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.