Thursday, June 24, 2004

Just like the Holocaust but without any Jews or killing 

If you read just one opinion piece today, do yourself a favour and read Bret Stephens' "Just like Stalingrad." Asks Stephens: "If Bush is another Hitler, what words are left to describe Hitler?" Another, earlier Bush, of course.

"According to Sidney Blumenthal, a onetime adviser to president Bill Clinton who now writes a column for Britain's Guardian newspaper, President Bush today runs 'what is in effect a gulag,' stretching 'from prisons in Afghanistan to Iraq, from Guantanamo to secret CIA prisons around the world.' Mr. Blumenthal says 'there has been nothing like this system since the fall of the Soviet Union.'

"In another column, Mr. Blumenthal compares the April death toll for American soldiers in Iraq to the Eastern Front in the Second World War. Mr. Bush's 'splendid little war,' he writes, 'has entered a Stalingrad-like phase of urban siege and house-to-house combat'."
But as Stephens reminds us

"The factual bases for these claims are, first, that the U.S. holds some 10,000 'enemy combatants' prisoner; and second, that 122 U.S. soldiers were killed in action in April.

"As I write, I have before me a copy of 'The Black Book of Communism,' which relates that on '1 January 1940 some 1,670,000 prisoners were being held in the 53 groups of corrective work camps and 425 collective work colonies. In addition, the prisons held 200,000 people awaiting trial or a transfer to camp. Finally, the NKVD komandatury were in charge of approximately 1.2 million 'specially displaced people.'

"As for Stalingrad, German deaths between Jan. 10 and Feb. 2, 1943, numbered 100,000, according to British historian John Keegan. And those were just the final agonizing days of a battle that had raged since the previous August."
This forces Stephens to ponder the problem:

"There are two explanations for all this. One is that Mr. Bush really is as bad as Sid [Blumenthal], Al [Gore] and Paul [Krugman] say: the dumbest, most feckless, most fanatical, most incompetent and most calamitous president the nation has ever known. A second is that Sid, Al and Paul are insane."
The third explanation is that all three, and numerous others like them, are spoiled, sanctimonious, pampered and precious members of Western upper-middle class, whose golden fishbowl lifestyle and life-long isolation from what for almost 6 billion other human beings passes for everyday reality have to an obscene extent twisted their judgment, perspective and moral compass.

Neither Sid, nor Al nor Paul have ever experienced in their lives any real hardship or struggle. None of them have any experience of life where freedom of speech, or conscience, or association or academic freedom are non-existent. Their worst encounter with the oppressive power of the state is most likely getting a parking ticket. There's no persecution, flight for one's life, hunger, or war. There's only rhetoric.

No one who has experienced the real Gulag would ever compare Guantanamo Bay to Kolymya. No one who has gone through World War Two, or any other war for that matter, would ever compare Fallujah to Stalingrad. No one who has lived in Europe through the 1930s and 1940s would ever compare Bush to Hitler.

But all this should hardly matter - one shouldn't have to experience all these tribulations first-hand to have enough sense not to practice outrageous hyperbole. Stephens concludes:

"The absence of proportion stems, in turn, from a problem of perspective. If you have no idea where you stand in relation to certain objects, then an elephant may seem as small as a fly and a fly may seem as large as an elephant. Similarly, Mr. Blumenthal can compare the American detention infrastructure to the Gulag archipelago only if he has no concept of the actual size of things. And he can have no concept of the size of things because he neither knows enough about them nor where he stands in relation to them. What is the vantage point from which Mr. Blumenthal observes the world? It is one where Fallujah is 'Stalingrad-like.' How does one manage to see the world this way? By standing too close to Fallujah and too far from Stalingrad. By being consumed by the present. By losing not just the sense, but the possibility, of judgment."
Our enlightened elites like to joke about the common man's ignorance of history, geography and current affairs (you know, all those hicks who can't point out Great Britain on the globe, or school kids who don't know which century the American Civil War took place). To be ignorant of history is sad, but to know enough history to twist it for a political point is obscene. Unlike Blumenthal, a farmer in Kentucky might not know what Stalingrad was, but he also has enough sense to realise that the dog turd in his backyard is not a Pyramid of Cheops and enough decency not to turn it into a tourist attraction.


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