Saturday, March 20, 2010

Desperate Denis and the Real Beneficiaries

I don't think we'll hear our friends at Harry's Place complaining about the anti-Semitic bias of Comment is Free (aka Opinions are like arseholes) today as the Guardian have bravely™ printed one of Decent Denis MacShane's think pieces (via, of all people, Tim Worstall) Tories must answer for extremist links. I suspect, looking at the url, that the title has been changed. But what an argument it is!

This week we can see the ugly face of the Conservative's foolish alliance. Even if no Tory MP was present to march in memory of the Waffen-SS alongside their Latvian allies, the grotesque nature of the ceremony mocks not just Jews but all who sacrificed themselves to defeat Nazism. As Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, noted the event was deeply offensive. "These people were thinking they were fighting for Latvia but the real beneficiary of their service and their bravery was Nazi Germany."

So no Tories were there, but Denis lays into them anyway. Is the election here yet? Or is this going to get worse? This story was also reported in the Independent on Wednesday, which I found because MacShane's links were no helping in telling me where or when Zuroff said this.

Only hours earlier, Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the man currently considered to be the world's leading Nazi hunter, had called on Latvia to ban public celebrations marking the country's controversial Legionnaires' Day, calling it an "attempt to rewrite history".
"With all my sympathy for the victims of Communism, the crimes of Communism are simply not the same as the Holocaust. Part of this is fuelled by a desire to deflect attention away from the extensive collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War," Mr Zuroff said. "They thought they were fighting for Latvia but the real beneficiary of these men's service and bravery was Nazi Germany."

I like "the man currently considered to be the world's leading Nazi hunter" a label that once fitted Simon Wiesenthal himself.

Good to know that if we honour dead soldiers at all, we must now consider not only what they thought they were fighting for, but how things turned out. Some cynical people might say that the real beneficiaries of the Iraq debacle (7 years anniversary today! if you're on Twitter don't forget to congratulate Alastair 'Joint Intelligence Committee' Campbell for his role) were oil companies. Does anyone really want to play this game for every war? From the Independent, this paragraph is priceless.

A large gang of young ethnic Russians represented the other side. They brandished placards bearing the words "Waffen SS" and the names of Latvian villages where atrocities against Jews were committed by Latvian Waffen SS members during the war. Some 75,000 Jews were murdered in the country during the Nazi occupation. "It is disgraceful that these people should be allowed to march here," said one of them, called Mikhail, in his early thirties. "All the Russians are against it," he insisted.

Those nasty Latvians fighting Mother Russia! Didn't they know that under Stalin's influence they could all work in state-owned factories and, as an added incentive, every worker would have the right to join a reading group to discuss how wonderful the writings of Karl Marx were and how perfect was the paradise they lived in? Put like that, we can see what fools they were to resist.

What next. Don't dare say that Mao or Pol Pot were bad guys. Because the Holocaust! Hitler was the worst! If you say that Stalin killed 20 million, you're denying the Holocaust, ergo you're an anti-Semite.

Denis's conclusion:

When Latvian rightwingers commemorate the memory of the Waffen-SS in March 2011 it would be good for British politics if they marched alone and were no longer part of an alliance with a British political party.

They did march alone, Denis. You said so yourself.

BTW, I think the Tories' current alliances in the EU are a huge mistake in lots of ways, but MacShane's argument just seems really low. Good grief, I think Donald Rumsfeld could be an accessory to war crimes for selling Saddam weapons during Iran-Iraq and should never have worked in government again at the very least. Further, I think a lot of the Bush administration was criminal or corrupt in various ways. Too many Republicans have connections with repressive regimes in Latin America - or with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (repressive, anti-Semitic, slavery permitting, etc, etc). See House of Bush, House of Saud for the ties between the family of the 41st and 43rd Presidents and the Saudis. This didn't stop the Labour Party being extremely close the GOP during Iraq. Blair told Bush: "Whatever you decide to do, I'm with you."

If old soldiers want to march to celebrate fighting for their country, as they saw it at the time, that's fine with me. Fighting for your country isn't like dining at the Ivy, Denis. You don't get a menu or a choice. Perhaps we should check if soldiers at the Cenotaph this November really fought for freedom, reading themselves to sleep with extracts from Edmund Burke, or Churchill's war speeches. If they were as cynical as say Spike Milligan or Joseph Heller, we should turn them away. I'm not looking forward to this election. All I know is that I'm not going to vote Labour or Tory.


Anonymous Phil said...

I agree that the "real beneficiaries" line is weak, but there are much simpler and more straightforward reasons to object to this march. Jamie:

The SS began recruiting Latvians in early 1941, establishing Sonderkommando among a network of Latvian military officers exiled after the Soviet invasion. When the invading Germans later drove out the Soviets, the SS recruited further from local partisan bands to form auxiliary police and defence units. All of these units reported directly to the SS and were under SS control from the outset. Himmler himself designated them as Shtutzmannstaffel – guard units – from which they acquired the nickname Schuma. The Schuma also recruited heavily from the Perkonkrusts, the pre-war Latvian fascist movement. Around 30 Schuma battalions were formed before they were fully integrated into the SS in 1943 and a lot of them were sent to various parts of Russia as anti-partisan troops: itself a job which involved killing a huge number of innocent civilians.

Prior to that, they were instrumental in the killing of 80,000 Latvian Jews. The Nazis were very keen for locals to be seen to be in the forefront of their efforts in this direction, and the Schuma’s role in the various roundups was displayed prominently in German newsreels. One of the things that needs to be remembered in this debate is that nowhere outside Austria was Nazi anti-Semitism greeted with anything like such demented enthusiasm as in the Baltic states. Soviets aside, far too many people in Latvia and elsewhere bought into the most murderous elements of the Nazi agenda. And now Riga hosts a commemoration for the SS, because they were simple freedom fighters. Uh huh.

Jamie also makes a distinction between

Latvians who want to commemorate their war dead - which they do officially on November 11, Lacplesis Day – and people who want to rehabilitate fascism, which is what they do on March 16, in the face of an official ban by the city authorities of Riga

3/20/2010 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

Russia today is a bully and an ugly nationalist power in the region with no interest in becoming more not less European. But Russian paranoia can only increase if European democracies get into bed with parties that justify the Jew-killing of the second world war because communism was as great if not a greater enemy than Nazism.

This is so glorious, coming from a guy who's compared Russia to Nazi Germany.

3/20/2010 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous latinist said...

"Fighting for your country isn't like dining at the Ivy, Denis. You don't get a menu or a choice."

Seriously? Killing civilians of your own country because of their race, well, sorry, that was just part of the prix fixe dinner, they didn't get to order off the menu, oh well, they were still our loyal brave noble soldier boys(tm)? Speaking of things we don't want to apply to the Iraq War, among others? Would you say the same about German SS troops?

It's true, to a large extent these soldiers probably thought of themselves as defending their country from the communists. But they also pretty much identified "communists" with "Jews." Do you have the same kind of forgiving attitude towards those who identify "terrorists" with "Arabs," for example? Has this website suddenly switched sides in the great debate over whether everyone fighting in a vaguely Western cause is automatically a hero regardless of what they do?

3/20/2010 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

But they also pretty much identified "communists" with "Jews." Do you have the same kind of forgiving attitude towards those who identify "terrorists" with "Arabs," for example?

Only as far as I have the same attitude to bomber personnel who killed lots of civilians because they identified them as "Nazis". I'll refer you to Oliver Kamm. But Dresden was not a crime. It was a terrible act in a just and necessary war. I'm quite prepared to argue that fighting Stalin was necessary and even just. Yes, they picked the wrong targets. But, as I think all war is pretty much a crime, I'm much less able to distinguish between good wars and bad wars. Lots of people get killed. Who is guilty seems to depend greatly on where they were born, which is a pretty terrible way to decide on someone's intent. They were soldiers, and they did soldiering, which is by definition ugly and horrible and murderous. Our guys would have done much the same if it were asked of them. In short, I think the politicians were guilty, but not the men who did the fighting. If they want to celebrate their past, let them, I say. I wouldn't ban bomber pilots from the Cenotaph, even though I think that bombing targets civilians; nor would I have banned WWI officers when any were still alive, although I think ordering men into machine gun fire was pointless and homicidal.

The last book of history I read was Andrew Roberts' short (and pretty lightweight) account of Waterloo. The one bit worth keeping was his description of Wellington's horror at the battle (he never fought again). That was solely between armies, no innocent civilians, and it was unimaginably terrible. We can pretend there is a bad side in war only if we delude ourselves that there is a good side. There isn't. The only thing to do in a war, IMO, is shoot your officers and run away. But who am I judge some old men who didn't?

3/20/2010 06:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Tories have joined a very disparate group in the European Parliament, which makes them more or less ineffective there. The Labour Party could make this point more effectively (clearly and calmly) without going off into stuff about Latvia 70 years ago. They could also get someone other than Denis to talk about this issue, somebody that people take more seriously.


3/20/2010 08:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I think the politicians were guilty, but not the men who did the fighting

Sorry to be blunt, but I think the men who rounded up Jews and shot them were guilty as sin. See the Blood and Treasure post I linked to for more.

3/20/2010 08:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CC, have you read Cesarani's _Justice Delayed_? Were I you, I would, since it might lead you to reconsider this crap regarding those elements of the Latvian SS who enthusiastically kicked off a genocidal pogrom.

Chris Williams

3/20/2010 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks Guano, you made my point a lot better than I did. I think the Tories' record should be used both for and against them (and the same goes for the other parties). Cameron made a terrible, tasteless, ill-considered decision which, IMO, casts doubt on his judgement. And this should be held against him. The Tories do have a record in opposition, they're not just 'not Labour' (which is their strongest asset, again IMO).

But Christ, MacShane is a twat. Who cares about some octogenarian (and mostly older, by my calculations) Latvians? As for the guilt of those guys, what does it matter, what can they do? Piss their pants at us? Forget our names and think we're someone else? Fall asleep mid-sentence? And what about our sides war crimes? What of Vietnam? There were massacres of innocents there (My Lai being the famous one). Or Abu Ghraib? I take it that everyone accepts that *some* US troops carried out torture and other atrocities after the occupation of Iraq. Should we somehow segregate these people? (I accept that Lindy England was dishonourably discharged; however, I feel that she was an inarticulate scapegoat and convenient fall woman, if you will.) If so, how? Being a bad guy in a war seems to me very much dependent on where you were born, and where you got sent.

I'm mostly a pacifist, but if I'd been a Latvian Jew, I'd have fought. And if I'd been a Latvian non-Jew, I'd have been shit scared of the Red Army, and I'd probably have killed potential sympathisers too. It was a horrible mess. Melanie Phillips, who I mostly regard as a nutter, does like to point the finger at British anti-Semitism - and she's not entirely wrong. We should condemn unlucky anti-Semites whose side lost while celebrating the invisible anti-Semites whose side won? How long after WWII were B+Bs allowed to put up signs with "No blacks, no Irish"? We weren't that much better.

Besides which, I can't see the difference between the Latvian SS marching and the Orange Order. Both are mostly composed of extremely unpleasant people wanting to one-sidedly remember atrocities (or 'battles' as they may like to call them) no one else cares about. In a democracy, even bad guys are allowed freedom of association and expression. I think the Latvians are wrong; I also think the 'God hates fags' lot are loons. They get protection in the US (and they need it).

Also, having read Jamie's post (as advised; I'm actually a fan of Jamie's BTW), he also says "But there’s no attempt at all to distinguish the ones that did from the ones that didn’t." If some 80+ year olds can't get together, what have we become? For me, as a rather unusual sort of Nietzschean left-anarchist, the important question is power. For so many Decents, it's intention. 80-year-olds can't hurt anyone. But let's get them, right after we shoot all those kittens who think about nothing but murder all day, eh?

3/20/2010 09:52:00 PM  
Blogger AndyB said...

I'm sorry, perhaps I'm not following this. If a political group wants to hold rallies celebrating the American war in Vietnam, or the War Against Iraq, or to remember a time when they could racially discriminate, or whatever, I'll not necessarily argue that such a rally should be banned. But its not about the old fellas themselves, but the well-organised political celebration. So I will argue that those organising the rallies, and marching in them, who aren't all 80 year old harmless dodderers, indeed some are young, active fascists, have got an particularly vile political orientation. And if the probable next government of the UK was in an alliance with such a group I'd think it says something about either their sympathies, or, at best, a lack of concern.

3/20/2010 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Chris Williams, some elements of the Latvian SS kicked off a genocidal pogrom? That's terrible, I agree. Let's also condemn the genocide of Native Americans, the various edicts in the books of Genesis and Exodus, and so on and so forth. I'm proud to be British and glad we never did anything like that (barring the Clearances and the Boer War and god knows what in India).

Our sun formed rather late in our galaxy; and it took earth 2 billion years (of the 4.5 billions it has existed) to evolve life. One would expect, given that there maybe between 45 million and 45 billion habitable (to humans, and life may be able to evolve anywhere) planets, that the sky would be full of alien communication. Perhaps they know what we're like, and we're pariahs. Not "mostly harmless" though that's true, but "avoid at all costs, and exterminate if necessary". Or perhaps they're all like us, and died off long ago. Not good any way.

I'm with Naomi Klein here. How many things do you own that were made in China, or in Thailand? You think you're above all this shit. You're not. We're all over our heads. We owe our freedoms and our luxuries to poor sods with no choices. Oliver Kamm may not like "Slaughterhouse 5", but part of the point of that book, which I haven't reread for too long, is that the US army contained torturers too.

3/20/2010 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger AndyB said...

But CC, the issue isn't whether we might have complicity in the existence of sweatshops, or that we might live in a modern Britain built on Empire, or whatever. It's that people holding rallies celebrating these things are politically vile.

3/20/2010 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Does Ollie not like Slaughterhouse-Five? I'd not heard that before. Heh. I've always liked that book and that makes me like it even more.

As far as I'm aware there were no genocidal pogroms involved in the Highland Clearances, nasty though that process was. (When I was in Scotland last year, I saw an interesting recent book summing up current historical research on the extent of the Clearances. I'd like to buy it, but unfortunately, I can't remember what it was called or who wrote it. Can any passing readers help me?)

3/20/2010 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

But Andrew, what is "politically vile"? Shelley, who is one of my heroes, sent pamphlets to lots of bishops and other god botherers celebrating his atheism. They found his views politically vile. They probably weren't keen on "Rise like lions from the slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Ye are many, they are few" (which I got from a Jam album, and IMO inspired the Communist Manifesto) either. Lots of people have found Marx or Hayek or Dawkins or Darwin or Leonardo to be "politically vile". They've often been right, and they've often been wrong.

As some guy said, "I beseech you sir, in the bowels of Christ, consider it possible that you may be wrong."

3/20/2010 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Justin yes he does although he may not have read it. Slaughterhouse 5's history, where it doesn't come from Vonnegut's own memory, was based on David Irving. (Vonnegut does note the dissenting foreword.) But the numbers don't matter as far as KV's experience went. He got bombed (by his own side). He didn't like it. I sympathise.

3/20/2010 10:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

Kammo has got a bit of a bug up his bum about David Irving at the moment, he writes “The bombing of Dresden cannot be used to diminish the holocaust” who apart from maybe Irving who is arguing that? This is more about trying to trash Kurt Vonnegut’s memory than anything, “you see that nasty leftist Vonnegut used a quote from Irving 40 years ago, that means he buys Irving entire bill of good about the Holocaust “.

Stay away from The Times CiF, there is some mad people there, there is

3/20/2010 11:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I can't see the difference between the Latvian SS marching and the Orange Order. Both are mostly composed of extremely unpleasant people wanting to one-sidedly remember atrocities (or 'battles' as they may like to call them) no one else cares about.

[a] The Battle of the Boyne was 300 years ago.

[b] The Tory Party isn't allied with the Orange Order, and I wouldn't be particularly pleased about it if they were.

3/20/2010 11:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Tory Party is currently in an electoral bloc with the Ulster Unionist Party, which is composed almost entirely of Orangemen, though the ex officio Orange seats on party bodies have gone. That's the Ulster Conservative and Unionist New Force, or UCUNF for short.

I'm a great fan of Vonnegut and, like Justin, the intervention of Mr Kampf only makes me like him more. Most of the detail on Dresden was from his own memory of course.

The reliance on Irving isn't really damning either. When KV wrote the book, Irving's Destruction of Dresden was one of the very few books available on the subject, certainly the only one that sold in significant numbers. Moreover, Irving was not a Holocaust denier in the 1960s. (Evans, in Telling Lies About Hitler, is very good on this. Even the first edition of the Irving book has its dodgy elements, but they got progressively dodgier down the years for ideological reasons.)

But then, it's just another case of Ollie dancing on the grave of a dead leftist. There's something wrong with him.

3/21/2010 01:32:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"Who cares about some octogenarian (and mostly older, by my calculations) Latvians?"

I imagine the surviving members of families who were killed by the Latvian SS might care a teensy-weensy bit,don't you? John Demjanjuk is currently on trialin Germany for WW2 war crimes and he's 89.

This is a very confused post, all over the place and one which, paradoxically probably wouldn't have been written but for the Red Army who were the ones who really defeated the Nazis. Eight million died doing so, with another three million dying as German POWs. The Nazis weren't going to be stopped by quoting Shelley at them.

So what made peasants into warriors anxious to fight for a regime that had so brutally oppressed them? I suggest you read a few books and find out.

"Ivan's War: The Red Army 1939-45 by Catherine Merridale would be a good start....

3/21/2010 02:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

The Tory Party is currently in an electoral bloc with the Ulster Unionist Party, which is composed almost entirely of Orangemen, though the ex officio Orange seats on party bodies have gone.

It was late and I was tired. My point still makes a certain kind of sense in the light of your last clause, though.

3/21/2010 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

The guards at Auschwitz were only soldiers. These things happen in war. Crazy times, crazy people. Hey if the Tories want to get into bed with a bunch of neo-fascists who celebrate genocidal thugs who are we to complain as Britain once had slaves. I mean seriously, why criticise anyone for anything 'cos sweatshops, yeah. Anyway its all Stalin's fault - he made them hate the Jews by being mean and stuff.

And so what if a bunch of 80 year olds want to get together and celebrate killing and torturing Jews. Its not like they could do it today; their zimmer frames would get stuck in the mud.

3/21/2010 11:18:00 AM  
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