A good piece here about Ken Burns’ series on the Holocaust. It’s an engrossing, compelling and thorough (and thoroughly depressing, given the subject matter) series in many ways, and of a high quality that we expect from Burns. But it is oh, so, political. Which trivializes its topic, in a very real and unnecessary manner:
Just as important, The U.S. and the Holocaust concludes by noting the passage of more liberal immigration laws in the 1960s and then showing a montage, including protests about the collapse of security at America’s southern border; former President Donald Trump’s demand that a border wall be built; the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia; the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; and finally, the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. We hear warnings from talking heads that America’s thin veneer of civilization could, like Germany’s, collapse more quickly than we think—a not-so-subtle nod in the direction of the contemporary Democratic Party’s pose as the defenders of democracy against their Republican opponents.
So ham-handed. I have no objection on pointing out how few Jews the United States allowed in – Canada was even worse. We should all know this and be ashamed. It’s the partisanship and the attempt to link what happened then with current headlines that bothers me. Bari Weiss very firmly – and diplomatically – challenges Burns at her podcast/interview here. I like the way she is making him uncomfortable about his misuse of history. But she is too gentle when he insists he is not being political in his selected montage of American bigotry and antisemitism (all Republicans). What she could have asked was, “Ok, if that is the case, then why not include, in your montage, one of Ilhan Omar’s many antisemitic comments?” Regardless, her interview with him is excellent and not only for the moments in which she lets him know she is not impressed.
Paul Johnson died and I wanted to pay tribute to him and his work, in particular this book, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties. I read it as a young woman and really felt I had found a response – or maybe a counterbalance – to so much of the complacency and received wisdom I was seeing around me. He was a species that we need and lack – a self-taught popular historian, and also an object lesson in an intellectual who understood that intellectuals are bad. Perhaps Andrew Roberts is the closest person we have to that now.
Sometimes, when I can’t sleep through the night (which is often), I do what you are not supposed to do in that situation and scroll on my phone or tablet. Recently, in the wee small hours one night/morning, I discovered this interview (I think it is more than one interview edited together) with journalist Togo Tanaka. Fascinating. I learned a lot and also enjoyed Tanaka’s calming voice.
About a month ago, my partner showed me this article. Written by historian James Sweet, it is terrific, and the only thing I could possibly criticize the author for is his after-the-fact apology for what he had written (it appears at the link, prior to the main article). Why on earth did he grovel like that? He wrote nothing wrong and indeed, he was quite sensitive and considerate in his writing. (Of note: Sweet links to a 2002 piece along the same lines, published before we all went mad and utterly gutless.) A propos, Bill Maher’s rant from his show last week. I wish he were not so vulgar – he could make his point without any of that, but still, I admire his moxie here. He is strong on Israel, animal welfare and free speech. And now, it seems, on ahistorical nonsense.
We have seen deeply touching, solemn and bittersweet images this past week and in the coverage accompanying those images, references were made to this piece of writing:
Two rivers run silently through London tonight, and one is made of people. Dark and quiet as the night-time Thames itself, it flows through Westminster Hall, eddying about the foot of the rock called Churchill.
The paragraph above comes from Vincent Mulchrone’s coverage of Winston Churchill’s lying-in-state in January 1965, reprinted and linked here. The content is moving, of course, but what really strikes me is how well written it is. It’s what I notice when I read something from an old copy of Life, for example. Or an old New Yorker. People who wrote for a living could actually write.
Below, a video of Sir Winston’s funeral. The crowds may look different now, more multicultural, which is good – though they were not without diversity in 1965 – certainly more casual now, but the lack of cynicism is the same. We need more of this – more of recognizing people who make us better and who deserve our grief, more of admitting that they will be missed.
I have cried many tears these past few days. The loss of Her Majesty has hit hard. I wrote about it here. Today, I have not forgotten, is also the 21st anniversary of 9/11. I mention this moment in the linked-to piece:
Eighty years since the roundup of Jews in Paris, most of whom were deported to their deaths. In France, it is known as “la Rafle du Vel D’Hiv” or even simply, the “Vel D’Hiv.” I wrote about it here. Also, there is a fairly good movie about it here.
It is VE Day and, as such, I would be remiss in not promoting my book here. My mother features prominently in the book, so I guess it is fitting to promote it this Mother’s Day, too. (She would be all in favour of trying to push sales, but I must admit, I find it rather cringe, as the kids say.) I would also like to share this song, so get out your Kleenex. I can’t listen to it without thinking of mum – both my parents, actually.