Tag Archives: history

Let us Begin

Fitting quote for anyone on this planet who feels they cannot complete all they should, and all they want to complete in their time on this planet (and when I say “anyone,” I mean me):

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days . . .nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin. – John F. Kennedy

For VE Day: Heavy Water War

On the occasion of VE Day, I recommend this series (it is available on Netflix). It is fascinating and frankly, we often forget how important stopping the heavy water production in Norway was; if the Germans had got the bomb before us, it would have been beyond disastrous. The series certainly has its standard 21st century biases — for example, the Americans are made to look like bullying allies, whereas if you read World War II history, rather the opposite is true.

But the basic facts of the sabotage are there, and I love the portrayals of the Norwegian heroes — men for whom we should be forever grateful and who, in true Norwegian fashion, were ever humble about what they did (a profile of one of them here).

My uncle — his war letters website is here — was being trained to parachute into Norway, interestingly enough. It is possible they were considering him to be part of this project, as he had the language skills required. Either way, the likelihood of survival was slim.

I got a kick out of this movie, and I’d love to see this one, but I believe this most recent series to be the best of the lot.

Where Have all the Moynihans Gone?

The extraordinary 1975 Daniel Patrick Moynihan speech, in response to the madness of the “Zionism equals racism” resolution that had passed. There are no Moynihans now, I fear, and more and more fools who think that Zionism is racism. (I’m related to a few.)

Daniel Pearl’s father wrote a column a few years ago in which he lamented the “normalization of evil.” He was quite right, and as Significant Other said upon reading those words, “there is also the evil-ization of normal.” One normal thing now made to appear evil is supporting Israel.

Listen to this speech, the moral clarity, the understanding of history. It makes me so miss my brother Alan – he was one of the few people (and even fewer relatives) with whom I could have serious discussions about politics and history.

Trump is not Goldwater or Reagan

If only he were. And yet, many who are anti-Trump are posting the below video from 1964, as though they are making some deep point about what is happening today. They are not. All they are doing is showing us that they don’t know a thing about history.

I do not like Trump and I do not want him to win the Republican nomination (my first choice would have been Rubio and now I am hoping for Cruz) or the presidency. But I also do not like specious comparisons.

This video is an anti-Barry Goldwater ad from 1964. It’s called “Confessions of a Republican” and in it, a Republican voter nervously confesses his fears about Goldwater and a Goldwater presidency and says he is going to vote for Lyndon Johnson. (For the record, though I am an admirer of Goldwater, I also think LBJ did much good and gets a historical bum rap, especially from old hippies.)

One of the things this nervous Republican mentions is the KKK endorsing Goldwater. It is true that they did but it is also true that Goldwater immediately and sincerely denounced them and said he didn’t want their support (something Ronald Reagan also did when he received the same dubious endorsement in 1980). This nervous Republican also mentions fear of nuclear war and the “mistake” his party made at the Republican convention in 1964 (the mistake presumably being giving Goldwater the nomination).

In fact, Goldwater was always a libertarian, a supporter of civil liberties and civil rights and a believer in freedom. (A young Hillary Rodham-later-to-be-Clinton supported him.) He remained so throughout his life, including openly supporting gay rights before that cause became a favourite of “progressives.” I would love it if I thought Trump was anywhere near the kind of man Goldwater was. So yes, this video being used as some sort of point is foolish, unless that point is, “wow, we used to have some great Republicans that we didn’t appreciate, such as Barry Goldwater. Too bad so many had such an hysterical over-reaction to them.”

(I believe the people posting it today think that if Goldwater had won in 1964, terrible, unspeakable things would have happened. We will never know, but I don’t think it’s preposterous to suggest the United States might be in better shape had Goldwater won.)

Now, about the video itself: I love how this guy smokes up a storm during his monologue! Awesome. And note the suit and tie. I wish we all dressed like grown-ups today. (I have to wonder what the selected Republican would look like in such an ad today.) I imagine this would be classified as an “attack ad.” If so, bring on the attack ads. I think this is powerful, though again, I am an admirer of Goldwater.

The Anti-Semitism of the Left (Again)

Roger Cohen is a bit late to have noticed this, but glad he wrote this fine column. I have relatives who suffer from what he calls “anti-Zionism derangement syndrome.” But as my late brother — who was far too smart to suffer from it — used to say, you can’t reason with people who have this affliction, as they have no interest in facts. Sadly, I am not surprised that much of this derangement has flourished in academia. (Occasionally, I consider going back to school to get my PhD, but then I talk to friends of mine working in academia and reconsider.)

What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature. It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe. It dismisses the legal basis for the modern Jewish state in United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947. This was not “colonialism” but the post-Holocaust will of the world: Arab armies went to war against it and lost.

So simple, really. I don’t understand the difficulty people have grasping this, but I think Bernard Lewis was right when he called anti-Semitism a pathology, a mental illness. It isn’t rational.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Many moons ago, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I went to Poland to visit a friend of mine. Her name was Eva (Ewa) and she had been a classmate of mine at the Sorbonne. We always got along well at school. But that all changed in Warsaw, when she asked me what I hoped to see in Poland. Well, I told her, Auschwitz, of course, and also the Warsaw Ghetto.

Her face fell. She informed me that the former Ghetto was now nothing more than a small plaque. Not interesting. Not worth it. She then said I should not go to Auschwitz. Why not, I asked. Because, she said, Poles died there too. By “Poles” she meant Catholics. She did not consider Polish Jews to be Poles. I was stunned. She went on to say that it was wrong to think it was mostly Jews who died in Auschwitz and that it was really all about the suffering of “real Poles” and so on. I was quite young and had never been exposed to this kind of revisionism and trivializing of the suffering of Jews. Now, sadly, it is old hat to me. But back then it was new and I was shocked.

I insisted, though, and I went to Auschwitz without Eva. She was mad. She was beyond mad. After I left Poland and went back to Paris our friendship was pretty much over. Once — when I had returned to Canada — she sent a Christmas card, but that was because she was trying to get information on how to immigrate to Canada. She had married a Lebanese man (another piece of the puzzle!), she wrote, and he spoke French so Canada would be perfect.

I could not help her and that was that. That trip to Poland was a disturbing experience for me. I was so naïve (now that I am less so, I hope I will be able to visit Auschwitz again). I regret that I did not call her out more. All I did was say, “Well, mostly Jews died there” and “I am going to visit, even if you don’t want to go with me.”

All of this has never left my memory (which is freakish) but it came back in even more vivid colours when I recently read these two books. The first is about a particularly odious Polish hate crime against Jews, the second is about the intense envy that feeds so much anti-Semitism.

Today we say “never forget” and “never again.” The problem is that so many who want it to happen again don’t care or will not admit that it happened in the first place.

Update: It occurs to me I should link here to one of my favourite novels, Peter Matthiessen’s In Paradise. It takes place in Auschwitz, though in the 1990s, and among its themes is Polish anti-Semitism.