means. I've never met a non-Polish American who knows what that date means."

    You just met one, Danusha. The pleasure is mine.

    A wonderful blog post.

    1. Liron I'm impressed by your knowledge. How did you know this?

      And do you know who the guy in the last picture is, and why he is there?

    2. Timur the Lame a.ka. Tamerlane. Known for his habit of making pyramids of human skulls.

    3. Lukasz, indeed, Tamerlane, aka The Sword of Islam. From whence the first name of the Boston marathon bomber