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October 10, 2007

The Lighter Side Of Genocide

For anyone interested in the current foo-fa over whether Congress will officially recognize the Armenian genocide occurred (and that it did in fact qualify as genocide), this Obsidian Wings post and its comments are worthwhile. My sympathies are with Nell.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LIGHTER SIDE? Just before the invasion of Poland, Hitler apparently gave a speech to his officers saying this:

I have placed my death-head formation in readiness -- for the present only in the East -- with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the Lebensraum which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?

My favorite part of this quote is that both Armenian genocide deniers and Holocaust deniers get extremely agitated about it, but for different reasons. Holocaust deniers generally accept the Armenian genocide happened (dirty Muslims killing Christians!) but don't like the idea that Hitler compared his actions to that. On the other hand, Armenian genocide deniers in Turkey accept that the Holocaust happened, but since the Armenian genocide never did, why would Hitler say that?

Posted at October 10, 2007 03:48 PM | TrackBack

But when is a "genocide" a "Holocaust?"
Did it matter to 1.5 million Armenians or 5.1 million Jews? (And all the others who were slaughtered or starved in a G or an H?)Is it "the" Holocaust or can there be "a" holocaust?"
Now, the Jews were quite special to Hitler and his murderers,and we've all known that for decades. Yehuda Bauer of Hebrew University said that the Armenian genocide is the closest parallel to the Holocaust, meaning the intentional destruction of an entire people.
G or H, or who cares except those (claimants or deniers) who don't want to deal with the essence of genocidal thoughts and actions, or what propels human beings to become believers in and perpetrators of genocide. Much research has gone into this, from Browning to Stern and many others. That's the stuff we should toss at those who reduce horror to self-pity or self-interest.
Most of those who deny today were not even close to the "action," in person or even in history books.

Doncha know, Jonathan, that the Poles attacked a German radio station (the Gleiwitz incident) inviting the alleged German invasion? Deny, deny, deny. Ahhh, feels so good.

Posted by: donescobar at October 10, 2007 04:43 PM

Wow, that is a great quotation to cite, for exactly the reasons you spell out. Thanks!

Posted by: Batocchio at October 10, 2007 04:52 PM

As we've learned with Ahmadinejad, denying murder of six million of Eurprean Jews can only mean that you're pure evil and must be destroyed.

On the other hand, if government denies the murder of 1.5 million of Armenians, they're just accepting geopolitical realities.

I'm proud to live in a country that denies the proper genocides.

Posted by: MikeS at October 10, 2007 04:57 PM
relive those old Armenian-stomping days in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Another lighter side of genocide is that a significant chunk of the Armenian genocide was carried out by Kurds, trying to curry favor with the Ottomans. I like to imagine them thinking: "Helping the Turks with their extermination of minorities will NEVER come back to bite us in the ass!"

Posted by: Jon at October 10, 2007 06:21 PM

I'm guessing the native people in America who decided to help the local white folks kick out the Brits never thought that would bit them in the ass either.

So, in the Armenian genocide the Muslims killed the Christians, and in the Hitler-run genocide the Christians killed the Jews - isn't it time for the Jews to commit a genocide against the Muslims? Why are the Christians at bat again?

(sorry, I was trying to be funny.....YMMV)

Posted by: Susan at October 10, 2007 08:00 PM

I found the anti-resolution comments highly persuasive. Boils to two arguments really:

1. Turks are genocidal maniacs but to chide them about it will only boost their genocidal maniacness.

2. We've got cluster bombs to ship to the front from our Turkish bases. The Armenian genocide was bad enough. Let's not make our cluster bombs the latest victims of that tragedy.

I have a compromise for Congress to consider.

Keep the resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide but add the following amendment: "Yes, the genocide did take place. And that's too bad. However, Turkey is to be congratulated for its flawless execution."

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at October 10, 2007 08:22 PM

Course, you ain't seen or heard nothin' until you catch some Israeli Holocaust Humor. For example: Hitler and Anne Frank in a song/dance duet :"I Got You, Babe."
Laugh? Thought I'd die.

Posted by: donescobar at October 10, 2007 08:39 PM

NEXT YEAR, Abu Ghraib deniers.(with attendant Congressional resolution denying the denying in 2052)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 10, 2007 10:55 PM

I have not read the Obsidian Wings post but I will say, it is interesting that Israel has refused to recognize the Armenian genocide. Apparently, the Hebrew people find friendly relations with Turkey are more important than supporting an ethnic group targeted for extermination.

Posted by: Ashley at October 10, 2007 11:59 PM

@Ashley: No, the Israeli government finds it more important to maintain Turkey as an ally than to support an ethnic group targeted for extermination by Turks.

I don't know what the level and tenor of discussion of Armenian genocide is in Israel, but American Jews have been among the most important allies of Armenian-Americans pushing this resolution forward year after year. AIPAC and Foxman have pushed the Israeli government line, but have relented in the face of opposition from members. It's incorrect and unfair to project the Israeli government's position on this onto Jewish Americans, and possibly onto Israeli Jews in general.

Posted by: Nell at October 11, 2007 06:52 AM

Friends, as some may have deduced, I am a goy - and although I could say we tell Jewish jokes among ourselves, pinkt vi menschen - actually, not so much. I heard the following Holocaust humor from Nanci Gutterman (name slightly modified to protect her privacy - if you're reading this, hi, Nancy) - as I recall her exact wording, it was:

What's the difference between a Jew and a pizza?
A pizza doesn't scream when you put it in the oven.

Similarly, I suggest, some believe that the U.S. Congress, like the oven, ought to have kept its mouth shut, especially about gooses that were cooked so long ago.

I admit these analogies are in bad taste.

As someone once wrote, every joke is a tiny revolution. It has further been asserted that "A willingness to make extremely obscene jokes can co-exist with very strict moral standards."

That's me. I strive to embody Menschlichkeit, and dedicate myself to truth, justice, and the potentially sentient way, although every day (and even sometimes twice a day) I also repeat the prayer that includes "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I call myself "Nature's Aristocrat."

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at October 11, 2007 07:18 AM

I favor sticking it to genocide deniers, but it is a sick joke to see the US Congress making historical and moral judgments about the crimes of other countries.

The Obi Wi thread is now discussing whether Hiroshima was genocide. I vote no. It's a time-honored tradition in war, going back thousands of years, that says you can attack the other side's civilian population if you think it will help you win. The Mongols used to wipe out cities that had the temerity to resist them. Plus a siege is no fun. What's the point in having the greatest cavalry force in history if you have to sit around some walled city chucking stones and dead horses into it with your catapults? No wonder they'd get grumpy. I don't think it's fair to call this genocide--they wouldn't have done it if there had been no resistance.

Similarly, when some guerilla attacks your occupying force, you should be able to go medieval on the local population without some holier-than-thou human rights type saying you're guilty of genocide. Mass killing--sure. Crimes against humanity? Okay. But not genocide. There's criteria that gotta be met for that.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 11, 2007 08:23 AM

As to some commentsabove:
There never was agreement in Israel about the Armenian genocide. Ministers of Education and Justice (in 2000 and 2004) called it a genocide and proposed putting it in HS history curriculum. Yossi Sarid spoke movingly about it in 2000. Weizman, a long time ago, spoke about and insisted Jews must show empathy.
What the current gummiment in Isrel does, for "geopolitical"/military reasons is another story.
The best Hitler jokes are in German, except for the one that Graham Greene put into one of his thrillers.
As to the topic in general:
A dying man is in the ambulance to a Catholic hospital. He's laughing and laughing. The nun/nurse in the ambulance tells him he hould be praying. "Same thing Sister," he says, "same thing."

Posted by: donescobar at October 11, 2007 09:27 AM
...No, the Israeli government finds it more important

Nell, what's the distinction? I mean, what with the democracy moniker and all that Foxman, et al likes to wave? Is the Israeli government imposed on Israel?

Posted by: Ted at October 11, 2007 09:40 AM

As has been said, on the internet no one can tell if you're a dog - and if you're a dog, no one can tell if you're joking, because they can't see whether your tail is wagging or not. So I can't be sure whether you are joking or not, Ted, in posing the following question:

"Is the Israeli government imposed on Israel?"

In the spirit of the rabbi who asked, "Why should you always answer a question with a question?", what would you say if you were asked "Is the U.S. government imposed on the United States?"

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at October 11, 2007 10:47 AM

"Defense Secretary Robert Gates said ahead of the vote that 70 percent of U.S. air cargo headed for Iraq goes through Turkey, as does about one-third of the fuel used by the U.S. military in Iraq."

Now if only we could find a genocide in Kuwait for Congress to recognize...

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at October 11, 2007 11:59 AM

Strikes me as funny the most honest person on this issue is Arnold Schwarzenegger...that lifts him up in my book by more than a few points.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at October 11, 2007 12:22 PM
. . .American Jews have been among the most important allies of Armenian-Americans pushing this resolution forward year after year.

Can you provide some evidence for this? Specifically, what major American Jewish organizations? I'm genuinely curious.

AIPAC and Foxman have pushed the Israeli government line, but have relented in the face of opposition from members.

This is, at best, misleading. The ADL did recently state that what happened to Armenians was "tantamount to genocide," but continues to oppose the Congressional resolution. I'm not aware of a recent change in AIPAC's position---can you provide a citation for this?

Posted by: Autumn Harvest at October 11, 2007 12:29 PM

If you ever get a chance to see the play Let the Rocks Speak check it out! A very moving/disturbing play about a family of survivers from the Armenian genocide.

Hay-Utiun Najarin 1911 - 1912 victim of the Armenian genocide

Posted by: Terrible at October 11, 2007 02:31 PM

@Ted: Well, let's imagine you have a country in which seventy percent of the public wants us to withdraw troops from another country it's occupying, and that government's not about to.

It's that kind of distinction. Democracy's not a license to tar the whole population, or even a majority of it, with views matching the policy of the government. Ultimately, citizens of a democracy can't escape all responsibility for the actions and inactions of their government, but there's a wide spectrum of different intensities of association.

Donescobar has provided some more specific evidence that Israeli opinion even at the government level is, at a minimum, divided.

And then there's the distinction between what people support as people, and as everyday citizens, versus what they might vote or advocate for in government, depending on the situation. Or the time. There are no doubt some Senators who might have voted for this in 2000 who won't today, justifying their caution by the possible impact on U.S. troops in Iraq and Turkey.

And on and on.

These kinds of cautions and distinctions are even more worth making when someone appears to attribute views and positions to Jews as a whole, which it seemed to me that Ashley was on the verge of doing.

Posted by: Nell at October 11, 2007 02:31 PM

'American Jews' does not equal 'major American Jewish organizations'. Thankfully, where hope for the future of U.S. policy in the middle east is concerned. And factually, where activity in support of Armenian-Americans working to have the genocide officially recognized is concerned.

A commenter in the ObWi thread recommended The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian for, among other questions, more detail on Jewish-American participation in the effort to designate the Armenian genocide. Mine's all anecdotal, based on my observations at events in southern California in the mid-1980s and suburban DC in the 1990s.

AIPAC's position hasn't changed, but under pressure from a membership very divided on the issue, agreed not to lobby on it. This is via friends who have done grassroots lobbying for the resolution who are members, so not a definitive report on what AIPAC staff may have actually done.

Foxman tried to fire the head of the New England ADL chapter that made a public statement in favor of the congressional resolution, and had to back off after protest from members, historians including Deborah Lipstadt, and Jews who have worked on the issue for years.

Many Jewish Americans, including many who support most official Israeli policy positions, have been offended at the Turkish government's threats to the Israeli government about the resolution, which made it clear they expected the IG to "deliver" the American Jewish public on this issue. Turkish timing here is particularly poor, as part of the impact of the debate the Mearsheimer & Walt book has opened is an increased effort to highlight the non-monolithic and independent nature of the various Jewish-American advocacy organizations.

And in the case of the Armenian genocide, there is no need to go looking for small divisions to magnify. As you might expect, Jews are more sensitive than most Americans to the issues involved. The role of the Armenian genocide in inspiring Raphael Lemkin's coining the word and pushing the UN to adopt the convention against it makes naming the atrocity against Armenians and resisting the efforts to erase and distort its history natural extensions of holocaust memorial work.

Posted by: Nell at October 11, 2007 03:06 PM

Nell: That's why Congress must be FORCED TO IMPEACH. (the President can easily FORCE Congress to do his bidding so it should be easier for us. 300,000,000 of us and WE are almost as smart as he is)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 11, 2007 07:32 PM
...what would you say if you were asked "Is the U.S. government imposed on the United States?"

Well, I would say no.

The government the US has, is the government the US wants, pays for and enjoys. It may doth protest occasionally, but, it's a convenient arms-length relationship when it seems to suit. And yet I can't forget the fact that about 80% of the US public wanted to enthusiastically get into this war. Now, I suspect that the original 80+% from four years ago has left the country and gone to some place that crazy people go to, such a totally new population makes up the current 70+% that sanely dislikes the country's current tenor.

It really goes back to that "we-ness" conversation a while back and about ownership. What I don't get is, "What is the government that works -- that would be the ideal, because democracy apparently is FULL of crazy people. American style, Israeli style, others. It matters not much, although the Europeans are sorta looking good these days, at least from a distance.

@Nell: Fair enough, you were responding to Ashley on Hebrew, not Israel, so I can see your point.

Posted by: Ted at October 11, 2007 07:48 PM

Don't forget that Hitler *explicitly* compared his vision for the East to what the Americans had done in their west. See the second book & Table Talk.

Posted by: fjolset at October 15, 2007 09:01 PM