Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Hitler Vortex - How American Racism Influenced Nazi Thought

The Hitler Vortex - How American Racism Influenced Nazi Thought
by Alex Ross


"History teaches, but has no pupils," the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. That line comes to mind when I browse in the history section of a bookstore. An adage in publishing is that you can never go wrong with books about Lincoln, Hitler, and dogs; an alternative version names golfing, Nazis, and cats. In Germany, it's said that the only surefire magazine covers are ones that feature Hitler or sex. Whatever the formula, Hitler and Nazism prop up the publishing business: hundreds of titles appear each year, and the total number runs well into the tens of thousands. On store shelves, they stare out at you by the dozens, their spines steeped in the black-white-and-red of the Nazi flag, their titles barking in Gothic type, their covers studded with swastikas. The back catalogue includes "I Was Hitler's Pilot," "I Was Hitler's Chauffeur," "I Was Hitler's Doctor,"" Hitler, My Neighbor," "Hitler Was My Friend," "He Was My Chief," and "Hitler Is No Fool." Books have been written about Hitler's youth, his years in Vienna and Munich, his service in the First World War, his assumption of power, his library, his taste in art, his love of film, his relations with women, and his predilections in interior design ("Hitler at Home").
Why do these books pile up in such unreadable numbers? This may seem a perverse question. The Holocaust is the greatest crime in history, one that people remain desperate to understand. Germany's plunge from the heights of civilization to the depths of barbarism is an everlasting shock. Still, these swastika covers trade all too frankly on Hitler's undeniable flair for graphic design. (The Nazi flag was apparently his creation-finalized after "innumerable attempts," according to "Mein Kampf") Susan Sontag, in her 1975 essay "Fascinating Fascism," declared that the appeal of Nazi iconography had become erotic, not only in S&M circles but also in the wider culture. It was, Sontag wrote, a "response to an oppressive freedom of choice in sex (and, possibly, in other matters), to an unbearable degree of individuality." Neo-Nazi movements have almost certainly fed on the perpetuation of Hitler's negative mystique.
Americans have an especially insatiable appetite for Nazi-themed books, films, television shows, documentaries, video games, and comic books. Stories of the Second World War console us with memories of the days before Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq, when the United States was the world's goodhearted superpower, riding to the rescue of a Europe paralyzed by totalitarianism and appeasement. Yet an eerie continuity became visible in the postwar years, as German scientists were imported to America and began working for their former enemies; the resulting technologies of mass destruction exceeded Hitler's darkest imaginings. The Nazis idolized many aspects of American society: the cult of sport, Hollywood production values, the mythology of the frontier. From boyhood on, Hitler devoured the Westerns of the popular German novelist Karl May. In 1928, Hitler remarked, approvingly, that white settlers in America had "gunned down the millions of redskins to a few hundred thousand.  "When he spoke of Lebensraum, the German drive for "living space" in Eastern Europe, he often had America in mind.
Among recent books on Nazism, the one that may prove most disquieting for American readers is James Q. Whitman's"Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi RaceLaw" (Princeton). On the cover, the inevitable swastika is flanked by two red stars. Whitman methodically explores how the Nazis took inspiration from American racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He notes that, in "Mein Kampf," Hitler praises America as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship, by "excluding certain races from naturalization." Whitman writes that the discussion of such influences is almost taboo, because the crimes of the Third Reich are commonly defined as "the nefandum, the unspeakable descent into what we often call 'radical evil."' But the kind of genocidal hatred that erupted in Germany had been seen before and has been seen since. Only by stripping away its national regalia and comprehending its essential human form do we have any hope of vanquishing it.
The vast literature on Hitler and Nazism keeps circling around a few enduring questions. The first is biographical: How did an Austrian watercolor painter turned military orderly emerge as a far-right German rabble-rouser after the First World War?  The second is sociopolitical: How did a civilized society come to embrace Hitler's extreme ideas? The third has to do with the intersection of man and regime: To what extent was Hitler in control of the apparatus of the Third Reich? All these questions point to the central enigma of the Holocaust, which has variously been interpreted as a premeditated action and as a barbaric improvisation. In our current age of unapologetic racism and resurgent authoritarianism, the mechanics of Hitler's rise are a particularly pressing matter. For dismantlers of democracy, there is no better exemplar.
Since 1945, the historiography of Nazism has undergone several broad transformations, reflecting political pressures both within Germany and abroad. In the early Cold War period, the emergence of West Germany as a bulwark against the Soviet menace tended to discourage a closer interrogation of German cultural values. The first big postwar biography of Hitler, by the British historian Alan Bullock, published in 1952, depicted him as a charlatan, a manipulator, an "opportunist entirely without principle." German thinkers often skirted the issue of Hitler, preferring systemic explanations. Hannah Arendt's "The Origins ofTotalitarianism" suggested that dictatorial energies draw on the loneliness of the modern subject.
In the sixties and seventies, as Cold War Realpolitik receded and the full horror of the Holocaust sank in, many historians adopted what is known as the Sonderweg thesis - the idea that Germany had followed a "special path" in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, different from that of other Western nations. In this reading, the Germany of the Wilhelmine period had failed to develop along healthy liberal democratic lines; the inability to modernize politically prepared the ground for Nazism. In Germany, left-oriented scholars like Hans Mommsen used this concept to call for a greater sense of collective responsibility; to focus on Hitler was an evasion, the argument went, implying that Nazism was something that he did to us. Mommsen outlined a "cumulative radicalization' of the Nazi state in which Hitler functioned as a "weak dictator," ceding policy-making to competing bureaucratic agencies. Abroad, the Sonderweg theory took on a punitive edge, indicting all of German history and culture. William Manchester's 1968 book,"The Arms of Krupp," ends with a lurid image of "the first grim Aryan savage crouched in his garment of coarse skins, his crude javelin poised, tense and alert, cloaked by night and fog, ready; waiting; and waiting."
The Sonderweg argument was attacked on multiple fronts. In what became known as the Historikerstreit ("Historians' Dispute"), right-wing scholars in Germany proposed that the nation end its ritual self-flagellation: they reframed Nazism as a reaction to Bolshevism and recast the Holocaust as one genocide among many. Joachim Fest, who had published the first big German language biography of Hitler, also stood apart from the Sonderweg school. By portraying the Fuhrer as an all-dominating, quasi-demonic figure, Fest effectively placed less blame on the Weimar Republic conservatives who put Hitler in office. More dubious readings presented Hitlerism as an experiment that modernized Germany and then went awry. Such ideas have lost ground in Germany, at least for now: in mainstream discourse there, it is axiomatic to accept responsibility for the Nazi terror.
Outside Germany, many critiques of the Sonderweg thesis came from the left. The British scholars GeoffEley and David Blackbourn, in their 1984 book "The Peculiarities of GermanHistory," questioned the "tyranny of hindsight"-the lordly perspective that reduces a complex, contingent sequence of events to an irreversible progression. In the allegedly backward Kaiserreich, Eley and Blackbourn saw various liberalizing forces in motion: housing reform, public-health initiatives, an emboldened press. It was a society riddled with anti-Semitism, yet it witnessed no upheaval on the scale of the Dreyfus Affair or the Tiszaeszlar blood-libel affair in Hungary. Eley and Blackbourn also questioned whether elitist, imperialist Britain should be held up as the modern paragon. The Sonderweg narrative could become an exculpatory fairy tale for other nations: we may make mistakes, but we will never be as bad as the Germans.
Ian Kershaw's monumental two volume biography (1998-2000) found a plausible middle ground between "strong" and "weak" images of Hitler in power. With his nocturnal schedule, his dislike of paperwork, and his aversion to dialogue, Hitler was an eccentric executive, to say the least. To make sense of a dictatorship in which the dictator was intermittently absent, Kershaw expounded the concept of "working towards the Fuhrer": when explicit direction from Hitler was lacking, Nazi functionaries guessed at what he wanted, and often further radicalized his policies. Even as debates about the nature of Hitler's leadership go back and forth, scholars largely agree that his ideology was more or less fixed from the mid-twenties onward. His two abiding obsessions were violent anti-Semitism and Lebensraum. As early as 1921, he spoke of confining Jews to concentration camps, and in 1923 he contemplated- and, for the moment, rejected- the idea of killing the entire Jewish population. The Holocaust was the result of a hideous syllogism: if Germany were to expand into the East, where millions of Jews lived, those Jews would have to vanish, because Germans could not coexist with them.
People have been trying to fathom Hitler's psyche for nearly a century. Ron Rosenbaum, in his 1998 book "ExplainingHitler," gives a tour of the more outré theories. It has been suggested, variously, that the key to understanding Hitler is the fact that he had an abusive father; that he was too close to his mother; that he had a Jewish grandfather; that he had encephalitis; that he contracted syphilis from a Jewish prostitute; that he blamed a Jewish doctor for his mother's death; that he was missing a testicle; that he underwent a wayward hypnosis treatment; that he was gay; that he harbored coprophilic fantasies about his niece; that he was addled by drugs; or-a personal favorite- that his anti-Semitism was triggered by briefly attending school with Ludwig Wittgenstein, in Linz. At the root of this speculative mania is what Rosenbaum calls the "lost safe-deposit box" mentality: with sufficient sleuthing, the mystery can be solved in one Sherlockian stroke.
Academic historians, by contrast, often portray Hitler as a cipher, a nobody. Kershaw has called him a "man without qualities." Volker Ullrich, a German author and journalist long associated with the weekly Die Zeit, felt the need for a biography that paid more heed to Hitler's private life. The first volume, "Hitler:Ascent 1889-1939," was published by Knopf in 2016, in a fluid translation by Jefferson Chase. Ullrich's Hitler is no tyrant-sorcerer who leads an innocent Germany astray; he is a chameleon, acutely conscious of the image he projects. "The putative void was part of Hitler's persona, a means of concealing his personal life and presenting himself as a politician who completely identified with his role as leader," Ullrich writes. Hitler could pose as a cultured gentleman at Munich salons, as a pistol-waving thug at the beer hall, and as a bohemian in the company of singers and actors. He had an exceptional memory that allowed him to assume an air of superficial mastery. His certitude faltered, however, in the presence of women: Ullrich depicts Hitler's love life as a series of largely unfulfilled fixations. It goes without saying that he was an extreme narcissist lacking in empathy. Much has been made of his love of dogs, but he was cruel to them.
From adolescence onward, Hitler was a dreamer and a loner. Averse to joining groups, much less leading them, he immersed himself in books, music, and art. His ambition to become a painter was hampered by a limited technique and by a telling want of feeling for human figures. When he moved to Vienna, in 1908, he slipped toward the social margins, residing briefly in a homeless shelter and then in a men's home. In Munich, where he moved in 1913, he eked out a living as an artist and otherwise spent his days in museums and his nights at the opera. He was steeped in Wagner, though he had little apparent grasp of the composer's psychological intricacies and ambiguities. A sharp portrait of the young Hitler can be found in Thomas Mann's startling essay "Bruder Hitler," the English version of which appeared in Esquire in 1939, under the title "That Man Is My Brother." Aligning Hitler's experience with his own, Mann wrote of a "basic arrogance, the basic feeling of being too good for any reasonable, honorable activity-based on what? A vague notion of being reserved for something else, something quite indeterminate, which, if it were named, would cause people to break out laughing."
The claims of "Mein Kampf" notwithstanding, there is no clear evidence that Hitler harbored strongly anti-Semitic views in his youth or in early adulthood. Indeed, he seems to have had friendly relations with several Jews in Vienna and Munich. This does not mean that he was free of commonplace anti-Jewish prejudice. Certainly, he was a fervent German nationalist. When the First World War commenced, in 1914, he volunteered for the German Army, and acquitted himself well as a soldier. For most of the war, he served as a dispatch runner for his regiment's commanders. The first trace of a swing to the right comes in a letter from 1915, in which Hitler expressed the hope that the war would bring an end to Germany's "inner internationalism."
The historian Thomas Weber, who recountedHitler's soldier years in the 2010 book "Hitler's First War," has nowwritten "Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi" (Basic), a study of the postwar metamorphosis. Significantly, Hitler remained in the Army after the Armistice; disgruntled nationalist soldiers tended to join paramilitary groups. Because the Social Democratic parties were dominant at the founding of the Weimar Republic, Hitler was representing a leftist government. He even served the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. It is doubtful, though, that he had active sympathies for the left; he probably stayed in the Army because, as Weber writes, it "provided a raison d'etre for his existence." As late as his thirtieth birthday, in April, 1919, there was no sign of the Fuhrer-to-be.
The unprecedented anarchy of postwar Bavaria helps explain what happened next. Street killings were routine; politicians were assassinated on an almost weekly basis. The left was blamed for the chaos, and anti-Semitism escalated for the same reason: several prominent leaders of the left were Jewish. Then came the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in June, 1919. Robert Gerwarth, in "The Vanquished: Why the First World WarFailed to End" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), emphasizes the whiplash effect that the treaty had on the defeated Central Powers. As Gerwarth writes, German and Austrian politicians believed that they had "broken with the autocratic traditions of the past, thus fulfilling the key criteria of Wilson's Fourteen Points for a 'just peace.' "The harshness of the terms of Versailles belied that idealistic rhetoric.
The day after Germany ratified the treaty, Hitler began attending Army propaganda classes aimed at repressing revolutionary tendencies. These infused him with hard-core anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic ideas. The officer in charge of the program was a tragic figure named Karl Mayr, who later forsook the right wing for the left; he died in Buchenwald, in 1945. Mayr described Hitler as a "tired stray dog looking for a master." Having noticed Hitler's gift for public speaking, Mayr installed him as a lecturer and sent him out to observe political activities in Munich. In September, 1919, Hitler came across the German Workers' Party, a tiny fringe faction. He spoke up at one of its meetings and joined its ranks. Within a few months, he had become the leading orator of the group, which was renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
If Hitler's radicalization occurred as rapidly as this-and not all historians agree that it did-the progression bears an unsettling resemblance to stories that we now read routinely in the news, of harmless-seeming, cat-loving suburbanites who watch white-nationalist videos on YouTube and then join a neo-Nazi group on Facebook. But Hitler's embrace of belligerent nationalism and murderous anti-Semitism is not in itself historically significant; what mattered was his gift for injecting that rhetoric into mainstream discourse. Peter Longerich's "Hitler: Biographie," a thirteen-hundred-page tome that appeared in Germany in 2015, gives a potent picture of Hitler's skills as a speaker, organizer, and propagandist. Even those who found his words repulsive were mesmerized by him. He would begin quietly, almost haltingly, testing out his audience and creating suspense. He amused the crowd with sardonic asides and actorly impersonations. The musical structure was one of crescendo toward triumphant rage. Longerich writes, "It was this eccentric style, almost pitiable, unhinged, obviously not well trained, at the same time ecstatically over-the-top, that evidently conveyed to his audience the idea of uniqueness and authenticity."
Above all, Hitler knew how to project himself through the mass media, honing his messages so that they would penetrate the white noise of politics. He fostered the production of catchy graphics, posters, and slogans; in time, he mastered radio and film. Meanwhile, squads of Brown Shirts brutalized and murdered opponents, heightening the very disorder that Hitler had proposed to cure. His most adroit feat came after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, in 1923, which should have ended his political career. At the trial that followed, Hitler polished his personal narrative, that of a simple soldier who had heard the call of destiny. In prison, he wrote the first part of "Mein Kampf," in which he completed the construction of his world view.
To many liberal-minded Germans of the twenties, Hitler was a scary but ludicrous figure who did not seem to represent a serious threat. The Weimar Republic stabilized somewhat in the middle of the decade, and the Nazi share of the vote languished in the low single-digit figures. The economic misery of the late twenties and early tl1irties provided another opportunity, which Hitler seized. Benjamin Carter Hett deftly summarizesthis dismal period in "The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power andthe Downfall of the Weimar Republic" (Henry Holt). Conservatives made the gargantuan mistake of seeing Hitler as a useful tool for rousing the populace. They also undermined parliamentary democracy, flouted regional governments, and otherwise set the stage for the Nazi state. The left, meanwhile, was divided against itself. At Stalin's urging, many Communists viewed the Social Democrats, not the Nazis, as the real enemy-the "social fascists. "The media got caught up in pop-culture distractions; traditional liberal newspapers were losing circulation. Valiant journalists like Konrad Heiden tried to correct the barrage of Nazi propaganda but found the effort futile, because, as Heiden wrote, "the refutation would be heard, perhaps believed, and definitely forgotten again."
Hett refrains from poking the reader with too many obvious contemporary parallels, but he knew what he was doing when he left the word "German" out of his title. On the book's final page, he lays his cards on the table: "Thinking about the end of Weimar democracy in this way-as the result of a large protest movement colliding with complex patterns of elite self-interest, in a culture increasingly prone to aggressive mythmaking and irrationality-strips away the exotic and foreign look of swastika banners and goose-stepping Stormtroopers. Suddenly, the whole thing looks close and familiar." Yes, it does.
What set Hitler apart from most authoritarian figures in history was his conception of himself as an artist-genius who used politics as his metier. It is a mistake to call him a failed artist; for him, politics and war were a continuation of art by other means. This is the focus of WolframPyta's "Hitler: Der Kiinstler als Politiker und Feldherr"("The Artist as Politician and Commander"), one of the most striking recent additions to the literature. Although the aestheticizing of politics is hardly a new topic-Walter Benjamin discussed it in the nineteen-thirties, as did Mann - Pyta pursues the theme at magisterial length, showing how Hitler debased the Romantic cult of genius to incarnate himself as a transcendent leader hovering above the fray. Goebbels's propaganda harped on this motif; his diaries imply that he believed it. "Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple," he wrote.
The true artist does not compromise. Defying skeptics and mockers, he imagines the impossible. Such is the tenor of Hitler's infamous "prophecy" of the destruction of the European Jews, in 1939: "I have often been a prophet, and have generally been laughed at. ... I believe that the formerly resounding laughter of Jewry in Germany has now choked up in its throat. Today, I want to be a prophet again-if the international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe." Scholars have long debated when the decision to carry out the Final Solution was made. Most now believe that the Holocaust was an escalating series of actions, driven by pressure both from above and from below. Yet no order was really necessary. Hitler's "prophecy" was itself an oblique command. In the summer of 1941, as hundreds of thousands of Jews and Slavs were being killed during the invasion of the Soviet Union, Goebbels recalled Hitler remarking that the prophecy was being fulfilled in an "almost uncanny" fashion. This is the language of a connoisseur admiring a masterpiece. Such intellectual atrocities led Theodor W. Adorno to declare that, after Auschwitz, to write poetry is barbaric.
Hitler and Goebbels were the first relativizers of the Holocaust, the first purveyors of false equivalence. "Concentration camps were not invented in Germany," Hitler said in 1941. "It is the English who are their inventors, using this institution to gradually break the backs of other nations." The British had operated camps in South Africa, the Nazis pointed out. Party propagandists similarly highlighted the sufferings of Native Americans and Stalin's slaughter in the Soviet Union. In 1943, Goebbels triumphantly broadcast news of the Katyn Forest massacre, in the course of which the Soviet secret police killed more than twenty thousand Poles. (Goebbels wanted to show footage of the mass graves, but generals overruled him.) Nazi sympathizers carry on this project today, alternately denying the Holocaust and explaining it away.
The magnitude of the abomination almost forbids that it be mentioned in the same breath as any other horror. Yet the Holocaust has unavoidable international dimensions - lines of influence, circles of complicity, moments of congruence. Hitler's "scientific anti-Semitism," as he called it, echoed the French racial theorist Arthur de Gobineau and anti-Semitic intellectuals who normalized venomous language during the Dreyfus Affair. The British Empire was Hitler's ideal image of a master race in dominant repose. "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a Russian forgery from around 1900, fueled the Nazis' paranoia. The Armenian genocide of 1915-16 encouraged the belief that the world community would care little about the fate of the Jews. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Hitler spoke of the planned mass murder of Poles and asked, "Who, after all, is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?" The Nazis found collaborators in almost every country that they invaded. In one Lithuanian town, a crowd cheered while a local man clubbed dozens of Jewish people to death. He then stood atop the corpses and played the Lithuanian anthem on an accordion. German soldiers looked on, taking photographs.
The mass killings by Stalin and Hitler existed in an almost symbiotic relationship, the one giving license to the other, in remorseless cycles of revenge. Large-scale deportations of Jews from the countries of the Third Reich followed upon Stalin's deportation of the Volga Germans. Reinhard Heydrich, one of the chief planners of the Holocaust, thought that, once the Soviet Union had been defeated, the Jews of Europe could be left to die in the Gulag. The most dangerous claim made by right-wing historians during the Historikerstreit was that Nazi terror was a response to Bolshevik terror, and was therefore to some degree excusable. One can, however, keep the entire monstrous landscape in view without minimizing the culpability of perpetrators on either side. This was the achievement of TimothySnyder's profoundly disturbing 2010 book, "Bloodlands," which seems to fix cameras in spots across Eastern Europe, recording wave upon wave of slaughter.
As for Hitler and America, the issue goes beyond such obvious suspects as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Whitman's "Hitler's American Model," with its comparative analysis of American and Nazi race law, joins such previous studies as Carroll Kakel's "The American West and the NaziEast," a side-by-side discussion of Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum; and Stefan Kiihl's "The Nazi Connection," which describes the impact of the American eugenics movement on Nazi thinking. This literature is provocative in tone and, at times, tendentious, but it engages in a necessary act of self-examination, of a kind that modern Germany has exemplified.
The Nazis were not wrong to cite American precedents. Enslavement of African-Americans was written into the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the need to "eliminate" or "extirpate" Native Americans. In 1856, an Oregonian settler wrote, "Extermination, however unchristianlike it may appear, seems to be the only resort left for the protection of life and property." General Philip Sheridan spoke of "annihilation, obliteration, and complete destruction. "To be sure, others promoted more peaceful-albeit still repressive-policies. The historian Edward B.Westermann, in "Hitler's Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars"(Oklahoma), concludes 'that, because federal policy never officially mandated the "physical annihilation of the Native populations on racial grounds or characteristics," this was not a genocide on the order of the Shoah. The fact remains that between 1500 and 1900 the Native population of U.S. territories dropped from many millions to around two hundred thousand.
America's knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death struck Hitler as an example to be emulated. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion. The Volga would be "our Mississippi," he said. "Europe-and not America will be the land of unlimited possibilities." Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine would be populated by pioneer farmer soldier families. Autobahns would cut through fields of grain. The present occupants of those lands-tens of millions of them-would be starved to death. At the same time, and with no sense of contradiction, the Nazis partook of a long-standing German romanticization of Native Americans. One of Goebbels's less propitious schemes was to confer honorary Aryan status on Native American tribes, in the hope that they would rise up against their oppressors.
Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler's regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public relations strategy-an "everybody does it "justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. "Race Law in the United States," a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.
American eugenicists made no secret of their racist objectives, and their views were prevalent enough that F. Scott Fitzgerald featuredthem in "The Great Gatsby." (The cloddish Tom Buchanan, having evidently read Lothrop Stoddard's 1920 tract "The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy," says, "The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be will be utterly submerged.") California's sterilization program directly inspired the Nazi sterilization law of 1934. There are also sinister, if mostly coincidental, similarities between American and German technologies of death. In 1924, the first execution by gas chamber took place, in Nevada. In a history of the American gas chamber, Scott Christianson states that the fumigating agent Zyklon- B, which was licensed to American Cyanamid by the German company I. G. Farben, was considered as a lethal agent but found to be impractical. Zyklon-B was, however, used to disinfect immigrants as they crossed the border at El Paso-a practice that did not go unnoticed by Gerhard Peters, the chemist who supplied a modified version of Zyklon-B to Auschwitz. Later, American gas chambers were outfitted with a chute down which poison pellets were dropped. Earl Liston, the inventor of the device, explained, "Pulling a lever to kill a man is hard work. Pouring acid down a tube is easier on the nerves, more like watering flowers. "Much the same method was introduced at Auschwitz, to relieve stress on S.S. guards.
When Hitler praised American restrictions on naturalization, he had in mind the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed national quotas and barred most Asian people altogether. For Nazi observers, this was evidence that America was evolving in the right direction, despite its specious rhetoric about equality. The Immigration Act, too, played a facilitating role in the Holocaust, because the quotas prevented thousands of Jews, including Anne Frank and her family, from reaching America. In 1938, President Roosevelt called for an international conference on the plight of European refugees; this was held in Evian-les-Bains, France, but no substantive change resulted. The German Foreign Office, in a sardonic reply, found it "astounding" that other countries would decry Germany's treatment of Jews and then decline to admit them.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans died fighting Nazi Germany. Still, bigotry toward Jews persisted, even toward Holocaust survivors. General George Patton criticized do-gooders who "believe that the Displaced person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews who are lower than animals." Leading Nazi scientists had it better. Brian Crim's "Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the NationalSecurity State" (Johns Hopkins) reviews the shady history of Wernher von Braun and his colleagues from the V-2 program. When Braun was captured, in 1945, he realized that the Soviets would become the next archenemy of the American military industrial complex, and cannily promoted the idea of a high-tech weapons program to ward off the Bolshevik menace. He was able to reconstitute most of his operation Stateside, minus the slave labor. Records were airbrushed; de-Nazification procedures were bypassed (they were considered "demoralizing"); immigration was expedited. J. Edgar Hoover became concerned that Jewish obstructionists in the State Department were asking too many questions about the scientists' backgrounds. Senator Styles Bridges proposed that the State Department needed a "first class cyanide fumigating job."
These chilling points of contact are little more than footnotes to the history of Nazism. But they tell us rather more about modern America. Like a colored dye coursing through the bloodstream, they expose vulnerabilities in the national consciousness. The spread of white-supremacist propaganda on the Internet is the latest chapter. As Zeynep Tufekci recently observed, in the Times, YouTube is a superb vehicle for the circulation of such content, its algorithms guiding users toward ever more inflammatory material. She writes, "Given its billion or so users, You Tube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century. "When I did a search for "Hitler" on You Tube the other day, I was first shown a video labelled "Best Hitler Documentary in COLOR!" - the British production "Hitler in Color." A pro-Hitler remark was featured atop the comments, and soon, thanks to Autoplay, I was viewing contributions from such users as CelticAngloPress and SoldatdesReiches.
In 1990, Vanity Fair reported that Donald Trump once kept a book of Hitler's speeches by his bed. When Trump was asked about it, he said, "If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them." Since Trump entered politics, he has repeatedly been compared to Hitler, not least by neo-Nazis. Although some resemblances can be found at times, Trump appears to be emulating Hitler's strategy of cultivating rivalries among those under him, and his rallies are cathartic rituals of racism, xenophobia, and self-regard-the differences are obvious and stark. For one thing, Hitler had more discipline. What is worth pondering is how a demagogue of Hitler's malign skill might more effectively exploit flaws in American democracy. He would certainly have at his disposal craven rightwing politicians who are worthy heirs to Hindenburg, Bruning, Papen, and Schleicher. He would also have millions of citizens who acquiesce in inconceivably potent networks of corporate surveillance and control.
The artist-politician of the future will not bask in the antique aura of Wagner and Nietzsche. He is more likely to take inspiration from the newly minted myths of popular culture. The archetype of the ordinary kid who discovers that he has extraordinary powers is a familiar one from comic books and superhero movies, which play on the adolescent feeling that something is profoundly wrong with the world and that a magic weapon might banish the spell. With one stroke, the inconspicuous outsider assumes a position of supremacy, on a battlefield of pure good against pure evil. For most people, such stories remain fantasy, a means of embellishing everyday life. One day, though, a ruthless dreamer, a loner who has a "vague notion of being reserved for something else," may attempt to turn metaphor into reality. He might be out there now, cloaked by the blue light of a computer screen, ready, waiting.  

The New Yorker, April 30, 2018.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Redemption: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Last 31 Hours by Joseph Rosenbloom


    In the summer of 1968, the city of Memphis was still reeling from the shock and horror of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a young reporter interning at the Commercial Appeal, Joseph Rosenbloom vowed to one day write the story of the last hours leading up to King's death. Returning to Memphis between 2006 and 2014, Rosenbloom interviewed two dozen people connected to the events of that fateful day. The result is Redemption, which Charles Blow of the New York Times hails as "immersive, humanizing, and demystifying."
    Rosenbloom, a former Frontline investigative reporter, examines in detail the last thirty-one hours and twenty-eight minutes of King's life, from the bomb threat against him that delayed his flight from Atlanta on the morning of April 3, 1968 to his murder the following night. Drawing on fresh material from the recently opened King archives elucidated other facets of the story, including a lack of progress towards the launch of the Poor People's Campaign and King's state of mind in the spring of 1968. By digging into the hearing transcripts of the House Select Committee on Assassinations and the Memphis police records, Rosenbloom highlights how a previously unreported lapse in police security left King vulnerable. Police director Frank Holloman received warning calls that something was liable to happen to King in Memphis—yet he neglected to notify King of the threats and only provided security for King and his team for 6 hours after their arrival in town. All these years later, reports Rosenbloom, African-American security officer Ed Redditt, who was assigned to a surveillance team monitoring King from a distance, still feels anguish that had he been adequately guarding King, he might have been able to prevent the assassination.
    Revealing the accumulating toll the movement was taking on King, who was emotionally and physically exhausted, Rosenbloom examines the extraordinary pressure he was under to recruit volunteers and raise funds for the Poor People's Campaign, his ambitious project to eliminate poverty in the United States. He had spoken out against the Vietnam War and was facing blowback from the Johnson administration and dissension within his staff, while rioting had spread throughout the nation's cities and there was a growing perception that King was "old news" compared to the new Black Power movement.
    Rosenbloom underscores how dangerous it was for King and his associates to venture into Memphis. King knew little of the city’s political and racial environment, yet he was determined to organize a peaceful march. At the same time, he was trying to broker talks with a local Black Power group, the Invaders, In the hopes that they would not only keep the peace, but also provide security as parade marshals during a violence-free march. Rosenbloom details how King, his mood increasingly darkening, was unable to convince the invaders to commit unequivocally to nonviolence. "He was trying to redeem his reputation as a nonviolent leader by leading a nonviolent march in Memphis," reflects Rosenbloom. "He was drawing deeply on his faith in the redemptive power of sacrifice for a noble cause, as he risked his life—a faith rooted In the biblical example of Jesus."
In vivid detail, Rosenbloom recreates the city of Memphis, the Lorraine Hotel, and the cast of characters surrounding King. There is Mayor Henry Loeb, who was unwilling to negotiate a settlement to end the garbage workers' strike; King's legendary local lawyer, Lucius Burch, who worked with King to fight the federal injunction against his proposed march; his brother, A.D.; his wife Coretta Scott King with whom he regularly talked on the phone; and his staff and fellow activists, including Dorothy Cotton, Ralph Abernathy, Bernard Lee, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson. Rosenbloom also writes of then-Senator Georgia Davis, who arrived in the pre-dawn hours of April 4^'^ and spent the king with King, momentarily lifting his spirits.
    Rosenbloom also traces the story of James Earl Ray, a petty criminal and drifter who tracks King through news reports and eerily makes his way to Memphis. There, writes Rosenbloom, Ray set up the perfect sniper's nest in the bathroom of a derelict rooming house across from the Lorraine Hotel. Crouching near the window, Ray posed a Gamemaster 760 rifle on the ledge, and waited to kill the nation's foremost civil rights leader.
    The book culminates with King's now-famous and prophetic "From the Mountaintop" speech at Mason Temple, during which he was often overcome with emotion as he exhorted his audience to understand that the choice today was between nonviolence and "nonexistence." Then his speech took a highly personal turn, notes Rosenbloom. "it was unusual for King to dwell openly on the depth of his despair as he pondered his own death. This night in Memphis, however, he seemed near panic, anxious that he might be the target of an assassin's bullet at any moment."

About the Author
: Joseph Rosenbloom is an award-winning journalist who has been a staff reporter for the Boston Globe, an investigative reporter for Frontline, and a senior editor for Inc. magazine. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, American Prospect, among other publications, and lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Studying Text - "Learning is the process of turning information into knowledge"


“Learning is the process of turning information into knowledge.  That is, establishing information in your memory that can be recalled and used.  The two main strategies are repetition and elaboration.”[1]  “While the Common Core State Standards share many features and concepts with existing standards, the new standards also represent a substantial departure from current practice in a number of respects.”[2]

The Common Core Standards set consistent and clear expectations for what students must know at the completion of each grade from Kindergarten through high school.  The standards establish expectations in three academic areas: mathematics, English language arts, and Literacy.  “The literacy standards establish reading and writing expectations for students in social studies, science, and technology. These standards provide few specifics on what students need to read or write, focusing instead on how students should read and write in these courses and how to evaluate what qualifies as good writing.”[3]  There are a number of fundamental literacy components in the Common Core Standards that educators, students, and parents should focus on adopting.  They include: improving reading comprehension, honing writing skills, and cultivating speaking and listening skills.  “Instructional materials will need to challenge students to read and understand more complex texts, build vocabulary, and extract details from texts to use as supporting material in essays and other written work.”[4]

“What I find troubling is the lack of concern of what a colleague of mine calls unwarranted self-regard.[5]

Marlene Zuk is a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota and has published several treatises on evolution and science.  A reviewer of her book “Paleofantasy – What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live” wrote, “As Zuk compellingly argues, such beliefs incorrectly assume that we’re stuck—finished evolving—and have been for tens of thousands of years. She draws on fascinating evidence that examines everything from adults’ ability to drink milk to the texture of our ear wax to show that we’ve actually never stopped evolving. Our nostalgic visions of an ideal evolutionary past in which we ate, lived, and reproduced as we were “meant to” fail to recognize that we were never perfectly suited to our environment. Evolution is about change, and every organism is full of trade-offs.[6]  Zuk’s article regarding student self-esteem is along similar lines of thought.  That students de-couple their own level of intelligence and reasoning from test scores or exam results.  Zuk states, “Maybe it’s all that self-esteem this generation of students was inculcated with as youngsters, or maybe it’s the emphasis on respecting everyone else’s opinion, to the point where no answer, even a mathematical one, can be truly wrong because that might offend the one who gave it.”[7]  While her opinion is forceful and direct, it is opinion and not fact.  Students may or may not on the whole have high sense of self-esteem.  Equally students have a low sense of self-esteem and are in a critical phase of self-identity and self-confidence which compounds their ability to learn or properly engage in the classroom.  Issues of high self-esteem are not nearly as important as educational resources and supportive instructional curriculum.


[1] Londe. The Biology of Learning. 1
[2] Rothman. Nine Ways the Common Core Will Change Classroom Practice.
[3] California Common Core State Standards, http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/finalelaccssstandards.pdf
[4] Idib.
[5] Zuk. Right, Wrong..What’s the Dif?
[6] http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=24733
[7] Idib.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Writing Across the Curriculum



“… Reading and writing are two side of the same coin. whereas the writer works to make a text sensible, the reader works to make a text sensible, the reader works to make sense from a text. As a result, the two processes, rooted in language, are intertwined and share common cognitive and sociocultureal characteristics. Both reading and writing, for example, involve purpose, commitment, schema activation, planning, working with ideas, revision and rethinking, and monitoring.”[1]

“The relationships between reading and writing have been a source of inquiry by language researchers since the mid-1970s.”[2]  My parents where strong advocates of reading, specially early reading because they believed that good readers make good writers.  As Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca, authors of Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum point out, “students who are good readers and writers perceive themselves as such and are more likely to engage in reading and writing on their own.”[3]  There is no mystery to that observation.  The challenge is how do you encourage a student who is a weak reader and a weak writer to become stronger in either area?  Both ends of the spectrum are self-reinforcing scaffolds.  As a student increasing become frustrated with their writing, they are equally frustrated by difficult or challenging reading material.  How does a teacher break the cycle?  On suggestion is short and informal writing tasks: Writing to Learn (WTL).  Using ‘quick-writes’ which focus on capturing an student’s ideas, or concepts very quickly and spontaneously – they spend less time frustrated with composition and more time focus on expression and understanding.  “WLT should not be confused with learning to write”[4]- rather student concentrate on “summarizing and extending their thoughts about a subject.”[5]

Vacca explains another writing technique that is creative, nonthreatening, and fun - POVG (point of view guide) are designed to "trigger thoughtful reading and writing by having students 'get inside the skin' of a character or a subject under study.”[6]  This exercise is simple and short, to have the student think outside of themselves in a creative fashion.  Students involved in a POVG can, ask questions in an interview format; or role-play; or use first-person inquiry to help overcome the fear or frustration of writing.  Once a student is comfortable writing, nearly anything, then as an instructor, we can introduce additional structure to their writing.  “Using a variety of instructional activities, including microthemes, POVGs, unsent letters, biopoems, dialogues, and admit/exit slips”[7] – all do the same, they allow the student to write without fear of failure.

Vacca uses Anne Frank, the world’s most famous child diarist, as an example of the merits of keeping a personal journal.  Does he anticipate our student’s experiences to equal hiding against Nazis and the death camps as the motivation to write?  I think journaling is an excellent activity to encourage a student to write without fear of evaluation or judgment.  Great writing can be developed if the student is allow to “freely express their feelings and thoughts in response to what they are reading and learning.”[8]


[1]      Richard T. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca. Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum Close, Hull, & Langer 2005. p.282.
[2]      Ibid., p.283.
[3]      Ibid., p.283.
[4]      Ibid, p.285
[5]      Ibid., p.285.
[6]      Ibid., p.286.
[7]      Ibid., p.285.
[8]      Ibid., p.294.

NonProfit Board Liabilities - are there legal responsibilities?

I am aware of nonprofit organizations with 501(c) designations that are unable to maintain their obligation and duty to faithfully meet their primary mission: honesty and transparancy.  Attorney Paul D'Alessandro outlines in an excellent article, that every member of a nonprofit board has an obligation to the charitable organization and also the community to operate with a "duty of care".  "Duty of care" translates into actions and measures that any reasonable person would behave and proceed in a way that is not reckless.  Specifically and especially when it relates to an organization's finances and expenses, to operate in a way that is ethical and honest. "If, for example, a charity had an excellent fundraising quarter, they cannot then decide to pay a bonus to the board members, because this would go against the trust society and the nonprofit has placed in its board members."
I would highly recommend reading and reflecting on Paul's article:
http://www.nonprofitpro.com/article/nonprofit-board-liabilities-legal-responsibilities-board/

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Use A Powerful Tool To Immediately Stop Paying Interest On Your Credit Card Balance

Think of someone carrying a credit card balance like a patient who enters an emergency room bleeding badly. The first thing a doctor will do is stop the bleeding. It's no different when attacking a credit card balance; the first thing you do is stop the interest charges.
There is a simple way to do this, and its brilliance is that it actually uses the banks' marketing offers to your advantage: find a card offering a long "0% intro APR balance transfer" promotional offer, and transfer your balance to it. These are cards which offer new customers a long period of time (often as much as 18 months) during which the card charges no interest on all balances transferred to it.

More info can be found at:
http://www.comparecards.com/guide/heres-a-brilliant-way-to-pay-credit-cards?utm_source=msnhp&utm_medium=native&pla=www.msn.com&tar=cms&acqs=prospecting&bdst=cpc&utm_content=fastest&adt=handingdollarfan&utm_campaign=20180208&mpch=ads

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Limits of “Diversity”

Where affirmative action was about compensatory justice, diversity is meant to be a shared benefit. But does the rationale carry weight?


By Kelefa Sanneh
The New Yorker, October 9, 2017

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/09/the-limits-of-diversity

As universities learned to reframe their affirmative-action programs as diversity programs, students learned to believe them. This notion of diversity has proved remarkably flexible, and therefore popular, especially in comparison with terms like “integration” or “racial parity,” which connote conflict, rather than harmony. Liberals have been particularly enthusiastic exponents of Powell’s diversity doctrine, but the ideal of diversity is generally nonpartisan. Last year, Reince Priebus, who was then the chair of the Republican National Committee, voiced his hope that Trump’s running mate would add “a degree of diversity.” Later, when it was reported that the final list of choices consisted entirely of white men, Priebus said that he was not disappointed. “There’s also something called ‘diversity of experience,’ too, that’s necessary,” he said. And at the Republican Convention a student leader rallied the crowd with a Powellian affirmation: “We are the party of youth and diversity. Not the Democrats!”

Even as the idea of diversity was conquering the country, some on the left were having second thoughts. In 2006, the literature professor Walter Benn Michaels published a brusque polemic, “The Trouble with Diversity,” which depicted the whole concept as profoundly conservative. Because diversity meant “the appreciation (rather than the elimination) of difference,” he argued, it was the ideology of “bosses and owners,” who could celebrate their own increasing “cultural diversity” while ignoring the economic inequality with which they were complicit. Ellen Berrey, the sociologist, found Michaels’s argument “simplistic,” and, in “The Enigma of Diversity,” she sets out to discover how this ideology functions, by spending time in the field. Three fields, in fact: a large (and, by agreement, anonymous) Fortune 500 corporation, a mixed-income neighborhood in Chicago, and a selective public university, the University of Michigan. All three realms were proudly and self-consciously diverse, although carefully so—Michigan had been sued over its affirmative-action program. Berrey’s smart and subtle book aims to show exactly how differently people and institutions use this malleable concept.