FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Holocausts R Us

Photo by August Brill | CC BY 2.0

Late last century, I spent a few years teaching what is quaintly called ‘Social Studies’ at a small private high school in Southern California. High school subject matter is ordained by the State and is organized by grade: thus tenth grade is World History and eleventh is American History. Being of a progressive frame of mind and teaching at a nominally progressive school, I chose as my principal texts Clive Ponting’s A Green History of the World1991, and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, Revised Edition, 1995, for the successive classes; these texts, at the time, represented an almost unprecedented dose of radicalism for the young minds under my charge.

While Ponting’s volume, now revised as A New Green History of the World, 2007, remains an invaluable primer on the impact of Homo sapiens on planet Earth beginning some 100,000 years ago and of truly modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, beginning 30,000 years ago, and is, I believe, a foundational document for anyone wishing to acquire a ‘green’ consciousness, Zinn’s book has worn less well. Were I to teach high school history again (heaven forbid), I would choose a replacement for his volume.

We cannot, I think, begin to approach the history of the United States without thoroughly ingesting, at the molecular level, the impact of European settler colonialism over the last half millennium. Thus it is that the comparatively new volume, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’, The Indigenous People’s History of The United States, 2015, seems to be an essential antidote to the rote mythologies of this country (essentially regurgitated by Zinn with a populist twist) and which, at the high school level, might be effective (perhaps in conjunction with an introduction to ‘green’ consciousness) in developing a generation that begins to understand this land’s History Degree Zero (to paraphrase Barthes’ term). In other words, a history that does not accept as natural, the imposition by means of genocide, of European values on a continent peopled by highly varied groups who nevertheless shared an ethos that almost always ran counter to the materialistic, hierarchical, monotheistic characteristics of Western civilization, (just as Barthes refused to accept the French literary canon, infused, as he correctly saw it, with the values of ‘a triumphant middle class’).

The capture of the Republican Party by the extreme right and the installation of a racist demagogue in the White House have inevitably raised the specter of Germany in the 1930’s. Timothy Snyder has made explicit connections between the founding of the Third Reich and the rise of Trump (On Tyranny, 2017). Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ to rid the world of Jews in a messianic holocaust dominates any consideration of the German leader. His morbidly twisted mind personified both capitalism and communism within the Jewish people. The fabrication of Judeobolshevism was aggregated with a more traditional anti-Semitism into a bizarre pseudo-scientific theory of race whereby the Aryan people must exterminate the weaker Jew in order to ensure their survival and ultimate global supremacy. Hitler was a uniquely malignant leader. Yet he remains a shadowy presence behind more recent, far right-wing, fascist politicians, and once again our genocide radar is alerted.

Trump, for his part, has serially vilified the Mexican people and Moslems for transparent political gain (it’s the base, stupid) but he possesses none of the insanely racist ideological rigor that saw Hitler reify the ideas expressed in Mein Kampf, 1925 and 1926, in the trenches and gas chambers of Eastern Europe. Trump’s struggle, we now know, was in avoiding S.T.D’s in his youthful sexual escapades. His The Art of the Deal, co-authored with Tony Schwarz, 1987, is a paean to conniving capitalism and his dubious financial dealings – the suspicion that he is now using his office to further enrich himself and his family is a straight forward expression of his base financial motivations. Reassuringly, he is a very American politician, squarely in that tradition of graft, dark money, oligarchic tendencies and licentious sexual appetites which the voting public seems to expect and even appreciate in its male law makers and presidents.

But Snyder has cursed us (those, at least, who read him) with a renewed fascination with what he calls the killing fields of Eastern Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s. Prior to his revisionist histories (Bloodlands, 2010 and Black Earth, 2015), the Holocaust, in the popular imagination, remained a singular event that concerned the killing of six million Jews and others deemed to be sub-human, sanctioned by the German government just before and during the Second World War, and was often conflated with the gas chambers of Auschwitz – that emblematic infrastructure, the death factory where mechanized, industrial scale killing was perfected.

The Soviets liberated Auschwitz, but the reaction of the G.I.’s who stumbled across other camps is telling.  One invoked the image, “bodies stacked like cordwood”: another was struck by the hundreds of survivors – “the skinniest people you saw in your life. Huge, huge eyes – and there was not a sound out of them. You never saw people like this before” (Michael Hirsch, The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust, 2010). The death camps, starvation diets for the barely living, endemic disease and the threadbare striped rags in which they were clothed were all entirely alien concepts to the squeaky clean, eighteen, nineteen or twenty year-old G.I.’s. Blame their educations: conditions created by Andrew Jackson’s ‘Final Solution’ for America’s indigenous people east of the Mississippi, were substantially similar. The young soldiers were unknowing heirs to the tradition of American Genocide.

Less than a decade after the liberation of the Nazi camps and the atomic firestorms of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, almost three million Asians lay dead in Korea, at least half of whom were civilians; further south and west and a few years on, another 3.1 million Asians died during the Vietnam War (by Vietnam’s own estimate in 1995 and confirmed in 2008 by the British Medical Journal). These were deaths suffered in the pursuit of ideological goals – because one side of each country’s civil war putatively threatened the primacy of capitalism. For those keeping count, that’s almost exactly the total of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled killed under the German Reich.

The killing goes on: in Iraq since the turn of this century, more than half a million men, women and children have died for their (or their parent’s) temerity in supporting a regime that declared its independence in the disposition of its own oil reserves. ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ was the reaffirmation of an imperial ideology based on the primacy of free market capitalism in all human and state-to-state transactions and of the American dollar as its reserve currency – all cloaked in the all-purpose euphemism of ‘Freedom’, promiscuously applied both at home and abroad.

In each of this Country’s imperial wars, beginning with the Mexican-American war of 1846 – 1848, U.S. troops used techniques, specific language related to operations, equipment and codes that were developed in the extermination of this country’s indigenous peoples. Now military equipment rings with the names of Indian tribes, weaponry and band leaders (Apache, Tomahawk and Black Hawk). Enemy territory is still known in the military as Indian country and its heritage of genocidal actions have been reincarnated in the modern era across the globe – in Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia and beyond. The American Holocaust remains a living tradition.

The planned elimination of Jews and the subjugation of Slavs and North Africans (doubly damned by their Moslem faith), had an economic purpose – to create Lebensraum, or living room for German (or Italian) agriculture on colonized lands conveniently denuded of non-Aryan mouths to feed, as well as a crackpot, supremacist  ideological rationale. Hitler, a reader of ‘Westerns’ written by the German writer Karl May, in addition to possessing a more than cursory knowledge of world history, was much taken by the American racial genocide of indigenous peoples and took it as validation of his agronomic model. Under those waving fields of grain beneath a prairie sky are interred, as Dunbar-Ortiz notes, “the bones, villages, fields, and sacred objects of American Indians”. For Hitler in the 1930’s, the bread basket of the Ukraine beckoned, if once its Jews and Slavs were interred beneath its black earth.

It is now Capitalism (just gathering steam as an ideology at the moment of the ‘discovery’ of the New World), that is reasonably considered to be the proximate cause of what may prove to be the ultimate holocaust – the ecocide of the planet, the destruction of the systems that support human life on Earth. It is in this Holocaust in which Trump, like the vast majority of the world’s leaders, is complicit: try teaching that at high school. Perhaps in twelfth-grade Economics?

More articles by:

John Davis is an architect living in southern California. He blogs at Urban Wildland

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail