Posted in America, crime, World, tagged America, Aurora Colorado Shootings, crime, Insanity, Jonestown, Mass Killings, Nazi Germany, The Dark Knight Rises, World on July 20, 2012 |
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When something awful happens, like yesterday’s horrific shooting at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, our natural tendency is to try to explain how it could have happened.
We want to know what would motivate a young man to engage in such brutal, inhuman behavior. What made him decide to charge into a movie theater and terrorize and kill complete strangers who were excited to be among the first to see the latest summer blockbuster? When and why did he run off the rails of normal thought and conduct? Could — and should — anyone have seen warning signs that might have prevented the senseless loss of so many lives? Should the laws be changed to try to prevent this from happening again?
I can understand this impulse, but I also think such efforts are doomed to failure. Has anyone successfully explained how Nazi Germany or Jonestown could possibly have happened? The unfortunate reality is that there is evil and insanity in the world, and when they come together terrible things can happen. We’ve endured countless mass shootings, stabbings, bombings, and suicides, in this country and in others, by people who are acting out of impulses as disparate as a lust for power, religious zealotry, a desire to be famous, racial and tribal hatred, and a hunger for revenge. Some people just lose their marbles and lose their moral moorings.
This is not a comfortable conclusion, unless you’re a hermit. If you want to participate in society, you just have to grit your teeth and accept the fact that the guy sitting next to you in the movie theater, or the sports stadium, or the school cafeteria, might be one of those people whose existence and outlook can’t be rationally explained.
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Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s feverish biography and racist Nazi manifesto, has not been published in German since 1945. That will change soon, when an annotated edition will be published for students to read.
The book has not been banned in Germany. However, the state of Bavaria controls the copyright, and it has not consented to any publication of the book in more than 65 years. The copyright ends in 2015, and Bavaria has decided to publish a scholarly edition to preempt the field before Mein Kampf passes into the public domain — and also to “demystify” the book for Germans who haven’t been able to read it in their native language.
If you’ve never read Mein Kampf, don’t bother. I had to read it for a college class, and it was dreadful — badly written, ranting, nutty, and boring. Reading it was a long, hard slog. Having read it, I wondered how in the world Hitler could have captured the imagination and loyalty of the German people in the years before World War II. There certainly was nothing in the book that explained it.
Books can be extraordinarily powerful. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, may have been the most effective means of changing the views of Americans about slavery in the 19th century. Fearing books and trying to suppress them, however, only enhances their power. Far better to let hateful speech like Mein Kampf remain available, and respond to it in ways that demonstrate its appalling lunacy.
I’m convinced that those Germans who read Hitler’s diatribe anew will recognize it for what it was: the rantings of a misguided madman. Let them read it, and draw their own conclusions.
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Posted in America, Politics, tagged America, Cherokee, Elizabeth Warren, Native Americans, Nazi Germany, Politics, race, Race in America, Race in politics, Scott Brown on May 2, 2012 |
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The race for U.S. Senate has taken a weird turn in Massachusetts. It’s making me very uncomfortable, and I bet I’m not alone in my reaction.
The Democratic candidate is Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor. At times in the past, she identified herself as a minority in a directory of law school professors, and Harvard identified her as native American when it responded to claims that its faculty was non-diverse. Those matters have now been raised as a campaign issue — had she used her ancestry claim to gain an unfair advantage over other job applicants? — and Warren has been scrambling to substantiate her “family lore” of a native American ancestor. Genealogists now have concluded that her great-great-great-grandmother, who is therefore responsible for 1/32nd of her genetic makeup, was listed on an Oklahoma marriage certificate as a Cherokee.
I realize that all’s fair in love and political campaigns. Moreover, I can understand that if a candidate made a bogus claim about her background — by, say, falsely claiming to have served in the military or received a degree from a prestigious school — it would be fair game. Warren’s story also might cause you to ask what reported diversity statistics really mean, and it might be a topic of conversation in the native American community, as one of the articles linked above suggests.
Still, this story is unsettling. Whenever people start talking about someone’s “blood” it raises the specter of Nazi racial purity laws or the racial identity statutes enacted long ago in some southern states. Those are awful, unforgivable chapters in human history, and it’s painful to think about them.
I’ve never thought about my great-great-great-grandmother — whoever she was — but if Warren’s pride in a distant ancestor’s native American heritage caused her to self-identify as native American, too, what difference should that make to a voter? And if she listed herself as a native American for some other, less salutary reason, can’t we just allow her conscience to do its work without making the matter a political issue? Can’t we just judge her quality as a candidate based on her positions on the issues, her experience, and other relevant qualities?
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Posted in Books, Movies, TV, World, tagged Books, Fatherland, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Inglourious Basterds, Iron Sky, Movies, Nazi Germany, Nazis, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Star Trek, TV, World, World War II on February 16, 2012 |
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The hottest ticket at this year’s Berlin Film Festival is a self-proclaimed “B Movie” called Iron Sky. Its consciously over-the-top plot features Nazis trying to conquer Earth from a swastika-shaped base on the far side of the moon.
I doubt Iron Sky will ever make it to our local multiplex cinema, but the movie’s popularity shows, once again, that people are endlessly intrigued by Nazis. Books, movies, and TV shows involving Nazis always seem to find an audience.
The original Star Trek had two episodes involving Nazis — one in which a drug-deranged Dr. McCoy goes back in time and changes history so Germany wins World War II, and another where a famous historian tries to help a culture by modeling it on Nazi Germany, with predictably disastrous results. Nazis make great bad guys (and often comic relief), as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Inglourious Basterds, among many others, have demonstrated. Some years ago the book Fatherland, about a detective who uncovers a dark secret in a triumphant Nazi Germany, was a best-seller. Alternative histories in which Germany prevails in World War II also are a staple of that genre.
Nazi Germany was one of the most brutal, bloody, awful regimes in the history of the world. Why is it such a popular subject for fiction — to the point where it can even be the subject of humor? Why does Nazi Germany seem to be a far more popular setting for fiction than, say, Imperial Japan?
Perhaps it is just because Nazi Germany, with its goose-stepping soldiers, stiff-armed salutes, and elaborate uniforms and ceremonies, already seems so fantastic that it is especially well-suited to whatever embellishment a creative mind could supply. I also wonder, however, whether fictionalizing Nazi Germany is just a kind of cultural defense mechanism. If you routinely depict Nazi Germany as a setting for outlandish activities, maybe it is easier to forget that a racist, bloodthirsty, soulless government actually existed, slaughtering Jews by the millions and dominating Europe, only 70 years ago — within the lifetimes of millions of still-living people.
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Posted in Movies, tagged Colin Firth, England, Geoffrey Rush, Great Britain, Helena Bonham Carter, Movies, Nazi Germany, The King's Speech, World War II on January 10, 2011 |
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Yesterday Kish, Richard and I went to see The King’s Speech. The film is every bit as good as the critics are saying, and maybe better. It is the best movie I have seen in years.
The King’s Speech is a simple story about a man who is struggling to overcome what he considers to be a humiliating affliction — a ferocious, disabling stutter — and the connection he forms with a speech instructor who helps him to overcome it. That story is told powerfully, and well.
But the film is much more than that. It works as a historical drama because the story is set against the backdrop of the death of a king, the abdication of another, the rise of Nazi Germany, and an increasingly inevitable war that everyone is dreading. It works on a deeper level as a human story because the stutterer, a royal, has never really formed a human connection with anyone, much less a commoner from Australia who calls him Bertie and insists on being called Lionel. And it works because the performances — by Colin Firth as George VI, by Geoffrey Rush as the king’s speech instructor, by Helena Bonham Carter as the king’s wife, and by many, many others — are stunningly good. Firth is astonishingly effective in communicating the frustrations and embarrassments of a stutterer who strives bravely to overcome his condition and who, in the process, learns about himself, and Rush creates an instantly memorable character who insists on an equal relationship and, when that relationship is formed, radiates warmth and support for his pupil.
The result is an intensely moving film that packs a tremendous emotional impact. Who would have thought that an American audience would find itself pulling for a British king who must give an important speech? But pull for him we did. The King’s Speech is a movie that is well worth seeing.
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Posted in America, World, tagged 9/11, America, Book-Burning, Dove World Outreach Center, General David Petraeus, Koran, Nazi Germany, religion, United States military, World on September 7, 2010 |
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I’m sure most everyone has heard by now of the Florida church that is planning on burning the Koran on Saturday to commemorate, in the most wrong-headed way imaginable, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The book-burning exercise has been roundly condemned throughout the world, and General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has warned that the act would put the lives of American troops in even greater danger.
It is unnecessary, but I nevertheless want to add my voice to the chorus of disapproval for two reasons. First, book-burning is unacceptable, period. Anyone who believes in free speech believes that the appropriate response to speech is more speech, not censorship — and certainly not the pointlessly provocative act of burning a book that is sacred to another religion. This is America, not Nazi Germany, and the ignorant members of the Dove World Outreach Center would do well to remember that.
Second, the contemplated action of this obscure church is exactly the kind of thing that makes non-religious Americans cringe in shame and shake their heads in dismay — and I am sure it is even more embarrassing and infuriating to Americans who are religious. America is founded on fundamental concepts of religious tolerance. Freedom of religion means that we put up with the apparently nutty members of the Dove World Outreach Center and allow them to gather and celebrate their religious beliefs, whatever they may be, without interference. All we ask is that they behave responsibly and respect the views of others who hold different beliefs. Any Americans who put members of our armed forces, who already are in harm’s way, in even more peril in order to receive publicity or to further their obscure religious beliefs are acting with unforgivable recklessness. They are perversely giving America a black eye for religious intolerance when, to the contrary, the very existence of the Dove World Outreach Center is compelling evidence of the sweeping religious tolerance that characterizes this country.
What the members of the Dove World Outreach Center are planning on doing is shameful, and they should be denounced by every American.
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It is hard to imagine that, nearly 65 years after the end of World War II, there are many new secrets to learn about Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. Nevertheless, historians think they might learn something new from the memoirs of Fritz Darges, who died recently at age 96. Darges was Hitler’s last SS adjutant, serving from 1940 to 1944, and was present for all major conferences on the war during that time.
What I found surprising about this article is that some revisionist historians apparently have argued that Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust. Therefore, there is interest in whether Darges’ memoirs will confirm that Hitler in fact was aware of the Holocaust.
It is hard to believe that a compelling case can be made that a rabid anti-Semite who was the absolute leader of a totalitarian regime could be completely clueless about an operation on the magnitude of the Holocaust, with its specific purpose of addressing the “Jewish problem” that Hitler himself had repeatedly discussed. How could Hitler be unaware of a program that involved the construction of multiple work camps and death camps, the organized round-up of millions of Jews throughout occupied Europe, the use of dedicated trains to transport Jews to Auschwitz and other hellish locations, and countless other indications of organized murder on an unprecedented scale? Does anyone really believe that the Nazi officials directly involved in planning and executing the Holocaust did not boast of their activities to the Fuehrer whose crazed writings and speeches on the subject demonstrated that he would be a receptive and enthusiastic supporter of what they were doing?
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