Another Tack: Amusing ourselves to death

An obscure 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, should be particularly compelling to Israelis. Its author, the late Neil Postman, made a sound case for his contention that Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World accurately predicted our current lifestyle.

Our judgment is crippled by an overpowering addiction to entertainment and news presentation constitutes merely another showbiz feature. Complexities are conveniently diluted and events of the day are offered as a packaged commodity, almost like the drugs with which the denizens of Huxley’s future medicated themselves into bliss. Shallow stimulation and immediate gratification have replaced thought and remembrance.

Cyber-wizardry only exacerbated these already preexisting inclinations. But unlike Postman, who lamented the decline of logic and knowledge, there are those who actually celebrate the loss. Foremost among them is our own president Shimon Peres, always ever-eager to lead the vanguard of what he promotes as progress.

A few years ago, for example, Peres pontificated thus: “Why is it important to know how many people Napoleon killed? …If you want details, go to the Internet.”

It was no slip of the tongue. His previous pearls of wisdom informed all and sundry that Google had “liberated us from the great effort to remember things… Why remember? The past isn’t so great. It’s full of tragedy and war… Look to the future, forget about the past… Personally, I have very little patience for history. I believe that to imagine is more important than to remember.”

It’s this upbeat hip mindset that indisputably makes Peres so popular, principally in Europe which has very vested interests in not remembering. That’s something we should keep uppermost in mind, especially during these interim days between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Remembrance Day for the fallen in Israel’s still ongoing existential struggle.

The two dates are intrinsically interconnected. The fact that they are only one week apart on our Hebrew calendar epitomizes our tragic Jewish distinctiveness.

We are called upon not to forget but this by no means guarantees a meaningful remembrance. Like all else, memory in our day and age can be devalued and distorted – reduced to crass catchphrases or warped online into fiendish misrepresentation.

The vogue in our brave new world is to cease perceiving the Holocaust and our subsequent Jewish sovereignty through Jewish eyes. The Jewish viewpoint has somehow been tainted. At best it’s scorned as narrow-minded and parochial. More severely, it’s disparaged as inexcusably nationalist if not altogether racist.

The decedents of Nazis, of Nazi-collaborators and of all the multitudes who expediently opted to see nothing, prefer that the mass-slaughter on Europe’s soil be watered down with universalist-humanist banalities.

Generalized platitudes quasi-absolve Germany. They imply that any nation anywhere and anytime might succumb to Nazi-like excesses, given sufficient socioeconomic and political provocation. Hypothetically, hardship and frustration can drag any culture into the arms of an authoritative fuehrer who would appeal to a latent dislike for “the other,” which presumably festers equally everywhere.

There supposedly was nothing which made the Jew a more probable victim (even after more than 2000 years of deliberate demonization) and nothing that made the Germans probable mass-murders on an unprecedented scale (despite centuries of a unique form of anti-Semitism that preached physical eradication).

It was just prosaic coincidence that the roles weren’t reversed. The Jews, argue moral-relativists, could just as credibly have become Nazis.

More moderate postmodern universalists, among them numerous Jewish left-wingers, translate this into a demand for Jewish atonement for potential wrongdoing. Curiously on Holocaust Remembrance Day ultra-liberal Jews beat the breasts of fellow Jews and berate them for not being morally superior enough, for not being more passive and pacifist, for not loving and forgiving their enemies more – despite the fact that these still-potent enemies still bay for Jewish blood.

The universalist lesson from the Holocaust is that Jews should defend themselves less.

The disdain for history is incontrovertible. To diminish the incomparable onus, many Germans refrain from focusing on what negates Germany’s self-serving portrayal of itself as a casualty of ruthless dictators. They rationalize away the adulation of Hitler in Germany but they can’t overlook the fact that he was worshiped by German immigrants in America, where these newcomers were free and quite safe from Storm Trooper tyranny.

The same goes for the German Templers right here in this country. They were ardent Nazis under British rule. There can be no defense for their choice to embrace Hitler next door to Tel Aviv. No coercion can be cited as a mitigating circumstance.

Germans like to depict themselves as yet another European occupied population, as having been conquered by a space alien called Hitler and his unpleasant cohorts. Hence modern Germany emphasizes the “good Germans” – chiefly those who banded together in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.

The only detail missing is the fact that the conspirators weren’t overly appalled by the methodical murder of Jews. Their outrage was aroused by Hitler’s mismanagement of the war and the catastrophe he thereby inflicted on the German people.

It’s no wonder that Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s tour de force, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, is the single most resented book in Germany.

Side-by-side with minimizing Germany’s stigma is the attempt to minimize what marked the Jews as the unavoidable victims. Political correctness mandates that mention of anti-Semitism be replaced by talk about a vague commonplace antipathy for “the other.” Such verbal obfuscation downplays the ancient scourge of Judeophobia.

Jews weren’t foreign in Europe and some even went to inordinate lengths to posture as “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion.” The visceral hate for even the most Germanized of Jews preceded Hitler and prepared the ground for him. Jews weren’t opportune objects of an aversion that was subsidiary to the colossal socio-political upheaval. The goal of wiping every last Jew (or even part-Jew) off the earth was primary for Hitler.

He and his henchmen persisted in their genocidal design till their very final moments, at the clear expense of Third Reich military capability. Even when all else was lost, beaten Germany continued to eradicate Europe’s leftover tortured Jews. That’s hardly comparable to sporadic massacres and inter-communal carnage anywhere.

Excluded from discussion is the fact that the hunted Jews weren’t a side to any conflict. They weren’t a combatant enemy. German Jews were loyal German patriots. They never hurled bombs at or otherwise attacked Germans. They were ordinary citizens dispossessed and sent to die. “Half-breeds” underwent rigorous investigations into their lineage and exhaustive searches were mounted for every last hidden Jewish baby.

This isn’t pedantic harping on minutiae. The selective and occasionally kitschified remembrance of the Holocaust impacts today on the Jewish state that courageously arose from the Holocaust’s ashes. Israel’s against-all-odds heroism, just three years post-Holocaust, is now defamed as a form of copycat Nazism.

The fact that Jews resolved never again to be victims is twisted into a potential crime against humanity. This is a favorite theme for Israel-bashers but also for some Jewish liberal sorts.

Those who don’t themselves turn the other cheek, urge vulnerable Israel to do just that. Those who don’t relinquish their own power, preach to us that power corrupts. Those who vilify us with knee-jerk relish, advise us to heed their “valid criticism.” They advocate we count on the international community’s unproven goodwill instead of on our own self-defense.

Those who still yearn for our destruction are fraudulently described as our hapless victims. Those who skew history don’t really want us to remember that Hitler’s Mein Kampf has been a runaway bestseller throughout the Arab world for decades. That must indicate something.

Those who dismiss history berate the preoccupation with the Arab role during the Holocaust. It surely clashes with the perverse narrative that Jewish Nazis overwhelmed peace-loving Arabs. It serves the lie to expunge from recollection the fact that the newborn Jewish state was surrounded by enemies who sought to complete what Hitler failed to. These enemies said so openly and blusterously. They never tried to disguise their aims.

In their effort to defeat renascent Israel, they even imported Muslim Bosnian mercenaries – veterans of the Handzar SS Division recruited by the infamous Haj Amin el-Husseini during WWII.

The agents of amnesia don’t want it remembered that many of the fallen soldiers we commemorate on the eve of our Independence Day gave their lives to thwart the world’s last organized neo-Nazi armies in 1948, that Arab states sheltered fleeing Nazi war-criminals and that Nazi scientists sought to furnish the Arabs with doomsday weapons against the Jewish state.

Untrendy as it doubtless is, reminding the world over and over that visceral Arab enmity predated so-called occupation, predated Jewish statehood and predated even the Holocaust – and indeed that it contributed crucially to the unparalleled tragedy of European Jewry – becomes an imperative rather than an esoteric fixation.

Purportedly blameless local Arabs idolized the Nazis since the 1930s, eagerly awaited Germany’s invasion of Eretz Yisrael, plotted the annihilation of its Jews and all their brethren throughout the Mideast, hoarded arms, spied for Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and even named their children after him. Decades later there were still many Arabs here with Hitler, Eichmann and Rommel for first names.

El-Husseini, was immensely popular in his day and avidly followed by the Arab masses. He’s still revered. As Nazism’s enthusiastic accomplice and as president of “the Pan-Islamic Congress,” he resided in wartime Berlin, was appointed SS-Gruppenfuehrer by Himmler and dubbed “the Arab fuehrer” by Hitler himself. After WWII he was declared a wanted war-criminal.

His escapades are too many to be elaborated here. Suffice it to say that his hands dripped with Jewish blood.

All this is camouflaged by Holocaust-deniers from Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to “peace-partner” Mahmoud Abbas. Alarmingly, though, historical truth is also unwelcome for growing numbers of self-professed liberals the world over. They pooh-pooh the threat to our lives and warn us against transmuting into Hitlerian ogres. The very notion of Jewish rights arouses instantaneous demagogic analogies with Nazism.

Had we known our history, nobody could thus mess with our minds. But we live in an age where history is too much of a bother. Amusing ourselves to death is easier.

17 thoughts on “Another Tack: Amusing ourselves to death

  1. Great article, Sarah. I see the effects of our “amusing ourselves to death” culture everywhere. Example–a student in class the other day said, “I can’t read cursive.”
    The Holocaust? What do they care? Technology, the passage of time, and the Islamic juggernaut in Europe have combined to blunt the memory of Jewish suffering and Nazi savagery; and have twisted the very real Jewish heroism of 1948 Israel into something unrecognizable. But there were a few “good Germans”–a very few, exemplified by Oskar Schindler; and I’m also thinking of an old movie,
    “The Seventh Cross,” with Spencer Tracy. We musn’t let them forget. Ever.

  2. I personally don’t need the internet to remember and I don’t need the Holocaust Remembrance Day, because the Holocaust is always on my mind…this is presence and not remembering…
    The Holocaust is for now and forever and ever, the moral Ground Zero for the whole of mankind…and whoever ignores it, out of stupidity or out of being evil minded, has lost his moral compass…!

      • Can we just be Jews without trying to find out who is a better one?

        On the other hand, any Jew named “Chris” must be better than the rest…

  3. Powerful stuff Sarah….but what are we going to do? Even today we seem to have a Prime Minister that is drawing red lines, talking good games, and being led around by the nose by Hussein Obama, who is a lot more slick and sophisticated than Hitler or at least that’s the way it appears. I assume Bibi will eventually snap out of his timidity and malaise and realize he is being had, but what would it spell for us if Israel ever went it alone on Iran against the wishes of the world community and especially that evil little dictator in the making now occupying the Oval Office? Oh the heck with it, lets go for it and really tick them off, and then let our G-d sort it out.

  4. “I believe that to imagine is more important than to remember.” Now if he were also to sing John’s Lennon’s “Imagine” right after saying those words, then even the few doubting Thomas-es would have no choice but agree he’s totally hip and “with it.”

  5. In Oliver Stone’s “Palestine: Persona Non Grata” Peres says that he does not want to remember the past. He said he wants to “remember forward”. It is an interesting concept…

    I just don’t understand why he is a President of the State of Israel…

  6. It is important to remember that the Holocaust was not about the Jews at all, in this sense: if someone breaks into your house, or robs and kills you on the street, is the crime about you or the criminal? The crime is always about the criminal. So, the Holocaust was about the gentiles who perpetrated and tolerated it, not the Jews. It is true that the Jews suffered materially (both with regard to their physical safety and well-being as well as property) during the Holocaust, and the memory of that suffering, and the lessons to be learned from it, are appropriate, vital and unique responsibilities of all Jews. But the Holocaust itself is really about both the gentiles who committed the atrocities and about how the gentile societies dealt with this moral outrage committed against the Jews in their midst. The gentiles’ refusal to recognize or admit in their own hearts (forget about public monuments, speeches and platitudes) that the Holocaust was and is more about the gentiles than the Jews has permitted the gentiles to continue to indulge in self-destructive anti-semitism, now made conveniently “respectable” by opposition to Israel. How else, for example, can one explain the fact that surveys of Europeans indicate that they believe Israel to be the greatest threat to world peace?

    The gentiles know that when they view the details of the Holocaust, they are really looking into the mirror of their own souls–and, not liking what they see, they choose to look away, and instead resort to their favorite and long-standing anodyne for all their troubles, namely blaming the Jews.

    It is the fate of the Jews to be a light unto the nations. But if the nations stubbornly do not wish to see, no amount of light will suffice and the nations will continue to stumble in the dark. Under such circumstances, we Jews cannot afford to live among such company in the darkness, but must remain in the light if we are to survive.

  7. This is the best discourse I have seen yet on the conservative politics of “universalist” Holocaust history. Very well done

      • “Universalist history” especially in reference to the Holocaust is language applied by self avowed conservatives in criticisms over the politics of the history of the Holocaust. It is language also found in Daniel Greenfield’s critiques of the subject. Other language that pops up among conservatives is “moral relativism”.

  8. “Nazism” is a type of tribalism. Their morality, like that of Islam, is dualistic: one set of rules for representatives of the “Volk” and another for everybody else. Those who are Aryan and subscribe to national socialism, may (according to their tribal theory) initiate force for the greater good of their group. Ideological Nazis fancied themselves pagan, with unique gods from nordic mythology.

    Contrast that with Judaism, with it’s one universal god; and 7 Noahide commandments, which apply to all humankind. Though the 613 mitzvot apply only to Jews.

    The universal aspects of Judaism can be extracted and further developed. The same for the reason-based aspects, which can be extracted and applied as humanism.

    Modern Europeans don’t tend to subscribe to either universalism (favoring instead multi-culturalism); or humanism (favoring instead a negative secularism that is strangely tolerant of Islam; while hyper-critical of Christianity, which has partially assimilated to western civilization).

    Humanism affirms the positive values and potential of humanity. The rules of morality, and it’s subset, justice, apply to all natural persons, in all places, and for all time. Humanism and universalism are not to blame for multi-culturalism or dualistic morality, but are their exact opposites.

      • Human rights apply to all natural persons, hence are universal. Recognition of rights can be consistently recognized, consistently violated, or some combination. These recognitions or violations can happen in the realm of ideas or the realm of phenomena.

        Daniel Greenfield seems to think that Jews can secure unique rights based on membership in the Jewish tribe, and conversely rights of Jews are in jeopardy when the same level of rights is applied to all. Yet this implicitly assumes that when the rights of all are equal, all will have their rights denied (as in Rosa’s Marxism).

        Assertion of historical uniquely Jewish tribal rights to the land of Israel is a slender reed upon which to base Jewish security.

        Other groups also have historical ties to the area. Hence this leads inevitably to a “two-state” solution, and toleration of terrorist bases of attack in Gaza and PA. Terrorist governments deny universal rights (hence should be destroyed), which is why they rely instead on tribal claims.

        A tribal view of rights also limits Jewish habitation to historical Israel, which explains why Begin gave up the Sinai, which gave strategic depth, natural resources, and many other benefits to Israel. A pro-liberty universalism provides justification for retention or reclamation of Sinai.

        When rights are not derived from universal humanism, and instead are based on unique ethnic or religious identify, that tends to lead to war between groups. Because when rights are not viewed as universal, they contradict each other.

        Conflict can also occur due to competing claims to universalism. This type of competition is contradictory, as there can’t be two universalisms. Due to limitations of human nature, we can only approximate natural law, by common law.

        This “law of nations” or ancient common law allows for competing local governments, each based on the customs and beliefs of people in a particular city and surrounding area. Those laws which all have in common, comprise the “Jus Gentium” and this approximates Jus Naturale.

        If we repudiate reason, and instead adopt faith in a systematic way, that leaves no rational basis for judging merits of competing religions. Because there is no absurdity which can’t be justified by an appeal to blind faith. Hence, faith-based systems devolve into moral relativism and multi-culturalism, due to logic applied to faulty premises.

        On Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 12:20 AM, Bucking the Trend … wrote:

        > ** > Maria commented: “amen” >

  9. Hitler was worshipped in Germany…he was NOT an aberation, but the fulfillment of the German dream…he was NOT the root cause of German Jew hatred, but merely it’s SYMPTOM !
    People like Luther and Nietzsche and Wagner had been his spiritual mentors…
    Those still highly respected MONSTERS and their fellow Germans paved the way for Hitlers “Final Solution”.
    EVERY year, Germanys political and cultural “elite” gathers to worship Hitlers mentor Wagner in Bayreuth…
    This has NOTHING to do with their love for Wagners kitsch music, but it stands for Germanys ONGOING love for Antisemitism…it’s their national obsession…

    IT’S STILL THERE…JUST BEYOND THE SURFACE…

    Watch Merkel to walk in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler…LITERALLY…than you may be able, to get a glimpse of Germanys “soul”…!

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