Posted Tuesday, December 21, 1999

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Chicago October 1999

Holocaust as political industry

Peter Novick asserts that the Holocaust has desensitized us to other genocides, but stops short of asking who invented the Holocaust in the first place. Who decided to capitalize the noun "holocaust" and transform genocide into a political weapon and fund-raising tool?

In America, which had little to do with the event itself, there is an ever-growing Holocaust industry in academia. There is a Holocaust publishing industry and a Holocaust Hollywood. There are Holocaust museums and memorials trying to make concrete what might otherwise become dated and ephemeral. And there is the Holocaust-promoting chorus of wealthy and influential American Jews who make sure we never forget.

"Never forgetting" is the best way to intensify the collective guilt on the part of America's Christian majority and boost the Holocaust industry's favorite political cause -- the state of Israel. Guilt, laced with liberally dispensed charges of anti-Semitism for opponents and sweetened with a heavy sprinkling of PAC money, has made the Israel-firsters masters of the executive and legislative branches. Easy and often exclusive access to the media shapes public opinion. And at the end there is a pot of gold: unlimited political and military support plus $6 billion in U.S. taxpayer --provided annual aid to a country that is one of the richest on earth.

Nazis killing Jews has become the paradigm for modern-day genocide, but the Holocaust is hardly unique in the 20th century, which affords numerous examples of mass killing. The politics of mass murder nowadays, as practiced by dictators and democrats alike, is all about killing people with words before you actually shoot them. Perversely, the Holocaust is used to justify killing yet more people; i.e., to "prevent another Holocaust."

As Novick notes, George Bush didn't really cite the Holocaust to "disabuse us of Enlightenment illusions about man." He wanted to suggest that men can be evil to justify the bloodshed in the war against Iraq. Nor was George Will debunking the Renaissance illusion that " becomes better as he becomes more clever."

George is a realist who appreciates the use of force majeure, as long as it is not used against him or his friends. And then there's Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate high priest of the Holocaust. Never once has Wiesel spoken out against Israel's deplorable treatment of the Palestinians. It's okay to kick an Arab, but never a Jew, and if we keep on reminding the world that the Nazis killed a lot of Jews, we can continue to kick Arabs and no one will say anything. Rwandans, Biafrans, and Somalis are even lower on the scale than Arabs, and there are fewer journalists standing around watching how you treat them. Why intervene to save them? The Third World is descending into chaos, and they'll only be fighting again before the week is out.

In short, can anyone deny that most invocations of the Holocaust are cynical and bogus? The Holocaust promoters understand that if you keep saying the same thing over and over again everyone will eventually believe it; i.e., that the Holocaust is the greatest evil in history and justifies special breaks not only for its survivors, but also for their descendants and co-religionists.

Perhaps what is truly unique about the Holocaust is the ability of its exploiters to preemptively silence their critics. Surely within the University of Chicago community there must be many who recognize that the Holocaust industry has gone too far, that the Holocaust is far from being the central event of the century, and that its message of an exclusivity in suffering -- serving to promote a Zionist agenda -- is dubious at best. But the open expression of such views might be unwise. It is safer to remain silent.

Philip M. Giraldi, AB'68
Purcellville, Virginia
John K. Taylor, AB'69
Fort Worth, Texas.
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