For the past ten or so days I have been researching and writing the last of six lectures in a series entitled How Many Trials of the Century Can One Century Have? The first five lectures cover the trials of
- Harry K. Thaw (1907),
- Leo Frank (1915),
- Sacco and Vanzetti (1921)
- Leopold and Loeb (1924), and
- John Scopes (1925).
The sixth and final lecture, which has unquestionably been the most difficult to put together, is about the 1960 trial of Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for organizing and then overseeing the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews as well as millions of gays, Poles, Czechs, Yugoslavs, and Gypsies. Putting together this 8,000+ word lecture (accompanied by a 50-photo Power Point presentation) has been far from easy; it has involved almost total re-immersion into the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust through rereading histories, eye-witness accounts, government reports and transcripts from the trial. Time and again I've had to remind myself that it is the Eichmann trial -- and not the man's unspeakable, unfathomable crimes against humanity -- which is the central focus of this lecture. Nonetheless, each day's research
and writing leaves me with a head that aches, a stomach tied in knots and a soul suffering the tortures of the damned. And, I am very, very, very angry . . .
Logging off the computer at the end of a long workday is easy; blocking out the history, the images and the rhetoric of obliteration is not. For diversion, I read a biography (currently David Thomson's Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick); I reread some Dickens (The Old Curiosity Shop); or I try to pay attention to what passes for news. The first two offer a dash of relief; the third -- the news -- is anything but anodyne. What I see and hear is about as soothing as fingernails on a chalkboard.
For hardly an item is without buzzwords such as:
- "Munich," and
And here I am not referring to the seriously deranged -- those folks who, unlike the rest of us sheep "know" that FEMA has established precisely 33 (or is it 17 . . . or perhaps 9?) concentration camps; or proclaim that they have the "authority" to kill the President or a thousand-and-one other idiotic notions. No, instead, I am referring to those whose underlying modus operandi runs something like this: "For anything and everything there are simple, shorthand responses -- responses that are intended to end debates in our favor. And the beauty of it is, once we come out with these responses, we don't have to get involved in any debate or discussion; we have rendered it unnecessary."
A couple of examples:
Q: "Can we bring health care security to millions of American families?"
A: “No . . . it’s socialism plain and simple.”
Q: "Can we have an intelligent conversation about income inequality and the concentration of wealth at the very top?"
A: “Hell No, because what you are talking about is nothing more than class warfare.”
Q: "Can we reduce the nuclear threat – for us and the world – by engaging Iran in constructive diplomacy? What are its potential positives and negatives?"
A: “No, we cannot and will not discuss the issue; there are no potential positives; only negatives. It’s Munich all over again. Obama is an appeaser just like Neville Chamberlain.”
As MSNBC producer Steve Benen notes: "These are knee-jerk responses intended to circumvent thought. But they’ve also become tired and predictable, so much so that when it comes to diplomacy and national security, conservatives keep reading from the same script, making up new Hitlers, new Chamberlains, and new Munichs. The only thing that stays the same is the role of Churchill – a role they hold for themselves."
For me, the worst, most maddening and painful of all rejoinders are those which employ Nazi imagery such as referring to the president as "another Hitler," equating the Affordable Care Act with Kristalnacht or proclaiming that those seeking to limit the number of rounds in any single ammunition magazine are "just like the Nazis who first took away guns and then took away lives." It is insane; the relative handful of those who could truly be called Nazis -- or Neo-Nazis in America -- now refer to themselves as "American patriots," "sovereign citizens" and "survivalists." They're not the ones who bother me; goodness knows for every ten of these so-called "American patriots" there are probably a minimum of 7 FBI agents and people working for either the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Watch, or Anti-Defamation League keeping tabs on them.
The one's who truly cause me angst and pain are the supposedly sane, rational people who occupy high office, who have command of powerful microphones or are otherwise in positions from which to shape public opinion. Their churlish use of Holocaust terminology and Nazi referents sounds the death knell for any further discussion; why, after all, would anyone want to engage in debate with someone who has been labeled a "Nazi," or discuss a measure which has been connoted "another Holocaust." Not only does the blithe use of such referents place an insurmountable obstacle in the path of constructive dialogue; it turns history's single-greatest abomination into a meaningless rhetorical device. To my way of thinking anyone -- and I do mean anyone -- who gives voice to such terms proves him- or herself to be irrelevant; one who is vastly more interested in demonizing than dialoguing.
I strongly urge all those who are oh-so-quick to refer to others as "Nazis," "little-Hitlers," or "latter-day Stalins" to go back to class and learn -- perhaps for the first time -- the horrifying, all-encompassing evil that was the Holocaust. Your use of Holocaust terminology betrays a stunning, disheartening lack of knowledge, sensitivity and basic tact or humanity. I also urge you to curb your tongues . . . the souls of millions of murdered innocents demand nothing less.
©2013 Kurt F. Stone