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LETTERS to the Editor.

The Holocaust and Howard Zinn

I was so grateful to read Howard Zinn's words ("Respecting the Holocaust," November issue).

I once stood up at a meeting at a Reconstructionist synagogue and said I wished we could stop spending so much time and energy going over the Jewish Holocaust and instead use that awareness that we have as Jews to do something about the holocausts that are happening in our world today.

My statement met with total silence.

It seems as though the Jewish Holocaust, like so many other things in our modern world, is being exploited to keep us from noticing what is right in front of us.

I don't mean this to minimize the actual Jewish Holocaust, because as a Jew, it is something that grieves me deeply. But Howard Zinn is right on the mark.

Lois Latman Columbia, Tennessee

I am writing to thank you for publishing Howard Zinn's article.

Zinn's thesis that the memory of the Jewish Holocaust should not be isolated from other atrocities in history is one that is often overlooked by historians and those pursuing misguided political agendas.

His mention of the Armenian genocide of 1915--the first genocide of the twentieth century--was especially telling, since Hitler once asked his cabinet, "Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

How ironic, then, that some Jewish organizations opposed official recognition of the Armenian genocide to highlight the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust, as Zinn recalls.

The issue of genocide is universal. It should not remain the province of the victimized ethnic group alone but must concern the entire international community if justice is to be served.

Jason Sohigian Co-editor, The Armenian Weekly Watertown, Massachusetts

Howard Zinn is absolutely right to insist that the meaning of the Jewish Holocaust is diminished by those who pretend it is the worst, or perhaps the only, mass persecution in history.

As he points out, humankind is all one, and every one of us is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But even Zinn limits his examples, and apparently his compassion, to victims representing his own political perceptions. In addition to the African slave trade, the subjugation of American Indians, and the victims of "capitalist ethos," he absolutely must include the greatest slaughter in history: the one conducted around the world by communists--from the Soviet Union and Red China to Southeast Asia and Latin America.

We must denounce oppression anywhere and everywhere as we promote and celebrate individual freedom and justice. Indeed, the experience of the Jewish Holocaust must be enlarged!

Don Taylor Waukesha, Wisconsin

This is is in response to the commentary by Howard Zinn, who argues that "to build a wall around the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust is to abandon the idea that humankind is all one.... What happened to the Jews under Hitler is unique in its details, but it shares universal characteristics with many other events in human history: the Atlantic slave trade, the genocide against Native Americans, and the injuries and death to millions of working people who were victims of the capitalist ethos that put profit before human life."

This is hypocritical nonsense, and Zinn probably knows it.

The Atlantic slave trade? I don't recall any attempt to put to death each and every slave as part of a formal policy to eradicate them from the face of the Earth. It would have made no sense for slave traders or owners, even on their own terms. Yet that was the Third Reich's policy--the "Final Solution" for resolving the "Jewish Question."

Native Americans? Closer, but still far from a cigar. Indians who did not challenge U.S. policies may have been viewed by many as second class citizens, but they were rarely faced with lethal force. Some prospered. Some continue to prosper today. Only those who, however justifiably, acted as enemies of whites and their "Manifest Destiny" drew deadly attention. Clinging to their culture brought disaster, but at least they had an option for survival. With Jews in the Third Reich, however, that option simply did not exist.

As for workers, the worst capitalist may have been indifferent to his workers' plight, but he did not set out to murder all of his workers simply for being workers. In fact, the capitalist ethos, such as it is, would avoid such "counterproductive" behavior.

Furthermore, when the Andrew Carnegies of the world hired Pinkerton thugs to gun down striking steel workers and the like, it was never an attempt to genocidally eliminate all workers.

When strikers used their own physical force to stop scabs and bring production to a halt to better their working conditions, the managers used force, too, to allow work to go on. They had more resources and technology to bring to bear. Dozens--even hundreds--sometimes died in these encounters.

But in their wildest, most oppressive moments, Carnegie, Frick, and the others never attempted to set up death factories specifically designed to execute thousands of such workers every day-activist, compliant, productive, and indolent alike. The Third Reich did.

No doubt about it, there are holocausts that occur even today. The concept of "ethnic cleansing" has a certain simplicity that attracts monsters. Let's remember, though, what genocide actually is--a concerted attempt to eliminate from the face of the Earth (or at least one's own territory) everyone of some "race," regardless of the politics of its members, their role in society, or any other factors.

To somehow equate the Third Reich with the capitalist ethos makes Hitler, Himmler, Streicher, etc., no worse than Carnegie and Frick.

Zinn gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "being WAY out in left field."

Joel S. Davis Albuquerque, New Mexico

Don't Scapegoat the Church

So, Dr. Rafael Campo thinks that sexual abstinence is "utterly impractical" and thus, the Catholic Church's religious leaders have "abetted the deaths of countless Latinos by refusing to endorse the use of condoms as a means to prevent AIDS transmission" ("Does Silencio = Muerte?" October issue).

Huh? The Catholic Church is to blame?

The Catholic Church has taught, and always will teach, that sex outside of marriage is immoral. Rather than bash the Church, Dr. Campo should join with it in encouraging Latinos and everyone else to understand that the only safe way to prevent AIDS transmission is to have a monogamous sexual relationship.

William E. Fenton Jr. Vice President, Barry University Miami Shores, Florida

Pacifism Overlooked

I am in sympathy with the argument in the "Comment" section in the November issue ("A Muffled Trumpet") that sometimes progressives should support intervention--we are, after all, internationalists, not isolationists.

But it saddens me that the first kind of intervention that comes to your minds is armed intervention (albeit ground troops under U.N. command, not a U.S. or NATO indiscriminate terror bombing campaign). You seem to have completely overlooked the possibility of nonviolent intervention, even though it has been used successfully in the past.

In Kosovo before the NATO bombing, there were unarmed human rights observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe whose monitoring kept atrocities by Serbian paramilitaries in check. Their departure (on U.S. orders), in combination with the NATO bombing, made possible the sharp increase in atrocities we saw in Kosovo.

Peace Brigades International, which is dedicated to nonviolent intervention in war-torn regions, has had great success in preventing atrocities from being committed.

There are other people and groups out there working to teach nonviolent reconciliation in areas suffering from ethnic strife and similar horrors. They help people see what they have in common and give them the tools to resolve their differences without resorting to force of arms. Sending in armed troops will not do much to reinforce these lessons.

Instead of advocating troops (even those of the U.N.), we as progressives should first search for more creative, nonviolent solutions. Otherwise, we will simply perpetuate the notion that violence solves problems.

Matt Williams Somerville, Massachusetts

McKissack Misses the Mark

In his critique of Ally McBeal ("Ally Gets Jiggy," November issue), Fred McKissack praises the program Law & Order. You might as well praise Lockheed Martin for creating great military weapons.

The mere title of the show ought to be a warning, at least to progressives, about its rightward direction. It is one of the more blatantly propagandistic of the police shows. Law & Order is aimed at a more educated audience than the racist and classist Cops, but its thrust is the same.

The lead characters continually go to great lengths to find legal ways around what they perceive as constitutional roadblocks to nabbing some vile perpetrator. When they lose a case, the audience is supposed to share in their frustration at justice not being served and empathize with them in their war against an arbitrary selection of disobedient people. We will never see these lawyers bust price-fixers, industrial polluters, illegal loggers, or work safety violators.

It is not easy to sit back and enjoy dramas on TV when one is aware of the underlying attitudes that are being sold to millions of gullible viewers.

John Jonik Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A Message of Hope

Thank you to June Jordan for "The Hunters and the Hunted" (October issue). Her search for reasons behind the horror of contemporary hate is one that people must undertake constantly.

Her piece was a message of hope, of resistance, and of courage. In the struggle for acceptance--much more than tolerance--there are various communities that can and should stand strong together.

Here at Notre Dame, the struggle for equality and acceptance of some groups has been ongoing against an administration--and some misguided students--bent on upholding a perverse view of Christianity. How terrible that our institutions that preach love and fortitude should be so hypocritical.

So thank you, June, for keeping the dream alive!

Paul Ranogajec Sophomore, University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana

The editors welcome correspondence from readers on all topics, but prefer to publish letters that comment directly on material previously published in The Progressive. All letters may be edited for clarity and conciseness. Letters may also be e-mailed to: godwin@ progressive.org. Please include your city and state.
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Publication:The Progressive
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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