Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Preventing People From Dying is Just Like Genocide

These photos from the teabagger rally of Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) have thankfully been getting some exposure:

The sign says “National Socialist Healthcare, Dachau Germany – 1945." I first saw this item via Richard Blair of All Spin Zone. Distributorcap also has a brief item on this, and notes, "This was no Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin event - this was an event sponsored and pushed by the Republican leadership in the House and Senate - including Eric Fucking Cantor." Richard's post has contact information for Bachmann, Boehner and Cantor.

There's a point at which idiocy isn't funny, and being outrageous isn't so much offensive as it is grossly irresponsible and dangerous. It’s not as if there aren't legitimate criticisms of various health care reform proposals. But this isn't about respectable, 'different points of view' when one group is claiming that a government measure – one that could help people – is the same as one of the greatest evils ever perpetrated. One has to be pretty idiotic, or crazy, or irresponsible, to claim that giving people health care – which might save 22,000 – 45,000 lives a year, or more – is just like genocide, mass murder. And it's not as if this is an isolated incident, since this type of crap has been around for months now. This merely may be the most prominent example yet. It's sad that the light of day and being at the United States Capitol doesn't dissuade Michelle Bachmann, the Beck and Limbaugh fans, and the teabaggers from this poisonous bilge. Perhaps it only eggs them on.

I already linked an August post, "Deny Me Health Care or Give Me Death" in the previous post, and I have several more on the Holocaust. (Then there's more comically inept Holocaust references by right-wingers.) Sometimes Nazi analogies are appropriate, and sometimes they are irresponsible. I'm just very sick of the cavalier comparisons to Hitler and Stalin, especially when they're aimed at pretty centrist, establishmentarian politicians by far right authoritarians. It's all the more absurd when one considers - which group exactly is running around screaming about the dread menace of those who aren't real Germans, err, Americans, in our midst? This crap is dishonest, irresponsible, idiotically ahistorical, and just disgusting.

In late October, Scott Horton published a powerful short piece called "A Trip to Chon Tash" about novelist Chingiz Aitmatov and Aitmatov's struggle to deliver "a critical view of the legacy of Soviet rule in Central Asia and his native Kyrgyzstan." In 1938, Stalin had Aitmatov's father and 136 others among the intelligentsia murdered. This pattern will sound tragically familiar to those who know the history of Stalin. (Robert Conquest's book The Great Terror gives an overview, and I heard some heartbreaking stories in Russia during my brief study there.) In his piece, Horton visits the memorial erected near the pit where the bodies were buried (emphasis mine):

What transpired in Chon Tash occurred dozens of times across the vast frozen expanse of the Soviet Union, part of the policy that historians have come to call “decapitation,” the systematic murder of intellectuals and political leaders because of Stalin’s fear—part paranoid delusion and part real—that they would present some threat to him. Stalin’s object in dealing with the “nationalities” was to leave them leaderless and docile, and he was prepared to reach to the most brutal tools to achieve this.

In his novel [The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years], Aitmatov turns to the ancient Turkic legend of the mankurt. The head of a man taken prisoner is shaved and the moistened skin of a camel is applied to it. He is then sent into the desert, where the drying of the skin produces horrible torture. If the prisoner survives, his personality is destroyed by the process, and with it any recollection of the past. He is reduced to subservience to his master. The mankurt may look outwardly like a human being, but he is not. Aitmatov’s message, which struggled to escape censorship, was plain: this was what Stalin had done to Central Asia. And for Aitmatov, the lost memory was never more poignantly presented than in the fate of his father, a fate he learned only after the Soviet Union fell and the truth could be told.

Saturday was a brilliant autumn day in the foothills of the Alatoo Range of the Celestial Mountains. I traveled to Chon Tash to visit the memorial, ringed with blood-red roses, still in bloom after the season’s first snowfall. I went to pay respects to Chingiz Aitmatov, who died in June of last year leaving instructions that he be buried alongside his father at the site of that Stalinist act of terror. The sun shone with special intensity and the sky was cloudless. The willow birch trees had not yet released their golden leaves. A brook rustled in the valley below, and stately tall cypress-shaped pine trees could be seen on the hills above. A group of military cadets were there for an oath-taking ceremony held directly above the ground from which the remains had been excavated, and the message of the setting was clear to all: don’t forget the great wrong that can occur when the power of the state is wielded brutally and the spirit of the law is disrespected.

The crimes of the old regime were on exhibition to those swearing an oath to uphold the new order. In the museum at the site the possessions of many of the victims were displayed with some biographical details. Documents from the archives of the NKVD/KGB showed the trappings of legal formalism that accompanied the brutal deeds, every murder judicially authorized with a sentence stamped and sealed. The execution of the sentence was scrupulously documented. And on one wall was a simple display that spoke powerfully: a portrait of Stalin, and below it a skull, resting on stones taken from the pit.

In America today, the name and image of Stalin are invoked heavily by fringe critics of Barack Obama. The critics disagree with his policies on health care and see in it the basis for increasing power of the state. The role the state will play in the healthcare system is a legitimate political issue on which well-informed citizens can have different views. But the comparison to Stalin makes clear that these critics really have no inkling of who Joseph Stalin was, what he did, and why his name lives in special infamy at hallowed spots like the pit at Chon Tash. This frivolous use of his name and image cheapens our nation’s political dialogue, and it is also a mark of disrespect to his victims. And it points to the fundamental crisis of which Aitmatov wrote so powerfully: the failure to know the past, to be informed by it, and to distill guidance from it. The age of the mankurt, alas, has not passed.

Horton puts it very well. What's true of Chon Tash and Stalin is true of Dachau and Hitler, and I would hope that at the United States Capitol some basic sense, and sense of decency, would prevail. There's a common thread that runs through every account of a Holocaust survivor I've heard, and every tale of Soviet oppression: memory can be an act of conscience. Simply remembering things accurately, or grieving and honoring the dead, can become an act of virtue. I've no illusions that the sort of noxious crap the teabaggers are shilling will stop any time soon. But there's no reason it should go unchallenged.

Update: I forgot to mention the teabagger slurs against the Rothchilds, but it gets worse. Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel denounced the Dachau poster, and in their wrath the teabaggers went even lower. Make sure you've got a strong stomach before reading the comments at the link.

Personally, when I read that crap, I think of a steady stream of obscenities, interlaced in a sentence like: "If Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel thinks your Dachau poster is inappropriate, you're on the wrong side of that argument, you historically illiterate people." Wiesel's short book Night remains one of the best introductions to the Holocaust, and I heard him speak back in the 90s. It's fine to disagree with the man on specific contemporary issues, but I felt he radiated a spiritual maturity, he spoke exceptionally well on the Holocaust, and it was a moving and inspiring address. The teabaggers are on one level experts at unintentional self-parody, as attacks on Wiesel show, but their authoritarian, delusional (and occasionally anti-Semitic) assaults aren’t just ironic – there's something dangerous there.


Fran said...

I am in DC for a meeting and while I did not get to the Capitol yesterday, some of my other blogfriends did, including Alica, from Last Left Before Hooterville did and she has posted about it. Patriot Boy's wife got shoved by an angry bagger and Patriot Boy himself was harassed. It must have been very ugly to witness.

We have devolved as a nation and as a people. The people at these events -those who launch them and attend, are not pro-life, they are pro-death and anger and are all vitriol and rage. It makes me despair and feel my own anger simultaneously.

Suzan said...

The rationale for this obviously misdirected anger and too-easily exposed lying is that it's because they fear losing the money, influence and power they have gained (or have merely been led to believe that they have gained) immorally if not criminally.

Great journalism like yours is a shot across their bow.

Don't stop.


I've no illusions that the sort of noxious crap the teabaggers are shilling will stop any time soon. But there's no reason it should go unchallenged.

watchdog said...

This is what I hate about the right, more than their constant lying about any and everything. They are anti-history, they don’t just elevate ignorance, they actively wallow in it like pigs in mud.
Not only do you have dishonest assholes like Jonah Goldberg writing about a historical subject he knows nothing about, but you have ridiculous books like the Factually Incorrect Guides which makes up its own historical facts for their own selfish ends.
These dangling teabags are actively emulating the tactics of fascists all while projecting their own behavior on their political foes. The only way to defeat these stupid jack holes is through constant exposure; don’t simply ignore them, that gives them license. Don’t just laugh at them, confront them, every time. They come out for their depraved protests, counter protest them and expose them for what they are.
Sadly such tactics will probably lead them to violence, but that will also expose them for what they are as well.
You can't beat these idiots by ignoring them, history has shown that, with the real fascists in Europe as well as the racists here in America (who are just a type of fascist anyway) during the civil rights era. Confrontation with the truth on your side is like garlic to these vampires.

libhom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
libhom said...

I suspect that the loss of the House seat in upstate NY will cause Faux News and the Goppers to tamp down their astroturf rallies. They are creating a monster that they don't control which often bites them.

BTW: I love the surly librarian graphic. She reminds me of me until about 10:00 AM.