Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Debate with Daniel Goldhagen, Wednesday, noon, cybercafe at the Korbel School of International Studies

For those in and around Denver, on Wednesday at noon in the coffee shop at the Korbel School of International Studies, I will be on a panel with Daniel Goldhagen along with Arthur Gilbert, Lisa Conant and Adam Rovner (the moderator). Goldhagen’s 1996 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners created a marketing sensation in America and Germany. It shows graphically that many ordinary Germans participated in PolizeiBattalion 101’s murders of Jews, including children. The inhumanity of Nazism is unspeakable; and the Nazis needed to be put out of business conclusively (they were mainly by the Soviet Union and then, to an extent, by the Nuremburg trials). The emphasis on the widespread participation by ordinary Germans in the genocide is a positive feature of Goldhagen's book, as Jurgen Habermas emphasized, and Goldhagen became an international celebrity. This is, however, often an unfortunate status which can go to one’s head. He was also criticized by every scholar who has probed the work (see Finkelstein and Birn, A Nation on Trial, Geoff Eley, ed, The Goldhagen Effect, Fritz Stern, and Christopher Browning, inter alia). Goldhagen has recently written Worse than War against genocide, though he peculiarly identifies the threat of genocide with “Political Islam” in a way which distorts some otherwise useful suggestions.

The point of my questions below, as a fellow jew and anti-fascist, is to suggest that his argument against Germans is an “hallucinatory anti-Germanism,” one which insults the many Jewish Germans and others who fought against and were butchered by Hitler. Further, it unintentionally enables the perpetrators of genocide by endorsing their claims to speak for a people. It denies the victims, say blacks in the American South, any possibility of allying with whites against the Klan (no Klan organizer could come to a United Mine Workers-organized coal field; they came to murder union organizers and prey on some of the workers; if they came, the miners - mainly white - would beat them up and chase them out). So this line of argument, as I show in the prefatory material to my questions, is new in the literature and of great political and moral importance.

Now, it is very difficult to fight and defeat genocide, as the repeated practice of it over several centuries (despite the Civil War and Reconstruction) in the American South shows. But Goldhagen’s denial of any resistance within the “privileged” nationality of a state conducting genocide leads directly to his desperate hope in some state to save people (he doesn’t notice the Soviet Union - “Uncle Joe” as Time magazine called Stalin, naming him “Man of the Year” in 1944 – in World War II). But salvation by a powerful state – and even multilateral salvation - is very unlikely, in fact, even more unlikely than movements from below (the two of course might be combined). Many of Goldhagen’s other suggestions for publicizing genocides and holding people to account for them are however good and important.

Of Goldhagen's new book, Worse than War, a documentary was already made by PBS– it, too, was not the ordinary academic book (if one asks the reasons why the documentary was made, they are not - for example, in the attack on Political Islam - all admirable). In WW, Goldhagen recommends a new international law. Disdaining laws against aggression such as those that make the Bush-Blair war in Iraq a crime, and failing to mention even enforcing existing international laws against torture (Prime Minister David Cameron at least is making some serious gesture in this direction in Britain), Goldhagen seeks to enable the US government to intervene by war against genocide.

Now, there is a broad moral understanding that humanitarian intervention against a genocidal state is a good thing. But as Michael Walzer who argues this in Just and Unjust Wars points out, almost the only case historically is India stopping Pakistani genocide in Bangla Desh (there, by the way, the motivation was racism toward the Bengalis – it was Moslem against Moslem genocide. Goldhagen refers to the Sudanese Arab tyranny as “political Islam,” but there, too, the genocide is Sudanese state against black Africans, Moslem killing Moslem. Factual inaccuracies like this render some of his argument, despite the importance of the subject, unserious).

Goldhagen contends that an unspecified “Political Islam” – potentially infecting 1.2 billion people - is a danger like Nazism. Even for Ahmenidinijad, his main target, this is doubtful a) because ordinary people have risen up in the Green Revolution, prefiguring the Egyptian democracy – any genocide would be restricted to an elite movement with some popular support, and more importantly, b) because Iranian jews have not been harassed or attacked, let alone murdered. In this respect, Goldhagen’s book, sadly, contributes to anti-Islamic racism.

I am also a graduate of social studies at Harvard. This is a program, as I have emphasized in the controvery about Marty Peretz’s similar anti-Islamic, anti-Arab racism last fall, which tends to inspire broad, interdiciplinary scholarship and interesting social theory. See here, here, here, here and here. In Goldhagen’s case, it helped generate a certain intellectual boldness. But none of the social theory of Barrington Moore or Alexander Gerschenkron (surprisingly, both Social Studies professors) who argued that a Junker(feudal lord)-capitalist alliance defeated democratic revolution in Germany in 1848 and led to Nazism makes an appearance in Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners (hereafter HWE), even though he emphasizes the special non-Western course of Germany, the Sonderweg. The Gerschenkron-Moore thesis is a serious intellectual argument about this. Goldhagen’s depiction of medieval anti-semitism – actually, there were far more burnings of Jews starting in the 13 th century, in Spain, see here, than in medieval Gerrmany – avoids any attempt to study the real history.

Goldhagen also exhibits no interest in Marxian arguments, for instance R. Palme Dutt’s intelligent Fascism and Social Revolution (showing that the Russian Revolution, the agricultural workers and other strikes in Italy, the Asturian miners strike, and the movement to the left among German workers – that is, intensified class struggle - were all vital to the capitalist elite choosing fascism to suppress them. One would not know from reading Goldhagen that Heidegger (and Leo Strauss) most hated “Jewish Bolshevism” – see here, here, here, here and here - and that this was a central theme of the Nazis. Goldhagen conjures a Nazism without class war, Nazis as workers, too, Nazis as all “Germans,” an historically erroneous and morally and politically misleading theme.

Finally, he ignores the now considerable literature since the 1970s on the role of eugenic ideology in the Holocaust (see the notes below). This emphasis may be adapted to considering the failure of some of this social theory literature to explore the genocide. In that respect, Goldhagen’s HWE is an important corrective. But the difference of this liteature with Goldhagen is that it sees the American or international contribution, given the segregated South and recruitment of an immigrant work force, through IQ testing to eugenics. American eugenics was to stigmatize immigrants (80% of Jews, 77% of Italians, 75% of Hungarians were all "feeble-minded" according to IQ tests administered at Ellis Island) and blacks in the segregated South.

Eugenic practices thus emerged in a complex interplay of German and American psychologists with heavy capitalist funding (Krupp, the arms manufacturer, financed a contest in eugenics which resulted in the publication of 10 volumes of essays, before World War I). When I came to the University of Denver, one of Penrose libraries extensive collections in German and English was of eugenic literature, including Nazis before and after Hitler's seizure of power in 1933. I would bring some 20 of these books, starting with C.B. Davenport's turn of the 20th century work, funded by Edward Henry Hariman (the railway magnate), throw them on the seminar table, and ask students to open them randomly: Portuguese are genetically suited to be berry pickers in New Bedford, Massachusetts, native americans to work at great heights on buildings (and die there quite often)...

As Nazi authors like Fritz Lenz and others used to say, before the Nazis came to power: the Americans, with their 1924 immigration law referring to preserving the “pure Nordic stock” of the United States and laws against miscegenation (interracial marriage) and to sterilize low IQ mothers laws in 30 states, was "the most advanced in the world." California, for example, sterilized 100,000 immigrant women. The Nazis would surpass this...

The murder of German mental patients – the disposal of Unworthy of Life Lives (or Lives Devoid of Value) – emerged centrally in the German medical community and was carried out by doctors starting in the late 1930s. This follows from eugenics and was central to the emergence of the genocide.

Marty Peretz has published Goldhagen repeatedly in the New Republic. A strain of social studies, which Peretz among others has sponsored, emphasizes Israel as the sole democracy and civilized force in the Middle East. Goldhagen is on the board of the Yale Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. This is a corrupt institute without debate (Haaretz would be scorned in this pseudo-academia). At their initial conference, they had a panel which included solely a paper on the Mavi Marmara tragedy by a retired Israeli army Colonel Fighel. Here is announcement of the panel:

"Auditorium Plenary: Radical Islam and Genocidal Antisemitism
CHAIR: Professor Charles Hill, Yale University
Professor Menahem Milson, Hebrew University and Middle East Media
Research Institute (MEMRI): “Arab and Islamic Antisemitism Today”
Rifat Bali, Research Associate, Alberto Benveniste Center for Sephardic
Studies and Culture, Paris: “Conspiracy Theories, Antisemitism and
Jews in Turkey Today”
Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Fighel, The International Institute for Counter
Terrorism (ICT), Herzliya: “The Jihad Flotilla to Gaza: Provocative –
Antisemitic – Not Humanitarian”

Professor Jeffrey Herf, University of Maryland: 'Nazi Propaganda to the
Arab World and Its After-Effects In Postwar Militant Islam.'"

Given the Israeli/Egyptian cordoning of Gaza, medicines and food were needed. An international group of voyagers resolved on bringing them. Passengers included a 96 year old holocaust survivor from Brooklyn and a few brave souls from many countries. See here. “'Jihad' flotilla"? In international waters, the Israeli “Defense” Forces parachuted onto the ship and murdered 8 Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American. This event horrified the world and did much rightly to discredit the reactionary Israeli government. I wonder at the competence of Yale University and a University group which had as its sole paper on this matter, this fantasy. To put it in Goldhagen’s idiom about German anti-semitism, Col. Fighel – and the organization and Yale which sponsors it - display hallucinatory anti-Arabism.

Goldhagan chaired a panel on "political Islam." He sees rightly that Ahmedinijad is a reactionary, including holocaust denial, and oppressive figure. But the motivation of my questions for the Wednesday panel below traces the weaknesses of his view.

As Egyptian democracy shows, a new wind is blowing in the Middle East. Neither the US, arming dictatorships against their people, nor Israel can go on as before. Now more than ever, factual and many-sided discussions of these issues are needed. Now more than ever, a withdrawal of settlements and a resolution to the Israeli oppression of Palestinians is needed.

Here are my questions for Goldhagen and their motivation:

I, too, am a graduate of the Social Studies program and the Government Department at Harvard and appreciate Goldhagen’s boldness in taking up an important moral issue. I am also an anti-fascist, one who has written on the causal role of eugenics in the Nazi genocide, as well as ties between the Nazis Carl Schmitt, Heidegger and the curious case of Leo Strauss, a Jew who was oddly a Nazi sympathizer – and who is the guru of the neo-cons. I commend Goldhagen’s passionate opposition to genocide, and his hope to make, as he puts it in Worse than War (WW), a world without war.

Part 1: on Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners (HWE)

1. In HWE, Goldhagen starts out with a point that I strongly agree with: Hitler could not have committed genocide against Jews (and Roma, homosexuals, mental patients, and Slavs) unless some very large number of ordinary Germans agreed with and were willing to participate in it. Call this Goldhagen thesis 1. His evidence supports this conclusion.

But he then argues for a different and almost the opposite point – that all Germans held “hallucinatory anti-semitism,” that it something in the nature of all Germans from the Middle Ages to the defeat of Hitler. Call this Goldhagen thesis 2. This argument is not plausible, is challenged at its root by every historian who has looked into this matter, and is, arguably, hallucinatory anti-Germanism. His method for doing this is to a) produce a few, odious quotes from John Chrysostom (actually, not a German) about jews as Christ-killers (HWE, p. 50) and then to debunk every voice against Hitler, particularly socialists and communists in Germany, who were imprisoned, tortured and shot by the Nazis. Of the socialists, Goldhagen grudgingly says:

“The only significant, identifiable groups in Germany which formally abjured and were relatively protected against the prevailing anti-Semitic views were the core of the socialist movement, its intellectuals, and leaders, and the politically ineffectual left-liberal elite. These small groups were moved by a counterideology that denied the premises underlying antisemitism.” (HWE, p. 74; 98, 101)

Now Hitler was “elected”/appointed by Hindenburg with 37.3% of the vote. A very large number of workers – in fact, the entire working class - was socialist or communist. See, for example, Richard Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler? Goldhagen’s belittling rhetoric about only a “core of the socialist movement” or “politically ineffectual,” “small groups” is empty…

And by the time of his later controversy with Browning and Birn, among others, he forgets his first thesis that he had sought to and does actually (sadly, it isn’t difficult) establish.

Now his inverted or exaggerated thesis 2 is weak intellectually and unscholarly. It is a “keyhole view” or “tunnel vision” distortion of German history(Browning, Birn), one that neither mentions the democratic revolutions of 1848 nor the November Revolution of 1917 that created the Weimar republic. Goldhagen ignores the Thaelmann brigade - some 1,500-2,000 Germans, perhaps a quarter Jewish, who fought and died side by side in Spain against Hitler and Franco – as well as the 100,000 communists in the underground (many killed) or the extent of terror against opponents from the moment Hitler took power in 1933. Goldhagen does not mention that in the last election, Hitler received the vote of only 37.3% of the German population – and almost no working class votes. So this blaming of the people, including many of the victims (the Nazis murdered communists, union leaders, intellectuals; they exterminated mental patients, the Roma and homosexuals – every one a German as German Jews, too, were Germans) for a state-carried out genocide is, in his own terms, a huge mistake politically and from a policy point of view, undermines any ability to combat genocide.

Goldhagen imagines whole peoples infected by exterminationist ideology. He sees no potential allies. “They” are all against decency – inhuman and sadistic - and must be smashed from the outside. But though the Soviet Union smashed the Nazis, he doesn’t even acknowledge this. Instead, he places all his hopes in the United States producing more and larger aggressions like Iraq (he apparently still supports the last aggression and occupation even in 2009 - pp. 540-44, 556). Goldhagen has hopes only in “democratic” states which are often, as he sometimes acknowledges, guilty of or supporters of genocide, and he ignores the potential in such wars for former “democracies” becoming police states (even under Obama, America still has not restored the rule of law). Yet Goldhagen insists that the United States be licensed by a new international “law” – he is dangerously scornful of laws against aggression – to produce more failed butcheries and occupations like Iraq, presumably in Iran. Note that many other measures to expose and sanction genocide which he suggests are good ideas, notably decent political leadership as in the case of Nelson Mandela in South Africa and serious press coverage (WW, 295-96, 516-21). I would also praise his confronting the mass murderer Rios-Montt, currently a leader of the senate in Guatemala (WW, pp. 582-85). But his despairing approach to ending eliminationism is to enable one of the main anti-democratic forces in the world (the US has overthrown some 15 nonwhite democracies during and after the Cold War) and one that has often fostered the very genocides Goldhagen seeks to prevent. He rightly wants a more radical enforcement of international law (WW 546-556), but says not a word about the failure to enforce existing laws against torture against high American officials and their secret prisons.

Though a political scientist, Goldhagen eschews comparative argument. In contrast, for example, let us consider the American South. One could say mobs instigated by the sheriffs and supported by politicians lynched some 5,000 blacks during Jim Crow (a conservative estimate – the real number of murders in the South post-Civil War would be much higher). And racism in America was very fierce. One might speak, in analogy with Goldhagen’s thesis 2 of American genocide (all white Protestants and Catholics). Yet there were huge movements of blacks and whites against it: the Southern Tenants alliance, the early Populist movement, Southern lumber workers organized by the IWW, the CIO share-croppers union, the white women of Montgomery who supported the bus boycott which gave Martin Luther King his start. Poor whites in Tennessee and Kentucky even fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Politically, one might seek to build a movement of the most victimized with those of the oppressed population (usually not the rich or powerful) who might come – having been silent about many horrors, having had racist ideas – to participate in or support it. A similar case could be made about the huge anti-Vietnam war movement against genocide in Vietnam (the US government slaughtered some three million Vietnamese…)

For more obvious forms of fascism, the resistance movement in Italy was dormant up to the mid-1930s, Goldhagen’s thesis 2 might speak of Italian genocide, for instance, in Ethiopia. Sparked by Italian radicals fighting in Spain, it then became a mass movement in the North and in 1943, hung Mussolini. But Goldhagen does no comparative politics or social history; rather, he metaphysically blames all Germans, all whites (for slavery or Jim Crow), all Americans for Vietnam, all Italians for fascism…

Question 1: You successfully show that many ordinary Germans participated in the genocide. But you then argue for a different, almost opposite thesis – that all Germans were and must, given German history, have been Hitler’s willing executioners. Why do you need to talk down all those other Germans – the socialists and communists, for example, many of whom, at the outset at least, where they were not hiding from terror and executions, opposed this and some 2000 of whom fought and died against Franco and Hitler in the Spanish Civil War?

Question 2: Goldhagen bases much of his work on an ideal type of Christian/German medieval anti-semitism. He ignores a substantial body of scholarship starting in the 1970s on the contribution of eugenics, centered on IQ testing and pioneered in the United States, which motivated students and later the intellectuals/professionals who became the killers of the mental patients (“lives devoid of value”). Similarly, the Nazi movement copied its sterilization of inferiors and anti-miscegenation laws from those of the states of Indiana and Virginia (Chorover, pp. 98-102, Proctor, ch. 4) This line of argument makes what some German professionals did in the international mainstream. Why do you not consider and argue about rather than ignoring this alternate explanation?

Part 2 on Goldhagen, Worse than War:

Goldhagen commendably starts from Harry Truman’s dropping the atom bomb on civilians, a crime of mass murder (pp. 3-8). One might add to it: the American firebombing of wooden cities in Japan (this slaughtered perhaps 5 million innocent people). Goldhagen exemplifies an important moral principle here: one should take on especially the crimes – or potential crimes - of one’s own state or one’s own people. One should not be a “Good German,” or in his words, a willing executioner.

But Goldhagen is anxious to identify an unspecified “Political Islam” as a genocidal force. He does so at p. 504-506, 551, 506, 251, inter alia. “Political Islam,” Goldhagen suggests, floats not just among all Germans but randomly among the world’s 1.2 billion Moslems. Like his fragments from John Chrysostom, Goldhagen analogizes “Political Islam” to Nazism about the Jews through a few quotes from Ahmenidinijad and Bin Laden (506-08). 1.2 billion people are thereby placed in a framework of potential Nazism – he does not speak even of, say, Iranian Islam or allow the Green Revolution, viciously repressed by Iran, as a counterexample. He does not even show that Iranian Jews are made unwelcome, harassed or killed (they haven’t been).

Speaking as a jew and an anti-fascist, let me pursue a countercase to Goldhagen about Israel whose refusal to work for a two state solution and efforts to pursue a “greater Israel” are now more and more obvious to the world. In Gaza, the state of Israel has imprisoned some 1.5 million Palestinians in a “large open air concentration camp” as a collective punishment – something illegal and immoral - for electing Hamas as their leaders. These are the words of my former dean and colleague Tom Farer (also a Jew). Two years ago, the Israeli army aggressed in Gaza and murdered some 1,400 Palestinians, including 300 children. At the same time, Hamas rockets murdered 13 Israelis, including a 7 year old child. Every child is of infinite value. What might the prophet Amos say today to Israel? The army murdering at a ratio of 300 to 1 is a massacre. Ordinary Israeli soldiers in Breaking the Silence detailed the war criminality of the IDF and of government leaders.

In urging this slaughter, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who advises Brigadier General Avichai Rontski, said: “it is just to kill gentile babies” (the army paper, Barnahane, reprinted in Haaretz, 11/17/2009. This is also a typical sentiment among settler “rabbis.” (I contrast such people with Abraham Heschel and many other Jewish anti-racists). This bigotry is further extended by 50 chief municipal rabbis who want to ostracize Jews who rent to Arab-Israeli students in Safed. It is amplified by the Lieberman-fostered loyalty oath for Arab-Israelis passed by the Knesset, and ”investigatioon” of the funding of human rights organizations to allege subversion. If I noticed only such rabbis and cited them at the expense of everything else that happens in Israel, for instance, demonstrations of Jews and Arabs in Tel Aviv for peace, couldn’t I make a Goldhagen-style case that Jews are nationally genocidal, “willing executioners”? Given the complex reality of Lieberman and a quasi-fascist, expansionary government, couldn’t a fair-minded person – as 100 moderate Israeli intellectuals protested at the hall where Independence was declared in Tel Aviv in 1947 – plausibly make a more complex case about the fascism of the Israeli government? Is there not a danger both in the United States and Israel of a democracy, like Weimar, becoming an authoritarian regime?

Question 1 – If one uses the same fragmentary method you use to highlight Ahmenidinijad or John Chrysostom to warn of modern eliminationist polices, could not one then speak, easily but foolishly, invoking Rabbi Shapira, of Israeli or Jewish genocidal polices in Gaza? Aren’t such policies, in fact, genocidal (imposing conditions designed to destroy a people “in whole or in part”)?

Question 2 - Should we not stand with the some 600 officers who refuse to participate in the occupied territories – Yesh Gvul - or the soldiers of Breaking the Silence who oppose the occupation and its brutal, anti-democratic impact within Israel? Should we not oppose “Lieberman’s willing executioners” for a “greater Israel,” a fascist or apartheid state?

Question 3: What evidence is there that the US will make war against genocide? The US tolerated Germany in the 1930s did nothing to protect Jews during World War II (did not bomb the tracks on the way to the camps). It tolerated, even covertly supported apartheid South Africa. Yes, one should agitate against genocide and call for the boycott and ostracism of all regimes that do it. But why not mainly support Egyptian-style democratic revolution, seek to build movements among the oppressed and look for allies internationally and among ordinary people within genocidal powers?

1. “Where Christ-killers gather, the cross is ridiculed, God blasphemed, the father unacknowledged, the son insulted, the grace of the Spirit rejected…If the Jewish rites are holy and venerable, our way of life must be false. But if our way is true, as indeed it is, theirs is fraudulent. I am not speaking of their Scriptures. Far from it! For they lead one to Christ. I am speaking of their present impiety and madness.” (HWE, p. 50).
2. Christopher R. Browning, “Daniel Goldhagen’s Willing Executioners,” pp. 28-29. Ruth Bettina Birn, “Revising the Holocaust, ” p. 135.
3. V.O. Key, Southern Politics, p. 5. Alan Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 10. Michael Schwartz, Radical Protest and Social Structure.
4. N.J. Block and Gerald Dworkin, “IQ, Heritability and Inequality,” 1974, Stephen Chorover, From Genesis to Genocide, Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 10 (1990, 1984), Robert N. Proctor, Racial Hygiene, Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, inter alia.
5. Ury Avnery, “The Darkness to Expel,” www.shovrimshtika.org/post_e.asp?id=32
6. www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2009/07/16/breaking-the-silence-gaza-war-soldiers-testimonies-part-2/
7 . For further discussions of the rabbis, see Alan Gilbert, democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/12/rabbi-licenses-murder-of-babies.html and democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2010/12/fascist-israeli-rabbis-ostracize-jews.html

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