In Holocaust Education, Re-Emphasize Allied Apathy

When teaching children about racism and genocide, educators often focus on individual biases as the source of systematic racism and anti-Semitism.  For example, at my synagogue, teachers often ask their students to put themselves in the shoes of Christian German civilians during the Holocaust and consider whether they, as non-Jews, would have simply shrugged off anti-Semitic slurs and the sight of innocent people in yarmulkes being attacked by policemen.  Questions like this spark a discussion of bullying and anti-bullying in American schools today.  In the process, “racism” becomes a dysfunctional interpersonal phenomenon, and the Holocaust, as a result, becomes a simple amalgamation of millions of acts by individual racists who allowed their prejudices to get out of hand.  By the end of a course on the subject, many students assume that the only way to save Hitler’s victims would have been to speak out against incidental anti-Semitism before it escalated into genocide.  As the Anti-Defamation League notes, “challenging belittling jokes” and not “accepting stereotypes” are good ways to prevent a society from escalating into acts of prejudice, discrimination, violence, and then genocide.

Combatting individual prejudices certainly can help stop mass atrocities, but, in an educational context, this truism is incomplete because it ignores the systematic mobilization of hatred and violence by governmental authority.  Even though many German schoolchildren were too reticent in the face of schoolyard anti-Semitism and could have spoken up, we must not overstate the practical impact that several more German dissidents could have had once the genocide was actually underway, nor should we pretend that the world was helpless to stop the Holocaust once Germans’ prejudices had spiraled so murderously out of control.

In our case, American students today must know that our government, even without changing the hearts of individual anti-Semitic Germans, could have saved many more of Hitler’s victims and that fighting prejudice, though immeasurably valuable, would not have been enough to compensate for the Allies’ failure to intervene on the victims’ behalf.

The US government’s shameful policy of proroguing on the Holocaust was underway by December of 1942 when President Roosevelt met with a Jewish delegation imploring him to stop the genocide. Although Roosevelt intimated at the meeting that his administration “shall do all in our power to be of service to your people in this tragic moment,” the proceeding few months panned out much differently.

In February of 1943, the Rumanian government suggested that it would transport 70,000 Jews into Allied territory in exchange for roughly 130 dollars per refugee. Though such a proposal probably would have required further examination and negotiation, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles simply dismissed it out of hand, lambasting it as a hoax of “the German propaganda machine” to “create confusion and doubt within the United Nations.” The Nuremberg trials elucidated, however, that the offer was sincere and that, with only a little bit of extra research, the State Department would have known to capitalize on the offer.

With that in mind, perhaps we should be asking students what their forbears in the United States could have done to pressure their government to act on the Rumanian proposal.  When organizations pushing the United States to accept Rumania’s offer were denigrated as inflammatory and overdramatic, how could our forbears have normalized the struggle for genocide victims and defended the efforts of those who were advocating positive action?

It is no exaggeration to say that the Allies’ “efforts” at saving Hitler’s victims were laced with unconcern and faux-outrage at most key turns thereafter.  To the world, our leaders were “devastated” by what was happening to European Jewry, but, in private, they were much more insouciant about the matter. In fact, to absolutely no objection, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden once said outright in a 1943 meeting with President Roosevelt that “we should move very cautiously about offering to take all Jews out of a country like Bulgaria.  If we do that, then the Jews of the world will be wanting us to make similar offers in Poland and Germany.”  When Eden expressed concern that “Hitler might take us up on any such offer” and that the Allied Powers would have to find new homes for Jewish refugees, he was greeted with nonchalance and tacit agreement.

Today, students of the Holocaust or any other systemic atrocity should not ask themselves only how more people could have acted individually to condemn incidental bigotry, as important as that question is; they should ask how thousands upon thousands of people could have acted in tandem to pressure their governments to save thousands upon thousands of victims.  We should remember that the Holocaust was not only an exercise of individual prejudice but also an exercise of systemic governmental apathy and an exhibition of societies’ unfortunate tendency to shrug their proverbial shoulders amidst large-scale suffering.

 

Neoconservatives Use Moral Relativism to Blame Progressives for Genital Mutilation

This article was originally published for Foreign Policy in Focus and at tommyraskin.org.  

The neoconservative camp, always eager to wrestle with imaginary positions of their opponents, is now bravely challenging another belief that no one holds, which is that “all cultures are equal.” George Mason University Professor Walter Williams has jumped aboard the “Western values are superior to all others” bandwagon and asks, “Is forcible female genital mutilation, as practiced in nearly 30 sub-Saharan Africa and Middle Eastern countries, a morally equivalent cultural value?” The neoconservative Clarion Project’s Douglas Murray takes the campaign directly to progressives by asking, “How many young girls’ clitorises had to bemutilated while they busily curated their left-wing credentials?”

This arrogant cultural trope is nothing new. The neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay have promoted the “inequality of cultures” idea throughout the War on Terror to justify militarism, invasion, torture, and systematic violation of international law. Sliding from “culture” to politics to statecraft, their ideological conceit is that “we,” the West, have an enduring tradition of protecting women, while “they,” the Middle Easterners, are so barbaric that they cut the clitorises off of women, and therefore our “culture” should govern their “culture.” But their sudden passion for Middle Eastern women’s rights—indeed, any women’s rights—must be taken with a shaker of salt.

Obviously, not all cultural values are equal in a moral sense. For example, a political culture of militarism and war, the kind that produced hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Iraq War, is inferior to a culture that prefers non-violence, diplomacy and peace, the kind that you might find in, say, Canada. Furthermore, where it occurs, in both Islamic and non-Islamic communities, female genital mutilation is indeed barbaric, savage, and backward and should be condemned as such.

But neoconservative fake-feminists only play the “pro-woman” game when it comes time to bash fanatical Islamists who happen not to be on our side in whatever war the neoconservatives are pushing. Thus, when our side made deals with Afghan tribal warlords who were none-averse to female genital mutilation, the neoconservatives fell silent, for their militarist “realism” always prevails over their rhetorical feminism.

Moreover, the neoconservatives are distinctly anti-woman when it comes time to allow grassroots democracy to flourish in the Mideast. I’ll show you what I mean.

They argue that “they,” the Middle Easterners, mutilate girls’ genitals and that “we,” the Westerners, don’t. What inanity. The West’s insipid, criminal Iraq War mutilated the genitals— not to mention the faces, necks, arms, and legs— of thousands of Iraqi women and girls, all after years of sanctions that killed thousands of Iraqi girls every month. Some may insist that these were necessary means to a righteous, democratic end, but the only meaningful “ends” thus far produced by the Western aggression in Iraq have been unyielding sectarian violence, car bombings and refugee camps. Please forgive me for not jumping up to high-five the feminist “liberators” who created this violent mess.

Ever since the Iranian Revolution, and especially since the induction of pre-Iran War hysteria, neoconservatives have also been fond of bashing Twelver Shiite misogyny as a decidedly backward, anti-Western phenomenon. Yet their beloved CIA, a beacon of Western “democracy building,” helped oust the democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 and enthrone the Shah, a far-from-enlightened dictator whose secret police force, the SAVAK, “tortured and murdered thousands” of political dissidents. Where were their sympathies for brutalized, displaced, and widowed Iranian women when that was happening?

Oh, and while they do the newly fashionable thing of bashing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s very real chauvinism, it might be worth mentioning that the West has been siding with anti-female Egyptian tyranny ever since 1919 when, amid an anti-colonial struggle which eventually killed 800 Egyptians, Woodrow Wilson backed the British rule in Egypt even as native women “testified that British troops ‘leveled their weapons at us’” and violently suppressed the protests. Fast-forward to less than a decade ago when the United States decided to purchase Egyptian “stability” by propping up Hosni Mubarak’s government during its “systematic arrestand harassment of peaceful political activists” and “lethal” crackdown on both male and female asylum seekers. As we see, the long-standing tradition of Western devotion to democracy and feminism isn’t so pure.

Yes, we should condemn FGM and misogyny whenever it occurs at anyone’s hands in any culture. That’s not the dispute here. The dispute is whether or not the military interventions championed by the neoconservatives have proven more conducive to women’s empowerment than feminist and human rights struggles. Though it may be noise to pseudo-feminist militarists’ ears, the answer, resoundingly, is no.

The Myth of the Able-Bodied Man as Man

This article was originally published at goodmenproject.com and tommyraskin.org.

We need to fix the game of manhood.

Our society’s exclusive image of the ‘real man’ leaves us with a disgruntled majority of boys who view the coveted prizes of masculinity as out of reach. Although most boys are bound to feel painfully inferior at one point or another, our game is particularly skewed against certain boys, like those with physical, developmental, and mental disabilities.

Young disabled men often begin to feel distanced from manhood when the social emphasis on gender kicks in during adolescence. Boys are frequently taught that athleticism belongs to the able-bodied and that sexual attractiveness, portrayed in everything from clothing catalogues to violent, misogynistic pornography, too belongs to aggressive, physically dominant, able-bodied men. “Charm” also tends to follow able-bodied guys without psychological abnormalities, those whose looks, interests and proclivities are considered “normal.”

And we double down on this arrangement, first, by blindly prizing assimilation, and then “integration,” as the antidotes to disabled boys’ hardships. Even when our boys don’t like sports and suck at them, we urge them to go out for the baseball team. We tell them to change their cinematic, musical, and literary interests simply to fit in.  When that doesn’t work, educators try forcing friendships between able-bodied and disabled students, which ultimately doesn’t work either.

That’s only half of our failed approach though. Without offering our boys long-term opportunities to cultivate the interests and talents that can give them real self-confidence as young men, we simply send them off to counselors and therapists to be told that they “don’t have to be like other boys.” It’s a valuable message but an incomplete one nonetheless.

For years, as both a student and co-teacher, I cringed at many disabled (and otherwise excluded) boys’ affected efforts to fit in socially. Indignant about their inability to measure up to their ingrained conceptions of manhood, these boys would, for example, act like chauvinistic players. On one occasion, a camp friend of mine put on his ‘man face’ and broadcasted to a large group of guys that he likes to “use and lose” women, even though, in reality, he had never kissed a girl. Clearly, after numerous rejections, he was searing with resentment and, in a last-ditch effort to prove his manliness to himself and other boys, veiled his insecurity with ugly chauvinism.

Such affectations of masculinity were not always girl-oriented though. I remember one of my middle school students, a so-called “nerd” with a developmental disability, striking up a conversation about the NFL with some peers during recess. After five minutes, the other boys laughed him off when it became clear that this young man had no idea what he was discussing.

Alas, when other outcast boys pulled this kind of stunt, by acting up in class or pretending to love typical ‘boy things,’ they were usually called out for “trying too hard” or “being annoying.” Sometimes, their parents—usually their fathers—would push them to participate in stereotypical “male” activities, like videogames and roughhousing. But no matter how persistently these boys tried to be “real” guys, they usually couldn’t rid themselves of that fundamental differentness, that less-than-boyishness, that disabled-ness in the eyes of the boys who they were trying to impress.

Conscientious teachers would pick up on this social ostracism and, with the best of intentions, try to integrate ostracized students into groups of able-bodied, gleeful, popular kids. They would concoct project workgroups and assign class seats with the obvious purpose of bringing together students from different social circles. In grade school, they would encourage popular kids to hang out with unpopular kids during recess. Content with simply having done something, the teachers would then wash their hands of this unsettling business and declare: “Job well done!”

Sadly, they missed the mark entirely.

John Calmore’s critical understanding of racially integrative housing reforms in recent decades provides the necessary framework for understanding ability-based integration in school: “the ‘integration imperative’ legitimates the emphasis on desegregation rather than on simple nonsegregation and free choice as to where to live,” and, in this case, where and with whom to play and study. As a co-teacher, I wanted students of all abilities to be in the same classes, but I didn’t think that kids of different social groups should be forced to sit near each other, work together or play together, especially when these integrative arrangements left disabled students feeling even more isolated than before.

When teachers entirely re-configured classes in this way, disabled students were often separated from the couple friends they had and were forced to work with peers who detested these teacher-imposed social structures as much as they did. Usually, the less popular students were less confident, and their dissatisfaction was only made worse when they were forced into intimate situations with other students who seemed unenthusiastic about working with them. As a result, students in different social circles constantly complained that yearlong workgroups took them away from their friends.

At the end of it all, many disabled boys were, and still are, directed to a counselor or teacher to talk through their social difficulties. Having that adult backup is certainly helpful, but it isn’t enough for most boys. Right after putting them in social situations in which they are forced to worry about what others think of them, we, in a bizarre reversal of course, tell our boys with physical and psychological abnormalities that they actually shouldn’t worry about what others think of them, that the kids who don’t give them the time of day “aren’t worth it anyway,” and that if they simply maintain a positive attitude, everything will be OK.

Unfortunately, after all of the mixed messages, feel-good therapy sessions and naive integrative measures, many boys with disabilities aren’t OK. In fact, a lot of them are hurting pretty badly. The physically disabled are often troubled by the fear of their physical limitations in an able-bodied society, children with learning disabilities are still “more likely to have negative perceptions of the self, their environment and the future,” young men with intellectual disabilities are at an increased risk of depression, and children with severe disabilities are prone to display “irritability, anger or screaming, self-injurious and aggressive behavior.”

Young men with disabilities neither are nor should be convinced that they can be happy without social lives and fulfilling hobbies. I have found that if there is anything in the flawed model of masculinity that we ought to keep—and are anyway forced to keep—it’s the natural human longing for confidence, love, and enjoyable work (as Freud taught us). Guys don’t need to play COD, hang out with the cool kids, look like movie stars, have vision, be neurotypical, or be able to walk in order to be “real men,” but we all need passions, for passions give us the productive energies that make us attractive to ourselves and others.

Our emphasis, then, has to move away from the broken assimilation-integration paradigm. No boy has actually ever boosted his self-esteem by taking on false interests and false credentials in order to fit the “man” mold, and the top-down friendship model has rarely worked. If we are serious about giving disabled students equally gratifying social lives, then we should stop forcing them into uncomfortable situations and instead focus on giving them opportunities to self-actualize among those with similar interests.

Educators can spur this process by establishing in-school outlets for isolated children to pursue their goals. For example, when a teacher discovers that a shy, excluded student is a budding musician, the teacher should give him music-oriented assignments that can help cultivate his abilities. If no such opportunity exists in the classroom, the teacher should refer him to an extracurricular musical band. Ideally, the boy would eventually gain enough confidence to present his work to the class and discuss it with his peers openly and confidently.  The social integration would thus come after the boy has achieved the self-esteem associated with meeting a personal goal.

Guardians should also resist the temptation to force their boys to participate in activities simply because the activities are typically male. Eventually, the dissonance between the boys’ true interests and his parents’ interests will surface, and the boys will only be further destabilized. Guardians, like teachers, should instead encourage boys to pursue their true passions.

As for the rest of us, let’s remember that a man need not look or think a certain way to retain his masculinity, that if he finds purpose and esteem in a less-than-expected lifestyle for a guy in the 21st century, he nonetheless deserves our support and validation as an ever-elusive ‘real man.’

The Creation of ‘Black Crime’

This article was originally posted at goodmenproject.com and tommyraskin.org.

The laziest pundits in this country would have us believe that there are two types of crime: crime and black crime. Odious media outlets’ coverage of the recent “knockout” phenomenon is evidence of this faulty distinction’s widespread promulgation.

Reporters have started covering the national string of random “knockout” attacks perpetrated against unsuspecting pedestrians. The quick and brutal attacks conclude with the offending bands of young rapscallions scurrying and laughing away. Any decent human being who sees video footage of these onslaughts is immediately appalled.

But Michael Savage and Bill O’Reilly and Bernard Goldberg  and Colin Flaherty and Thomas Sowell and American Thinker, here and here, and Richard Swier and a whole host of others insist that denouncing these crimes as “crimes” is insufficient. These black crimes committed against white people apparently require a special type of repudiation.

What’s the difference between a crime and a black crime? Simple. A crime reflects a moral failing of the individual who commits it, whereas a black crime (necessarily committed by a black person) reveals a moral failing of the entire black community.

Mainstream acceptance of this distinction means that more than 49,936 individual white people can commit murder between 2000 and 2010 in the United States without so much as a peep from pundits about “diabolical pathologies” in the white community. It means that white people, who are “almost six times more likely to be killed by another White person than by a Black person,” never hear about an “intra-racial” war being waged within the white community. It means that the Sandy Hook and Columbine and Aurora shooters are called “troubled kids” and not “troubled white kids,” that there isn’t a proselytization of the white community whenever a stupid person with white skin stabs someone vindictively, and that we mustn’t abide lectures about the white family’s “deterioration” every stinkin’ time some Timothy McVeigh-look-a-like decides to shoot up a public area.

Conversely, when a black crime is committed, Bill O’Reilly takes the opportunity to enumerate for black people all of the things they’re doing wrong. He contends that the “knockout” phenomenon “goes back to an alienation of young black men in this country for a number of reasons, but primarily they’re angry that they didn’t have a family and their father abandoned them” and that “they’re sold a bill of goods by the civil rights people—that white society is at fault—that because you’re unhappy, it’s the whites doing it to you.” Never mind that no more than 0.017% of black children in fatherless homes have participated in one of these knockout sessions and that only about 0.7% of African-Americans violently attack a white person each year. For some reason, pundits still warn us that “this thing could really get out of control” and that folks pushing for racial equality are actually provoking feral black-on-white hatred.

Because some Americans still haven’t connected the dots, I will, in the simplest of terms, explain what these gross media distortions demonstrate: these “journalists” have a political agenda. Nothing that they’re saying about the “knockout” phenomenon is an outright lie, but it certainly isn’t the whole truth. When a pundit like O’Reilly, with 2,831,000 viewers, spends more than 5 minutes on his show reviling “young black Americans” for “committing senseless crimes” against white people—without iterating how aberrant and antithetical such attacks are to the sensibilities of most black folks, without mentioning that less than 0.3% of white people are violently victimized by blacks every year, without stating that fewer than 1 in 250,000 white people is killed by a black person annually, without discussing the anti-crime initiatives of so-called “race-baiting” civil rights activists—he is pushing a paranoid racial agenda. No question.

To his credit, Bernard Goldberg recently told O’Reilly, “most black kids aren’t doing this,” but went on to say that “a disproportionate number are either doing that or are walking into stores and hauling entire racks of clothing out onto the street.” Goldberg loves to argue that if white people were committing the crimes that black people commit so frequently, “there would be an outcry among the media.” The fact that not every news outlet has picked up on this story indicates, in Goldberg’s view, that the mainstream media are antagonistic towards white people.

Does such a widespread anti-white bias really exist though? If it did, then every arrest of a young white male drunk driver would spark a national discussion about how “young white Americans” are being neglected by their parents and brainwashed by their leaders to disrespect the laws of our land. Such claims would be corroborated with real statistics proving that white adolescents are more likely to drive drunk than their black counterparts. For good measure, some pundits would probably mention the fact that “white students are more than twice as likely as non-white students to use illicit drugs including marijuana and ecstasy,” and for that reason, are in dire need of “better role models.”

We can start talking about a media bias against whites once major news outlets make a habit out of dissecting “white crime” in this fashion. Until then, let’s not lose sight of the real bias that abounds.

Explaining Reparations to the Anti-Tax Crowd

This piece was originally published at goodmenproject.com and tommyraskin.org.

Some people believe that it is “wrong”—in fact, “theft”—for the government to tax an estate passed down from one generation to the next. The “death tax” takes away the hard-earned bucks that “mama bear” and “papa bear” earned through the sweat of their brow and intended for their children to have. As one editorial put it, “People should not be punished because they work hard, become successful and want to pass on the fruits of their labor, or even their ancestors’ labor, to their children.”

It’s a sentiment that we can all appreciate: let people enjoy the fruits of their parents’ labor and their ancestors’ labor. In fact, it’s a point that other folks were making for decades before the modern “estate tax” debate even emerged. While “free market economists” were still railing against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for its “violations of economic privacy,” civil rights activists were demanding that the impoverished descendants of slaves be compensated for centuries of their ancestors’ unpaid forced labor. The logic is impeccable: if we operate under the assumption that we are all entitled to the wealth for which our ancestors worked, then we must compensate people for every penny withheld from their enslaved and brutalized ancestors.

Of course, because slave owners didn’t keep time sheets or file withholding taxes, it is difficult to determine precisely how much money slaves’ descendants are owed. However, one estimate settles on an accumulated debt of “$97 trillion, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865, ‘compounded at 6% interest through 1993.’ ”

Here, we are talking about a multi-trillion dollar debt owed to African-American descendants of slaves, true “theft” of family wealth in the strictest sense of the word, but interestingly, we never hear the “let my family keep what it earns” crowd call for the restitution of trillions of dollars to slave-descended African-Americans. These activists seem only concerned with protecting wealth that may actually have roots in racist institutions and corporations. Some of these ideologues are my dear (and wealthy) friends, insistent that they are “part” of their parents’ and grandparents’ acquisition and maintenance of wealth, and that they thus deserve to keep everything for which their antecedents worked so hard.

Out of respect for them and their view, I offer them a choice.

If we declare, uniformly, that everyone deserves everything for which their ancestors labored, then we must not only allow Bill Gates to pass down all of his wealth to his descendants, but we must fully compensate the descendants of slaves whose wealth was stolen from them. Corporations with a role in slavery, like JP Morgan and Wachovia, will have to pitch in millions of dollars for this project. The US government, which itself used slave labor to construct the Capitol, White House, and other government buildings, will be liable for billions more. We will even have to hunt down the African tribes that kidnapped people and sold them off to the European colonists. It will undoubtedly be a bureaucratic nightmare, replete with tedious discussion of who owes what, and will not ultimately remedy the indelible psychological and emotional trauma that slavery imposed on generations, but it will, nonetheless, be a move in the right direction.

Once the reparations for slavery are handed out, we will only be getting started, for we will then have to repay people for the opportunities their ancestors were denied under our post-slavery system of apartheid. We could start by paying people for the economic harms afflicted by the Black Codes, a legal doctrine that systematically re-enslaved southern African-Americans through the enforcement of shoddy laws against loosely defined acts like “vagrancy.” We will be obligated to pay off the descendants of tens of thousands of African-American WWII veterans who were unfairly denied bank loans and saw their claims for GI Bill benefits denied by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, at a time when the white middle-class was soaring to prosperity. The progeny of the thousands of African-Americans who were barred from college because of their skin color will also have to receive reparations for their ancestors’ lost wealth. It will be hard, if not impossible, to assign a dollar value to all of these grievances, but it will be better than no redress at all.

The anti-“death tax” crowd might protest that no living American was either enslaved or owned slaves. That’s true, but coming from them, the point is plainly irrelevant. If we’re not willing to hold people financially accountable for the wrongs from which their ancestors benefitted, then why should we reward those same people with the money their ancestors made? In apportioning wealth, the two propositions must go hand-in-hand—we either consider the economic activity of people’s ancestors, or we don’t.

If we determine that people should be held accountable for the means by which their ancestors made money, it doesn’t mean that we’re calling white folks “guilty,” as some commentators might suggest. If I steal a thousands dollars from you and give it to my child as a birthday present, my child isn’t “guilty,” but he still is not absolved of his responsibility to give you the money back. For centuries, skin color unfairly conferred upon white people a set of economic opportunities that produced inheritable and still-existent wealth, meaning that the injustice must today be rectified.

If we mended this injustice through the means described above, then every dollar would be inherited, but so would every outstanding debt. Even though I would not principally object to this arrangement, I suspect that it would not go over so well with the “spend less, tax less” crowd, which, thus far, has not endorsed the direct payment of reparations to oppressed peoples.

So, instead of doling out cash to slaves’ descendants, “calling it even,” and then letting laissez-faire capitalism unravel as it will, we could instead provide more indirect reparations to all disadvantaged people, of all colors, by making long-term societal investments in social welfare programs that keep people afloat. Providing all people access to affordable healthcare, education, and housing will give them the tools for self-actualization that their ancestors may have been denied. Under such a system, no individual slave’s descendant would have a direct economic claim against a party that profited off of slavery, but the economy would be structured to maximize the resiliency of all communities, including those that were, for generations, unfairly disadvantaged. And yes, this would require an understanding from wealthy Americans that they, like the descendants of oppressed people, will not receive a literal check, paid in full, from the order of their ancestors.

The choice is ours. But if we are to maintain any semblance of economic justice in our country, these are the two defensible options.