Calling Evil by Its Name

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Upon his first visit to one of the liberated death camps, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “There are those who ask what are we fighting for. Let them come here and see what we are fighting against.” Eisenhower’s remark contains an important insight: Sometimes it is more essential that one define the nature of evil than that one define what is good. About the latter, there will inevitably be many opinions. But they need not prevent a consensus from coalescing around the definition of evil.

I was reminded of that point last week as I watched The Third Jihad, the third in a trilogy of documentaries on the threat of radical Islam produced by Raphael Shore and Wayne Kopping. Towards the end of the documentary one of the experts interviewed, former CIA intelligence officer Clare Lopez declared, “The real war is between the values of freedom and barbarism. If we are not willing to recognize the battle as one for our civilization, we might as well give up right now.”

The last time the West faced such a civilizational threat, many refused to recognize the nature of the conflict. In Troublesome Young Men, Lynne Olsen offers a gripping account of the group of youthful Conservative backbenchers, who eventually ousted British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain from power and brought in Winston Churchill in his place, nearly a year after the outbreak of World War II.

England entered that war totally unprepared, and lagging far behind Germany in every respect, apart from its navy. Even after Britain proclaimed war, following the Nazi invasion of Poland, Chamberlain pursued it half-heartedly and dreamed of an imminent peace. Britain and France bombed only German military targets most narrowly defined. Meanwhile Luftwaffe pilots in Poland followed orders to “close [their] hearts to pity,” happily machine-gunning women and girls picking potatoes, bombing churches and hospitals, and strafing toddlers being herded to safety.

The parallels between today and the earlier period are eerie. Chamberlain, like President Obama today, enjoyed an overwhelming majority in Parliament. His party whips enforced party discipline with an iron hand – think Rahm Emanuel – and backbenchers who stepped out of line put their political futures on the line.

In another interesting parallel, Chamberlain enjoyed almost across the board fawning support from the press and the BBC. That included self-imposed censorship on the information reaching the British public. After the Anschluss, British papers carried no pictures of the hundreds shot in the first days after the Nazi takeover, of the tens of thousands arrested and sent to concentration camps, or of Nazi soldiers forcing Jewish doctors, lawyers and professors to scrub the streets and clean toilets on their hands and knees. When reporters asked Chamberlain about such matters, he snapped at them for believing “Jewish-Communist propaganda,” and that was the end of the matter.

The British press ignored both the massive German arms build-up prior to the War, and the pitiful state of British preparedness. Both before and after the conflict started, it suppressed mention or quotations from Hitler’s speeches that would have conveyed a much different impression of his goals. As a British TV character tartly observed forty years later, “It is hard to censor the press when it wants to be free, but easy if it gives up its freedom voluntarily.”

Chamberlain never read Mein Kampf, in which Hitler laid out in startling fashion both his future plans for the Jews and for German conquest. Far from viewing Hitler as an evil man, Chamberlain believed him to be a “gentleman,” with whom he could do business. He was more than once shocked to find that Hitler had lied to him, even though that too was foreshadowed in Mein Kampf, Said future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, “He didn’t believe people existed [who would] say one thing and do another. . . . It was pathetic, really.”

Chamberlain, according to Olsen, ‘’could never bring himself to believe that [Hitler and Mussolini] wanted to go to war. Clinging to the security of his ignorance, he created a peace-loving image of them that defied reality.” For a decade, the English and French did nothing in response to fascist aggression in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Austria, and Czechoslovakia, and precious little even in the wake of the German invasion of Poland.

France and England thereby encouraged Hitler to believe they were too weak to prevail, a judgment in which he was very nearly right. That should have taught us – but did not – that those who hope to avoid war via appeasement inevitably end up fighting later on worse terms.

At no point, did Chamberlain recognize that Hitler constituted a mortal threat to Western civilization. As a consequence, he displayed far more ruthlessness fighting those within his own party who dared challenge his policies than he did in fighting Hitler.

The inability to recognize Hitler as evil incarnate is the most frightening parallel to today. President Ronald Reagan was reviled by Western elites for calling the Soviet Union the Evil Empire, as was President George W. Bush for grouping Iran, North Korea, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq together as the Axis of Evil.

The West still remains incapable of acknowledging evil or giving credence to the pronouncements of evil men. Ayatollah Khomeini long ago made clear that he was prepared to see Iran go up “in flames,” if the worldwide rule of Islam were thereby furthered. Mutual assured destruction, says Bernard Lewis, the greatest living authority on Islam, is for Ahmadinejad, “not a deterrent but an incentive.” Surveying the scene in Beslan, where Chenyan Muslims killed nearly 300 Russian schoolchildren, one of the speakers on The Third Jihad puts the point succinctly: Why should those who don’t hesitate to send out their own children to be killed hesitate to kill other peoples’ children?

Yet the highest wisdom in the West today is to not take seriously the threats of Ahmadinejad or the speculations of the Iranian leadership about the mathematics of a nuclear exchange with Israel. They are not madmen, we are constantly told.

President Obama has no taste for confrontation with radical Islam (only with Israel). He cannot even admit that it exists. Evil, it seems, is one of the few words that does not come trippingly off his tongue.

This article originally appeared in Mishpacha.

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29 Responses

  1. Lawrence M.Reisman says:

    Ori:

    You write that “some Jews believe the New Deal prolonged the great depression, all over the world (the US economy was a significant factor for the rest of the world even then). This helped Hitler seize power and let to WWII in Europe and the Holocaust” However, Hitler became chancellor in January of 1933; Roosevelt became president in March of that year. There is no way Roosevelt’s policies helped Hitler seize power.

  2. MartyK says:

    I have to take issue with this part of the original post:

    >Chamberlain never read Mein Kampf, in which Hitler laid out in
    >startling fashion both his future plans for the Jews and for German
    >conquest. Far from viewing Hitler as an evil man, Chamberlain believed
    >him to be a “gentleman,” with whom he could do business. He was more
    >than once shocked to find that Hitler had lied to him, even though
    >that too was foreshadowed in Mein Kampf

    Unlike most people who comment on mein kampf, I have actually listened to it and I listened to the new Ford translation which is more accurate than other versions so I think I am pretty well versed now, much more than people who have read the older censored versions anyway. And the analysis which was included dealt with this exact topic. It is inaccurate to say that anyone could have foretold what Hitler would do based on Mein Kampf. Based on what he said in MK he never would have formed an alliance with Russia or Japan but that is exactly what happened. You have surely seen that famous hollywood psychic who predicts all these amazing things about who will get married and divorced. Well what the press never tells you is that she makes 20 predictions every day and if only one comes true in a week she is one the news the next day telling everyone how she foretold whatever it was would happen. It is the same with MK, there are a lot of things in it, mostly about politics and to say that someone should have seen what was happening based on it is simply inaccurate and impossible. Hitler adapted to the situation and changed policies and alliances constantly. He refused to explain many of the Nazi Party’s 25 point political program in detail because he did not want to be committed to one interpretation, he was always changing.

    Now that I have read MK I see these kinds of reports all over and I realize more and more that 99% of the people who have an opinion or even write news stories about MK are clueless and have no idea what they are talking about because they have not read or listened to MK, it just irks me especially now that I know what it says and see how many reporters and bloggers claim it is something it is not. Read or listen to Mein Kampf for yourself before accepting any news story or blog post ‘about’ mein kampf where the poster or reporter has not even bothered to find out about what they are reporting on.

  3. Ori says:

    L. Oberstein: Identifying with the gang that brought our economy to its knees is stupid and I can’t fathom how a Jew doesn’t have “rachmones” and wants only for the rich to get richer.

    Ori: You can’t fathom it because it’s not what is happening. What is happening is that some Jews believe the New Deal prolonged the great depression, all over the world (the US economy was a significant factor for the rest of the world even then). This helped Hitler seize power and let to WWII in Europe and the Holocaust. The same Jews believe that Obama’s policies will also have disastrous results.

    I don’t expect you to agree with us. But please remember that the argument is not about ultimate purposes, but about the best means to achieve them. Could you extend the assumption of good will to us, the way you’d expect us to extend it to President Obama?

  4. Sam says:

    Leonard,

    The title of this article is “Calling Evil by Its Name” and is not meant to be a forum for you to express your political preferences regarding domestic agendas. You repeatedly try to defend what is looking more and more like pressure on Israel and tolerance for its enemies by telling us how much G-d loves the welfare state.

    Please stick to the topic!

  5. L. Oberstein says:

    It is not the job of the US gov’t to support every Israeli position. Israel survives on “nisim”. That the US has given so much support when the other side has a lot of friends and a lot of money and a lot of oil is “chasdei Hashem”.
    I don’t worship FDR, I do support humane government that cares about all citizens. You can nit pick all you want about the effectiveness of specific New Deal programs, but I would rather side with Hakodosh Boruch Hu “whose mercy is over all His creatures” over the selfishness that leaves the poor to die in the streets. If it weren’t for TR and FDR and others of his ilk, we would still have sweat shops, child labor, no safety standards, ignorance and poverty with a class of robber barons wallowing in their riches. That Jews identify with the crooks who robbed us all with their scams and sub prime loans and all the horrible “shtick” that brought on the current crisis is unfthomable. These criminal destroyed our economy by their manipulation of our free enterprise system to make themselves rich at the expense of the entire world economy.
    Identifying with the gang that brought our economy to its knees is stupid and I can’t fathom how a Jew doesn’t have “rachmones” and wants only for the rich to get richer.

  6. Sam says:

    Leonard,

    “Most of all, he is not a charicature, he is a peson. We need to grow up.”

    Did you see the article in the Jerusalem Post that “Only 6% of Israelis see US gov’t as pro-Israel”?

    Do the other 94% of Israelis need to “grow up” also? And speaking of growing up, I think you may be the last Orthodox Jew alive today who still worships FDR!

  7. Ori says:

    Dovid, my phone # is (903) 513 4307. However, I am usually either working or trying to fend off four young children (6, 4, and 2.5 year old twins). As a result, it’s hard for me to discuss intellectual matters except via e-mail.

    My point wasn’t that the Jews rebelling against the Romans were equivalent, merely that the psychology is similar. I couldn’t find more recent examples in Jewish history, thank G-d. I don’t think Israel is capable of losing more than one war.

    About the Versailles treaty, possibly you’re right – but IIRC a lot of people in Britain thought Germany had legitimate grievances.

  8. dovid says:

    “Pushing the Arab-Israeli conflict to central stage” is an indication of Obama’s cowardness. He can’t bully or even try to bully Iran or the Arabs. He can’t bully even N. Korea, let alone Russia or China. He goes hat in hand to beg acceptance and friendship from Western European countries, but gets neither. He feels he stands a chance to bully Israel. After all, he needs to be presidential and show some achievements, so he is trying to bully Israel into submission, regardless of the outcome to Israel and the US.

  9. dovid says:

    Ori, I have been waiting for you tel. call. Meantime, let me tell you not only that you are wrong, but also why you are wrong.

    “People who lose wars usually don’t accept it with good grace we didn’t after the losing to the Romans.”

    While it is human nature to be upset for losing a war and be at the mercy of your enemies, comparing Jews being vanquished by the Romans to Germans at the end of WWI, and even more stating that “German resentment of their treatment in the Treaty of Versailles was completely legitimate.” is not defensible. We did not start a fight with the Roman Empire and lost. They came to conquer us, as they did everywhere else. In short, we didn’t take a chance and lost. The Germans did. Germans rose to political and economic prominence considerably after England and France. By the turn of the 20th century, England and France, and Russia before that, and Spain and Portugal long before that, grabbed the juiciest lands in Africa, Asia, Far East, and South America. Germany armed itself and prepared for war in a grand way to force a re-distribution of the colonies. Even though its opponents were not any more altruistic or righteous, the Pax Romana concept had not application here because the Germans were the not only the aggressors but also lost the war, two failings that world does not forgive unless one is an Arab.

  10. David N. Friedman says:

    Reb Yid–in the wake of that pathetic speech in Cairo, only 6% of Israelis now believe Obama is pro-Israel–a dramatic shift down.

    Not once did Obama bring an “honest truth” to bear on the heads of Arab nations. No ringing endorsement of freedom and democracy. Not one suggestion that America was for the cause of right and decency. Not once could he suggest that Arab states might wish to bring their dictatorships in line with modern times. His only strong rebuke was to America for our supposed ills and Americans are still recoiling from his undiplomatic words.

    Pushing the Arab-Israeli conflict to central stage–it would have been positive for Obama to stake a course of action premised on certain honest truths–the fact that America requires the Arab states to accept the existence of a Jewish state–at least of some undetermined size. The honest truth that the 1948 war (and the 1967 war) cannot be fought over again, that Israel won that war and that ancestral refugees will not have a “right of return” into the land of Israel. Or the honest truth that Jerusalem, under Israeli rule–protects the rights of Muslims, Christians and Jews and should not be re-divided. Even while taking swipes at Israel’s “settlements” –if Obama said any of these things–as former President Bush had done–it would have been a welcome message in the pursuit of peace.

  11. Aaron says:

    Re Bitburg. Not so simple. Kohl was an ally who was in jeopardy. Reagan got the Pershings into Germany to bring down the USSR, a net good far exceeding the insensitivity of the Bitburg visit. Reagan got bad advice from Deaver and another advisor who didn’t check their facts before the visit was accepted. Once the announcement was made, it was politically untenable to back out and still have Kohl as an ally. Another German leader would have been worse for the US-German alliance necessary to bring down the USSR. Nancy Reagan opposed it. Moreover, Reagan inserted a death camp visit before Bitburg, getting Kohl to go with him to Bergen-Belsen. “All these children of God,” said Reagan, “under bleak and lifeless mounds, the plainness of which does not even hint at the unspeakable acts that created them. Here they lie, never to hope, never to pray, never to live, never to heal, never to laugh, never to cry. . . . And then, rising above all this cruelty, out of this tragic and nightmarish time, beyond the anguish, the pain and suffering, and for all time, we can and must pledge: Never again.”

    Reagan spent 8 minutes at Bitburg.

    Kohl thanked the president for staying the course: “This walk . . . over the graves of soldiers was not an easy walk. I thank you personally as a friend that you undertook this walk with me.” Reagan responded candidly: “This visit has stirred many emotions in the American and German people too. Some old wounds have been reopened, and this I regret very much, because this should be a time of healing.”

    Reagan regretted the incident but gained political capital which ended up saving many tens of thousands of living Jews in the USSR.

    Back to Obama, whose primary life influences are Rev. Wright, Rashid Khalidi and Edward Said… there is simply NO way to compare the worst of Reagan’s treatment of Jews and Israel to the daily and continuing evil perpetrated by Obama’s mentors. They are not within light years of each other.

  12. Ori says:

    Moderators, please leave my e-mail address in this comment. I owe it to Dovid.

    Dovid, if you want to discuss this further my e-mail is ori at simple-tech.com.

  13. Reb Yid says:

    Steve:

    Obama wasn’t making his speech at Berkeley.

    He was making it in Cairo, for goodness sakes, in a country where anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the media have been raised by Jewish organizations to Mubarak repeatedly over the last few decades.

    It was a very clear, loud and unprecedented rebuke.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    Reb Yid-WADR, engaging in moral equivalence between the Holocaust and the ( imposed and self-imposed) “suffering of the Palestinians and ignoring the traditional claims of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel is what post modernists who deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust and Israel do on every American campus. It hardly a mussar shmnues, but rather the comments of someone with a European socialist POV who seeks to impose that brand of thinking on our domestic and foreign policies and to have American sovereignty governed and restricted by the third world as we wallow in an attitude of guilt.

  15. Ori says:

    Dovid, this is a bit off topic – suffice to say that Chamberlain had reasons to think the German grievances were legitimate. People who lose wars usually don’t accept it with good grace, we didn’t after the losing to the Romans.

  16. Ori says:

    Lawrence M. Reisman: Suddenly, the Chicago Tribune reported that they had a copy of a secret plan to invade Europe without a declaration of war that had been leaked from the War Dept. by General Hap Arnold. This disclosure so angered Hitler that he declared war on us.

    Ori: Do you have evidence for this? I’d like to discuss it on another board.

  17. dovid says:

    “German resentment of their treatment in the Treaty of Versailles was completely legitimate. In a Europe whose borders were supposed to mark national territories, the German nation was split between Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland.”

    Legitimate German resentment? German grievances? Ori, the Germans lost WWI that they started and for which they prepared for for many yrs. The fact that the other side was no better, doesn’t make the Germans righteous. War is a risky proposition. Germans, Arabs, and other war-hungry nations must learn that when they lose, they lost.

  18. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    “Maybe that is why Roosevelt let the Japnese attack Pearl Harbor so he could get the US into the War (conspiracy theory that might be true). Prior to Pearl Harbor, he couldn’t have do it.” After Pearl Harbor, Congress would not declare war on Germany in spite of Roosevelts request to do so. Suddenly, the Chicago Tribune reported that they had a copy of a secret plan to invade Europe without a declaration of war that had been leaked from the War Dept. by General Hap Arnold. This disclosure so angered Hitler that he declared war on us. The leaker, Hap Arnold, became one of 5 five-star generals during WWII, which seems to indicate that he was acting under White House orders. If so, Roosevelt lied our way into the European war.

  19. Ori says:

    L. Oberstein: Obama isn’t Chambelin, it is a fallacious comparison. … He may be wrong, he may make errors, his policies may fail but he is a good person trying to actually do something about the problems that have been allowed to fester too long,domestically and abroad.

    Ori: May I point out that Chamberlin was a good person, trying to actually do something about some problems which have been allowed to fester too long? German resentment of their treatment in the Treaty of Versailles was completely legitimate. In a Europe whose borders were supposed to mark national territories, the German nation was split between Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. The Sudetenland was made a part of a different nation. Germany was not allowed to have the military to defend itself, to prevent for the example the invasion of the Ruhr.

    There are several lessons to be drawn here, but I suspect one of them is that trying to right historical wrongs may be counter productive. For Britain and France to allow the German-Austrian unification in 1928 would have been good. To allow it in 1938, with Hitler running Germany, was not.

    Sorry for the prolonged history lesson, but I think it’s important to evaluate Chamberlin’s experience so that we may learn from it. He was not an evil man, he was a good man trying very hard to do what was best – and he enabled evil in the process.

  20. Yeshiva Guy says:

    I don’t know where this Frum infatuation with Reagan comes from. How many remember Reagan’s choice to go to Bitburg? Obama is not perfect but to demonize and make selective arguments against him is beyond counterproductive. Can Everyone Not See Obama’s Real Sentiment?

  21. L Oberstein says:

    Buchanan wrote a book of revisionist history showing that the United States was all wrong in World War II. He blames everything on Churchill .True History dosn’t seem to exist, each hisotrian is so selective in which facts he picks .
    I really don’t understand some of my friends. They can’t find a good word to say about the man overwhelmingly elected by the American people who shows competence and ability far beyond his predecessor. W live in a complex world and we also are so unwilling to understand reality, too many of us live in a fantasy world of our own making.
    Chamberlin had a problem, the West wasn’t ready for war and it’s people didnt want to re fight World War I which cost so many lives, the United States was isolationist and didn’t want to get involved. Hitler could have been stopped at numerous stages with much less effort but a political leader can only lead if the public will follow. Maybe that is why Roosevelt let the Japnese attack Pearl Harbor so he could get the US into the War (conspiracy theory that might be true). Prior to Pearl Harbor, he couldn’t have do it.
    Obama isn’t Chambelin, it is a fallacious comparison. He is not the enemy of mankind, the evil ogre that some frum Jews can’s seem to figure out. He may be wrong, he may make errors, his policies may fail but he is a good person trying to actually do something about the problems that have been allowed to fester too long,domestically and abroad. Most of all, he is not a charicature, he is a peson. We need to grow up.

  22. Bruce Epstein says:

    Oh please, Reb Yid, open your eyes. In that same “musar schmooze”, Obama equated the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering, which he also equated with the suffering of blacks in apartheid South Africa and under slavery in America. He whitewashed Islamic history, while ignorning any Jewish connection to Eretz Yisrael. And after visiting Buchenwald, he also visted Dresden, equating the Allied bombing with the Holocaust.

    It is nice of Obama to mourn dead Jews – it’s the ones living in Israel he seems to have a problem with.

  23. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    I find that Olsen’s book, as summarized by Rosenblum, differs with other accounts, such as William Manchester’s “The Last Lion.” As Manchester tells it, in 1936, the British press was full of how Stanely Baldwin’s Conservative Government had let Germany gain air superiority; public opinion was strongly against Baldwin and for Churchill. The only reason why Churchill did not take over then was that King Edward VIII had started an affair with a divorcee whom he wanted to marry, and Churchill was the only person in Britain who thought he had the right to do so. What resulted was the abdication crisis, in which Baldwin emerged as the savior of “family values” and so he was able to hand over the leadership of the Conservative party and the government to his chosen successor, Chamberlain. According to Manchester, the British press reporting quite faithfully what Hitler was up to by late 1938 and in 1939, and there was quite a bit of popular sentiment for bringing Churchill into the government. When Britain finally declared war, Churchill was appointed to the cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. Oh yes, it wasn’t Conservative backbenchers who ousted Chamberlain and put in Churchill. The Labor party demanded a coalition government, and they were the ones who pushed Churchill on the Tories. In fact, Chamberlain retained his position as Conservative party leader after resigning as prime minister, and kept it until he died in 1941 ort 1942. In the end, it was the Conservative party whips, part of the leadership, who rallied the party to Churchill.

  24. Shlomo says:

    The other day President Obama stood at one of the D-Day sites and praised the soldiers who fought there. I wondered if he had been alive at that time if he would have even approved of such an operation.

  25. Daniel B. Schwartz says:

    Well written. But this piece can eb summed up with a most apropos quote of Sir Winston Churchill: “An appeaser is someone who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

  26. Reb Yid says:

    The author’s conclusion is simply off base.

    Our current President goes into an Arab capital and gives a musar shmooze to those who continue to deny the Holocaust. Driving that point home, the very next day he gives a moving speech at Buchenwald, which his great uncle helped to liberate, accompanied by Elie Wiesel and the current German PM.

    This is simply unprecedented by any US President.

    The author thinks so highly of Ronald Reagan, but conveniently forgets the outrage he caused by his visit to Bitburg.

  27. aron feldman says:

    The common denominator between Chamberlain and BHO is that they both think that the bad guys are playing by their rules!

  28. Ori says:

    Daniel, you’re saying this with the benefit of hindsight towards one but not the other. How would you convince an Englishman in 1935 that Hitler was evil? Would you have him read Mein Kampf, and what would be the equivalent for Iran?