Tag Archives: history

VE Day

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.


There is so much to be said, but today I will only say a couple of things: first, how impressed I am with Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I thought he was sort of an accidental president, and maybe he was, but he is surely proving his worth right now. There is something extra meaningful about his being Jewish, given the painful history of the Jews in Ukraine – Babi Yar, Pale of Settlement, not to mention so many Ukrainian collaborators during the Holocaust. Zelenskyy himself is the grandson of Holocaust survivors and lost many family members at the hands of the Germans. Ukraine has its own horror in recent memory – the Holodomor – at the hands of Stalin. Interesting fact: Zelenskyy’s grandfather served in the Red Army during World War II. And when I reread this paragraph I remember something my mother said about Europe, when I asked her if she would like to go back there, either to live or visit. “No,” she said. “Europe is a graveyard.” She was right, of course, though for about 75 years after World War II, largely because the United States was the world’s dominant power, it was less of one. I fear what will happen now, with a weak U.S. president. (Compare him and our clown of a prime minister with Zelenskyy and weep.)

Second: this invasion ought to be uniting people. It isn’t. And that is very upsetting. Where are the angry social justice folks? They are awfully quiet about Russian aggression. They will scream and yell when Israel defends itself or when a building in their own free and safe country doesn’t have a unisex bathroom. But a large swath of them are either saying nothing or – you can guess it – blaming the United States. They will probably find a way to blame Israel/Jews too, soon enough. There is an element on the Trumpian right that is also spewing similar nonsense – this sort of, “Ukraine is a client state of the U.S. so Russia is justified/it’s our fault/everyone but Putin is to blame,” foolishness. It’s beneath contempt. Useful idiots all. The extreme left and the extreme right meet in the worst places.

I wrote that I would only say two things and I have ranted a bit. I will add that I don’t think this will end in Ukraine, and places like the Baltics and Taiwan should not count on the West to guarantee their sovereignty. Neither should Israel. All of that said, I am glad for the sanctions and the international condemnation. I am in awe of the anti-war protesters in Russia. I am in awe of so many Ukrainian acts of defiance. Good column here from Bret Stephens and another from Bernard-Henri Levy and a prescient piece – from six weeks ago – by Niall Ferguson. Oh, and Mitt Romney was right. Read about it here and here.

Finally, Condoleezza Rice this morning.

New Anne Frank Theory

I watched with interest the 60 Minutes segment about Anne Frank last Sunday. It was an investigation into finding out exactly who betrayed Anne Frank and the others hiding with her in the famous annex in Amsterdam. The researchers behind the quest came to a conclusion that, as this article says, seems full of conjecture and lacking in certainty and factual foundation, rather than the opposite.

“They came up with new information that needs to be investigated further, but there’s absolutely no basis for a conclusion,” said Ronald Leopold, the Anne Frank House’s executive director. He added that the museum would not be presenting the findings as fact, but perhaps as one of several theories, including others that have been considered over the years.

I am not opposed to speculation in these matters – sometimes, considered and educated guesses are all we have. But presenting it as something other than that is dangerous.

Nice Reader Comment…

…about my book. The woman writing is the daughter of one of Norman’s university friends.

They [the letters] are amazing.  And I had no idea about the poems.  They all put my concept of Norman in a completely different light. I had always thought about Norm’s death as so tragic — as an extinguished candle.  But that he was able to write what he did, explicitly to reflect upon and articulate his life and his relation to others so fully, makes me feel less the tragedy and more the celebration of a life astonishingly well lived and, in the Socratic sense, well-examined.  I was amazed at his ability to write “yet my heart and life are whole” — so beautiful! — and then to follow it with “I hope” — which returns us to grounded life as he lived it, and to the humility that he showed alongside his amazing strength of character.  It left me speechless.  He lived so well.  And the letters to Rigmore are amazing — the love for a sister, but also a sort of fellow artist, wanting her to know the truth without having to experience it all.  Alcohol, the comic version, and wolves — those were just great — and how he wanted her to be honest in confronting life while protecting her from it.  And that letter to his parents …  Not many people, however long they live, ever get to put into words what he was able to write.  These words of his, which live on, which you have preserved and offered to the world, really changed my whole picture of what it can mean for a life to be cut short.  Too short, yes — but also lived so fully…Whether or not you issue further editions, what you have done in offering these letters to the world is wonderful beyond words.  Your book so honors Norman and all the hopes and spirit reflected in all that he wrote — and so many other men (and women) who were part of his story, and beyond it.

Thank you, dear reader!

Once We Had Leaders: Pearl Harbor Edition

Now we have Biden and Justin. (See below.)

On this 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I think back to my time in Japan. There was so much I loved and a few things I didn’t like all that much. One of the latter was the belief of many of my students (Japanese adults) that not only were they (Japanese people) merely victims – not perpetrators – of the war, but that they were the war’s primary victims. Of course, some of them were victims, but they did not see their country as being in the wrong, or as being an aggressor, or as having been the driving force behind the laying waste to at least one continent.

There was much we could not discuss with them – it was not verboten, but it wasn’t worth the tension it caused and it potentially could have given us grief with our bosses, both Japanese and Canadian. The Japanese didn’t seem to have achieved German levels of ownership on the matter. (A post on the Japanese surrender here.) Why discuss such things? Good question, and for the most part I tried to avoid it, but adults love talking politics and, of course, on certain anniversaries it would be a natural topic. This was in the 1990s, but I have friends still in Japan who say it remains a touchy matter.