Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama: Lessons Of The Holocaust

In “Never Again,” Obama Style, Michael Ledeen examines a speech Obamba made in the Capitol on the Holocaust Day of Remembrance:
It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses; the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands.
While Ledeen finds much that is right about what Obama says, he notes that Obama, in talking about what can be learned from the Holocaust, overlooks the historical context behind that bureaucracy--and in taking a lesson from the Holocaust about government in general, misses an important point:
Those words about bureaucracy, “that sustains modern life,” are a useful window into the way Obama views government. He loves government, especially his own. But he’s got the Nazi story wrong. The bureaucracy that conducted the mass murders was largely military, and the most important component was not part of the bureaucracy, or even the traditional army, but rather the SS, which was tied directly to the Fuhrer, not to the old German state.
Obama's strength is his oratory, and the Holocaust presents too strong an image to pass up in making a point--even if it does not really reflect the evils of government that he is trying to speak about, which makes Obama's point all the more jarring in the association his is trying to create.

The issue of the Holocaust and a different lesson that he gleaned from it came up last year in May in an interview Obama did with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic:
JG: Do you think that justice is still on Israel’s side?

BO: I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.

That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds. But the fundamental premise of Israel and the need to preserve a Jewish state that is secure is, I think, a just idea and one that should be supported here in the United States and around the world. [emphasis added]

Here, Obama seems very close to saying that the Holocaust is the justification for a state of Israel: the insecurity of Jews made the US insufficient as a safe refuge and made it necessary for Jews to create a state of their own.

Of course, how much of this is the rhetoric of the moment and how much of this reflects his actual point of view is not clear.

Come to think of it, we are still waiting to get an accurate idea of how Obama feels about Israel.

UPDATE: Check out Israel Matzav, who highlights Obama's unusual explanation of what is meant by "Never Again".

More at Memeorandum

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