Monday, December 05, 2011

Frederick Cooper on Africa since 1940

Cooper, Frederick. Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present. New Approaches to African History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

To most westerners, even to many historians, the continent of Africa is a mystery. Most of us have heard recent stories about South Sudan and its years of guerrilla warfare, or about pirates working off the coast of Somalia. Seventeen years ago, we heard the news of genocide in Rwanda and of general elections in South Africa, the official end to apartheid. But many westerners would be hard pressed to name earlier significant events or personalities from the history of Africa.

In order to help fill that gap, Cambridge University Press is now publishing a series of short books called, New Approaches to African History. The first volume to be published was Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present, by Frederick Cooper. The author is a recognized authority on the history of Africa. After completing the doctorate at Yale, Cooper taught at the University of Michigan from 1989-2001. Since then, he has taught at NYU. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.

Cooper begins by saying that in this book he is writing for “general readers, students and teachers.” He observes that many works dealing with “politics, development, or other aspects of contemporary Africa” treat the period since independence “more as background than as a subject for consideration.” By contrast, his intention is to meet the needs of readers “who would like to do more than that, who want to look at the past of the present in a more coherent way” (xi). He stipulates that his focus “is on the continent of Africa south of the Sahara Desert” (12), and claims that in certain ways the 1930s and 40s are just as significant to the recent history of this region as were the various moments of independence, most of which came twenty years or so later. He points to the two stories from 1994 mentioned earlier—genocide in Rwanda and popular elections in South Africa--and says that the colonialism and post-colonialism of twentieth-century African history were the essential precursors to both. Cooper makes this connection by explaining his main ideas.

First, the recent history of sub-Saharan Africa may be divided into the following three parts: a time of development (1940-1973), followed by a era of downturn (1973-1990), followed by an ambiguous, open-ended period which began in 1990. The first period predates the various moments of national independence because, as the author explains, such radical change was precipitated by African aspirations that go back at least as far as the late 1930s. It was during this time that Africans began to recognize and pursue their political and economic potentials. The second period began not long after the decolonization of much of Africa. Spikes in world oil prices beginning in 1973, rising interest rates, and many African countries taking on more and more debt combined to bring about a demoralizing downturn from which many of those nations have never really recovered. For example, in Chapter 5, which features several impressive graphs and tables, Cooper points out that in the decade before 1976, the GNP per capita of Sub-Saharan Africa grew by 20 percent. In the decade following 1976, it fell by the exact same figure, 20 percent. As late as 1996, that measurement had barely passed the level recorded in 1966.

Second, the legacy of colonialism combined with the legacy of African aspirations during the years before independence is the unique historical confluence that makes Africa what it is today. Cooper expresses this idea especially well in the following paragraph:

No word captures the hopes and ambitions of Africa's leaders, its educated populations, and many of its farmers and workers in the post-war decades better than ‘development.’ Yet it is a protean word, subject to conflicting interpretations. Its simplest meaning conveys a down-to-earth aspiration: to have clean water, decent schools and health facilities; to produce larger harvests and more manufactured goods; to have access to consumer goods which people elsewhere consider a normal part of life. To colonial elites after the war, bringing European capital and knowledge to Africa reconciled continued rule with calls for universal progress. To nationalists, a development that would serve African interests required African rule. After independence, new rulers could claim a place for themselves as intermediaries between external resources and national aspirations. But African rulers were in turn subject to criticism for sacrificing development for the people to personal greed (91).

Modern African leaders had learned their political lessons from their colonial predecessors. But, says Cooper, in the absence of a political history that had worked its way from the ground up, and without the economic resources of a European metropole, all such leaders were virtually destined to fail.

Third, the primary political dynamic at work in this history involves what Cooper calls the emergence of the “gatekeeper state.” He explains that leaders of newly-independent nations in Africa sat astride “the interface between the territory and the rest of the world, collecting and distributing resources that derived from the gate itself” (157). The arrangement was practically impossible to handle; and it was mishandled in any number of different ways as Cooper demonstrates in the national case studies he reports in Chapter 7. What was the common denominator among these? The establishment of the gatekeeper state, says Cooper, “made the stakes of control at a single point too high. Politics was an either/or phenomenon at the national level; local government was almost everywhere given little autonomy” (159). In the final chapter, Cooper uses this insight in order to interpret, at least partially, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In short, the critical problem was the Rwandan government's “inability to manage the politics of a gatekeeper state in the face of diminishing resources” (191). By contrast, South Africa was a uniquely-different story in the continent’s history. For one thing, the white Afrikaners there did not see themselves as colonists who really belonged somewhere else. Too, before the end of apartheid the South African government, though brutal, had managed to lead the nation to the highest level of prosperity in Africa. Thus, Cooper explains, the Afrikaners’ strong sense of belonging and their tight grip that held until 1994 ironically created for their successors a situation far superior to the ones inherited in other independent nations.

My overview here clearly reveals what Cooper believes are the most comprehensive horizons of recent African history: economics and politics. These are the topics that dominate his discussion. One might compare, for example, the number of references in this book to cultural or religious aspects of Africa since 1940. “Suggested Reading” sections appear at the end of each chapter. The titles listed there might provide good comparisons to Cooper’s approach.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Colonizer and Colonized in the Dutch East Indies

Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule, With a New Preface. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010.

In this highly-acclaimed book, first published in 2002, Ann Stoler identifies and explains what she calls “connections between the broad-scale dynamics of colonial rule and the intimate sites of implementation.” The author, who teaches anthropology and history at The New School for Social Research in Manhattan, points to Jean Taylor’s 1983 book, The Social World of Batavia, as one of her primary sources of inspiration. What seems clear, however, is that Stoler has moved past the mostly-descriptive approach found in Taylor’s work, and has gone on to build a sophisticated interpretive framework for understanding colonial rule.

In Chapter 1, Stoler offers a rationale for her approach: it is rooted in her observation that “domains of the intimate figured so prominently in the perceptions and policies of those who ruled.” These, she says, “are the locations that allow us to identify what [Michel] Foucault might have called the microphysics of colonial rule. In them I locate the affective grid of colonial politics.” Stoler emphasizes that historians of colonialism have typically ignored or completely missed "the intimacies of empire.” Her goal is to explore them primarily at a certain place and time in colonial history, “the Netherlands Indies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century" (7-8). Beginning on page 13, the author describes each successive chapter of her book, adding that the overall structure is both "modular and recursive." That is to say, while each chapter has a stand-alone quality, the book is not a simple conglomeration; later chapters sometimes refer to and connect with ideas presented in previous ones. The chapters appear in their chronological order of composition. But this is not to say that the chapters are “linear,” although Stoler regards the sequence as “logical” (20).

Chapter 2 begins with Stoler’s complaint that conventional histories entirely miss an interesting possibility: colonial experiments impacted colonizers as much as the colonized. By way of correction, she notes that colonial projects typically gave rise to “new constructions of what it meant to be European.” And, she adds, while racism “is an inherent product of the colonial encounter,” the character and intensity of racism varies widely among different times and locales (24). The emergence of “poor whites” and the arrival of white women in the colony provide plenty of examples. Both categories, says Stoler, “marked and threatened the limits of white prestige and colonial control” (26). By comparing the boisterous Dutch plantation belt in Sumatra with the older, more-settled colonial estates in Java, the author is able to show that the lines dividing the colonizer from the colonized were neither straight nor fixed. Instead, they constantly shifted so as to properly limit “who had access to property and privilege and who did not” (39).

In Chapter 3, Stoler explores her idea that "sexual control was more than a convenient metaphor for colonial domination.” More to the point, it was “a fundamental class and racial marker implicated in a wider set of relations of power" (45). She points, for example, to a typical arrangement in the colonies according to which a European man would take an Asian concubine. These relationships turned complicated and troublesome whenever European men became emotionally attached to their concubines, and especially when children were born. The ambiguous racial character and social standing of the child created an array of problems. In time, because of such dilemmas, prostitution and marriage replaced concubinage. By way of comparison, Stoler notes that this changeover mirrors the Spanish colonization of Mexico during the sixteenth century. At first, concubinage was condoned. But once offspring began to confuse the distinctions between ruler and ruled, colonial authorities imposed sanctions so that either marriage or prostitution would satisfy the sexual desires of colonial men. That factors other than traditional Christian morality were at work is clearly demonstrated by the fact that concubinage was tolerated and even encouraged at certain times, but discouraged and even condemned at others.

Chapter 4 focuses on “the construction of colonial categories and national identities” and on those people “who ambiguously straddled, crossed, and threatened these imperial divides” (79). As an example, the author tells the story of an 1898 court case in Haiphong, French Indochina (modern Vietnam) that involved a métis young man and his French father. The son was convicted of having committed a violent crime. Before sentencing, the father appealed to the court to be lenient to his son who was, after all, of French descent. In response, the attention of the proceedings turned to a different sort of affront; namely that in the eyes of the court the alleged father had apparently so neglected his son that the young man was illiterate and did not bear the qualities of a French subject. Quotations from the record reveal a court in which prejudice and hypocrisy were the rule. Interestingly, at this exact time, Dutch sentiment concluded that anyone who had been raised and educated in the Indies could not possibly be a bearer of Western culture and civilization. Commenting on the Mixed Marriage Law of 1898, Stoler says, “Nowhere in the Dutch colonial record was the relationship among gender prescription, class membership, and racial category so contentiously debated and so clearly defined" (101). In keeping with the new law, a European or Indo-European woman who dared to marry a native man was said to have “already sunk so deep socially and morally” that her decision did not result in ruin. It merely served to “clarify her situation" (103).

According to its subtitle, Chapter 5 takes up the topic of “Children on the Imperial Divide.” Stoler observes that European policy makers and those who commented on the colonial experience seem practically paranoid about the upbringing of children. Parental neglect and the dangers associated with delinquents among the colonized are common themes. In response to such fears, Dutch authorities established schools in the colonies, particularly kindergartens, in order to curb what they saw as the decadence of language and morality in European and Indo children. (Of course, colonizers first had to answer the question of the political identity of a child. Would a mixed-blood child be incorporated or excluded?) Turning from school to the home, Stoler notes that, while having servants represented the wealth and prestige of colonial families, the very presence of those servants were a threat to the "Dutchness" of the children growing up in those families.

Chapter 6, “A Colonial Reading of Foucault,” is the most theoretical section of the book. Throughout this complicated segment, Stoler writes about a previous book of hers, Race and the Education of Desire, and also about the publications and theories of the highly-influential French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. Because I have not read any of these works, I found it difficult to follow Stoler’s questions and lines of reasoning, in spite of her summaries. What seems clear enough is that, in this chapter, she attempts to resolve her enthusiasm for Foucault’s ideas with what seemed to her a critical gap in his writings: “the issue of race” (140). This omission had created a dissonance for Stoler who was convinced from her research that “the making of race” was a significant factor in the placing of sexuality “at the center of imperial politics” (142). Listening to a series of recorded lectures delivered by Foucault in 1976 was a revelation to her: in fact, Foucault had at least taken up the subject of race in these lectures which were transcribed and published relatively late. Stoler seems relieved and reoriented when she says,

No one would argue that the 1976 lectures offer a comprehensive analysis either of racial discourses or of racisms of the state. On the other hand, few others have asked such discomforting questions about modern state formations or explored the reversibilities of racial discourses and the process of reversal. If Foucault pressed on some questions more than others, it is for us twenty years later to take on the ones he could and did not (160).

And with that, she states that it is up to the current generation of scholarship “to understand the conditions of possibility that give racial thinking its continuing and refurbished currency.” In fact, the attempt to discern “what joins racisms, biopolitics, and modern states” serves to extend the legacy of Foucault, who encouraged “the writing of histories that nourish reversals, recuperations, and insurrections within them.” She says that next chapter “is an effort in that direction” (161).

Chapter 7, written with Karen Strassler,“attempts an about-face.” It turns away from the viewpoint of Dutch colonizers and focuses on “the ways in which Javanese women and men who worked as servants in late colonial Indonesia saw their Dutch employers” (162).

Throughout this chapter, the authors struggle with theoretical and practical issues like the historical value of personal interviews and the dynamics of younger, western scholars posing questions to older, Asian former servants. Questions about how to conduct interviews in ways that generate candid, accurate, and relevant responses, how to account for facial gestures and body language, and how to interpret what was said, are just as important to the authors as the transcripts of the interviews. Eventually, they put aside their inhibitions and allow the reader to listen in as it were. When they do, conspicuously absent is the nostalgia commonly reported by the Dutch. Javanese former servants rarely speak of emotional attachment to their colonial overlords or their children. What they do remember is that their jobs working for the Dutch were simply that. This book includes several dozen remarkable photographs, many of which appear in this chapter. One of the more remarkable features of several of the photos is how the Asian servants often seem more like props than people, often unnamed and unacknowledged in the original captions. More than anything else, perhaps, this chapter points to an alternate direction for future research.

The book’s epilogue is titled, “Caveats on Comfort Zones and Comparative Frames.” Here, Stoler takes up a phrase coined by Friedrich Nietzsche and repeated by Foucault. By “comfort zones” Nietzsche meant those familiar areas of research that scholars mark off and within which they conduct their work. I take the expression “comparative frames” to mean the recognition or establishment of categories for the sake of comparison. Along these lines, Stoler reflects on the lack of precision and on the interpretive issues yet to be worked out in the field of colonial studies. Stoler’s “Preface to the 2010 Edition” extends that discussion by taking up what she calls “four broad problematics.” These have to do with “(1) the analytics of comparison and (2) the treatment of the intimate and what such a focus is expected to yield.” Stoler says that both of these “put insistent demands (3) on how we read colonial documents.” And each “bears on (4) the relationship between colonial pasts” and “the debris they leave behind” (ix-x).

Clearly, among other things, this book represents a tremendous amount scholarly work. In addition to the foregoing report, the book’s seventy pages of endnotes, with a bibliography running to some twenty-eight pages, testify to years of careful research. Just a glance at the endnotes reveals the author’s knowledge of a wide array of both primary and secondary sources, not to mention her own field work. Further, Stoler does not merely cite sources. She also describes and discusses them. Consequently, a good number of the endnotes read like short bibliographical essays that take up some aspect of the topic.

So what is the upshot? What are the outcomes that readers should take away from Stoler’s work? First, to use different words in order to repeat the author’s most basic point,“[p]rivate sentiments and public policy come together in the colonial . . . because domestic and familial intimacies were critical political sites in themselves where racial affiliations were worked out” (210).

Second, historians must recognize, as Albert Memmi insisted, that “colonialism creates both the colonizer and the colonized” (40).

Third, although conventional historiography emphasizes the differences between the various colonial experiments, what is striking is that “similar discourses were mapped onto such vastly different social and political landscapes” (80). Stoler indicates that this is the case because, although the particulars are always different, what is always at stake are interests like racial superiority and colonial control.

Fourth, probing the intimacies of colonial rule reveals that the historical truth is stranger than the innocent, or not so innocent, “fictions” of traditional historiography.

Fifth, colonial categories should not be understood as fixed, because they were “binding but unbound by those within them, were excessively rigid and exceeded their limits, had nuanced criteria for inclusion that were reworked by people who made them and by those who could not contain them” (8-9).

My main criticism and reservation about this book relates to its complexity. As critics on all sides point out, or concede, the cultural turn has lead to more-sophisticated readings of sources and, therefore, more-nuanced understandings of the past. This is commendable. But when reading Stoler's book, I could not help but think that here we have an example of sophistication gone to seed. Rather than quoting and discussing several passages, I city only one example. On pages 110 and 208 Stoler uses the adjective "Manichaean" to describe the dualistic colonial categories of "ruler and ruled." Why? The word is a rare, technical term. Used as an adjective, it refers to the dualistic cosmology and religious outlook developed by one Mani, an Iranian gnostic who lived during the third century C.E. Given that, there is nothing especially "Manichaean" about the categories the author describes. The use of the word in this context is imprecise as well as confusing. So there is no reason for her use such a term and every reason to avoid it. It confuses the reader and makes the author seem either “scholarly” or pretentious. In my opinion, Stoler could have brought the same very high level of sophistication, and could have provided the same nuanced understandings of the colonial and postcolonial experience, without using such complicated language.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

From Dust Bowl Days to the Reagan Revolution

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. New York: Norton, 2011.

This post is a version of something I wrote up for an online discussion group that focuses on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. The group is reading this book together, and I was assigned to report on the Introduction and Chapter 1. Here's the gist of what I sent in:

According to his faculty web page, Darren Dochuk completed the PhD at Notre Dame in 2005. Since then he has taught twentieth century U.S. history at Purdue University. He specializes in religion, politics, and culture. Over the last ten years, he has published a good number of journal articles and has contributed several book chapters. From Bible Belt to Sunbelt is his first book. A second book is forthcoming. So it seems like we'll be hearing a good bit from this young historian in the years to come.

Introduction: "At Home with the Angels"

Dochuk begins his book with an impressive description of the Billy Graham crusade held at the baseball stadium in Anaheim, California in September 1969. The author tells of the campaign's tremendous preparation and remarkable success. Among the statistics he reports: a ten-day campaign with a total attendance of 384,000 and over 20,000 decisions for Christ. He also mentions how Graham, from North Carolina, reflected on how comfortable he was, how at home he felt there in the Los Angeles area. Dochuk then comes to his point:

This book explains why Southern California proved so welcoming to Graham and nurturing of his worldview. More specifically, it describes and assesses the ways in which this evangelist's style of southern plain-folk religion--uprooted and relocated to the West Coast by monumental social changes begun in the 1930s--reoriented Southern California evangelicalism toward the South by the late 1960s. From Bible Belt to Sunbelt also tells the analogous story of how transplanted southern evangelicalism, itself revitalized and recreated in the Golden State, moved from the margins of the southern Bible Belt to the mainstream of America's first Sunbelt society (xv).

Although the author notes that the southerners who migrated to Southern California came from a variety of states, he describes their religious outlook as "Texas theology," which can be characterized as busy, vocal, promotional, and task-oriented (xvii). He says that, notwithstanding the images presented in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, southern migrants to Southern California were not so much "victims of circumstance," but rather "champions of a cause" (xvii). It wasn't that they were fleeing Egypt; they were responding to the Macedonian call. With their political views never far from their faith, these southern evangelicals not only reshaped Southern California's religion, they also impacted the politics of that region and far beyond. In fact, says the author, the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency represented their success.

But, says Dochuk, it didn't happen easily or suddenly. The long struggle was spread out over the years between 1910 and 1970. Within those six decades, he identifies four distinct periods to which the major sections of his book correspond. He overviews his book as follows:

Part I "charts plain-folk evangelicalism's relocation from the western South to the West Coast."

Part II "examines the clash of cultural views that resulted from southern evangelicalism's West Coast sojourn." Specifically, he reports how southern evangelicals lost the battle for their "early nineteenth-century populism" in California's Democratic Party and later "forged a powerful political front on behalf of the emerging conservative movement."

In Part III he describes how the conservative impulse began to define itself in the churches and church-run schools of California and how it moved from there into precinct and government. He says that this "phalanx of institutions threw its full weight behind Barry Goldwater's presidential run in 1964."

Part IV, says Dochuk, "shows how this evangelical front helped win the governorship for Ronald Reagan in 1966, the South for Richard Nixon in 1972, and ultimately the country for Reagan's Republican Party in 1980." (The overview is found on pp. xx-xxi).

Chapter 1, "Plain Folk"

Dochuk sets out to describe those people who made the migration to Southern California. A large percentage of them came from the Western South, by which he means southern states, most all of them west of the Mississippi (including, especially, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, but also Missouri and Louisiana). According to the author, these folks embodied the Jeffersonian ideal of the plain person who knew how to raise a crop, who rejected special privilege and elitism, and who deeply valued the local community and, therefore, civic responsibility. Their political heroes were men like "Jeff Davis, the 'Wild Ass of the Ozarks,' W. Lee 'Pass the Biscuits, Pappy' O'Daniel of Texas, and Louisiana's Huey Long" (11).

Dochuk suggests that because these western southerners did not live at the center of the South, their memory of the Civil War was not so pointedly tragic. From a younger, less-settled part of the country than their cousins in the Upper and Deep South, they represented a culture that was forward-looking and optimistic. Upon moving west to California, they sought first to find good jobs and to establish strong churches in communities that would reflect their values and way of life. Dochuk points to the example of Bell Gardens, California in the 1930s, called by critics "Billy Goat Acres." Here was a place where recent arrivals from the South could find cheap housing close to local industry, a place where a person could keep chickens and raise a decent-sized garden.

"Yearning for familiarity" (a great phrase), these transplants naturally planted churches. They soon discovered that, living in such close proximity to one another and bound together by a common political, social, and religious outlook, what sprang up among them was a strong sense of belonging. But they also discovered that the same favorable economic and labor environment was just as available to other types of people as well. So it was up to the evangelicals to convert their neighbors in California, to save the lost of the world, which was now very close by.

So much for my overview of the Introduction and Chapter 1. The first thing I want to add is that my summary doesn't read nearly as well as the book itself. For the sake of brevity, I've left out almost all of the author's interesting details. But they are what make the journey of discovery in his description so enjoyable.

I have only one minor criticism of the book to this point: I think that Dochuk tends to overplay the idea that evangelicals from the South saw themselves as missionaries to Southern California. Observation and experience suggest that why a family moves and why they say they moved are sometimes two very different stories. Oftentimes, this is a matter of the family making the most of a less-than-desirable situation, and telling the version of the story that is most easy to live with, playing up the good that emerges in the new place. Dochuk suggests that the Grapes of Wrath view of southern migration to California doesn't represent the historical truth very well. Of course he's right about that. On the other hand, I don't think it was missionary zeal that led people like Okies to places like Bell Gardens. The evidence seems to suggest that it was hardship at home and the promise of a better life in California. Is there any evidence, for example, that southerners moved to California for the same kinds of reasons that members of the Churches of Christ moved to the Northeast in the Exodus Movement of the 1960s? I haven't seen any evidence for that so far. This is not to discount the real impact of these southerners. My only quibble is that I don't think there's a strong connection between why they moved to California and the religious and political influence they had once they got there.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Bible as Comic Book/Graphic Novel?

Yesterday, I came across one of the more interesting projects I've seen in a long time: comic book style renderings of biblical passages and, in some cases, entire books of the Bible. The writer/artist is one Earnest Graham III, an Episcopal priest who clearly has the gift for doing this sort of thing.

Growing up, I wasn't one of those comic-book kids. I just never got into that, although some of my friends did. I haven't spent much time at his site, but from what I've seen so far, Graham's work has real merit. Check it out:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Isaiah 1: Overture? Preview? Promo?

I'm teaching an Old Testament survey course this semester. We just began our exploration of the Israelite prophets of the 8th B.C. And that means, above all, spending some time with Isaiah.

It's been a few years since I've done much work in Isaiah. In the mean time, I had forgotten what an imposing maze this book can be. So to get started, I just decided to do something that Bible teachers don't always do: I read the Bible. Of course, from the very beginning of Isaiah, I noticed several things that begged to be unpacked. Here, I want to focus on chapter 1, which at this point I'm thinking of as an overture, or promo for, or preview of the entire book. Here's why:

Isaiah 1 as a Unit

Isaiah 2:1 sets off the first chapter as an independent unit: This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem (New International Version). Someone could easily mistake this verse for the beginning of the book. At the very least it's the beginning of a new section of the book, and that effectively makes the first chapter the first major unit.

The Content of Isaiah 1

This first discreet section, Isaiah 1, reveals that the person or group who compiled the entire book intended for the first chapter to be seen as comprehensive in some way. Why do people think that? Because chapter 1 exhibits a number of striking word parallels with later sections of the book. For example, Isaiah 1, verses 2 and 31 (the beginning and the end of the chapter) and the last verse of the entire book, 66:24, include these words:

. . . but they have rebelled against me (1:2) . . . with no one to quench the fire (1:31).

And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind (66:24).

Here we have a signal (although it is well hidden!) that chapter 1 in some way stands for the entire collection from beginning to end. Other parallels between Isaiah 1 and the remainder of the book bear this out. For example:

my people do not understand (1:3) is a theme that the book later takes up and expands: my people will go into exile for lack of understanding (5:13).

In the Hebrew text, the words beaten . . . injured . . . welts (1:4-5) perfectly correspond to smitten . . . infirmities . . . wounds (53:4-5).

The language of Sodom (1:9-10) shows up again in an oracle against Jerusalem and Judah (3:9).

The Lord announces, When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; . . . (1:15), a theme that recurs in 8:17 and 59:2.

The image of refining by fire--I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities (1:25)--shows up again in 4:4 and 48:10.

Other examples can be cited. But these are enough to show a strong connection between chapter 1 and the remainder of the book.

What Should We Make of This?

Old Testament scholar David Carr has pointed out that the Book of Isaiah contains a number of significant themes that are not found in the first chapter. The upshot is that the word "summary" is not a precise description of Isaiah 1.

So, is something like "preview" or "promo" the best description of the purpose and function of Isaiah 1? What might this arrangement of the book signify, if anything, about how it is to be understood? If only a very close reading of this large collection reveals its intricacies, what might that say about the book and the assumptions of the writer and compilers?

Want more? Watch this video, which features Robert Wilson, one of my former teachers, and Stephen Cook talking about some of the basics of the Book of Isaiah.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Trip to St. Mary's Cathedral

On Wednesday of this week, my "Introduction to World Religions" class went on a field trip to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral here in Amarillo. Our host and tour guide was Monsignor Harold Waldow, the rector of the parish. After greeting the class, he explained some of the history of the building. The previous facility burned to the ground on February 26, 2007. The new one was consecrated and dedicated on September 11, 2010.

The cathedral really is something to see. Just outside the sanctuary hangs the huge, beautiful tapestry pictured below. One thing is apparent about this place: countless hours and a tremendous amount of work went into the new building and its decor. It's clear that the designers wanted to inspire awe and appreciation. They succeeded.

Once inside the sanctuary, Monsignor Waldow told the class about some of what had been salvaged from the old building and made a part of the new one. Almost everything had to be completely replaced, including the pipe organ, some of which you can see in the background.

Then, the class was welcomed up to the altar where they heard about the centrality of the Mass and various aspects of Roman Catholic history and theology.

Below are pictured the huge crucifix and the bishop's chair, unique to a cathedral church. Note that, unlike the typical Protestant cross, the Roman Catholic rendition is not "empty." It is a crucifix; Christ is on the cross.

It was an interesting trip for several reasons. For one, it's not often that you get to hear from someone who has childhood memories of the Church before the Second Vatican Council (early 1960s), who has also served as a priest since the early days just after Vatican II. Monsignor Waldow fits that description. So he's a walking, talking primary source for recent Roman Catholic history.

Something else, and I'm sure that the students noticed and may have been surprised by this: contemporary Roman Catholicism embraces the modern, scientific quest for truth. According to our host, this includes an openness to Big Bang cosmology and to at least some aspects of evolutionary teaching. In addition, the Church now acknowledges insights provided by modern higher-critical theories of the Christian Scriptures. For example, in commenting on the Book of Genesis, Monsignor Waldow highlighted the differences between the accounts found in chapters 1 and 2. He mentioned that he does not understand these passages literally. At the same time, he emphasized that whatever modern research might reveal about the origins and character of the written Word or about the universe, the Church ascribes the origin and sustenance of everything to God.

Finally, the Monsignor's remarks included a couple of references to a handful of embarrassing episodes in Roman Catholic history. He mentioned that there have been a few roguish popes, and that the Church clearly erred in its response to people like Copernicus and Galileo. That was significant, I thought, because it runs counter to a fairly popular notion: that Roman Catholicism claims to have a pristine past with popes who could do no wrong. Based on our visit, it seems clear that the Church recognizes its human frailties as well as its divine mission.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Broken China: The Decline of an Empire

Huang, Ray. 1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981.

Non-fiction book lovers have gotten used to it: the odd-but-clever title designed to catch the attention of prospective buyers. In a world looking for something snappy, the title of a book is there to sell, not describe.

Thank goodness for the lowly subtitle. When you want to know what a book is actually about, the subtitle will tell you. And so it is that 1587, A Year of No Significance is really about The Ming Dynasty in Decline. More specifically, it focuses almost entirely on the era of Wan-li, who ruled from 1573 till 1620, and why his empire was in decline during those years.

The author, Ray Huang, was especially well-prepared to write this book. Born in Hunan Province, China in 1918, he served as an officer in the Chinese army from 1941 to 1950. Following his discharge, Huang moved to the United States where he studied at the University of Michigan, completing the doctorate there in 1964. From that time until his death in 2000, Huang built a fine academic career in which he taught, contributed chapters to the Cambridge History of China, and authored several books.

In 1587, Huang offers a series of compelling vignettes of major political, military and intellectual leaders of the period. His primary thesis is that, for all of their differences, each one was dealing with what was essentially the same intractable problem. At one point, Huang describes it as the "organizational inadequacy" (128) of the empire, a system in which "a literary bureaucracy" was managing "the affairs of the agrarian masses" (131). In another section, he speaks of "a sedentary empire" (186) with an army in which "the new elements had to slow down to keep pace with the old" (187).

The strength and the beauty of Huang's presentation is that his book resembles a carefully-researched film in which separate characters reveal a common world from the past. Thus we read about Wan-li, the boy who became emperor and who came of age only to discover that devotion to his public role made no apparent difference.

Next, Huang takes up the enigmatic Grand-Secretary Chang Chu-cheng, mentor and advisor to the young Wan-li. It was only after Cheng's death that Wan-li discovered the truth: when faced with the yin and the yang of "the professed moral tone of government" versus the "hidden desires and motivations of bureaucrats" (56), Cheng had become a hypocrite and a fraud.

Readers get some relief from the tragic as Huang delightfully tells the story of the special relationship Wan-li had with Lady Cheng, the emperor's favorite wife and the mother of his third son. Lady Cheng was refreshingly different from the hundreds of other women available to Wan-li. Instead of being awed by the presence of his majesty, she recognized his humanity and treated him more like a friend than a god. In this way she fulfilled many of his emotional needs, an unlikely gift for which he deeply appreciated and loved her.

Grand-Secretary Chang Chu-cheng was succeeded by the next character in the story, Shen Shih-hsing. Unfortunately, his completely different, subtle style was overshadowed by an early career in which Shen had worked under the then-notorious Chang. In this section, Huang makes clear that neither Chang's hard, top-down administration nor Shen's indirect approach could have ever made a long-term difference.

At this point, Huang takes up the story of the Ming emperor who chose to literally get away from it all, Wan-li's granduncle, Cheng-te. A playboy and a maverick, he avoided the Imperial City for months at a time, chasing women and fighting battles. But for all of the interesting tales he generated, Cheng-te's absence from duty only deepened and reinforced the crisis of the empire. The sick system he ignored only grew worse.

No one could have been more different from Cheng-te than Hai Jui, "the most impeccably moral and fearless civil servant of the empire" (141). As the author explains, though, even Hai's zealous campaign against the exploitation of the poor was destined to fail. In order to show why, Huang takes his reader back to the time of emperor Hung-wu and the early days of the Ming Dynasty. He describes how Hung-wu had established agrarian simplicity as the standard for the empire, ignoring the inevitability of commercial development. As a result, there were no established, regulated credit institutions. Without even a simple banking system, small struggling farmers had no one else to go to besides their neighbors who became their creditors. In those early years, a large share of imperial revenue came from those families who had succeeded at farming, lending, and acquisition. But over time, their wealth was transferred from the countryside to the Imperial City. By the late sixteenth century, not only had the imperial bureaucracy more than doubled in size, its 20,000 civil servants controlled a huge portion of the empire's economic power.

Huang's description of the imbalance and corruption of the empire provides the backdrop for his last two main characters. Ch'i Chi-kuang was one of the ablest generals in Chinese military history. Although he fought off the Japanese and Chinese pirates who were ravaging the east coast, Ch'i discovered that the contradictions and inconsistencies of his homeland were the toughest foes he would ever face. China's civilian leadership depended on the army for security. But they were also suspicious of strong military leaders. Consequently, in order to combat the enemies of the empire, Ch'i had to first develop and train an army that was always poorly supplied. Huang develops the story to show that, whether winning or losing battles, Ch'i was, from beginning to end, fighting a losing war.

Finally, the author turns to a very different sort of character, Li Chih. A proud and stubborn intellectual, he "appointed himself the group conscience of all the literati" (190). Huang portrays Li Chih as having been well-known and widely-read among his contemporaries. But not even a man with his clout and persuasion could succeed in a quest to "coordinate the personal needs and wants of a member of the scholar-gentry class with public morality" (198). The empire had long since become hopelessly conflicted. And so Huang concludes with his thesis: by the seemingly unremarkable year 1587,

the limit for the Ming dynasty had already been reached. It no longer mattered whether the ruler was conscientious or irresponsible, whether his chief counsellor was enterprising or conformist, whether the generals were resourceful or incompetent, whether the civil officials were honest or corrupt, or whether the leading thinkers were radical or conservative--in the end they all failed to reach fulfillment (221).

An interesting, if sad, story, what might it mean? Part of Huang's own answer may be revealed in an obvious quirk of the book: throughout, he punctuates his descriptions with phrases like "our history" and, especially, "our empire." Before getting used to it, the reader experiences the first few examples like a flash of lightning on an otherwise clear night. Of course, they remind the reader that although Huang had evidently become acclimated to the West by the time he wrote this book, he was first and finally Chinese. Beyond that, it may have been that Huang was using his story as a sort of political parable. He mentions how that those who lectured in the presence of the Wan-li emperor were expected to cite historical events as "a way of comparing past with present, and thus of reiterating the close relationship between ethics and public well-being" (44). Lessons from the past served as analogues to the contemporary scene. In this way, history was understood not only as background but also as prophecy. Did Huang intend for his own work, which was translated into Chinese, to serve in this way? I wonder.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

World History Through Islamic Eyes

Ansary, Tamim. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. New York: PublicAffairs, 2009.

As Americans moved past the initial shock of September 11, 2001, we began to ask a number of searching questions: Who were those people? What motivated them to give their lives for something so terrible? Who supported their senseless violence? And why do they hate us?

We soon learned that those nineteen men who hijacked four airliners and destroyed the lives of thousands were self-proclaimed Muslims. They did not represent any one nation. Their common bond was the culture of radical Islam. Upon learning that, Americans then wanted to know what it was about the terrorists' religion that led them to believe that their actions were justified. Did they represent only the lunatic fringe? Or were their convictions and deeds much closer to the heart of Islam?

President George W. Bush gave his answer when he told Americans, "These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith." But not everyone was so sure. In a 1996 book titled The Clash of Civilizations, Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington had claimed that the cultures of the Muslim world and of the West were inherently at odds with each other, and that the lines between them were what he called "the battle lines of the future." In the post-9/11 discussion, many observers suggested that the Huntingdon thesis anticipated those unspeakable events that had now come to pass. So who was right?

Enter the latest book by Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted. As it is with so many non-fiction books these days, once the title catches your attention, it's the subtitle that tells you what the book is actually about: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. Ansary might just be the very best person to write a book like this. He was born in 1948 in Kabul, Afghanistan, his father an Afghan and his mother an American. At age sixteen, he came to the United States where he graduated from Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, in 1970. Later, he traveled extensively in the Islamic world before settling on the American west coast where he has lived and worked as a writer ever since. Not only does he know both hemispheres, he describes himself as "resolutely secular" from a very early age.

Ansary's basic argument suggests that the relationship between the Islamic East and the Christian West is never going to be simple. Why? Because their back stories are long and complicated and now tangled. As the author explains,

Throughout much of history, the West and the core of what is now the Islamic world have been like two separate universes, each preoccupied with its own internal affairs, each assuming itself to be the center of human history, each living out a different narrative—until the late seventeenth century when the two narratives began to intersect. At that point, one or the other had to give way because the two narratives were crosscurrents to each other. The West being more powerful, its current prevailed and churned the other one under.

But the superseded history never really ended. It kept on flowing beneath the surface, like a riptide, and it is flowing down there still. When you chart the hot spots of the world—Kashmir, Iraq, Chechnya, the Balkans, Israel and Palestine, Iraq—you’re staking out the borders of some entity that has vanished from the maps but still thrashes and flails in its effort not to die
(pp. xx-xxi).

As you might have guessed, Ansary gives no easy answers to the question I raised at first. What he does, however, is much more significant. Starting with the civilization that flourished in ancient Mesopotamia and bringing the reader right up to September 11, 2001, the author provides a masterful, engaging overview of Islamic history. He includes, of course, the story of the life of Mohammed, the careers of his successors, the Crusades of Christians from the west and invasions of Mongols from from the east, the complex Ottoman Empire which eventually crumbled, and the rise of modern, secular Islamic states, followed by a conservative reaction, the evidence of which we see today. But beyond that, he explains how the Muslim story impacts and fits into the larger picture called world history. Here and there, Ansary takes the time to explicitly state what his storytelling implies. Here are a few of his most significant points:

First, any credible account of world history will give appropriate space to the story of Islam. And as the author reveals, not only is that story significant, it is also fascinating. Most Westerners would never guess, for example, that in the 13th century Muslims were able make a stand against the invading Mongols by using a prototype gun they called a "hand cannon"; or that when William Shakespeare was writing his plays, the superpowers of the world were three Muslim empires; or that the steam engine was invented in the Islamic world three centuries before its development in the West.

Second, although the West has traditionally ignored Islam, quite often a knowledge of Muslim history sheds light on our well-known western version of world history. A good example of this is the anti-philosophy project taken up by the great Muslim scholar Ghazali. Ansary tells how this man, by all accounts a towering academic, wrote a book explaining the Greek philosophical tradition, giving special attention to Aristotle. In a second book, according to his plan Ghazali set out to dismantle the system he had described in the first book. But, as fate would have it, the first one traveled far and wide, sometimes unaccompanied by the all-important refutation contained in the second. Consequently, and ironically, Ghazali's excellent description of Aristotelian thought led to a boom in its popularity most everywhere the first book was read. Fast forward to more than a century later, when an Italian Dominican priest named Thomas Aquinas set out to square the Church's teaching with Aristotle's philosophy. How many westerners realize that that influential work of Aquinas, which runs to dozens of volumes, owed so much of its inspiration to a Muslim?

Third, the common American notion that Islamic terrorists hate the freedom of the United States is just plain wrong. Contrary to the rhetoric of George W. Bush, for example, those who plan to carry out a literal jihad against the U.S. do not resent the liberty of America. Instead, their rage is directed against what they regard as the boundless decadence and imperialism of the West, especially the United States. Along this line, Ansary relates what has to be one of the great geo-political tragedies of the twentieth century. In August 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency funded the violent ousting of Mohammed Mosaddeq, the recently-elected prime minister of Iran. Mosaddeq, who took a secular modernist approach to governing, looked to be the ideal Muslim leader. However, upon coming to power, he canceled Iran's lease with British Petroleum and announced that Iran would take control of its oil. As Ansary remarks, "Nice try." Eventually, the world learned that the United States actually sponsored the bloody coup that toppled Mosaddeq. Ansary observes that it would be hard to overstate "the shudder of anger it sent through the Muslim world" (p. 334). Since the end of World War II, the memory of a handful of events like the one just described has convinced a large percentage of the world's Muslims that the United States is, again, not only morally decadent, but hopelessly imperialistic.

Fourth, when the West and the Muslim world address each other, their messages almost always miss the target. The two sides often speak past, rather than with each other. Ansary explains: One side charges "You are decadent." The other side retorts, "We are free." These are not opposing contentions; they're nonsequiters. Each side identifies the other as a character in its own narrative. In the 1980s, Khomeini called America "the Great Satan," and other Islamist revolutionaries have echoed his rhetoric. In 2008, Jeffrey Herf, a history professor at the University of Maryland, suggested that radical Islamists are the Nazis reborn, motivated at core by anti-Semitism and hatred of women. It's a common analysis. (p. 350).

Fifth, although Islam certainly is a religion, comparable to other religions like Hinduism and Christianity, it is many more things than that. Ansary says that Islam is also "a social project," belonging to the same category as communism, parliamentary democracy, and fascism. One can also think of Islam as a civilization, in the same class as Chinese, Indian, or Western civilization. And, Islam can also be seen "as one world history among many that are unfolding simultaneously, each in some way incorporating all the others" (p. 356).

To summarize, in Destiny Disrupted, Tamim Ansary has presented the English-speaking world with an understanding of the sweep of history--and, therefore, an understanding of the way things are--from an Islamic point of view. By doing that, he has opened up a door that can lead at least "our side" towards a much-needed mutual tolerance. Anyone who wants to understand Islam and how it relates to world history and the present situation should read this book.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Theology "On the Beach" (1959)

Stanley Kramer’s haunting film On the Beach takes place in the aftermath of a world-wide nuclear war. It is early 1964, and the superpowers have unloaded their atomic arsenals against each other. For reasons that the film partially explains, only Australia has been spared. But the experts who understand global wind currents predict that deadly fallout will arrive within a few short months. The movie tells a story about life lived out under conditions that are, to say the least, historically unique: humanity’s complete self-destruction.

The first sequence of the film introduces its American main character, Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck). The U.S.S. Sawfish, a submarine, has survived the war. The ship was at sea during the attacks and has now made its way to the only known safe spot in the world. Captain Towers has brought the Sawfish into port and soon places the ship and its crew under the command of the Royal Australian Navy. There is no more U.S. Navy.

The captain’s Australian liaison is Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins), a young married man with an infant daughter. Holmes and his pretty wife, Mary (Donna Anderson), decide to introduce Captain Towers to Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner), a beautiful rich girl who spends most of her time going from one party to the next, always drinking too much. Who better to entertain the captain and help him to not dwell on his lost wife and children? A romantic relationship begins to develop. Nonetheless, Towers continues to speak of his family as though they are still alive and that he has a future with them.

Soon an Australian admiral decides that the Sawfish should go on a mission to the North Pacific to visit the West Coast of the United States. At least some scientists are convinced that the Arctic region may be a safe environment. Only a trip there will tell. But the expedition finds that radiation levels in the Arctic Ocean are extremely high. San Francisco shows no sign of life. And a random beeping in San Diego turns out to be nothing more than a telegraph machine attached to a string on a window shade blowing in the deadly breeze. There's not one reason for hope.

Utterly dejected, the crew returns to Australia to live out their last few days. One of them, a scientist named Julian Osborne (Fred Astaire), competes in a deadly car race and takes the checkered flag. Dwight, who now accepts the loss of his family, takes Moira to a fishing resort where they spend a romantic night together. Within days, people begin to experience radiation sickness, and the public lines up outside of hospitals to receive government-issue suicide pills.

Back at home, the Australian lieutenant finds his wife beside herself. Once he is able to calm her down, the two of them share a tender moment. The crew of the Sawfish votes to return to the United States. Captain Towers would prefer to stay in Australia and die in Moira’s arms. But following the path of duty to the bitter end, he sails away with his homesick men, going down with the ship as it were.


To the extent that it takes up religious questions, On the Beach does so in an interesting way. There's a scene near the end—which, in this movie, means the conclusion of human history—that ironically portrays listless members of the Salvation Army conducting what amounts to an End-of-the-World service. (I'm guessing they didn't take up a collection). As if to suggest that humanity will never tire of its militaristic impulse, the band is heard to play “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Above the stage, strung between two poles is a huge banner that reads, “There is Still Time . . . Brother.” But the movie takes this appeal to prepare for the hereafter, and dramatically reinterprets it.

Before he boards the Sawfish for the last time, Captain Towers stands on the dock and holds Moira who tearfully says him, “There isn’t time. No time to love . . . nothing to remember . . . nothing worth remembering.” The message is clear: the Salvation Army’s banner appeals to a traditional religious understanding of reality that no longer commands assent. To temporal, sensual, truly-alive humanity, represented by all of the main characters, there’s no time for things like making love, sharing a meal, and delighting in children. Life, which means racing cars, going to the beach, drinking port, and growing old together, is no more. The emphatic ending of the movie shows the banner once more. This time the viewer knows its true meaning. Until a nuclear war breaks out, citizens of the world still have time to do whatever they can to try to prevent it. The unmistakable message of the film is that full-scale nuclear war will unspeakably and forever end the wonder of living. This, and not God, represents the good that human beings should treat as their ultimate concern. With the arrival of nuclear technology that has the potential to destroy human life, God has been upstaged. He no longer has the whole world in his hands. We do. And your brother? That's not your co-religionist, but every other person on the planet. Because of its unique dangers, the nuclear age requires the utmost in devotion and vigilance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Berlin Anti-Jewish Riots of 1935 (3rd of 3)

In the previous two posts, I described the Berlin anti-Jewish riots of 1935. How to interpret such events from the past has been, and continues to be, a major question for those who study the Holocaust. Who was ultimately responsible?

In this particular case we know that, at the time, Hitler and the Nazi party had compelling reasons for creating at least the appearance of fairness for German Jews. For one thing, the leaders of the Third Reich did not want to risk a boycott of the next year’s Olympic Games, the threat of which was now renewed. [1] As early as mid-March 1933, Hitler had met with Dr. Theodor Lewald and Heinrich Sahm, president and vice-president of the German Olympic Committee. Following his conference with them, he “expressed great interest in the arrangements and said: ‘I will do everything possible to advance the Games, as well as all sports interests’.” [2] From that time until the successful production of the winter and summer Games of 1936, the regime did what was necessary in order to prevent a boycott. [3]

More-general economic concerns loomed as well. For example, on August 20, 1935 several ministers of the regime met in a conference called by Hjalmar Schacht, the Minister of Economics. Schacht emphasized to his peers “the damage caused by the anti-Jewish disorders and warned that the developing situation could threaten the economic basis of rearmament.” As one might expect, he was worried about present and future economic conditions. Of course, Schacht “agreed that the party program had to be implemented.” But he also insisted “that the implementation had to take place within a framework of legal instructions alone.” Minister of the Interior, Wilhelm Frick, and Gauleiter and Bavarian Minister of the Interior Adolf Wagner agreed with Schacht, and their conclusions were soon communicated to the Fuehrer.

Less than a month later, Hitler delivered a speech before the Reichstag, assembled at Nuremberg on September 15, 1935. He blamed international resistance to his regime for a supposed recent Jewish uprising in Germany. According to the Fuehrer, Jews living within the Reich sensed that they had strong support abroad. As a result, they had now concluded that the time had come for them “openly to oppose Jewish interests to those of the German nation.” Hitler continued with a general characterization and with a specific example from Berlin:

From numerous places vigorous complaints have been received of the provocative action of individuals belonging to this people, and the remarkable frequency of these reports and the similarity of their contents point to a certain system of operations. This attitude actually resulted in demonstrations which in a Berlin cinema were directed against a foreign film by which, though harmless in itself, certain Jewish circles felt themselves to be offended.

Having established the need for the German people to be protected from the supposed menace of an unresolved Jewish problem, Hitler then announced that a resolution was possible:

If this proceeding is not to lead to very determined action in its own defense by the outraged population—the consequences of which in any single case cannot be foreseen—the only way to deal with the problem which remains open is that of legislative action. The German Government is in this governed by the thought that through a single secular solution it may be possible still to create a level ground on which the German people may find a tolerable relation toward the Jewish people. Should this hope not be fulfilled and the Jewish agitation both within Germany and in the international sphere should continue, then the position must be examined afresh. [4]

And with that, Hitler initiated the so-called Nuremberg Laws which were then unanimously promulgated by the Reichstag.

Clearly, the Berlin riots of 1935 were connected to the enactment of the Laws. But more than that, they were a major part of the pretext for the Laws. To that extent, the riots represent a significant step in the long march from persecution to extermination. But exactly how significant were they? As I see it, Moshe Gottlieb oversimplified and overreached when he summarized the meaning of these events as follows: “The Berlin Riots mark the turning point in the final annihilation of German Jewry; for these attacks led directly to the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws, the Kristallnacht episodes of 1938, and the ‘final solution’ of the 1940’s.” [5]

Why should that statement be regarded as a stretch? For two main reasons. First, as the earlier parts of this paper show, the Berlin riots were especially notorious because they occurred in a section of the capital city that was full of visitors from other countries, press correspondents, and representatives of foreign governments. They were far from being the only major persecutions or the worst measures taken against German Jewry in 1935. Second, as Daniel Fraenkel explains, the Nuremberg Laws were indeed “an essential and logical step in the process of destruction unleashed against European Jews.” But he adds that “it would be a mistake to construe the enactment of the September laws as a direct prologue to the Final Solution.” Instead of “a frontal assault on the physical foundations of Jewish existence,” the Laws represented “an act of public and symbolic humiliation of German Jews.” [6]

Contrary to Gottlieb’s assertion, not even the Nuremberg Laws were decisive in any final sense. In my opinion, the complexity of the dynamic between expediency and the long-term goals of Hitler and other leaders of his party has been expressed quite well by Saul Friedlander:

The crimes committed by the Nazi regime were neither a mere outcome of some haphazard, involuntary, imperceptible, and chaotic onrush of unrelated events nor a predetermined enactment of a demonic script; they were the result of converging factors, of the interaction between intentions and contingencies, between discernable causes and chance. General ideological objectives and tactical policy decisions enhanced one another and always remained open to more radical moves as circumstances changed. [7]

The anti-Semitic riots in Berlin during the second half of July 1935 bear every indication of having been carried out, or at least permitted and controlled, by the leadership of the Nazi regime. It was in this way that Hitler and the party elite not only attacked the relatively-prosperous and significant Jewish population of the capital city, they also tested the resolve of the world community. Because they discovered an attitude that was unbelieving, lax, and even complicit, they then took the next steps along their ever-evolving but resolute path.

[1] “Berlin riots mar Olympic planning,” New York Times, July 26, 1935. In the second half of 1935, the push for the U.S. Olympic team to abandon the games in Berlin intensified. See, for example, “Statement of non-Jewish advocates of boycott,” New York Times, October 25; “Jahncke asks ban on Olympic games,” November 27; and “N.A.A.C.P. asks A.A.U. to abandon Olympics,” December 14.

[2] “Hitler promises full support for the 1936 Olympic games,” New York Times, March 17, 1933. See also a piece that appeared in the Times two days earlier, “Hitler support expected for Olympics of 1936 in Berlin,” March 15, 1933. See also Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 138.

[3] In addition to the sources identified in the previous two notes, the pertinent literature on the story of the 1936 Olympic Games includes the following pieces from the New York Times: “Germany seeks 1936 Olympics for Berlin: government funds aiding 1928 campaign,” February 16, 1927; “Brundage’s views stir Berlin press,’ April 20, 1933; “Reich now says status of German Jews in next Olympics has not been settled, May 29, 1933; “Proposal to shift Olympics growing,” June 4, 1933. See also Moshe Gottlieb, “The American Controversy Over the Olympic Games,” American Jewish Historical Quarterly 61, No. 3 (March 1972): 181-213; Bruce Kidd, “The Popular Front and the 1936 Olympics,” Canadian Journal of History of Sport and Physical Education 11, No. 1 (May 1980): 1-18; Allen Guttmann, The Games Must Go On: Avery Brundage and the Olympic Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984); “Olympic Games,” in Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, ed. Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedurftig, trans. Amy Hackett (New York: Macmillan, 1991), 2:669-71; David Clay Large, Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936 (New York: Norton, 2007).

[4] Adolf Hitler, My New Order, ed. Raoul de Roussy de Sales (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941), 339. I owe this quote to Moshe Gottlieb, "The Berlin Riots of 1935 and Their Repercussions in America," American Jewish Historical Quarterly 59, No. 3 (March 1970), 308, note 9.

[5] Gottlieb, 328.

[6] “Nuremberg Laws,” in Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, ed. Walter Laqueur (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 454.

[7] Friedlander, 5.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Berlin Anti-Jewish Riots of 1935 (2nd of 3)

The foregoing reports match up perfectly with dispatches issued during the spring and summer of 1935 by William E. Dodd, U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Dodd--pictured above with his wife in Berlin in 1935--wrote several lengthy reports for Secretary of State Cordell Hull. The gist of his communications was that the situation for Jews in Germany was then taking a turn for the worse. Ever since the early part of 1933, when Hitler and the Nazi party came to power and forced many Jewish professionals from their positions, the status of German Jews had actually stabilized. But now things were different. On April 1, Dodd wrote to Hull:

. . . there have been signs of an intensification of pressure upon the Jews in Germany. Fresh outbursts against the Jews in public speeches, additional discriminatory ordinances, and finally undercover work by the police all seem to furnish evidence that the State, profiting by the period of internal calm and by the strengthening of its hand through the declaration of military subscription, is engaged in a new anti-Jewish drive. [1]

Dodd noted, however, that compared to the obvious terror of 1933, the new campaign was being carried out, for the most part, “unobtrusively.” Furthermore, the recent measures seemed “to be directed at a further restriction of Jews’ legal rights.” Dodd said that he had no idea how far the regime might take the new measures, but he thought it was worth mentioning that an announcement had been made “of an early codification of the German citizenship laws and that in this connection many Jews here fear the worst.” By the end of April, things were much clearer. Dodd wrote to Hull:

Reichsminister of the Interior Frick, in an interview published in the Berlin Nachtausgabe of April 27, briefly outlined some of the details of the forthcoming citizenship law which, if they are ultimately incorporated in that law, will undoubtedly make it unique of its kind, inasmuch as it may be inferred from his remarks that citizenship shall be denied all non-Aryans and furthermore may only be acquired after the taking of a solemn oath to the Nazi State. [2]

By May 17, the situation had worsened. On that date, yet another dispatch from Dodd reported the following:

As the anti-Jewish campaign proceeds with official encouragement, it is only natural that, as is being continually reported by our consulates in various German cities, the instances of persecution should multiply in acts of personal humiliation of the Jews, press attacks against individuals, appeals to boycott Jewish stores, the changing of Jewish-named streets, and so forth. . . . The Consul General in Frankfurt has submitted a summary, enclosed as of possible interest, prepared by the National Society of Baptized Jews, showing the professions and callings barred to non-Aryan Germans. It will be seen that the disqualifications extend over practically the whole field of German life. . . . [3]

From these and other messages prepared for the U. S. Secretary of State and sent from Berlin, one can easily gather that the Nuremberg Laws, promulgated on September 15, 1935, had been in the planning for several months. What also seems clear enough is that the intensification of anti-Jewish measures that same year—even the ones blamed on rowdies or the public—were in fact well-coordinated. In yet another one of his communications to Hull, Dodd provides what appears to be independent evidence that the Berlin riots were not spontaneous. On July 17, two days after the outbreak of violence, Dodd wrote that the anti-Jewish campaign in the German press had “prepared the public mind” for the subsequent atrocities. Moreover, “[a]ccording to the best eye-witness accounts, outbreaks occurred at various times and places, but with a precision and common purpose evincing some sort of advance plan. . . .” [4] Significantly, Dodd’s communication was dispatched from Berlin on July 17, but was not received until July 26, nine days later. Moreover, it was apparently never answered. [5]

[1] Moshe Gottlieb, “The Berlin Riots of 1935 and Their Repercussions in America,” American Jewish Historical Quarterly 59, No. 3 (March 1970), 309. For the Dodd correspondence, Gottlieb quotes from Foreign Relations of the United States, 1935, Vol. II: Germany, 392-95.

[2] Gottlieb, 310.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 311.

[5] Ibid.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Berlin Anti-Jewish Riots of 1935 (1st of 3)

The next three posts will present some of my research on the 1935 anti-Jewish riots in Berlin. These events represent only one of the countless episodes in the unspeakable history of the Nazi regime. I say "unspeakable." And yet we must speak. Otherwise we fail to chronicle what fascist politics can do. If silent, we also run the risk of cooperating with those who, to this day and with increasing sophistication, deny the monumental atrocity of the Holocaust and downplay its horror.

I plan to eventually extend my study of this specific topic. And I want to improve the piece that follows here. So I welcome your comments, and am especially interested in hearing from those who are familiar with Holocaust studies. I thank you in advance for any feedback.

Abstract of the Entire Piece: My paper provides an overview of the atmosphere and activities of the anti-Jewish riots in Berlin in the summer of 1935. These incidents represent the pinnacle of the second major wave of disturbances following the Nazi takeover in early 1933. They were also significant because these events did not take place in a village in a remote part of Germany. Instead, they were perpetrated in the capital city, mostly along the Kurfuerstendamm, an elegant boulevard of Berlin. A major question—one that is difficult if not impossible to answer—is the degree to which Hitler and the Nazi high command were responsible for the Berlin riots. Had the regime simply set the tone? Or did they permit, or even commission, these atrocities? If the riots were permitted or even ordered, why did the leadership of the Third Reich disregard the possibility of losing the 1936 Olympic Games? Why would they come so close to an economic boycott? At any rate, what does seem certain is that in early-to-mid 1935, the regime decided to use the anti-Jewish disturbances throughout Germany, and especially the riots in Berlin, as a pretext for the promulgation of the notorious Nuremberg Laws. In fact, before he commended this legislation to the Reichstag, Hitler specifically mentioned the riots in Berlin as an example of why the races had to be separated. In that sense, then, we should understand the Berlin riots as a milestone in the road from persecution to extermination.

Conventions: I place short quotations within quotation marks. Block quotes appear as paragraphs in italics. In addition to the endnotes, where appropriate and when possible I provide links to pertinent Internet sources.

Sometime after 8 o’clock on the evening of Monday, July 15, 1935, anti-Semitic terror broke out along the Kurfuerstendamm, a well-known thoroughfare in Berlin. It was an unlikely scene for an outbreak of terrible violence. Known to many as Berlin’s "Great White Way,” the Kurfuerstendamm was brightly-lit and one of the most-fashionable places in the city’s West End. The area was also home to many of Berlin’s Jews who at that time still numbered as many as 150,000. [1]

According to that morning’s issue of the Voelkischer Beobachter, the official newspaper of the Nazi Party, a large number of Jews had booed at a recent showing of “Petterson and Bendel,” a Swedish anti-Semitic film. The newspaper account concluded with the words, “such insolence is not to be endured.” That afternoon’s edition of Der Angriff, founded by the notorious Joseph Goebbels, included a fiery editorial on the alleged Jewish response to the film. Not surprisingly, the riots that night began in front of the theater where the movie was showing. As they exited, those who appeared to be Jewish were seized, beaten, and chased. Victims were seen running down the street with blood streaming down their faces. Several area businesses owned by Jews were completely wrecked. Within hours, the Reich’s news bureau issued a statement: an attempt by Jews to disturb a presentation in a photoplay house on Kurfuerstendamm had resulted in spontaneous protests from “the public.”

The report went on to mention “minor accidents” and that “a window was broken” before police arrived and prevented further clashes. But according to a front-page story that appeared in the next day’s New York Times, the official statement had misreported the source, the extent, and the true nature of the events. In fact, an all-out riot, “which gave every evidence of careful planning,” was undertaken “by well-organized groups of young men who evidently had specific instructions.” Although these “rowdies,” around 200 in number, were dressed in civilian shirts, many of them were also wearing “Storm Troop boots and trousers.” At one point, “three men in Storm Troop uniform motored up and down the avenue giving orders to the rioters.” The growing crowds reduced the boulevard to a narrow lane, slowing traffic.

Every car that appeared to be driven by a Jew was greeted with shouts of ‘Out, Jew! Get out, Jew! Destruction to the Jews!’ Windshields were freely smashed.” The truckloads of police who eventually arrived seemed reluctant to intervene, unwilling to do much to restore order. To top it off, agents selling Julius Streicher’s notorious anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stuermer went from one café to the next wearing “placards that reached from their shoulders to their feet bearing the customary scurrilous caricatures." [2]

The Wednesday edition of the Times contained a story from the Associated Press that was almost entirely a first-person account provided by Varian Fry, the newly appointed editor of an American journal called The Living Age. Fry, a young, Harvard-educated journalist, had been in Germany on study tour for about a month. His account corroborated several details from the earlier story, including the time that the riots broke out on Monday night as well as how the crowd lined up on both sides of the street “forcing each car which came by to run the gauntlet.” He must have been jarred by the sheer ugliness of what he witnessed:

I saw one man brutally kicked and spat upon as he lay on the sidewalk, a woman bleeding, a man whose head was covered with blood, hysterical women crying, men losing their temper at the police or the Storm Troopers and being kicked or dragged off, women begging their men to keep out of the fight and crying and pleading.

Fry also remarked on the variety that he noticed among the perpetrators and enthusiastic onlookers:

Old men and young men, boys, Storm Troops, police, young girls of the domestic servant type, well-bred women, some even in the forties and over—all seemed to be having a good time. One youth told him, This is a holiday for us.

Yet another AP article that appeared in the Times told the story of a U.S. Navy midshipman, E. W. Wood Jr., who got into a fistfight with a man who had brutalized two women along the Kurfuerstendamm Monday night. [4]

The events of Tuesday, July 16, made it apparent that the Nazi regime was alarmed by what the Times called “the foreign and notably the British reaction” to what had happened the previous night. Reportedly, on Tuesday morning the commander of the Berlin Storm Troopers ordered members of the SA to avoid all questionable public demonstrations. For an indefinite period of time Troopers were to regularly wear their uniforms, except when at work in an office or factory. These precautions, it was said, would “deprive opponents of any opportunity to vilify or slander the party.” Also that morning, an official communiqué was released saying that “the beatings and destruction of property” the night before “were the work of ‘agents provocateurs’.” The story in the Times registered a strong doubt: “It should be noted that on previous occasions when similarly embarrassing events occurred, it has been, officially speaking on the morning after, the work of agents provocateurs.”

The local press in Germany did what it could to blame the victims. Tuesday’s edition of the Zwoelf Uhr Blatt remarked that the Jews considered themselves “again at home” and had assumed “the right to reject by whistling and whispering mocking remarks in a German photoplay house a film that had been declared ‘valuable for the interests of the State’.” It was the Jews “through their provoking behavior” who were responsible for “spontaneous demonstrations by German citizens.” Likewise, the Nachtausgabe said,

Certain Jewish groups began to regard themselves again as the masters of the situation. When ill feeling expressed itself yesterday on the Kurfuerstendamm, then that was simply evidence of how unendurable Jewish provocations had become. The responsibility lies with those who will not realize that the German people has no desire to return to Jewish rule.

Tuesday afternoon witnessed several aftershocks from the previous night’s earthquake. Customers at some of the ice cream parlors along the Kurfuerstendamm were harassed, and “a dozen young anti-Semites” chased one young man up the street yelling, “Traitor! Down with him!” That evening, supporters of Julius Streicher again came out in full force, wearing armbands that advertised Der Stuermer. Up and down the boulevard on windows and posts they placed stickers that bore the ominous slogan of the paper: “The Jew is the cause of all our troubles.” On certain shops they placed stickers that read, “I am a Jew. Aryans enter my establishment at their own risk.” [5] It was later reported that on Tuesday night, Adolf Hitler himself “patrolled the Kurfuerstendamm,” really or ostensibly, “to see that there was no new outbreak of anti-Semitic rioting.”

The Fuhrer twice rode up and down the fashionable thoroughfare in an automobile. He was dressed in a white raincoat and white traveling cap, and was accompanied by adjutants and Secret Service men. He made the personal survey, it was said, to assure himself that firm steps were being taken to prevent a repetition of the disturbances. [6]

The same piece also reported that the Nazi regime was pushing its sterilization program “despite Catholic protests,” and that the state-controlled press in Germany was devoting “entire columns to violent attacks on foreign reports of anti-Semitic disorders.” It went on to tell how the National Sozialistische Partie Korrespondenz, the Nazi party’s syndicate service, was now demanding that Jews, “on pain of death if necessary,” were thereby forbidden to rent an apartment to “Aryans.” Furthermore, no Jew was to engage Aryan domestic help, attend an Aryan physician, or accept an Aryan as a client.

Nonetheless, the article included the hopeful note that “a recurrence of Monday’s riots seemed unlikely.” [7] At the same time, it was noticed that in some towns and villages in Germany, the old signs reading “Jews are not wanted here,” had been replaced by new ones that said, “Jews enter at their own risk.” [8] Meanwhile, an official Nazi party bulletin insinuated that the press and the shapers of popular culture outside of Germany were guilty of communicating misinformation about life in the Third Reich. The bulletin asked why more attention had not been given to the plea issued by Reichsfuehrer Hitler in a recent foreign policy speech in which he had said:

The German Government is of the opinion that all attempts to achieve an effective lessening of the tension between individual States by means of international agreements or agreements between several States are doomed to failure unless suitable measures are taken to prevent the poisoning of public opinion in the nations on the part of irresponsible individuals in speech, in writing, in films and in theatre. [9]

By Thursday night of the same week, anti-Jewish rioting had broken out again in Berlin. Judging from the reports, though, these events were not nearly as severe as those of Monday night. [10] Nevertheless, the Times published many more stories over the next few days and weeks that indicated a relentless anti-Semitic drive in Germany. [11] They reveal something that Saul Friedlander has pointed out: though better-known than many of the other atrocities of 1935, the Berlin riots were only part of a much larger set of incidents. Most notably, as early as March of that year, Germany’s Ministry of the Interior announced that the new Wehrmacht would exclude Jews and that anti-Jewish legislation was in the offing. By the end of April, the city of Munich had witnessed several weeks of well-organized disturbances:

Jewish stores were sprayed nightly with acid or smeared with such inscriptions as JEW, STINKING JEW, OUT WITH THE JEWS, and so on. According to the report, the perpetrators knew the police patrol schedule exactly, and could therefore act with complete freedom. In May the smashing of window panes of Jewish shops began. The police report indicates involvement by Hitler Youth groups in one of these early incidents. By mid-May the perpetrators were not only attacking Jewish stores in broad daylight but also assaulting their owners, their customers, and sometimes even their Aryan employees. [12]

By Saturday, May 25 the attacks in Munich “had spread to every identifiable Jewish business in the city.” [13] Smaller cities and towns were also the scenes of attacks and locally-initiated measures against Jews. [14]

Yet another related article, published in the Times dated July 26, 1935, bolsters the idea that the wave of anti-Jewish incidents of that year were both planned and purposeful. By then, the aforementioned Virgil Fry had returned from Germany. Now he had a new twist to the story of the recent Berlin riots. While still in Berlin, he had spoken with Dr. Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl, press advisor to Reichsfuehrer Hitler. In their interview, Hanfstaengl admitted to Fry that it wasn’t Jewish patrons who had hissed during the showing of the Swedish film “Petterson and Bendel.” A different group was responsible for the instigation. As Fry reported:

Dr. Hanfstaengle told me many things and asked me not to mention some of them, but he did not give me this information in confidence, and I see no reason why I should not tell you. . . . The original hissing took place on Friday, three days before the Monday rioting, which I witnessed. Dr. Hanfstaengle said he had reliable information that those who did the hissing were Storm Troopers. [15]

Not only that, on Tuesday, July 16, the day after the outbreak of the anti-Jewish riots along the Kurfuerstendamm, Fry had taken a walk down the boulevard to see some of the aftermath. Allowing himself to be seen as a foreigner who was nonetheless sympathetic to the events of the previous night, he asked two Berlin policemen if they thought that the rioting had been sponsored by the Nazi party. “The policemen,” said Fry, “replied in the affirmative.” [16]

[1] The population number comes from “Berlin,” an unsigned article in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s online encyclopedia. The piece reports that the census of June 16, 1933 indicated that 160,000 Jews lived in Berlin. Some German Jews moved into the city during the pre-War years of the Nazi regime. Yet, by 1939, the total Jewish population of Berlin had dropped to 80,000.

[2] “Jews are beaten by Berlin rioters; cafes are raided,” New York Times, July 16, 1935. Evidently, something of this had already broken out as early as the previous Saturday, July 13. In his dairy on that date, Jochen Klepper, a Protestant author who had married a Jewish widow, wrote: “Anti-Semitic excesses on the Kurfuerstendamm. . . . The cleansing of Berlin of Jews threateningly announced.” Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 138 who cites Klepper, Unter dem Schatten deiner Fluegel: Aus den Tagebuechern der Jahre 1932-1942, (Stuttgart, 1983), 269.

[3] “Editor describes rioting in Berlin,” New York Times, July 17, 1935. Varian Fry’s experiences in Berlin revealed to him the true Nazi spirit. In June 1940, he became one of the founders of the independent Emergency Rescue Committee. In August of that year, living in Marseilles, he created a clandestine network whose goal it was to smuggle refugees out of Nazi-occupied France. By August 1941, when Fry was expelled from the country, he and his associates had saved approximately 2,000 people from certain death. In 1976, nearly a decade after his demise, the United States awarded him the Eisenhower Liberation Medal. In 1993, he was honored by an exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And in a 1996 ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem declared him “Righteous Among the Nations.” Justus Rosenberg, “Fry, Varian,” in American National Biography, Supplement 2, ed. Mark C. Carnes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 183-85.

[4] “Midshipman tells of fight in Berlin,” New York Times, July 17, 1935.

[5] “Reaction to riots alarm Germans; baiting continues” New York Times, July 17, 1935.

[6] “Nazis tighten law on sterilization; answer Catholics,” New York Times, July 18, 1935.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Signs of the new drive in Munich,” New York Times, July 18, 1935. See also an earlier piece, “Ban on Jews increased,” July 12, 1935, which reports how a German health resort had recently replaced signs that read, “Jews are not wanted” with different signs reading, “Jews are forbidden to enter the gardens.”

[9] “Boycott is pushed,” New York Times, July 19, 1935.

[10] “Anti-Jewish riots renewed in Berlin,” New York Times, July 19, 1935.

[11] See, for example, “Anti-Semite police chief named to ‘purge’ Berlin of Jews and Communists,” New York Times, July 20, 1935; “Nazi reich in throes of new ‘purification,” July 21; “New Nazi drives on ‘reactionaries’ spread to nation,” July 23; “Anti-Semites firm in the saddle as persecution spreads in reich,” July 24.

[12] Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I, 137.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 138-39.

[15] “Editor holds riots inspired by Nazis,” New York Times, July 26, 1935.

[16] Ibid.