They will take evil and call it good. They will take the lie and call it truth.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
War is always finally about betrayal.
— Chris Hedges
A static universe isn’t physically self-consistent. The sun can’t shine forever.
— James Peebles, Physics Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
Do I dare
disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
— T.S. Eliot
On July 11th, author William Blum e-mailed me a Washington Post article about Ken Meyercord. Fredrick Kunkle, a Post staff writer, described Meyercord as a 65-year old with a “high tech job at Freddie Mac, a local public-access cable television show … and a long history of writing about what he says are ‘myths’ of the Holocaust.” Meyercord, the article continued, hoped to win “an at-large seat on the board of the Reston Citizens Association, a quasi-government body … for the community of 60,000, which is not officially a municipality.” Reston is basically a D.C. suburb in Virginia.
I’d met Meyercord a few months before at a political celebration in downtown D.C. The party’s sponsors were elated over Obama’s inauguration. More cynical than most of those there, I’d latched onto Blum’s coat-tails for the invite—providing chauffeur services in my old van. I met Medea Benjamin, Meyercord and his Palestinian wife, Samira, and a few other interesting people. Nobody I met or overheard struck me as radical or dangerous. Some—not those I’ve mentioned here—struck me as naïve for believing that one election would change the direction of our latter-day Empire.
A few months later, friend Blum and I were at Eduardo Galeano’s reading at Politics and Prose, also in D.C.. We ran into Meyercord there and we decided to get some Chinese food nearby. Meyercord told me about his TV show then, but most of the conversation had more to do with Peking duck than with the sweet and sour business of contemporary, imperial politics.
Meyercord probably mentioned that he was running in the Reston election. A Maryland resident, unable to vote in Virginia, absorbed in my personal problems then, all of that sailed over my head. Conversation was mostly convivial; no one was trying to proselytize; and, in fact, nobody could have. Blum is 75 and he’s seen it all; I’m 63 and I’ve seen enough.
Four days after reading the first article on Meyercord, I was e-mailed another, also by Fredrick Kunkle at the Post. Under the headline, “Write-in Effort Blocks ‘Revisionist,” I learned: “A last-minute campaign to prevent a self-described Holocaust revisionist from serving on a civic body in Reston has succeeded with a landslide. … Ken Meyercord, who had been running unopposed for an at-large seat on the Reston Citizens Association’s 13-member volunteer board, received only 23 votes after his provocative views on Jews created a backlash.” Debra Steppel, who organized the write-in campaign, called it a “fabulous result.”
Mr. Kunkle wrote that Meyercord was “gracious in conceding,” and that he had congratulated Ms. Steppel for her efforts, although he thought her “misinformed.” Further, the article noted that Meyercord and his wife had lived in Reston since 1977, and that, in “writings and interviews,” he had expressed doubt that Nazi Germany had a “mission to annihilate European Jews, a plan known as the Final Solution.” Meyercord had also denied that Nazis used gas chambers to murder Jews, and he had “expressed skepticism that the number of Holocaust victims reached 6 million.”
By now, my interest was more than piqued, and I asked Meyercord to send me some of his writing. As a half-Jew with Zionists, anti-Zionists and the indifferent, ignorant and uniformed within my own extended family; as a fan of Paine and Thoreau, Martin Buber, Rilke and Hesse; as a man vitally interested in my world and human psychology, I wanted to know more about this tempest in a teapot in Reston and how it might relate to our confused, violent and pernicious modern macro world.
Perusing Meyercord’s work, I found him to be more apologetic than inflammatory. In “In Search of a Holocaust Denier,” he writes, “What I would like to offer here is a rationale—a plea, really—for investigating all aspects of the holocaust story in an atmosphere free of rancor, intolerance, and intimidation. I believe we can learn from history and that it will be a better world if we do. Of course, to learn from history, we have to have an accurate understanding of what happened. …”
Meyercord describes how the “goose-stepping … siegheiling” Nazis endlessly portrayed by Hollywood and the other media provided little insight into “how a man like Hitler could have risen to power in one of the most sophisticated countries on earth.” He deplores the fact that we have learned so little from the Nazi era, noting that the Foreign Minister of Israel [Avigdor Lieberman] has advocated the deportation of all Palestinians from Eretz [Greater] Israel. Those who have challenged holocaust orthodoxy have found themselves exiled to an academic wilderness—a la Norman Finkelstein in the U.S.—or imprisoned—like David Irving in Austria! And, in that same reasonable, almost apologetic mode, he asks, “Wouldn’t it be better to dispel the myths surrounding the holocaust now, while anti-Semitism is a neglibible factor in American society, than at some future date when hard times lead desperate, angry Americans to look around for a scapegoat?”
So much for the overview of Meyercord’s approach. He’s not some glib-tongued salesman for neo-Nazism. His argumentation is tightly reasoned and far less fiery and provocative than, say, Limbaugh’s, O’Reilly’s, Hannity’s or Coulter’s. He directs his readers (and directed me in a short phone interview of him) to two websites for further exploration of the issues.
Meyercord describes himself as a “revisionist,” not a holocaust denier. He notes: “What causes revisionists to be misrepresented and slandered by the believers is their denial of three constituent parts of the holocaust story:
1. That there was a plan to exterminate the Jews, aka, “The Final Solution.”
2. That gas chambers were used in the execution of that plan; and
3. That no less than six million Jews died as a result.
He offers his own refutations of the predominant “holocaust story” and directs us to others for more detail.
The question I have to ask now is: How is this relevant to our post-9/11 world?
It is relevant because past is prelude, and those who don’t learn the lessons of the past, as Santayana said … well, you know the rest.
It’s relevant because we would rather kill each other to defend the sanctity of our myths—religious, ideological, nationalistic/patriotic—than smash the idols of our perceptions—and misperceptions.
It’s relevant because a thoughtful man’s views of history or religious dogma is irrelevant to the performance of his duties and responsibilities as a citizen in a local civic organization.
It is relevant because every tin-pot dictator who appears on the scene—a Noriega, a Saddam Hussein—who loses the favor of the U.S. imperial regime; and every populist leader—an Ahmadinejead, a Hugo Chavez, a Fidel Castro—is inevitably compared to Hitler and threatened with regime change, or having his country “wiped off the map,” or has, in fact, been invaded. Hitler has become the gold standard of evil—and that incubus colors every other form of evil. We have personalized and incarnated evil, ignorance and brutality, and exonerated the institutions, the social forms and mechanisms of control, the psychologies and hysterias still very much with us today.
It is relevant because most Americans don’t know squat about Zionism or the role that Jewish nationalism played in the run-up to World War I, the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, the disastrous Versailles treaty, the Balfour Declaration, etc. (Meyercord, in fact, does not touch on any of this in his writing or in his interviews with me or with Fred Kunkle at the Post.)
It is relevant because whether 6 million Jews died or 1 million died—there still is no justification for the expropriation of another people’s land, resources, country. (My mother taught me as a child, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”)
Meyercord’s little dust-up in a D.C. suburb leaves us with three big ponderables:
1. A question of censorship
2. A moral question
3. The historical record
Ms. Steppel’s write-in campaign, and the voters of Reston, attempted to censor Meyercord’s words and beliefs. They did not vote on the man’s competence, his willingness and ability to serve his local community. They voted against his convictions, at which he had arrived after carefully examining the evidence, his life and the promptings of his conscience. He lived for six months in Beirut, traveled in Israel, has had a long, fulfilling marriage to a Palestinian woman. They raised two children who attended Reston’s public schools. No doubt his unique experiences have enriched his perspective. How does censorship and expurgation serve the public interest? In our intertwined world, are we not all safer reaching out, trying to understand “the other”?
The moral question has too often reduced itself to “my suffering is better than your suffering.” Suffering employed this way has little or nothing to do with morality, much to do with religious dogma. It is suffering as justification—for outrageous reparations (against Germans, for example, no more guilty for World War I than Brits, the French, the Americans, the Russians). It is suffering employed as the ultimate rationale for “man’s inhumanity to man,” “nature red in tooth and claw,” etc. It is suffering memorialized as stasis (James Peebles here: “a static universe isn’t physically self-consistent”). It is suffering as rationalization for continuing the empires of destruction, wreaking havoc and revenge on more innocents, continuing the whole ghastly process (“They will take evil and call it good. They will take the lie and call it the truth.”)
As for the historical record, it has always been a rather murky affair. In my entire lifetime, God has never spoken to me once out of the Whirlwind, and I have been waiting for 46 years to find out what really happened on November 22, 1963. Einstein said God doesn’t play dice with the Universe, and Bohr told Einstein to stop telling God what to do! God may not play dice, but He/She/It certainly keeps His/Her/Its cards close to His/Her/Its chest/bosom/ineffable mystery.
Which means I’ve got to keep digging. I have to keep disturbing the universe, checking my notes and revising my memes because in an expanding universe I don’t participate in cosmological events, but I can play my ant-like role in the evolution of awareness and consciousness. “War is finally about betrayal,” as Hedges succinctly and profoundly writes, and I need to know why and how a species that has evolved so magnificently in its technology has, when it comes to interacting with other sentient beings, stymied itself in the Age of Iron and Sky Gods. What gives? What mystery here?
Six million victims or one innocent victim—what compels us to slaughter the innocents under Herod, to crucify Christ for our sins, to burn John Hus for impiety? How shall we employ numbers to justify brutality? Did the death of 20 million Russians in the Great Patriotic War justify the rape of 2 million German women by Russian troops when the Third Reich collapsed? The ghost voices of tens of millions of native peoples of the Americas rise up and cry for justice. What reparations can we pay them? Millions of Africans, lost in the “Middle Passage” of the slave trips, sweated to death among the sugar canes of the Caribbean and the cotton and tobacco plantations of the New (old!) World—what memorials shall we build for them, what is their due?
How do we make equivalences? I suffered, my family suffered, my people suffered … therefore, I have the right to. … What? Wreak vengeance? Upon the innocents?
Probably it is too much to hope for forgiveness—either given or gotten. Humans are not, generally, constituted that way. Except for a few saints we’ve usually managed to crucify upside down, boil in oil, or murder with a thousand cuts.
But we may, possibly, hope for clarity, breaking the cycle of wrong for wrong, by excavating the truths, the hidden causes, penetrating the whirlwind of confusion and setting the record straight–because in this melange of pulsating life called Earth, it’s looking more and more like we’d better all pull on the oars together or we’re all going down together. And it looks more and more like Eugene Debs, who said so much well, said this one perfectly: “While there is one soul in prison, I am not free.”
What else but to know the true history of the human mind and heart—to extricate ourselves, to beam the searchlights in terra incognita, confront our demons, shake our wings loose from the chrysalis of so much ignorance, blood-lust, power-lusting, arrogance, fear, greed and stupidity?