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What’s In A Name?

While reading, I ran across an archeologist named Oded Lipschitz.  I think it would be great fun to go through life named Oded Lipschitz.

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They Went There

This morning on “Morning Joe” Joe and Mika and their buddies actually discussed out loud whether Trump is mentally ill. Admittedly they had plenty of evidence, including Trump’s saying that Andrew Jackson should have prevented the Civil War. (If only, I add, Jackson hadn’t died sixteen years before the war began).

But that remark can be chalked up to Trump’s ignorance of history, as he is of much else. Less easy to dismiss is the rambling syntax and broken sentences that increasingly mark Trump’s language.

 

Signs of Science

I went to Flagstaff’s March for Science today.  It was a lovely day, the crowd was cheerful, and there were great signs.  Here are some of the more unique or entertaining ones on display

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I like her t-shirt!

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One for you, Doc!

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I empathized with this guy

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Cool headgear was on hand as well

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And some VERY cool headgear.  No introvert issues here.

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The March – um, stroll – got underway from Thorpe Park…

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…and went down Aspen St to City Hall.

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There, politicians and scientists spoke, and folks cheered cheerfully in response to good lines.

Being Flagstaff, there was plenty of this going on

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And being a fine day, some of this as well.

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Altogether, Flagstaff put on a fine and fun event.

 

 

Desert Blooms

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Saw the first saguaro bloom in my back yard this morning. Nothing as rich as the one in this photo, but it’s a start. Usually the flowers wait until May to bloom. This bodes well for ground water levels for this summer, at least. And for the next couple of weeks, the drive up into Black Canyon will be a photographer’s dream.

So far, though, the mighty saguaros have been outdone by the Palo Verde trees that have put on a colorful show all over southern Arizona this spring.

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The Palos in my yard have barely begun to blossom; when they do I’ll try to get pix. I love how in spring these trees create carpets of yellow wherever they grow.

“Palo Verde” means “green stick” in Spanish. Literal, if not as poetic in English (the trees have green bark).

Nitwits and Racist Thugs

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I know my reader(s) may be bored by easy or trite comparisons of Trump to Hitler, particularly when such comparisons are made by people who don’t know much about history. However, serious historians have begun to make this connection, and that is cause for concern.

I spent most of yesterday reading Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil (1998), a fascinating study of the many explanations that have been offered for the rise and maintenance of the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945. Scholars (and cranks) have been arguing ever since 1945 about how Hitler got away with mass murder, not to mention wrecking most of Europe before he was stopped by the Allied armies.

Historians divide Hitler explainers into two broad groups: functionalists and intentionalists. Intentionalists, obviously, believe that Hitler and his minions devised a detailed program that they nearly succeeded in carrying out: to conquer most of eastern Europe for Germany and, in the process, to kill every Jew they could get their hands on. Functionalists, on the other hand, paint with a broader brush, suggesting that the German people (and sometimes the peoples of other countries) were complicit in allowing the Holocaust and other atrocities to happen. This complicity is usually explained by antisemitism, but I think it might also be due to non-ideological and more basic human traits such as greed, or, more generously, fear.

Rosenbaum is an unapologetic intentionalist. He makes a strong argument that Hitler had decided upon the so-called “Final Solution” very early on, perhaps as early as 1918. He cites recorded remarks from 1922 where “Hitler spoke of hanging Jews from lampposts until he exterminated them all” (378-79). Holocaust deniers like David Irving point out that nobody has ever found indisputable evidence that Hitler actually gave the order for the Final Solution, but Rosenbaum assembles enough evidence to convince me that Hitler’s aim from the get-go was to wipe out all the Jews he could find. (I’m not sure why Irving is so determined to protect Hitler by assigning blame to his minions. But then, reflecting for a moment on Trump’s supporters, I see the same dynamic at work, as in “Dear Leader can do no wrong.”)

This morning as I was reading reviews of Rosenbaum’s book I came across an essay he published in the Los Angeles Review of Books earlier this year, wherein he makes the connection between Hitler’s “esoteric” thought and Trump’s rhetoric. Here is Rosenbaum:

“But after the election, things changed. Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German. Now is the time for a much closer inspection of the tactics and strategy that brought off this spectacular distortion of American values. . . .What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought. It’s what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media. . . . The playbook is Mein Kampf.” (https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/normalization-lesson-munich-post).

Trump apparently claimed at one point that he had a copy of Mein Kampf by his bedside. That does not mean, of course, that he actually read the book, or even that he was telling the truth about possessing it. In this analysis Rosenbaum displays rather more respect for Trump’s intellect and vision than I am willing to grant. Nevertheless I respect his explanation:

“Hitler used the tactics of bluff masterfully, at times giving the impression of being a feckless Chaplinesque clown, at other times a sleeping serpent, at others yet a trustworthy statesman. The Weimar establishment didn’t know what to do, so they pretended this was normal. They ‘normalized’ him. . . . And so they allowed him and his party back onto the electoral lists, the beginning of the end.” Later on, Rosenbaum characterizes this move as the most disastrous political decision of the twentieth century.
I’m sure that Rosenbaum intends his readers to apply the image of the “Chaplinesque clown” (if not the “sleeping serpent”) to Trump. In any case these images aptly describe the various masks that propelled Trump into office. And even though most of his followers are not exactly original thinkers (Rosenbaum calls Trump supporters “nitwit racist thug antisemites”), some of his minions are smart enough to make use of Trump as a handy idiot if, indeed, he is as dim as he seems to be.
Thinking along these lines, I can’t get Rosenbaum’s line out of my mind:  “democracy destroying itself democratically.”
 

The Way It Wasn’t

U.S. Navy sailor Glenn Edward McDuffie kisses a nurse in Times Square in an impromptu moment at the close of World War Two

This is of course the iconic American image of the celebrations that erupted when World War II ended.

This and other celebratory images clutter up my mind when I think of that war as well–soldiers raising the American flag over Iwo Jima, Robert Mitchum in uniform, allied planes flying over France on D-Day, photos of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill smiling after they’ve divided up the spoils, and so on.

I suppose it’s understandable that an American child might remember the war in this way–as a succession of images celebrating her country’s victory.  I was born in 1943, two years before the war ended in Europe. My father was too old to enlist, although according to family legend, he tried mightily to do so. I had no brothers, and my sisters were teenagers during the war. They later told me engaging stories about rubber shortages, ration cards, and collecting tin cans to donate to the war effort.

So I have been a spectator to World War II, imagining it through movies, photos, and family stories. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I began to read about Hitler and fascism. I’m not alone in doing this, and the reason why will be evident to anyone who is paying attention to current events.

In the course of my reading I’ve been forced to confront the horror that descended on Europe between 1933 and 1945. Reading Richard Evans’ history of the Third Reich and its well-planned, carefully-administered murder of millions of people, there have been moments when I’ve had to put down the book and go for a walk. At moments like these, one doubts whether one wants any longer to be a member of the human race.

Yesterday afternoon, as if to confirm the horrors I was reading about, I looked at images of the destruction:

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This photo depicts a small town in Germany after the allied invasion. There are thousands of pictures of the war and its aftermath on the net. They show bombed-out cities, bodies piled up along roadsides, ruined gardens, dead farm animals–almost more destruction than can be borne. After seeing these, my attitude toward the iconic photo has changed. I notice that the buildings are intact, and that everyone in the picture is fully dressed and well-fed.

And while I’m thinking about relative privilege, I will confess that I’ve often wondered if the nurse in the photo actually wanted that kiss.

 

 

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Last night I tuned into Bill Maher’s show in order to watch some liberals discuss current events (a rare thing on teevee). The assembled politicians and journalists had fun with the Rethug health care fiasco that came to an ignominious end yesterday morning.

And then Bill invited another guest onto the stage: Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale. Now Prof. Snyder is not just any history prof. He has published a dozen books; he holds an endowed chair; he is a member of the Committee on Conscience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum; and his work has won an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Hannah Ahrendt Prize, and the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding, among others.

In other words, Professor Snyder is an accomplished student of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. He has just published a book entitled On Tyranny, and he tried hard to interest Bill’s guests in what he knows, given his long and serious study of tyranny in action. He  listed the first three of his rules for combating tyranny, to wit:

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state.

Professor Snyder sees evidence that the Trump administration is trying to break these rules. Indeed, one could read the slavish devotion of Trump’s voters as a sign that the first rule has already been breached. The professor was in the middle of an interesting discussion with Chris Hayes about the necessity of defending our political institutions when Maher decided to turn the conversation back to fun and games.

I was disappointed. As it happens, I am currently about halfway through one of Professor Snyder’s books: Black Earth: The Holocaust As History And Warning (2015). This is not an easy read but I am sticking with it because Snyder is telling some truths about the Holocaust that we don’t ordinarily hear. For once thing, he has convinced me that Hitler was not only an anti-semite;  rather, he was a thoroughgoing racist who believed that every human on earth was inferior to Germans.

The entire point of Hitler’s ideology (and later his politics) was to enhance and finally achieve the purity of the German “race”; the point of his war was to clear enough land so that Germans could multiply throughout Eastern Europe (and beyond, if they managed that). Hitler despised the Jews because he thought they were people of ideas rather than action, and to his way of thinking it was ideas, such as equality and freedom, that kept the German people from fulfilling their natural task: to spread over the earth, taking it by force, and multiply. This is what the Nazis meant by their slogan”blood and soil.”

More to come.