You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

November 11, 2004

Don't Make Me Come Over There And Be Generous To You

The death of Yasser Arafat is a good time to bring up one of my favorite subjects: geopolitical generosity.

After the peace talks at Camp David ended in 2000 without an agreement, everyone in the US media starting talking about how Arafat had inexplicably turned down Israel's "generous offer." For instance, here's Charles Krauthammer:

At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an astonishingly generous peace with dignity and statehood. Arafat not only turned it down, he refused even to make a counter offer!

At the time, I didn't know exactly what had happened at Camp David. But hearing about Israeli generosity, I thought -- oh man, the poor Palestinians. That's because of what I call the Iron Law of Generosity: whenever one group of people talks about being "generous" to another, it means they're BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF THEM.

Take Andrew Jackson. Here's what Jackson said in a famous address to Congress in 1830:

Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous.

Yes, how true. One particularly generous thing Jackson's soldiers did at the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend in 1814 was cut strips of skin off dead Creek Indians and then use them as bridles. And of course as president, Jackson generously enabled the Cherokee to experience the Trail of Tears.

Teddy Roosevelt felt just the same as Jackson:

In [our] treaties we have been more than just to the Indians; we have been abundantly generous... No other conquering and colonizing nation has ever treated the original savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States.

Roosevelt was eager to extend this generosity to the Philippines. As one Kansas soldier sent there put it, "The country won't be pacified until the niggers [ie, Filipinos] are killed off like the Indians." We weren't able to be quite that generous, but did manage to give around 200,000 Filipinos the gift of not living.

We did a better job in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam period, where we generously massacred several million people. Or as David Lawrence, then-editor of US News & World Report, put it,

What the United States is doing in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times.

Unfortunately, Lawrence was wrong. The sad truth is that no Americans or Israelis have ever reached the philanthropic heights of the most generous man in history: Adolf Hitler. Just before the invasion of Poland in 1939, a British diplomat met with Hitler and filed this report:

Herr Hitler replied that he would be willing to negotiate, if there was a Polish Government which was prepared to be reasonable and which really controlled the country. He expatiated on misdoings of the Poles, referred to his generous offer of March last, said that it could not be repeated...

Of course, Hitler had an advantage over us -- he was leading the German people, the most generous human beings on earth. As Joseph Goebbels put it in 1943:

If we Germans have a fateful flaw in our national character, it is forgetfulness. This failing speaks well of our human decency and generosity, but not always for our political wisdom or intelligence. We think everyone else as is good natured as we are.

It was right around this time that distant relatives of mine were experiencing German good nature firsthand.

The point of all this is not to compare the Camp David offer to World War II or the holocaust. That would be idiotic; not all ways of beating the crap out of people are created equal. It's just to point out that when people get righteously worked up about how wonderful they are, and their enemy's lack of gratitude, you really need to keep an eye on them.

Posted at November 11, 2004 03:52 PM | TrackBack

Similarly, I just cannot understand the Democrat's lack of gratitude in rejecting Bush's generous offer to work with them -- nay, to united -- to make America better. (Sarcasm, as I'm sure you've figured out.)

I don't know if I am more curious about Israel's response to Arafat's death or the Palestinian's.

Posted by: Brian at November 11, 2004 04:09 PM

The wingnuts are already warming up the "terrible rejection of generosity" post-justification in regard to Iraq. In a few online chats with more level-headed Bushlovers, a few have said we have to pull out of Iraq eventually if they just won't accept our generous gift of democracy.

Posted by: James J. Dominguez at November 11, 2004 06:44 PM

The Barak plan may have been "generous" in the Roosevelt/Phillippines sense but it was not generous in the dictionary sense. It had all the settlements still there, as I recall.

I don't know what the Palestinian response to arafat's death is except that for a few days everyone will be decorously mourning him and you'll hear the criticism much later. Here in Egypt most of the people I know personally see him as a very corrupt guy who sold his cause down the river and got rich from donations meant to help refugees and are not all that sad he's gone -- plus they all are really shocked at the ridiculous way his wife acted in recent days.

Posted by: Anna in Cairo at November 12, 2004 12:55 AM


You really are going to have to teach me how to put my thoughts down on paper in such a witty manner. I really love the way you manage to perk up even the most mundane of political matters with your witty language and analogies. Keep it up...

Posted by: robboinoz at November 12, 2004 11:15 AM

And how about the generosity of letting 380 tons of arms slip away? Maybe that lets us be generous by dragging out the time it takes us to beat the crap out of them, while at the same time allowing them to be 380 tons worth of generous to someone else.

Posted by: Jerry in Seattle at November 12, 2004 02:45 PM

I haven't seen such generosity since we donated freely the wonder of nuclear fusion to Japan.

Posted by: mdhatter at November 12, 2004 09:50 PM


Posted by: ashvin at November 13, 2004 12:24 AM


Yes, that's the standard pattern. If they reject our astonishing generosity, it shows them to be little more than animals who'll be satisfied only with our destruction, and we need feel no compunction about obliterating them.

Jerry & mdhatter,

Those were both high points in the history of American generosity, although I have great hopes we'll exceed even those achievements.

Robboinoz & ashvin,

Thanks for your kind comments; I appreciate it.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 14, 2004 08:38 PM