Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Power of History

History has power, whether it’s factual or in a distorted form. It can be a positive force or a negative one. Those who distort history seek power as shown in two recent examples: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the Holocaust never happened. The late Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat claimed there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon or by Herod. Many Muslims are taught this kind of history across the Middle East and believe it. Consequently, they see Israelis as evil invaders with no right to exist. For them, such distortions justify “wiping Israel off the map” as Ahmadinejad and Arab leaders threaten. Palestinians have already done so literally - the maps used by Palestinian schoolchildren do not depict the state of Israel - only Palestine. In these two cases, rewriting history would seem preliminary to perpetrating a second Holocaust.

Israel exists today because one of the first acts of the newly-created United Nations was to recognize Israel as a country in 1948. The western world felt pity for Jews because of what Nazis did to them. An ancient people, Jews had lived in what is now Israel for more than a thousand years before being dispersed around the world in the Great Diaspora after rebelling against the Roman Empire. It was Rome that destroyed the second Temple built by King Herod. Although a small number of Jews remained in the Holy Land after the Diaspora, most endured as residents of other countries - where they suffered countless persecutions for two more millennia. Some Jews became Zionists around the beginning of the 20th century and returned to their ancestral homeland in relatively small numbers. After World War II this trickle became a flood and the new Israel became a reality.

Dore Gold was Israel’s UN Ambassador from 1997-99. In an interview about his recent book, “The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City” he said, “I felt it was necessary to respond to the charges that Yassir Arafat made at the end of the Camp David summit in July 2000 that denied the core of our Judeo-Christian heritage. As you might remember he tried to assert that there never had been a Temple in Jerusalem. But what he essentially did was to throw a stone of historical lies into a lake and its ripples spread all over the Middle East.”

If Palestinian Arabs can be convinced that the Nation of Israel was foisted upon them out the blue by western countries acting through the United Nations, they can be convinced that their suicide-bomber sons who kill Israelis are heroes who will enjoy their virgins in Paradise. If other Arab Muslims can be convinced that their socioeconomic backwardness is a result of historical western oppression, recruitment of suicide-bombers and other terrorists to kill Jews and Americans will be much easier. That’s power gained through both selective history and distorted interpretations of history.

Soviet schoolchildren were taught that Russians invented the light bulb, the radio, the television, and many other things actually invented in the west. Soviet citizens grew up believing communism wonderful, capitalism evil, and that communism would eventually spread over the whole world. Thus they were willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to accomplish it. That’s power gained in the same way - distorting history.

Other people selectively interpret history to justify their inertia in the present. Some of my Irish ancestors were accustomed to blaming British oppression for whatever miserable circumstances in which they found themselves. The British certainly did oppress the Irish for centuries, but even though Britain’s domination had been over for generations, many Irish held on to it as an excuse for their largely self-induced misery.

Once I wrote a column urging Mainers to vote “No” on a referendum question that would have allowed Indians to open casinos in this state as they have in so many others. I questioned the status of Indians as citizens with different rights other Americans and whether that was justified. In that context I acknowledged that many Indian tribes suffered savage oppression at the hands of some European countries. However, I also pointed out that many Indian tribes had perpetrated similarly savage oppression against one another before the Spanish, French, English or Portuguese ever arrived in the Americas. Europeans had treated each other savagely at various times also and nobody has a monopoly on suffering. History shows us that very few escape.
Citing such politically incorrect aspects of history stirred up a hornet’s nest as Indians from around the country flooded my principal, my superintendent, my school board, and my state teacher certification office with angry letters, phone calls and emails declaring me unfit to teach. Clearly, a lot of Indians cherished their victim status even more than the Irish did, and they weren’t going to tolerate alternative viewpoints from this columnist. I even got a telephoned death threat.

History has power however it’s used, and pointing out its misuse as I did can be a very unpopular - even risky - undertaking. Still, it must be done. Now, about those "Bones of Jesus," . . .


SeanPatrick said...

Dear Tom

I enjoy reding your blog. I was referred to it by a friend from NH. I don't always agree with what you say, but I always laugh. I think you are right on the whole idea about groups claiming victim status, however I do enjoy the existence of Indian Casinos, as I enjoy gambling.


Tom McLaughlin said...

Thank you for the kind remarks, Seanpatrick. As for victim groups, there's a longer list than I could include in the column. If people want to go to casinos, fine. New Jersey and Nevada let people open them, but in most other states where they exist, only Indians can. That's why I opposed the referendum question.

I understand about the treaties of the 18th and 19th centuries, but if Indians are going to be American citizens, then we should have equal protection under the law.

Tom McLaughlin said...

What follows is an email exchange between a fellow columnist at one of the papers I write for and myself over the above piece. I post here it with his permission.

On Mar 1, 2007, at 9:18 AM, William Marvel wrote:


You make a good point when you note that the Irish (my own grandparents included) indulged in a great deal of cultural self-pity, and you may also have cause to complain that American Indians seem to demand special privileges on the grounds of historic white oppression. The same can be said of black Americans, although black leadership seems willing to move away from that theme now. But aren't Israelis thriving on a similar, carefully cultivated pity, and using it now to justify their own oppression of others?


From: Tom McLaughlin
Date: Thu, 1 Mar 2007 17:30:05 -0500
To: William Marvel
Subject: Re: cultural self-pity

Hi Bill,

Cultural self-pity. I like the phrase.

I believe Jews internationally have been careful to cultivate the world's sympathy after the Holocaust. No doubt. Most people are surprised to learn that six million other non-Jews were exterminate as well as six million Jews. They parlayed that pity into a UN recognition of the state of Israel. Whether Truman was correct or not engineering that, our alliance with Israel exists.

What oppression are you referring to? Palestinians?


On Mar 1, 2007, at 7:06 PM, William Marvel wrote:

Yes; Palestinians. Regardless of the earlier Jewish presence in Palestine two millennia ago--so long ago as to be politically irrelevant--Israeli expansion in that region seems perfectly analogous to the gradual expulsion and confinement of American Indians to the most worthless areas of the and they once occupied: when they resent it enough to put up a fight, just use that fight as an excuse to take more of their land.

Our alliance with Saddam Hussein once existed, too, as much as the Bush family hates to be reminded of it, but the mere existence of that alliance was not considered sufficient cause to continue it permanently. Our closeness to Israel even when it is at its most belligerent may be the chief ingredient in our current image problem on the Allah side of monotheism. Too many Sharons; too few Rabins.


From: Tom McLaughlin
Date: Thu, 1 Mar 2007 20:27:24 -0500
To: William Marvel
Subject: Re: cultural self-pity

If you mean Israeli annexation of Golan, the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai, I would sooner call those spoils of war. After all, it was only after the third Arab invasion of Israel by surrounding Arab Muslim countries in 1967 that Israel exacted some penalty from them. More than penalty, the annexations were strategic, and arguably vital to Israel's continued existence. Sinai went back to Egypt in the Camp David "land for peace" Accords and that cost Sadat his life - a toll exacted by the Muslim Brotherhood - a group now morphed into Al Qaeda and other Jihadist groups, all of which now use Palestinians as pawns - pawns with C-4 vests promised their rewards in Paradise.

It's all very sick. I find it hard to blame Israel now for doing whatever it takes to survive. Sharon gave over Gaza and was willing to give over more than 90% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state, but that's not what Arafat wanted. He wanted Israel gone. That's what nearly all the Arab Muslim states want too except for Jordan and Egypt. Even that situation is temporary given the volatile nature of Middle East politics.

Iran is ready to nuke Israel when it gets the bomb, if it hasn't got it already. Can we really expect Israel to wait around? It won't. Something is going happen.

I'm reminded of what an old Israeli artillery captain - a veteran of the 1948 war - told me once about his country: "Too much history; not enough geography."


On Mar 1, 2007, at 8:46 PM, William Marvel wrote:

What you're saying, essentially, is that the creation of Israel was a dreadful mistake--as are most political decisions based primarily on sentiment--but we can't admit it, no matter what. The 59-year-old nation of arbitrary origin trumps the natural residency of the past 2000 years? Why not give the Israelis South Florida in return for peace in the Middle East? They would fit more comfortably, and we would absolve both our perceived and our real guilt about European Jews and Palestinians, simultaneously--plus getting rid of Disneyworld.

From: Tom McLaughlin
Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2007 07:29:06 -0500
To: William Marvel
Subject: Re: cultural self-pity

Someone smarter than me once said: "A country has no permanent allies, only permanent interests."

What you're saying, essentially, is that we should throw Israel to the
Islamic wolves and "peace in the Middle East" would result.

If I believed that, I'd consider it, but I don't. There may be a pause while they chew up Israel, but they would soon come after us. They want to make the world Muslim and restore the Caliphate. The United States is their biggest obstacle. There are 1.4 billion Muslims spread around the world and maybe 15% of them are radicals. That percentage is growing. Remaining an ally of Israel is in America's interest because we have a common enemy - Radical Islam.

Abandoning our support of Israel would compare to Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler at Munich. About that, Churchill said something like: "Appeasers would feed the crocodile, hoping it would eat him last." We cannot appease Radical Islam. We cannot negotiate either as the Baker Commission and the new Congressional majority suggest. There's only one way out and I think you know what it is.

On Mar 2, 2007, at 10:38 AM, William Marvel wrote:

Of course, I reject your hypothesis as futile and fatal. The problem with radical fundamentalists is that the more one tries to punish or defeat them, the stronger and more numerous they become, like the doubling heads of the Hydra. The problem of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists, whom I find equally obnoxious, is similar: they all know the One True Way of Life, and any who deny it or question it are deemed infidels deserving pity, ostracization, or--in more violent arenas--death.

I think you know what my solution is, too. The main problem, as I see it, is religion itself. Pathetic and primitive human efforts to mythologize anything that seems inexplicable have created an unnecessary but deadly factionalism. It would be amusing if it weren't so tragic.

How about those Red Sox, anyway?


From: Tom McLaughlin
Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2007 10:45:11 -0500
To: William Marvel
Subject: Re: cultural self-pity

If we all become athiests, we can sit down with Bush and Osama and peacefully enjoy watching a baseball game?

From: William Marvel
Subject: Re: cultural self-pity
Date: March 2, 2007 11:36:23 AM EST
To: Tom McLaughlin

Yes, now that you mention it. There would have been nothing to create conflict.

tomax7 said...'s the saying go? Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.

tomax7 said...

...people/history tends to forget the thousands killed in Ukraine and Western countries by the Baltic Sea.

My grand-parents were gassed by the Russians, so the Germans were not the only ones to do it.