So I have now made my way through Black Earth, Yale history professor Timothy Synder's revisionist take on the Holocaust and its grim warning for our time.
And all I can say is: It took 318 pages to reach the warning, and I can't say it was worth the effort.
In brief, the book's thesis is that Adolf Hitler earmarked the Jews for elimination because their religiously-based morality was a huge impediment to his nutty "survival-of-the-fittest/man-is-but-another-animal line of thinking.
Further, contends Snyder, it was far easier to kill Jews in places whose state authorities had already given way to the Nazis, or broken down in chaos, or both, than in places where some civic authority was maintained (as it was in, say, Denmark).
In the countries such as Poland and the Ukraine (the "bloodlands" so named in this book as well as in Snyder's previous work by that name), it was far easier to exterminate Jews because there was nothing to stop the locals from getting in on the Jew-killing action, which many did with wild abandon (although not necessarily, insists Snyder, for reasons of "anti-Semitism").
But is this true? Reviewing the book in the Wall Street Journal, Edward J. Rothstein, for one, remains dubious:
But I am not entirely convinced by his conclusion that state power is the crux. It clearly matters what kind of state is coming into power and what kind of state is losing it. Germany, after all, demonstrated that state power can be harnessed for organizing mass murder. Today, ISIS has proved that a well-run organization with a system of law can institutionalize atrocity. There is also a hint of circularity in Mr. Snyder’s formula: If state power is the creator of social order, then of course the lack of state power would mean the end of social order. The destruction of authority results in a lack of authority. But the wartime massacres didn’t take place solely because there was no state structure; they happened because the lack of authority accompanied fervent anti-Semitic convictions. Anti-Semitism should not just be thought of as a form of racism or prejudice. It is a deeply held belief, religious in its power, through which the world’s events are interpreted. Expressions of furious hatred are not merely choreographed passions staged for new masters.
Clearly, Mr. Rothstein has read David Nirenberg's Anti-Judaism, the revisionist work which demonstrated how deeply held Western ideas, religious in their power, understood the world via the use of "Judaism." Not that that the way they unpacked the world had anything to do with real Jews or their real religion.
But by using "Judaism" as a negative via the claim that it was, for example, too worldly, too legalistic, too sneaky, too concerned with wealth and greed--they could set it up as the straw man against which they compared all the wonderful concepts they believed in--selflessness, spirituality and caring less about this world than about the one to come when the body dies and the soul finds it's place in the Afterlife.
But getting back to Snyder. One of his key contentions, and it's the one that sets the stage for his final chapter, the one where he issues his dire warning re the possibility of another Holocaust, is his idea that Hitler was really big on "ecology."
Of course, that's Snyder's word, for in no part of Hitler's writings does he so much as mention the word. For Snyder, though, "ecology" is the key that explains why Hitler was so intent on acquiring "Lebensraum." He needed large fertile fields outside Germany so that he could feed his populace, because a well-fed people were a happy people, one likely to remain loyal to their Fuhrer.
Snyder also floats the astonishing claim that Hitler was jealous of America's Lebensraum, (as he saw it, the vastness of the continental U.S. and its "Manifest Destiny") and that this jealously loomed large in his decisions.
This is the paragraph--a muddle of the half-baked and the unbaked--in the book's conclusion where Snyder attempts to wrap it all up in one tidy package:
Just as Hitler's worldview conflated science and politics, his program confused biology with desire. The concept of Lebensraum unified need with want, murder with convenience. It implied a plan to restore the planet by mass murder and a promise of a better life for German families. Since 1945, one of the two senses of Lebensraum has spread across most of the world; a living-room, the dream of household comfort in consumer society. The other sense of Lebensraum is habitat, the realm that must be controlled for physical survival, inhabited perhaps temporarily by people characterized as not fully human. In uniting these two passions in one word, Hitler conflated lifestyle with life. For the vision of a well-stocked cupboard people should endorse the bloody struggle for other people's land. One standard of living is confused with living, a rich society can make war upon those who are poorer in the name of survival.
And here comes the line that had me scratching my head every time I read it--which I did many times: For me it marks the point where historical revisionism devolves into sheer nonsense. You'd better steel yourself, because it's a doozy:
"Tens of millions of people died in Hitler's war, not so that Germans could live, but so that Germans could pursue the American dream in a globalized world."
In other words, Snyder sees it as more of a Horatio Alger that a Heinrich Himmler sort of aspiration.
Kind of nutty, no?
But wait--it gets even kookier. For the entire point of Snyder's 300+ page revisionism is to yoke the Holocaust to--I kid you not--global climate change. Because just as Hitler's ideas about "ecology" ultimately led to failed states which facilitated the mass murder of Jews, so too in our time the failed states and their "ecology," or rather, the desertification of places like Libya, Iraq and Syria, a situation exacerbated by "climate change," could very well result in Arabs and others blaming it all on Israel, and taking steps to wipe it out.
To which I'd respond: don't worry, Professor Snyder. The Arabs' desire to pull a Hitler on Israel goes way back--and has nothing to do with "climate change" or the lack thereof. Its provenance is the Koran and other Islamic holy texts and teachings, ones that may have even served to inspire Hitler, who admitted to being a big fan of Muslims, and was certainly on the best of terms with the Jew-despising Grand Mufti.
Nor would I worry, as Snyder does, that Israel's "right-wing" American religious friends, who are apt to be climate change "deniers," cannot be trusted due to their ulterior motive of wanting to convert Jews to Christianity prior to Jesus's return. Oddly enough, I'm more worried about the UN, an organization in thrall to its largest voting bloc, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and how it continues to demonize and marginalize the world's one and only Jewish state. This despite the ongoing threat to both Muslims and infidels of ISIS and its Hitlerian caliphate dreams.
Then, too, there's Iran, a deranged Shia theocracy which has been given the green-light to proceed with its nuke-building efforts, ones which may yet enable it to wipe out iniquitous Zion via one well-aimed A-bomb.
None of which has anything to do with climate change. But I suppose if you're a leftist academic for whom global warming is the most crucial issue of our time, one which you think poses an existential threat to humankind, positing that it could be the impetus for another Shoah is a novel and highly effective way to get people, especially those likely to be bowled over by your critical acclaim and academic credentials, to buy in to the allegedly imminent climate catastrophe.
One final thought: were there an annual prize for most original global warming hysteria (and why the heck isn't there one?), Snyder's climate-change-could-cause-another-Holocaust tome would win this year's award, hands down.
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