Still quote of the moment, one more time: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

August 21, 2012

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 – Wikipedia

Some time this year school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it. I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough? Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions? Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start? For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller. The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up. The real story sheds light.

Resources:

Noted here in February 2011, and August 2011.

800px-Martin_Niemoeller


Mermelstein: The man who forced us to remember

August 20, 2012

I first posted a version of this back in August 2006.  Since that time not much showed up on the internet to commemorate the story of Mel Mermelstein, nor to burn his deeds into the history books.  Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub had many fewer readers each day, then too.  This is a story that should not be forgotten about a story that must not be forgotten.

Mel Mermelstein, photo from Auschwitz Study Foundation

Mel Mermelstein, photo from Auschwitz Study Foundation

In early August 1985, Melvin Mermelstein struck a powerful blow against bogus history and historical hoaxes. Mel won a decision in a California court, in a contract case.

A group of Holocaust deniers had offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could prove that the Holocaust actually happened. Mermelstein had watched his family marched to the gas chambers, and could testify. He offered his evidence. The Holocaust deniers, of course, had no intention of paying up. They dismissed any evidence offered as inadequate, and continued to claim no one could prove that the Holocaust actually occurred.

Mermelstein, however, was a businessman and he knew the law. He knew that the offer of the reward was a sweepstakes, a form of contract. He knew it was a contract enforceable in court.  He sued to collect the offered reward.  The reward was an offer, and Mel Mermelstein accepted the offer and, he said, he performed his part of the bargain. The issue in court would be, was Mermelstein’s evidence sufficient?

Mermelstein’s lawyer had a brilliant idea. He petitioned the court to take “judicial notice” of the fact of the Holocaust. Judicial note means that a fact is so well established that it doesn’t need to be evidenced when it is introduced in court — such as, 2+2=4, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 degrees Celsius, etc.

The court ruled that the evidence presented overwhelmingly established that the Holocaust had occurred — the court made judicial note of the Holocaust. That ruling meant that, by operation of law, Mermelstein won the case. The only thing for the judge to do beyond that was award the money, and expenses and damages.

You can read the case and other materials at the Nizkor Holocaust remembrance site.

Appalachian State University takes the Holocaust seriously — there is a program of study on the issue, reported by the Mountain Times (the school is in Boone, North Carolina — not sure where the newspaper is).

Teaching the Holocaust to Future Generations

Mountain Times, August 17, 2006

As co-directors of Appalachian State University’s Center for Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies, Rennie Brantz and Zohara Boyd are always eager to expand and improve the center’s methods of education. Seldom, though, does this involve airfare.

Brantz and Boyd recently visited Israel to participate in the Fifth International Conference for Education: Teaching the Holocaust to Future Generations. The four-day conference was held in late June at Yad Vashem, an institute and museum in Jerusalem that specializes in the Nazi Holocaust. [link added]

“Yad Vashem is an incredible institute,” Brantz said. “It was founded in the ’50s to remember and commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust, and has been the premier international research institute dealing with the Holocaust.”

As Santayana advises, we remember the past in order to prevent its recurring. Clearly, this is a past we need to work harder at remembering.

Despite having been ordered to acknowledge the Holocaust, pay up on their sweepstakes offer, and apologize to Mr. Mermelstein, Holocaust deniers continue to publish claims that Mr. Mermelstein’s account is not accurate, or that it is contradictory or in some other way fails to measure up to the most strict tests of historical accuracy.  So it is important that you remember the story of Mel Mermelstein, and that you spread it far and wide.

More:


Still quote of the moment: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

August 16, 2011

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

Some time this year school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it. I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough? Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions? Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start? For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller. The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up. The real story sheds light.

Resources:

Noted here last February.


August 4, 1944: Germans capture Anne Frank and her family

August 4, 2011

When I look at the time line, I feel frustrated and angry.

On August 4, 1944, the German Army in the Netherlands raided the warehouse where Anne Frank’s family hid from the Nazis since 1942.  As you know, Anne died in a concentration camp shortly after – only her father survived from her immediate family.

History students will recognize that this was nearly two months after D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy that set off the events leading to liberation of Europe from Nazi rule and the collapse of Hitler’s grand visions of conquest.  How could Nazi minions not know their time was limited, and oppression ultimately futile?

Germany surrendered in May 1945.  In nine months, the Frank family would not need to hide.  Anne died in March 1945, less than eight weeks before the surrender of Germany.

More:

Photos from the liberation of Amsterdam, which occurred on May 6, 1945:


One Boy Scout’s story: Kazimierz Piechowski, “I escaped from Auschwitz”

April 14, 2011

Good reading:  An article by Homa Kahleeli in The Guardian from Tuesday, April 12, 2011:

I escaped from Auschwitz

Kazimierz Piechowski is one of just 144 prisoners to have broken out of the notorious Nazi camp and survive. Today aged 91, he tells his extraordinary story

Kazimierz Piechowski, Boy Scout who escaped Auschwitz - Guardian photo

Guardian caption: "Kazimierz Piechowski in 2011. 'We just planned that I would play the role of an SS officer so well that the guards would believe me.' Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian"


Quote of the moment: Martin Niemöller, “. . . I did not speak out . . .”

February 26, 2010

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– Pastor Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemoller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

German theologian and Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller on a postage stamp, painted by Gerd Aretz in 1992 - Wikipedia

It’s spring, and school curricula turn to the Holocaust, in English, in world history, and in U.S. history.

Martin Niemöller’s poem registers powerfully for most people — often people do not remember exactly who said it.  I have seen it attributed to Deitrich Bonhoeffer (who worked with Niemöller in opposing some Nazi programs), Albert Einstein, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and an “anonymous inmate in a concentration camp.”

Niemöller and his actions generate controversy — did he ever act forcefully enough?  Did his actions atone for his earlier inactions?  Could anything ever atone for not having seen through Hitler and opposing Naziism from the start?  For those discussion reasons, I think it’s important to keep the poem attributed to Niemöller.  The facts of his life, his times, and his creation of this poem, go beyond anything anyone could make up.  The real story sheds light.

Resources:


Creationist: Murdering Jews may be preferable to lying to prevent the murder

November 14, 2009

I’m cutting the monster a lot of slack with the headline.

P. Z. Myers publicized the e-mail exchange involving Bodie Hodge, a minor deity at the anti-science, creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG).  Myers was nice to the guy, contrary to the usual creationist cartoon of Myers as somehow immoral for being a non-worshipper of gods.  Well, he was nicer than I would have been.  But Myers expects Christians to exhibit no sense of shame, no common sense, and twisted morality.  I expect bettter of them.

A reader posed that age-old question to Hodge:  Is the Christian rule against lying so strong that a Christian should tell Nazi troops where Jewish families are hiding?  Hodge weasels later by saying he hopes he never has to make such a choice, and that he really doesn’t know how he’d act in that situation.  But this comes only after he says that telling  a lie to Nazis to save Jews will get one burned in hell.  And then he goes on to note it’s better to be in good with God than to act morally.

In other words, better to become an accomplice in the murder of Jews than to stand up against murderers.

I don’t get how these charlatans of religion, reason to such a point.

What would Jesus do?  We know.  When the crowd was threatening to stone to death a woman guilty of adultery and she sought refuge with Jesus, Jesus stood up to the mob and saved her life.  Just execution of Biblical law or shelter the accused, Jesus stood against the murder, even murder sanctioned by the religious rules of the community.

We also know that scripture endorses deception from time to time.  You know these AiG clowns are charlatans when they say stupid stuff like this.  Hodge tries to explain away another case of deception by inventing a scenario not found in scripture in which the lie doesn’t get told.

He’s forgotten the story of Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob and his mother conpsired to deceive Isaac in order to steal away Esau’s birthright (Esau and Jacob were twins, by the way).  Jacob got away with the deed, was then blessed by God.  He took a new name:  Israel.  He lived on to be the seed of Judaism, the religion Jesus followed and the foundation of Christianity.

To AiG, it appears that scripture is just a dusty old book, except when they can twist it to support their bigotry.  Here’s irony for you:  The story of Jacob is in Genesis.  You know, as in “Answers in Genesis.”  They don’t even know their own namesake book!

Here in America, as a nation we overcame that morality-or-religion problem with Huck Finn.  The ill-educated young teen, an absentee to grammar, faces the moral decision as he floats down the Mississippi with Jim, an escaped slave who has saved Huck’s life and is in other ways a very good friend.  Huck notes that the preachers are all agreed that Huck’s moral duty is to turn Jim in as an escaped slave, to condemn Jim to a continued life of slavery, should Jim survive the lashing.  Huck Finn puts the dilemma squarely:  Whether to obey God and turn in Jim to the authorities, or to burn in hell and let Jim live the life of a free man.  Huck agonizes, but decides:  He’ll burn in hell rather than give away his friend.

Myers wrote:

As a non-Bible believing amoral godless atheist, my first thought was that this is trivial: you lie your pants off. The ‘crime’ of telling a lie pales into insignificance against the crime of enabling the death of fellow human beings.

According to Bodie Hodge of AiG, though, I’m wrong. The good Christian should reject lies, Satan’s tools, in all circumstances, and should immediately ‘fess up the location of the Jews. He backs it up with Bible quotes, too.

If we love God, we should obey Him (John 14:15). To love God first means to obey Him first–before looking at our neighbor. So, is the greater good trusting God when He says not to lie or trusting in our fallible, sinful minds about the uncertain future?

Consider this carefully. In the situation of a Nazi beating on the door, we have assumed a lie would save a life, but really we don’t know. So, one would be opting to lie and disobey God without the certainty of saving a life–keeping in mind that all are ultimately condemned to die physically. Besides, whether one lied or not may not have stopped the Nazi solders from searching the house anyway.

As Christians, we need to keep in mind that Jesus Christ reigns. All authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18), and He sits on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 8:1). Nothing can happen without His say. Even Satan could not touch Peter without Christ’s approval (Luke 22:31). Regardless, if one were to lie or not, Jesus Christ is in control of timing every person’s life and able to discern our motives. It is not for us to worry over what might become, but rather to place our faith and obedience in Christ and to let Him do the reigning. For we do not know the future, whereas God has been telling the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

Gosh. I never thought of it that way. So…all those Christians who sheltered Jews during WWII are actually burning in hell right now for their sinful wickedness? That is so counterintuitive, it must be true!

One more time we should side with morality, and against creationist distortions of Christianity and morality.

With all the learning they get at that reeking cesspool the creationism museum, you’d think they could demonstrate the moral fiber of a tobacco-chewing, food-stealing, school-cutting runaway teen, Huckleberry Finn.

Full AiG post below the fold (I expect them to strike it down when they rethink; let all Christians pray to God they do rethink).

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The Wrong Stuff, on purpose: Weikart misquotes Darwin

May 10, 2008

Richard Weikart is an arm of the Discovery Institute’s disinformation brigade. A couple of years ago he published a book attempting to link Darwin to the Holocaust in a blame-sharing arrangement. This book and some of its arguments appear to be the foundation of the text used to write the script for the mockumentary movie “Expelled!” featuring Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein.

Which is to say, the basis for the movie is dubious. Weikart’s scholarship creating links between Darwin, science and Hitler is quite creative. It is also based on arguments created from Darwin’s writings that mislead the innocent about evolution, science and history, or which get Darwin and evolution exactly wrong.

Michael Ruse published an op-ed in a Florida paper in February — a piece which is no longer available there (anybody got a copy? Nebraska Citizens for Science preserved a copy) — and Weikart responded, restating his creative claims. Alas for the truth, Weikart’s canards are still available at the Discovery Institute website, putting an interesting twist on Twain’s old line: The truth will go to bed at night while a falsehood will travel twice around the world as the truth kicks off its slippers.

Looking for Ruse’s piece, I found Weikart’s response here and here. I composed a quick response pointing out the problems, which I would like to posit here for the record — partly because I doubt Darwiniana gets much traffic, partly because the censor-happy folks at Discovery Institute don’t allow free discussion at their site, and partly so I can control it to make sure it’s not butchered as Weikart butchers Darwin’s text.

At Darwiniana I said:

Weikart’s strip quoting of Darwin is most disappointing. [Weikart wrote:]

Darwin claimed in chapter two of The Descent of Man that there were great differences in moral disposition and intellect between the “highest races” and the “lowest savages.” Later in Descent he declared, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.” Racial inegalitarianism was built into Darwin’s analysis from the start.

Darwin argued the differences in intellect and manners between the “highest” of men and the “lowest” of men did NOT change the fact that we are are all related — legally, Darwin’s argument would evidence a claim absolutely the opposite of what Weikart claims. Here are Darwin’s words from Chapter II of Descent of Man, as Darwin wrote them, without Weikart’s creative editing:

Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian, such as the man described by the old navigator Byron, who dashed his child on the rocks for dropping a basket of sea-urchins, and a Howard or Clarkson; and in intellect, between a savage who uses hardly any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakespeare. Differences of this kind between the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages, are connected by the finest gradations. Therefore it is possible that they might pass and be developed into each other. [emphasis added]

That’s not inegalitarianism at all — Darwin’s saying they are the same species, related closer than the poets allow. If we stick to the evidence, and [do] not wander off into poetic philosophy, we must acknowledge that Darwin’s own egalitarian spirit shows here in the science, too. It would be an odd kettle of fish indeed that a crabby guy like Hitler, who shared the antiscience bias of Weikart’s organization, would suddenly accept the science of a hated Englishman that ran contrary to his other philosophies. Who makes the error here, Hitler or Weikart? If they both think Darwin endorsed racism, they both do — but there is not an iota of evidence that Hitler based his patent racism on science, let alone the science of an Englishman.

As to the second quote, Weikart leaves the context out, and the context is everything. Darwin is not arguing that “savages” (the 19th century word for “aboriginals”) were less human, nor that they are a different species. He was arguing that in some future time there would appear creationists like Dr. Weikart’s colleagues at the Discovery Institute who will deny evolution because, once Europeans and others with guns conduct an unholy genocide (which Darwin writes against in the next chapter), and once humans wipe out chimpanzees, orangs and gorillas, the other great apes, the creationists can [then] dishonestly look around, blink their eyes and say, “Where are the links? There cannot be evolution between (Animal X) and humans!”

Darwin wrote:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. ‘Anthropological Review,’ April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, [emphasis added] and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

In the end, Darwin wrote against genocide, against racism, and in favor of the higher thinking abilities of all dark-skinned people. He wrote in favor of Christian morality. Darwin himself remained a faithful, tithing Christian to the end of his life.

Such a man, and such amazing science, deserve accurate history, not the fantastic, cowardly and scurrilous inventions Dr. Weikart has given them. We should rise to be “man in a more civilized state” as Darwin had hoped.

Update, July 24, 2008, nota bene:  To anyone venturing here from the Blogcatalog discussion on intelligent design: Get over to the site of Donald Johanson’s Institute for Human Origins, and especially look at the presentation “On Becoming Human.”  Also check out the Evolution Gateway site at Berkeley, especially this page which explains what evolution is, and this page which offers some introduction for what the evidence for evolution really is.  One quick answer to a question someone asked there:  Between H. erectus and modern humans, H. sapiens, in the time sequence we have fossils of H. heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis.  It’s pretty clear that Neandertal is not ancestral to modern humans, but instead lived alongside modern humans for 50,000 years or so from the Middle East through Southern Europe.  To the question of actual transitional fossils, you’d need to hit the paleontology journals — there are a lot.  You may also benefit from taking a look at the articles at this special Nature site.


Call for help: Real story behind the Holocaust?

May 4, 2008

Historians, help me out here. I’ve recently become aware that many creationists have swallowed as accurate Richard Weikart’s book making Darwin complicit in the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.

I have always dismissed Weikart. His claims fly in the face of history recorded by too many reputable and trustworthy hands. Others aren’t concerned with what history really shows, or are simply ignorant of history (candidates for Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segment). I am working to assemble what I hope will be a short piece showing the error of Weikart’s claims.

It seems to me there are many holes in the history case Weikart tries to make. And the history case needs to be nailed down, accurately.

Scientists already have responded. The American Academy for the Advancement of Science complains that the scientific inaccuracies in the film muddy the waters between science and religion unfairly and unnecessarily (see video here). The Jewish Anti-Defamation League has complained about the unholy Holocaust claims. Movie reviewers have not been kind to the film, with reviews like the New York Times:

One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” is a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry.

Still there are creationists, and other people of faith out there, who grant credence to Weikart’s claims. So we need a clear rebuttal to Weikart’s claims, from the history viewpoint.

The National Center for Science Education has a brief that touches on these arguments; what other sources do you recommend on these specific claims listed below?

Weikart makes six claims (I’ve borrowed here from an article he wrote for American Spectator):

1. Darwin argued that humans were not qualitatively different from animals. The leading Darwinist in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, attacked the “anthropocentric” view that humans are unique and special.

That seems directly contrary to the view of Darwin presented in the better biographies. I don’t recall Darwin ever arguing this point at all. Is Weikart imagining this?

2. Darwin denied that humans had an immaterial soul. He and other Darwinists believed that all aspects of the human psyche, including reason, morality, aesthetics, and even religion, originated through completely natural processes.

Darwin never denied the existence of human souls. While Darwin made rather brilliant arguments for how morality could arise through evolution, going so far as to say that morality is necessary for the survival of a social species such as humans, at no point in his arguing for the natural processes does he deny or disavow the supernatural. Descent of Man will offer Darwin’s work on the rise of morals and art — what other sources would you recommend?

3. Darwin and other Darwinists recognized that if morality was the product of mindless evolution, then there is no objective, fixed morality and thus no objective human rights. Darwin stated in his Autobiography that one “can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.”

Notes from Evil Bender, Creationist quotemining of Darwin: moral relativism edition, has already called out the gross error in Weikart’s claim here — this is quite contrary to what Darwin actually argued and said. But again, there should be a few other sources to rebut Weikart’s claim. Which do you recommend?

4. Since evolution requires variation, Darwin and other early Darwinists believed in human inequality. Haeckel emphasized inequality to such as extent that he even classified human races as twelve distinct species and claimed that the lowest humans were closer to primates than to the highest humans.

Actually, Darwin was a potent advocate of legal equality, for example in his advocacy and support for ending slavery. Weikart’s claim here completely steps away from reality. I admit to not being overly familiar with Haeckel’s work, partly because Haeckel doesn’t represent Darwin, partly because I have just never found the guy’s work particularly interesting or useful. What sources and arguments do you recommend here?

5. Darwin and most Darwinists believe that humans are locked in an ineluctable struggle for existence. Darwin claimed in The Descent of Man that because of this struggle, “[a]t some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.”

That’s a complete distortion of what Darwin wrote, of course — the NCSE site has a short rebuttal. Darwin was writing of the clash between colonists and natives, largely between Europeans and aboriginals, or between Europeans with guns and aboriginals without them. Key case in point: The Tasmanian “Wars,” which led to the almost complete extinction of native Tasmanians, a sad circumstance Darwin saw on his voyage. Got other sources you recommend?

6. Darwinism overturned the Judeo-Christian view of death as an enemy, construing it instead as a beneficial engine of progress. Darwin remarked in The Origin of Species, “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.”

This claim is so full of hooey I’m not sure where to start. What do you think? Can you imagine how quickly Darwin would have gotten his shotgun out for some fool who suggests, like Weikart does here, that Darwin was not grieved by the death of Annie? Are you outraged at the butchering of the last paragraph from Origin of Species?

There are a lot of Christians who should know better who have been misled by this claptrap. Will you help me make a brief against Weikart’s claims?

Comments are open. Please chime in.


Dangers of creationism: Synapse shutdown

May 3, 2008

One of the ultimate defenses of creationism, once you’ve demonstrated that there is no science and no good theology in it, is the creationist claim “it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Well, yes, it does. Over the years I’ve noticed that creationism appears to suck the intelligence right out of otherwise smart or educated people. I also note that it tends to make otherwise good and honest people defend academic debauchery and dishonesty.

It’s as if claiming to be creationist hogs all the available RAM in their brains and forces a near-total synapse shutdown.

Cases in point: Creationists are scrambling to the defense of the mockumentary movie “Expelled!” in which Ben Stein trots out almost every creationist canard known to Hollywood in defending some of the greater misdeeds of the intelligent design hoaxers. Otherwise sane, good people, claiming to be Christian, make atrocious defenses of the movie.

I cannot make this up: Go see Mere Orthodoxy and Thinking Christian. Bad enough they defend the movie — but to defend it because, they claim, Darwin and Hitler were brothers in thought? Because evolution urges immoral behavior? I stepped in something over at Thinking Christian, and when I called it to the attention of Tom Gilson in the comments, he deleted the comment. (I’ve reposted, but I wager he’ll delete that one, too, while letting other comments of mine stand; he’s got no answer to any of my complaints.)

The stupid goes past 11, proudly, defiantly. The Constitution specifically protects the right of people to believe any fool claptrap they choose. These defenses of a silly movie come awfully close to abuse of the privilege.

Other useful things:

Update: Holy mother of ostriches! Tom Gilson at “Thinking Christian” has a nifty device that bans people from viewing his blog. Paranoia sticks its head into a whole new depth of sand!  Here’s a truism:  Creationists who like to claim Darwin was the cause of Stalin and Hitler, which is by itself an extremely insulting and repugnant claim, almost never fail to resort to Stalinist and Hitlerian tactics when their claims are questioned.  Call it Darrell’s Law of Evolution History Revisionism.


Coda on the Oxford Union debate fiasco

December 2, 2007

 

Alun Salt correctly pins the difficulty of dealing with stupidly planned debates, those that give credence to the uncredible merely by allowing them to appear — in this case, in regard to the Oxford Union’s ill-thought notion to invite neo-fascists and Holocaust deniers in to discuss “freedom of speech.”

This is exactly the same issue that arises when the tinfoil hats group asks a distinguished scientist to “debate” a creationist, or when someone demands a forum for David Barton to discuss the Christian nature of the design of U.S. government.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press include the freedom to be stupid, and the freedom to believe stupid and false things. Our First Amendment does not create a privilege to waste the time of other people who do not share such beliefs.

I wish Mr. Salt had the answer we need in Texas: What do you do when the tinfoil hats people take over the Texas State Board of Education and demand that religious superstition replace science in the science classes?


Why give Holocaust denial a platform?

November 25, 2007

lipstadt-deborah-emory-u.png

Deborah Lipstadt asks the key question at her blog: Why should any honorable, noble agency give a platform to people who don’t respect the facts and who have a track record of distorting history?

The distinguished debating group, the Oxford Union, has invited history distorter David Irving to speak. He was invited to speak with representatives of the British National Party (BNP), a group not known for tolerance on racial and immigration issues. While there is value to getting a range of views on any issue, Prof. Lipstadt and many others among us think that inviting a known distorter to speak is practicing open-mindedness past the point of letting one’s brains fall out (what is the difference between “open mind” and “hole in the head?”).

You know this story and these characters, right, teachers of history? You should, since these people play important roles in the modern art of history, and in the discussion over what we know, and how we know it. These are issues of “what is truth,” that your students badger you about (rightfully, perhaps righteously).

American teachers of history need to be particularly alert to these issues, since Holocaust deniers have been so successful at placing their material on the internet in a fashion that makes it pop up early in any search on the Holocaust. Most searches on “Holocaust” will produce a majority of sites from Holocaust deniers. It is easy for unwary students to be led astray, into paths of racist harangues well-disguised as “fairness in history and speech.”

Prof. Lipstadt practices history at Emory University in Atlanta, where she is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies. She chronicled much of the modern assault on history in her book, Denying the Holocaust, The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1994). In that book, she documented the work of British historian David Irving, much of which consists of questionable denial of events in the Holocaust.

Cover of Lipstadt's book, Denying the Holocaust

Irving sued her for libel in Britain in 2000, where it is not enough to establish the truth of the matter to mount a defense. In a stunning and welcomed rebuke to Holocaust denial and deniers, the judge ruled in her favor, and documented Irving’s distortions in his 350-page opinion.

While his claims are legal in England, in several places in Europe his denial of Holocaust events is not protected as free speech. Traveling in Austria in 2005, he was arrested and imprisoned for an earlier conviction under a law that makes it a crime to deny the events. Prof. Lipstadt opposed the Austrian court’s decision: “I am uncomfortable with imprisoning people for speech. Let him go and let him fade from everyone’s radar screens.”

The drama plays out again. Serious questioning of what happened is the front line of history. Denying what happened, however, wastes time and misleads honest citizens and even serious students, sometimes with bad effect. Santayana’s warning about not knowing history assumes that we learn accurate history, not a parody of it.

This event will raise false questions about censorship of Holocaust deniers, and the discussion is likely to confuse a lot of people, including your students. U.S. history courses in high school probably will not get to the Holocaust until next semester. This issue, now, is an opportunity for teachers to collect news stories that illuminate the practice of history for students. At least, we hope to illuminate, rather than snuff out the candles of knowledge.

Resources:


National embarrassment, national tragedy

April 17, 2007

Celebrate the hero, please.

He survived the Holocaust, arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp to die — he survived, instead. He survived the Communists, refusing to bow to demands he join the Communist party in post-war Romania; though a good engineer, his career was short-circuited by his stand on principle. He finally escaped Romania in 1978, emigrated to Israel, and then took a sabbatical to teach engineering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. And he stayed on.

Yesterday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Liviu Librescu used his own body to jam the doors into his classroom, yelled at his students to leave through the windows, and gave up his life to a depressed kid bent on murder. Prof. Librescu was 76 years old. He was the oldest victim, and a hero.

Survived the Nazis, survived the communists. Died to the excesses of the Second Amendment and a culture that seems to create enough disturbed people to make mass murder a serious problem, not a rare event. Librescu was already a hero. It’s embarrassing he had to rise to heroic actions to protect his students. It’s embarrassing to us that he died the victim of an act of senseless violence.

It’s a national embarrassment. Survived the Nazis. Survived the communists. Killed by an out-of-control student with a gun in the U.S.

It’s a national embarrassment. What are we going to do about it?


Time to stand up for religious freedom: Lay off of Rep. Ellison

December 23, 2006

It was just sad when Dennis Prager prostituted U.S. history to rant at Minnesota’s U.S. Representative-elect Keith Ellison, for Ellison’s having said he’d use his faith’s scriptures for a staged photograph commemorating his being sworn in as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ignorance can be so ugly.

It was jarring when so many others demonstrated their ignorance of the First Amendment and Constitutional history by repeating Prager’s concerns. Ignorance is contagious.

It was tragic when a few people, after having had a chance to repent of their ignorance, then mounted an assault on the Constitution by continuing to demand something was wrong with the situation, even calling for Ellison to give up his faith for the ceremony. Ignorance can be cured, why would anyone reject the cure?

It’s time to stop piling stupidity on stupidity: Rep. Virgil Goode (ironically named, no doubt), a Republican representing much of southern Virginia in the U.S. House (5th District) took aim at Ellison’s election itself, calling for “immigration reform” to prevent a Muslim takeover of Congress.

Goode’s comments are insensitive, xenophobic, insulting, demonstrative of ignorance, and just wrong on so many counts it is hard to determine which rebuttal is more important. So, random rebuttals follow. [I've come back to this four times today. It makes me amazingly angry, and I have to take a break.] Read the rest of this entry »


David Irving out of jail – no longer denies Holocaust

December 21, 2006

Former historian David Irving was released from jail in Austria early, on December 21. Irving claims that he no longer denies the Holocaust.

Former historian David Irving, in handcuffs, released from Austrian jail.  Reuters photoDetails are in the Daily Telegraph from England.

In several European nations, including Austria, denial of the Holocaust not only is historical error, it’s also against criminal law.

He was arrested in November 2005 on charges related to two speeches and a newspaper interview he gave in Austria in 1989 in which he called the gas chambers a “fairy tale” and claimed that Hitler had no role in the Holocaust, even “offering his hand to protect the Jews”.

The charges covered statements he had made, such as questioning the accepted version of the Holocaust. He argued that “millions of people were led to believe” an “absolute absurdity”. A jury found him guilty of denying the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes.

Irving had appealed his 3-year sentence as too long. He serves the rest on probation.

Irving earlier sued U.S. historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel, in London, after she had called him a Holocaust denier. In a long and famous trial, she was found not to have libeled Irving, though under British law, truth is not a defense as it is in the U.S.

While it offends my First Amendment sensibilities to criminalize the making of such claims, one wonders about the intelligence or goals of people who deny the Holocaust.

Under California law, judicial note has been taken that the Holocaust occurred. It is a fact of history. U.S. law allows more robust, and offensive, discussion of the topic.

But in the end, the Holocaust is a fact. It’s an ugly, brutal and regrettable fact. Denying it occurred at all, or to the scope and degree it occurred, is only an odd form of denial of reality.

Read the rest of this entry »


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