The problematic Thomas Jefferson

October 23, 2021 • 12:04 pm

What do we do about Thomas Jefferson? He wrote the Declaration of Independence, served the new United States government in several capacities, including Vice-President and Secretary of State, was our third President, founded the University of Virginia as a secular school, and wrote the Virginia Declaration of Religion Freedom—the model for America’s First Amendment. All that would commend him to our approbation, but for one ineluctable fact. He kept slaves: many of them. More than that—he had a relationship with and impregnated one of those enslaved people, Sally Hemings, and fathered at least a couple of her children. That relationship, because of the power imbalance, is considered rape.

Because of the slave issue, Jefferson’s star has sunk very low (see my piece here). A statue of him at my alma mater, the College of William and Mary, has been repeatedly defaced, a statue of Jefferson in front of a Portland, Oregon high school has been pulled down, Jefferson Elementary School in San Francisco is to be renamed, and, as I reported this week, as gleaned from the New York Times, a statue of Jefferson in the council chambers in New York’s City Hall has been relocated elsewhere.  All of this for the same reason: Jefferson was a slaveholder.

I’ve been conflicted about this legacy for a while, for how do we balance the good with the bad (more on that below).? And I was influenced by the comment of reader Historian about Jefferson on my post, to wit:

The removal of the Jefferson statute from the New York City council chamber is justified totally. While one can at least make an argument that the statue of a slaveholder need not be removed from some areas because of the “good’ things he did and looking at the statue is optional. In this case the chamber is the workplace of the council members, who have no choice but to look at it. Minority members of the council are forced to look at a statue of a person that may have very well enslaved, whipped, sold, and raped their ancestors. To them, they don’t care that he hypocritically wrote words about freedom, liberty, and equality. They are revulsed by the statue; they should not be subjected to looking at it. It’s as if Jews were compelled to look at a statue of Dr. Mengele because his medical experiments on their ancestors may have resulted in advances in medicine.

There’s food for thought there, though the Jefferson statue can’t really be compared to one of Mengele for obvious reasons: Jefferson did a lot of good stuff, much involving the founding of this Republic. Mengele was an unmitigated horror of a man.

What to do? Must we dismantle the Jefferson Memorial and remove all his statues, including the bronze one in the Capitol Rotunda that was the model for the one in New York? And if he’s canceled for slaveholding, what do we do about George Washington, who had slaves? (So did ten other Presidents.) Do we take him off the dollar bill, remove the Washington Monument from the District of Columbia, and, of course, change the name of Washington D.C. itself?

According to the White House Historical Association, at least 12 Presidents owned slaves:

. . . .at least twelve presidents were slave owners at some point during their lives: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant.

That’s more than a quarter of U.S. Presidents, and several of them were distinguished in various ways. How do we regard them? Should we honor their accomplishments at all in light of the fact that they engaged in one of the more reprehensible behaviors possible: owning other human beings, treating them badly, and making them work without pay? Remember, even during this time slavery was not seen as “business as usual”, for there were many abolitionists, especially in the UK.

While you ponder this conundrum—perhaps the hardest case of conflict between public vice and virtue—have a look at this article in Bari Weiss’s Substack site. It’s by Samuel Goldman, described this way on the site:

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at The Week. He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. His books include “God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America” and “After Nationalism.”

Goldman’s thesis is that removing Jefferson statues isn’t just an attack on the man, but an attack on the ideas he stands for (aside from slavery, of course). Click on the screenshot to read.

Goldman admits at the outset that Jefferson “didn’t live up to his own words, owning more than 600 people in his life, and, unlike Washington, didn’t have plans to free them. He “recognized his own hypocrisy,” but didn’t do anything about it. But Jefferson’s accomplishments, and the good he did, are also undeniable. And so, for Goldman, this brings up the important issue:

The question, though, is whether everyone implicated in slavery is ipso facto ineligible for public celebration. That standard doesn’t only exclude Jefferson but virtually every major figure in American history before 1861. And ruling these out of public discourse doesn’t only affect their personal memory. It also renders speechless the other Americans, like the Levy family, who’ve used their names, words, and careers as symbols to articulate their own aspirations for justice.

That’s why attacks on Columbus Day are as misplaced as removal of the Jefferson statue. The holiday and memorials in many cities aren’t really about the Genoese explorer who served a Spanish king. They are confirmations of the presence of Italian-Americans in public life, to say nothing of the courage and adventuresome spirit that led to the discovery of the New World.

The reduction of American history to an unbroken story of racial oppression comes at particular cost to Jews. Because we have been among the greatest beneficiaries of liberal institutions, we are unavoidably targets when those institutions abandon or reject their liberal mission. A widely despised and persecuted people who thrived in America like nowhere else, Jews do not fit into the sharp distinction between oppressor and oppressed that characterized ideological “antiracism.” Therefore, Jewish experiences must either be ignored or reduced to a monolithic conception of white supremacy.

I’m not sure how relevant the Jewish issue is to the discussion of Jefferson, even though it poses thorny issues for the woke. Goldman does bring up the fact that the original Jefferson statue, sculpted by the French artist David d’Angers, was commissioned by a Jew, Uriah Levy, who was not only repeatedly attacked for his religion but, as a naval officer, helped suppress the slave trade in the West Indies. Yet Levy’s own legacy was mixed. As a Jefferson admirer, he restored a decrepit Monticello—but using more than a dozen slaves.

And you can answer the first question for yourself: is every American who was implicated in slavery ipso facto ineligible for public celebration?

Goldman says “no”. While he’s not absolutely clear about the statue removal, he’s crystal clear that there has to be some celebration of Jefferson’s ideas, and how do you do that without statues or any kind of public memorial? Can we celebrate good ideas completely disconnected from the people who had them?

Goldman’s conclusion:

Jefferson’s far from the first statue to fall, and it won’t be the last. But the plaster and bronze of which they’re composed isn’t the most important thing. What matters is the fate of the ideas in that Declaration in Jefferson’s hand. The ones that Lincoln described as “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,” and “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.” That’s what Uriah Levy saw in Jefferson and what we should continue to honor today.

Again, how does one honor abstract ideas without mentioning the people who had them? Should we ignore Jefferson’s positive contributions by shoving his statues into dark corners because of his negative acts? And if you say, “yes,” what do we do about George Washington.?

As I’ve written before, I judge whether or not someone should be honored if both questions below are answered “yes”:

1.) Are we honoring the positive contributions that the person made?

2.) On balance, did the person’s life contribute more good than bad to the world?

#1 was a “yes” for the New York City statue: Jefferson was depicted holding a quill pen, clearly being honored for his writings.

#2 is the hard one. After all, holding down 600 black people as property is no small thing. Against that one must balance that Jefferson helped bring about a Republic that, though it’s denigrated by many these days, I see as the greatest experiment in liberty and democracy of our era. Jefferson wrote the document that helped bring that about, and, though he was in France during the Constitutional Convention, many of his ideas infuse that Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights—most notably the First Amendment. Jefferson kept slaves, and thereby supported slavery, but the net harm was largely to his own slaves.

When you balance America as a refuge for the oppressed, Jefferson’s role in the creation of America, and his role in creating our founding documents, I would judge, subjectively, that his life was on I conclude that we should honor the man as a way of honoring his ideas—the good ones.

Muir Woods gets its reckoning

September 2, 2021 • 12:45 pm

The Big Reckoning that’s sweeping America has made its way west to California’s Muir Woods, as reported by SFGate (click on screenshot below). If you’ve been to Muir Woods (and you definitely must go), you’ll know that it’s one of the few large stands of old growth coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) left in this country, with trees up to 1200 years old. This is the world’s tallest species of tree, and they’re unbelievably tall, soaring like a verdant cathedral. (The tallest ones aren’t flagged to prevent vandalism.)

It’s always amazed me that within less than two days of driving in California, you can see the world’s oldest trees (the bristlecone pines), the tallest trees (coastal redwoods), and most massive trees (the Giant Sequoias). I’ve seen all three, and recommend them highly. It’s impossible to convey the height of the coastal redwoods in a photo, but here’s one anyway:

Source

But we’re not here today to admire trees. Rather, we’re here to describe how the historical revisionists have hit upon Muir Woods as a way to point out the impurities of those who created this National Monument, and to honor those who were overlooked. Click on the screenshot to read:

John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club after whom these woods are named, has himself already been the subject of a deplatforming of sorts. I wrote about that a year ago, and decided that, since Muir recanted bigoted statements he made early in his life, as well as having been demonized for merely being associated with people who were impure in other ways, his denigration wasn’t really fair. (If it was, they should immediately rename Muir Woods!)

As always, I use two criteria for judging whether to engage in deplatforming or cancellation. First, is the person being honored for achievements that are admirable? Second, did the person’s life create a net good or a net bad? Given the circumstances I described a year ago, Muir shouldn’t be canceled.

But that’s not the question, which is this: “Should the exhibits at Muir Woods be changed to give ‘a more complete history’?” And you know what that means: ferret out all the stuff involved with the site that would be considered immoral today. The site’s exhibit has already been changed, with the collaboration of park employees who slapped signs and sticky notes on what was already there to revise the given history.

To me, this action is definitely a mixed bag. My take is that yes, some additional information should be added, but some information shouldn’t—on the grounds that it’s irrelevant. To why people visit the woods. They come to see the trees for crying out loud, and get a little education on the side, but they definitely don’t come to be propagandized.

For an example of the latter, take these changes, one of which is shown in the picture just above:

“Alert: History Under Construction,” the paper reads. “Everything on this sign is true but incomplete.”

The sign contains information about the park’s founding, along with a timeline of the park’s history and photographs. Credit for saving the park’s treasured redwood and creek habitat is given to “influential, philanthropic white men,” the paper explains.

“While they undoubtedly contributed to the forest becoming a national monument, part of our duty in the National Park Service is to tell the full story of how that happened,” the paper says. “Look at the timeline below to see the park’s history under construction.”

The “full story” of course, is how the white men involved with Muir woods were bad men: bigots.  And it’s true, they surely did things that we wouldn’t countenance today, but remember that the Woods came into being at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. It wasn’t exactly an enlightned time, at least compared to our own:

For an 1898 item about the man referred to as “The Father of American Forestry,” the Muir Woods staff also felt more information was needed. “Gifford Pinchot appointed Chief of what is now the US Forest Service; advocates ‘scientific forestry,’” the item reads. The staff added, “… and eugenics, … defined… as ‘controlled selective breeding of human populations (as by sterilization) to improve the population’s genetic composition.’” Eugenicists often targeted nonwhite people, labeling their races as inferior and socially undesirable. Pinchot, who for 10 years served on the advisory council of the American Eugenics Society, has a Muir Woods tree named in his honor.

The question is whether Pinchot advocated sterilization, whether his efforts actually did anything to foster eugenics in the U.S., and what good he did as head of the U.S. Forest Service. Since I (and probably the employees) can’t answer the first question, it seems superfluous to tell visitors that he was on an advisory council of a eugenics society.

Likewise with this:

Another pair of timeline items added by the staff expound on the background of Congressman William Kent, who with his wife Elizabeth Thatcher Kent donated 295 acres that became Muir Woods. One note explains how Kent’s anti-Asian policy and rhetoric laid the groundwork for Japanese incarceration during World War II, while a second note emphasizes how in 1920, Kent “advances the expansion of California’s Alien Land Laws, preventing non-citizens from owning or leasing land. These laws complicate immigration from Asia and create a more hostile environment for Asian immigrants in California.”

That’s a bit more problematic, because Kent’s donation of land is a very good thing (the park wouldn’t exist without it), but his efforts to incarcerate Japanese-Americans during WWII, and his promotion of “alien land laws”, is definitely bad. Should this be imparted to Park visitors, who come to look at the trees? I don’t know; it depends on whether you think that it’s important to tell this stuff to visitors.

What about these additions?

Before the staff marked up the timeline, which is entitled “Path to Preservation,” its first item was the 1872 establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. And while that was certainly an important precedent, the staff of Muir Woods felt that other events that took place long before were also crucial to the establishment of the park. They added four sticky notes to a blank area to the left, starting with the stretch of time when 20,000 Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people managed the land and conducted prescribed burns, taking care of the forest.

Other insertions include a note for 1769, when Spanish missionaries began using the labor of Bay Area’s indigenous people, who then grappled with disease, slavery and genocide (which created a disruption in the stewardship of the land). An 1861 note tells how Congress extinguished the Indian title to the land that became Muir Woods, and an 1869 note mentions how John Muir — the famous naturalist for whom the park is named — included racist language in writings about indigenous people.

The exploitation of indigenous people by missionaries is reprehensible, but has nothing to do with Muir Woods. The previous occupation of the woods by Native Americans, however, should be mentioned—it’s part of the site’s history. Whether you want to harp on Native American genocide is up to you, but remember that every square centimeter of North America was claimed by Native Americans before the colonists arrived, and once you know that, and the disgusting genocides that pushed Native Americans off their land (this should be taught in schools), you needn’t repeat it every time you give a lecture.

I don’t think Muir’s racist mentions of indigenous people should be brought up, because he repudiated those ideas later in his life. If you can’t change your mind in a way that makes your words or actions more moral, but must still be held accountable for things that you repudiated—and not under pressure—then we’re all doomed.

But here’s a good change:

The notes also address overlooked contributions of women, for instance, when the California Club — an elite women’s club — in 1904 launched the first-ever campaign to save the land that would become Muir Woods.

That’s part of the history that overlooks the contributions of an important group.

The impression I get is that this revision of the history of Muir Woods was done as a performative act rather than thoughtfully, and that while some of the history needs to be revised, it should be history that’s relevant to Muir Woods, not a litany of the bad things said by those associated with the Woods. This “revision” has all the signs of being a rush job intended to jump on the bandwagon of the times, and that’s kind of sad.

A photo of a “helper”:

(From article): National Park Service Ranger Rafael Velazquez stands next to a sign called “Saving Muir Woods” in Muir Woods National Monument National Park. Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Reader’s travel photos: Nagasaki

August 9, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Since today is the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, reader Joe Routon sent us some photos from the area. His captions are indented and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

My Trip to Nagasaki

My father, a Marine lieutenant during WWII, was one of the first Americans to enter Nagasaki after the bombing of the city. He and other Marines, who were stationed there to help maintain order, lived in the Mitsubishi factory for several weeks, unknowingly absorbing harmful radiation. Fortunately, he lived to the age of 83, unlike many of his fellow soldiers who succumbed to cancer, caused by exposure.

It had long been a goal of mine to visit Nagasaki, so my wife and I planned a trip of several weeks to Japan.

On our train ride to Nagasaki, we passed through Hiroshima, site of the first atomic blast, on August 6, 1945. Gazing through the window at the buildings and the people walking the streets, I tried to imagine that day.

Our visit to Japan so far had included Tokyo, Nikko, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and Kurashiki. We found the Japanese people to be unfailingly polite, helpful (one lady went out of her way for four blocks to guide us to our hotel), considerate of others, and welcoming to us American tourists.

Our day in Nagasaki began with a streetcar ride to Peace Park, at the epicenter of the atomic bombʼs explosion. We lingered for a few minutes at the wing-shaped fountain that was dedicated to the fatally wounded who begged for water.

Heading farther into the Park, we stopped to see statues and sculptures from all over the world that were donated to Nagasaki to memorialize the atomic bombing. We passed by the ruins of the concrete walls of a prison where 134 inmates had died instantly.

At the end of the Park is the Peace Statue: a seated man, 30 feet tall, with one hand pointing up in the direction from where the bomb had come and the other extending outward in a gesture of peace.

The statue, “Maiden of Peace,” was given to the Japanese people by China.

A few hundred yards away, the exact epicenter (the bomb exploded 1500 feet above) is marked with a black pillar placed in the center of concentric circles on the ground that signify the spreading waves of death. A black coffin in front of the pillar contains the nearly 150,000 names of all of the known victims of the fiery blast.

The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum pulls no punches. Its photographs and videos of the city before and after the explosion are mind-numbing. Inside, the lighting grows dim and a clock can be heard ticking away the seconds until 11:02, when it abruptly stops.

Displays show hand bones melded in the searing heat (7000 degrees F.) into a clump of melted glass, remnants of a personʼs skull inside a helmet, clothing exposed in the bombing, photographs of dead and dying victims, and video accounts by survivors.

Other exhibitions show damage caused by heat rays, by the force of the explosions, by fires, and by radiation. Viewing them is not a pleasant experience, but, like Auschwitz, it is something that should be seen by everyone.

Whether or not the bombing was justified, countless innocent lives, young and old, military and civilian, were lost; animal and plant life were destroyed. Visiting this museum is the closest you can come to comprehending the horrific magnitude of the death and destruction of atomic warfare.

I came to Nagasaki and got a glimpse of what my father experienced 63 years ago. By connecting with history, I connected with him.

Thomas Jefferson, slaveholder

July 22, 2021 • 12:00 pm

I’m not sure what language to use in the title. I know that “slave” is now replaced by “enslaved person”, so I suppose I should have called Jefferson an “enslaver”. I’ll take my chances.  At any rate, Smithsonian Magazine has a long article on this issue from 2012 (11 pages printed out single spaced in 9-point type) on how Jefferson ran Monticello with a group of enslaved people (this is awkward to write; the article itself was written before “slave” went out of fashion).  Those held captive numbered around 100 and went as high as 140. Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves during his life.

Although the article is nine years old, it’s still worth reading, though it ignores the issue of Sally Hemings, one of the enslaved people who in fact produced children by Jefferson. The Monticello site takes up that issue quite frankly, and you can also read Jon Meacham’s highly praised 2012 biography of the man, Thomas Jefferson, The Art of Power. I read it about six years ago, and have little recollection of how it treated Jefferson as a slaveholder.

Click on the screenshot to read. And remember, this article was written well before Wokeness shrouded the land.

I won’t summarize such a long article, and the data may have been updated, but here are a few facts:

  • Jefferson’s slaves were, by and large, not paid, though some were. But they were not free to go, and he worked them hard.
  • Many of the boys began work at Jefferson’s nail factory at age 10, and were whipped (Jefferson knew this, but tended to keep away from the issue) even as children. Adults often did backbreaking work growing tobacco.
  • By and large, Jefferson was not an extraordinarily cruel slaveholder, but remember that he did hold humans against their will and even calculated the 4% “interest” he got on his slaves when they reproduced.
  • Jefferson had an opportunity to free his slaves during his lifetime (George Washington did so on his own death), but didn’t do it. When revolutionary war hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish hero who fought on the American side during the Revolution, died in 1817, he left a huge amount of money to Jefferson (nearly $20,000, a huge amount in those days) with the express purpose that the money be used to free Jefferson’s slaves and buy them farming equipment and land. If Jefferson accepted the money, he had a legal obligation to abide by the terms of the will. He refused the bequest.

Most important, Jefferson lived in an era when it was NOT the Zeitgeist for everyone to think that slavery was okay. It was normal in Virginia, but remember that Jefferson wrote, in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, a denunciaton of slavery, at least according to Wiencek:

In his original draft of the Declaration, in soaring, damning, fiery prose, Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an “execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors,” a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.” As historian John Chester Miller put it, “The inclusion of Jefferson’s strictures on slavery and the slave trade would have committed the United States to the abolition of slavery.”

It is not as if the normal thing to do in America was to accept the existence of slavery.

There were plenty of people in Jefferson’s era, though perhaps not in his Southern environs, who saw slavery as a moral evil. Jefferson did not, though he clearly was conflicted. But in the end, he kept human chattel that he regarded as a bank account that gave interest.

What do we do with such a man? Should we put up statues to him, as they did at my alma mater, The College of William and Mary? (And of course there’s the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.) After all, the statues are there to honor his positive accomplishments, and one can make a case that Jefferson did more good than bad in his life (these are my criteria for honoring someone). But after reading this piece, and assuming that the facts are reported correctly, I have to think twice.

Please feel free to weigh in below.

 

Scholar denies, in the face of strong evidence, that Norse “settled” in North America, but only because he doesn’t like the implications

June 30, 2021 • 12:30 pm

The evidence for the Norse having arrived in North America is less extensive than I thought. Some “settlements” with artifacts said to be from early Norse explorers have been shown to be misinterpreted, and most of the Norse “colonization” of North America involves settling in Greenland, which some people (like me) don’t consider part of North America.

Yet there is one indubitable bit of evidence—and it’s strong evidence—that the Norse founded a settlement on Newfoundland around 1000 AD. It’s the settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows on the island of Newfoundland, which surely counts as North America. Wikipedia gives a summary, including pictures of the remnants of the eight “sod longhouses” built by the Norse, and a reconstruction of what the settlement looked like. But this isn’t just a fantasy of Wikipedia editors. A Google Scholar search for “L’Anse aux Meadows” shows dozens of papers agreeing that this was indeed a Norse site. It was short-lived, to be sure, but certainly Norse.

Besides the remains of eight buildings, there were Norse artifacts:

Other things found at the site consisted of common everyday Norse items, including a stone oil lamp, a whetstone, a bronze fastening pin, a bone knitting needle and part of a spindle. Stone weights, which were found in building G, may have been part of a loom. The presence of the spindle and needle suggests that women as well as men inhabited the settlement.

Here are pictures of what was there and what remains (all captions from Wikipedia); this is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The remains of Norse buildings on display. The remains of seven Norse buildings were uncovered during the Ingstads’ excavation of the site.

 

Authentic Viking recreation, Newfoundland, Canada July 17 – 30, 2003

 

A model depicting the Norse settlement established at L’Anse aux Meadows.

This is clearly the earliest discovery of North America by Europeans that we know of, though of course Indigenous people populated the continent already, with their ancestors having crossed the Bering Strait about 15,000 when there was a land bridge. What we mean by “discover” is that the continent was discovered by people from other places.

But one scholar, a contrarian named Gordon Campbell,  just published this article in Time Magazine saying that the Norse settlement is bogus, and also that it’s a “problematic” myth. (Again, when you see the word “problematic,” run for the hills!). Click on the screenshot to read it. Campbell is described “as a Fellow in Renaissance Studies at the University of Leicester and a Fellow of the British Academy. His new book is Norse America: The Story of a Founding Myth.” He seems to be a respectable scholar, but he’s an English scholar studying the Renaissance, not an archaeologist. His book has but three reviews (and 2.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon), with two reviews citing the Newfoundland settlement.

Click on the screenshot to read the misguided, ideologically-soaked piece:

I don’t have much to say beyond Campbell’s motivations, which are apparently to either rewrite or ignore history because the Norse settlement in Newfoundland is ideologically repugnant to him. (He doesn’t mention L’Anse aux Meadows.) Why the distortion? I’ll let Campbell speak for himself:

Why do unfounded claims about the Norse in America matter, beyond the simple desire to make history truthful? One of the glories of America is the ambition to realize Thomas Jefferson’s contention that all men are created equal. Yet even today, racial and ethnic equality remains unrealized, and racial entitlement remains a potent force.

Some who have touted the idea of the Norse discovery are benignly proud of their ancestry, and curious about exploring it. But such sentiments can become sinister, leading to claims of ethnic superiority. At the extreme, Nazi sympathizers in the U.S., whose numbers included Charles Lindbergh and some other members of the America First Committee, found a link to the Aryan supremacy claimed by Hitler’s followers.

The origins of such entitlement can be traced to the colonial period, when English migrants felt entitled to conquer and occupy someone else’s homeland, to disinherit and force to the margins of society the people that they displaced, and to go on to enslave the peoples of another continent. It was this sense of ethnic superiority that allowed a spurious historiography whereby America was discovered by Vikings.

Yes, he has to drag race into it, and disses Scandinavian pride in the “discovery” throughout his piece. And he claims, without any references, that some of those sentiments were “sinister”, with the sweating professor even connecting them to Aryan supremacy and Hitler!

Well, facts trump Campbell’s feelings, and no matter what sentiments the Norse “discovery” provoked, they settled in Newfoundland nevertheless. They didn’t leave any genetic heritage, for we find no trace of Norse genes in Native Americans, so the Norse either packed up and left or died out without issue.

But that doesn’t matter. What we see here is a reputable magazine that didn’t do its fact checking, to the extent that it publishes deliberate distortions in the service of an “antiracist” ideology. I guess we should be getting used to this, but this is a particularly blatant example of distorted journalism in the service of ideology. Hitler—really?

Here’s a nice video about the settlement:

h/t: Bill Boecklen

Guardian: All statues should come down, no matter whom they depict

June 2, 2021 • 1:15 pm

In the latest “Long Read” of the Guardian (which, to be honest, could have been considerably shorter), Gary Younge defends this view: not just statues of historically nefarious people should come down, but that all statues should come down. No person should, he claims, be memorialized with an effigy, though events themselves might. But no statues of people, whoever they may have been.

Right off the bat Younge identifies himself as a “black leftwing Guardian columnist for more than two decades”. Such is how people establish their credibility these days, though, to be sure, Younge’s background shouldn’t really count one way or another. But when he argues against putting up statues of people like Rosa Parks, you can be sure that his remarks don’t stem from ideological bias.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here are the reasons why Younge wants every statue toppled. Quotes from the article are indented:

a.) Status are lazy and ugly, especially when they’re of people. I don’t really agree and can think of some notable exceptions, one being the statue of Lincoln in his eponymous Washington D.C. memorial. And what about the Statue of Liberty? (Well, that’s not a real person. . . ) Do religious statues count? And what about, for example, the great statue of Augustus Prima Porta in Vatican City? But Younge thinks they’re all “poor as works of public art”. Younge doesn’t, however, think this is true of other public memorials, mentioning the lovely Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C.

b.) Times change and so do norms. Statues no longer represent a consensus view.  This is the conventional argument for removing statues of people whose morals don’t comport with modern ones. But this isn’t Younge’s main argument, for this doesn’t argue for removing statues of people who did good things and whose good deeds are being commemorated.

c.) Statues don’t erase history because they are not themselves history. They show an individual who may have helped make history, good or bad, but Younge doesn’t subscribe to the “Great Man” (and Women) theory of history as promoted by Thomas Carlyle and attacked by Tolstoy in books like War and Peace. A quote:

Statues are not history; they represent historical figures. They may have been set up to mark a person’s historical contribution, but they are not themselves history. If you take down Nelson Mandela’s bust on London’s South Bank, you do not erase the history of the anti-apartheid struggle. Statues are symbols of reverence; they are not symbols of history. They elevate an individual from a historical moment and celebrate them.

Nobody thinks that when Iraqis removed statues of Saddam Hussein from around the country they wanted him to be forgotten. Quite the opposite. They wanted him, and his crimes, to be remembered. They just didn’t want him to be revered. Indeed, if the people removing a statue are trying to erase history, then they are very bad at it. For if the erection of a statue is a fact of history, then removing it is no less so. It can also do far more to raise awareness of history. More people know about Colston and what he did as a result of his statue being taken down than ever did as a result of it being put up. Indeed, the very people campaigning to take down the symbols of colonialism and slavery are the same ones who want more to be taught about colonialism and slavery in schools. The ones who want to keep them up are generally the ones who would prefer we didn’t study what these people actually did.

. . . Statues always tell us more about the values of the period when they were put up than about the story of the person depicted. Two years before Martin Luther King’s death, a poll showed that the majority of Americans viewed him unfavourably. Four decades later, when Barack Obama unveiled a memorial to King in Washington DC, 91% of Americans approved. Rather than teaching us about the past, his statue distorts history.

But isn’t remembering “values of the past” a useful exercise as well?

d.) By memorializing specific individuals, statues “erase” or “marginalize” important people involved in the same or similar  historical events. For this Younge uses the case of Rosa Parks:

Consider the statue of Rosa Parks that stands in the US Capitol. Parks was a great woman, whose refusal to give up her seat for a white woman on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama challenged local segregation laws and sparked the civil rights movement. When Parks died in 2005, her funeral was attended by thousands, and her contribution to the civil rights struggle was eulogised around the world.

But the reality is more complex. Parks was not the first to plead not guilty after resisting Montgomery’s segregation laws on its buses. Before Parks, there was a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin. Colvin was all set to be the icon of the civil rights movement until she fell pregnant. Because she was an unmarried teenager, she was dropped by the conservative elders of the local church, who were key leaders of the movement. When I interviewed Colvin 20 years ago, she was just getting by as a nurses’ aide and living in the Bronx, all but forgotten.

And while what Parks did was a catalyst for resistance, the event that forced the segregationists to climb down wasn’t the work of one individual in a single moment, but the year-longcollective efforts of African Americans in Montgomery who boycotted the buses – maids and gardeners who walked miles in sun and rain, despite intimidation, those who carpooled to get people where they needed to go, those who sacrificed their time and effort for the cause. The unknown soldiers of civil rights. These are the people who made it happen. Where is their statue? Where is their place in history? How easily and wilfully the main actors can be relegated to faceless extras.

Again, I’m not fully on board here. When I see a statue of Rosa Parks, I don’t think of her in particular, but of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in general, and of the cooperation of the black community that eventually brought the bus company to its knees and ended segregation on Montgomery buses. Where is the statue to the “unknown soldiers of civil rights”? Well, look no further than the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the new Legacy Museum in Montgomery.   There are several others as well.

I’ll ask other readers to agree or disagree with Younge’s thesis, and to name statues, if you like them, that you think should stay up. I’ll end her with Younge’s last two paragraphs:

Of course I want Parks to be remembered. Of course I want her to take her rightful place in history. All the less reason to diminish that memory by casting her in bronze and erecting her beyond memory.

So let us not burden future generations with the weight of our faulty memory and the lies of our partial mythology. Let us not put up the people we ostensibly cherish so that they can be forgotten and ignored. Let us elevate them, and others – in the curriculum, through scholarships and museums. Let us subject them to the critiques they deserve, which may convert them from inert models of their former selves to the complex, and often flawed, people that they were. Let us fight to embed the values of those we admire in our politics and our culture. Let’s cover their anniversaries in the media and set them in tests. But the last thing we should do is cover their likeness in concrete and set them in stone.

Here’s a statue of Rosa Parks erected in the U.S. Capitol n 2013 and dedicated by Barack Obama (you can see a video of his remarks here).

h/t: Jez

Texas, Day 6: Johnson City; chicken-fried steak and the LBJ Ranch

April 4, 2021 • 10:00 am

I had a full day in the Johnson City area yesterday. The plan: wake up, write a post or two, and then head half a block north to the Hill Country Cupboard for an early lunch (or late breakfast) of chicken-fried steak, the specialty of the house. Then on the the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, 15 miles west to see the Western White House and the LBJ Ranch.

For those of you unacquainted with this Southern (mostly Texan) treat, it’s a thin beef cutlet breaded and fried like chicken. It’s invariably served with cream gravy and a side of mashed potatoes. And they’re famous for being large, which is good because I’m eating only one meal a day. (Note: I’m not even pretending to eat healthy on this trip, so don’t food-shame me. I’ll have a juice cleanse when I return to wash the beef, fat, and other toxins out of my body.)

The venue for my meal:

It’s pretty much of a dive inside, with fiberboard walls and not much in the way of either light or ambience. But who cares if it proffers you an excellent chicken-fried steak?

What the menu says: not only is it the “world’s best” chicken-fried steak, but they’ve sold nearly 3 dozen!

Below is my lunch: chicken fried steak (regular size) with gravy, a big glop of homemade mashed potatoes (with lumps), and fried okra. The fried okra, tender, not slimy, and toothsome, was perhaps the best rendition of this vegetable I’ve ever had. As for the chicken-fried steak, it was very good, but not the best I’ve had (that would be at Hoover’s in Austin); and they should have used less gravy or put it on the side.

I washed this all down with sweet tea. It was a substantial lunch.

I then drove the 15 miles to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.  Here’s where it is, about 50 miles west of Austin in Texas’s “Hill Country”, one of the state’s most appealing parts.

The park has two parts bisected by the Pedernales River. One one side is the Visitors Center, a “model farm” from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and a one-room schoolhouse where future President Lyndon Johnson went to school at four years old.

In the visitor’s center, which must be your first stop (you need a free pass to drive around the LBJ Ranch) are several items of interest. Here’s one, with the label.

Can you see his initials in the desk? It took me a while to find them.

Here they are!

Also on display, LBJ’s white Stetson Hat and cowboy boots. The boots are by Dan Post, and although they may be custom boots, specially made to fit LBJ, Dan Post isn’t known for making great boots. A President deserved better!

Near the visitor’s center is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, in which Park employees still work the original property as the residents did 150 to about 110 years ago. There are cows to milk and sheep to shear, and you can see displays of knitting, cooking, and gardening.

The rangers, dressed in period clothes, were very chatty and helpful. Given that there were surprisingly few visitors when I went yesterday, I got to talk a lot to the Park employees. Here’s the farm.

I think this is a Charolais cow, but I’m not sure. I am sure that a reader will know. It is a cute cow.

And a sheep, of what breed I know not:

Here’s a device inside the house that dates from about 1918. Can you guess what function this served on the farm? The ranger quizzed me, and I came close but didn’t quite get it. Answer at the bottom of the post.

This is LBJ’s first school, the Junction School, a one-room schoolhouse opened in 1910 and closed in 1947. Johnson went here as a four-year-old for only a few months before the school closed because of a whooping cough epidemic.

Johnson graduated from high school in Johnson City in 1924, when he was 16. He went on to graduate from Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College in San Marcos, and, as you’ll know if you read Caro’s biography (the best bio ever!), LBJ went on to teach in three places, including one where his pupils were all Mexican-Americans.

Below is LBJ’s birthplace, or rather a replica of it. He had it reconstructed as a sort of memento. As the National Park Service notes:

Lyndon Johnson took great pride in his heritage and his roots here in the Hill Country of Texas. In order to share that heritage with interested visitors, President Johnson hired architect J. Roy White of Austin, Texas in 1964 to reconstruct the birthplace home. President Johnson and Roy White relied on old photographs of the original birthplace house as well as family members’ memories to guide the project. The house represents how Lyndon Johnson wanted us to see his birthplace. Lyndon Johnson’s birthplace has the distinction of being the only presidential birthplace reconstructed, refurbished, and interpreted by an incumbent President.

The family burial plot sits on the north side of the Pedernales River. You can’t go into the plot, but you can go right up to the wall and see the graves of the Johnson family sitting peacefully under the large oaks. The two larger stones in the middle are the graves of LBJ and Lady Bird.

They rest side by side. Although LBJ had affairs, the impression one gets is that they were deeply devoted to each other. It saddens me that Lady Bird lived for 34 years after LBJ died in 1973, just four years after leaving the Presidency.

Lady Bird died at 95. Her tombstone is engraved with a flower, the symbol of her “Beautify America” campaign.

LBJ’s grave with the Presidential seal. Beset by heart problems, he died of a massive heart attack at only 64.

Below: cattle on the Johnson ranch, the descendants of ones bought by LBJ. He was quite proud of his herd, and had only Hereford cattle, which are tough, adaptable, and gain weight easily. I was told that all the cows and horses are tended by Park employees, and the farm is not a money-making venture. They do occasionally sell a calf.

LBJ tending his farm in 1954, when he was a U.S. Senator (a Democrat, of course):

A sign at the “Show Barn”, where animals were displayed but also taken care of: branded, hooves tended, and the like. How could I resist a visit with a cow?

Here are the two cows on display, a mother and calf. The mom is called “LBJ Intense Lady 373”, and the calf, named only #543, was born exactly a month before the picture was taken. (It weighed 84 pounds at birth!) As you see below, it already looks like a miniature cow.

Mom and calf.

Look at those lovely eyelashes on the calf!

When LBJ became President after JFK’s assassination in 1963, his ranch became the “Western White House,” where he spent about 20% of his time. It is a surprisingly modest place for a Presidential retreat, but does have certain accoutrements of power. One of them is a runway for his downsized version of Air Force One, called “Air Force One Half.” It’s a Lockheed JetStar VC-140. They had to build a 6000-foot concrete runway on the Ranch to enable it to land.

Johnson would usually fly on the big Air Force One to Austin or San Antonio, and then take this smaller jet or a Marine helicopter to the Ranch, a very short flight.

The plane now has a permanent place close to the Johnsons’ house: the Western White House.

The hanger for the plane doubled as a place where the Johnsons would show movies to visitors and listen to music. Here’s the official Juke Box (Juke Box One?) emblazoned with the Presidential seal.

And of course I was curious about what music the Prez liked. I was told by a ranger that these are the original records and songs. You can see that it’s pretty anodyne pop music from the era. I didn’t see any Beatles songs.

The family cars. LBJ favored Lincoln Continentals. The brown one belonged to Lady Bird, and the white to Lyndon. Note the license plates: both Lyndon and Lady Bird had the same initials. (So did their two daughters: Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson.)

Here’s LBJ’s Continental with its “suicide doors” (read the text below):

And here’s the Western White House. As I said, it’s not the kind of impressive house you’d expect from a President, but Johnson liked to be folksy with his visitors, putting on barbecues and wearing casual clothes.

The house will be closed for a few more years while it’s being renovated, but you can take a virtual tour of the first floor at the National Park Site.

He even had an “aqua car” that could travel in land or on water, and he’d frighten visitors by driving them straight into the Pedernales river, pretending that he’d made a wrong turn.

The pool on the south side of the house. It was built to give LBJ exercise for his heart, but Lady Bird used it far more often.

The west side of the house.

Johnson installed “friendship stones” outside the house: distinguished visitors would be offered the chance to sign their names in a wet cement flagstone. Here are a couple of notables: the famous Air Force general Curtis LeMay and country singer Eddy Arnold.

Some of the original seven astronauts: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Leroy (Gordon) Cooper, Deke Slayton, and John Glenn.

Right across the street from the big house is a small house where the Secret Service agents assigned to LBJ and Lady Bird lived and worked:

And the small Pedernales river runs just across the street from the Western White House:

If you want to learn more about LBJ, I can’t recommend highly enough the wonderful four-volume biography by Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson. A fifth and last volume is in the works, and we all hope Caro, now 85, finishes his masterpiece before he “moves on.” It is the best biography of any sort that I know of, and, already over 3,000 pages long, is still a page-turner. Read it!

***************

Answer to question above: The device at the Sauer-Beckmann farm is a cream separator, using centrifugal force to separate the milk from the cream, with the latter used to make butter.

McWhorter: Excerpt 6 from “The Elect”

March 31, 2021 • 12:30 pm

John McWhorter’s published the sixth installment of his upcoming book, The Elect, and you can read it free on Substack by clicking on the link below. But do consider subscribing.

This section is about the recent saturation of America with the history of slavery and its sequelae, which, McWhorter maintains, is just an intensification of what most people knew for several decades. He cites the popular t.v. series “Roots”, the movies “Django Unchained,” “12 Years a Slave,” and various books and museum exchibitions, though it’s clear that the pressing of slavery upon us has been intensified since the death of George Floyd. But the existence and horrors of slavery are not a secret, nor was the slaveholding of people like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

A couple of excerpts:

Ta-Nehisi Coates urges “the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage.” But this is the divorcé who can’t stand seeing his ex have a good time. To tar today’s America as insufficiently aware of slavery is more about smugness and noble victimhood than forging something new and needed.

To wit: is there any degree of saturation that slavery could reach into the American consciousness that would satisfy The Elect, such that they would allow that a battle had been won?

Yes, a degree of saturation that would mandate reparations for African-Americans, like the ones just enacted in Evanston, Illinois. But we’ll talk about that on another day.

To hope that every American – white everyman in South Dakota, Indian-American Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Korean immigrant grandma, American-born Latina hospice care supervisor, daughter of Bosnian immigrants working on her social work degree, Republican councilwoman in Texas – will be wincing thinking about plantations while biting into their Independence Day weenie, even in a metaphorical sense, is utterly pointless. Pointless in that it will never happen, and pointless in that it doesn’t need to.

I can guarantee that psychologically, black America does not need their fellow countrymen to be quite that sensitized. A poll would reveal it instantly, as would just asking some black people other than the Elect ones, and the reader likely readily senses that. I can also guarantee that profound social change can happen without the entire populace being junior scholars about racist injustice. Such change has been happening worldwide for several centuries.

But Elect ideology requires you to classify what I just wrote as blasphemy, and claim endlessly that slavery is a big secret in America. . .To be Elect is to insist that America hushes up slavery. This is a falsehood. It endlessly distracts minds that would be better put to addressing real problems.

McWhorter goes on to say that he has no objection to removing statues and honorifics from Confederates or even from racist notables like Woodrow Wilson, but he draws the line at people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He highlights the problems, which many of us have pondered, with damning figures of the past by the moral standards of the present, and gives two examples:

In the future, being pro-choice may be deemed immoral. The celebration of any conglomeration of cells chemically set to become a Homo sapiens as “a person” may spread to intellectuals of influence and become as intelligentsia-chic as Electness is now. How do we feel about people of 2100 advocating that educators not celebrate the achievements of people in 2020 because they were not opposed to abortion?

Or, why are today’s Elect not roasting Barack Obama for his only having espoused gay marriage via “evolving”? Note that we are only to pretend not to understand history and circumstance when the figures are white.

. . . Obama was dissimulating as a thoroughly sensible political feint, and The Elect pardon Obama for it, allowing an “evolution” of a kind that could never rehabilitate other figures in their minds – i.e. Washington freeing his slaves. Apparently Obama’s (supposed) homophobia was okay because he is “intersectional” – as in, because his brown skin placed him under the thumb of white hegemony, it’s okay that he was homopho … but see? There is no logic here.

I’ll give one more excerpt and then pass on; there’s a lot more to read in the piece, including a thoughtful discussion of how Critical Race Theory and anti-racism affects people’s view of their “identity”, and why there are so few books by black writers that aren’t about race.  But I have tacos to eat, and miles to go before I scarf.

To be Elect is to insist that figures in the past might as well be living now, and that they thus merit the judgments we level upon present-day people, who inhabit a context unknown to those who lived before. As many kids would spontaneously understand, this is false. As to whether adults know something they don’t, I suggest trying to explain to a fifth-grader the case for yanking down the Lincoln Memorial.

To the extent that no one would look forward to having to kabuki their way through that, we know that this witch-hunting against long-dead persons is a distraction from doing real things for people who need help here in the present.

New Polish law chills the work of historians; forbids accusing Poles of complicity with Nazis against Jews in WWII

February 17, 2021 • 9:30 am

In 2018, the right-wing Polish government, apparently eager to burnish their image, passed a law forbidding anyone from “unjustly and incorrectly blaming Poles for crimes committed by the Germans” during World War II. In other words, if you accused Poles of helping the Germans kill Jews, or of doing it on their own, you were breaking the law—unless you could prove that statement with 100% assurance. The penalty for purveying accusations of complicity against Poles that can’t be “proven” was up to three years in prison, but the prison term has since been dropped after an international outcry led by Israel. However, the law still applies, and applies worldwide, which is why one of the accused in the present case is a Polish-Canadian. Whether Poland would try to extradite foreign historians who violate the law isn’t clear!

Now there’s no doubt that many Poles did indeed kill Jews on their own (the Polish police were notorious for this), or helped the Germans with pogroms (viz., the Einsatzgruppen), as well as turning in Jews to the authorities, which of course would lead to their extermination. Some took lots of money from Jews to help them escape or hide them. There is no doubt that many Poles were complicit in the Holocaust, and this is historically documented. (Many Poles also helped the Jews during the war; I’m not implying that every Pole hated every Polish Jew!)

Nevertheless, Poland’s ruling “Law and Justice” party is trying to use the law to perpetrate injustice. The latest manifestation of this form of Holocaust denial, as described in the Guardian article below, is the prosecution of two Polish historians for accusing a Pole of having aided the Nazis by turning in Jews to authorities during the war. Click on screenshot to read.

The story is a bit complicated. Two Polish historians, Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski (who works in Ottawa) mention in Night Without End, a new two-volume history, that a Pole, Edward Malinowski, denounced 16 hiding Jews to the authorities, who immediately killed those Jews. This comes, however, from the testimony of a woman, Estera Siemiatycka who Malinowski saved.  Her story changed after she left Poland, when she claimed not only that she had paid Malinowski to help her, but also asserted that he denounced 16 other Jews in hiding. Malinowski was tried by the Communists after the war for denouncing Jews, but because Siemiatycka hadn’t yet recanted, found him not guilty.

The historians Engelking and Grabowski present all these stories in their book, but conclude, based on their own research, that Malinowski was indeed guilty of denouncing Jews.  Because of this conclusion, Malinowski’s niece, Filomena Leszczyńska, sued the historians under the new law. She was supported by The Polish League Against Defamation, which is essentially part of the ruling Law and Justice party.

Apparently because historians’ judgment is not good enough (you have to be 100% sure, apparently, and who ever is in matters like this?), the court found Engelking and Grabowski guilty, ordering them to apologize to Leszczyńska (there was no fine or jail term). They refused, and both sides appealed the case to the next highest court. This could go on for a long time, and if the Supreme Court ultimately finds the historians guilty, and they still refuse to apologize, they could be fined or have their books censored.  To be sure, the Court said that the law wasn’t meant to stifle academic research; as the Guardian notes:

Leszczyńska and her backers took a different legal route in their case against Engelking and Grabowski, claiming that the historians had violated her personal rights. The court conceded that the claimant’s right to “respect for the memory of a relative” had been infringed, but threw out the other claims and did not award damages, stating that the judgment was not intended to stifle academic research. The historians are appealing the judgment.

That claim that the government didn’t intend to stifle research is pure cant, for what other purpose would it have than to obscure inconvenient truths?

In the end, whatever your interpretation of the law, two historians were still taken to court, essentially for dissing Malinowski. And others have argued (and I concur) that this will indeed have a chilling effect on historical research. During the murky days of WWII, how often do we have watertight proof that a Pole was indeed complicit in the persecution of Jews? Some criticism of the law:

“I’ve got real doubts about this judgment,” says lawyer Michał Jabłoński, who acted for the defence. “It is dangerous for freedom of speech and academic research. It is unprecedented that the court decides which historical source is reliable instead of researchers. This judgment requires that testimonies of survivors are verified before they are published anywhere, that researchers have to be 100% sure that testimonies are accurate before they publish conclusions, especially if they regard someone’s misconduct. In the view of the court, the existence of other sources that are contrary to a survivor’s testimony should prevent researchers from publishing their research if it interferes with someone’s personal rights. Such a standard makes historical research a dangerous job, in fact impossible, as in most cases survivors’ testimonies can’t be verified.”

International organisations and academics have also been swift to condemn the ruling. Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem said it was “deeply disturbed by its implications.” Sascha Feuchert, director of the Arbeitsstelle Holocaustliteratur at the University of Giessen, Germany, said: “For many incidents in the Holocaust, we only have the testimonies from survivors. Of course they need to be checked and discussed in academic debates as far as possible. But this court ruling and its conclusions not only threaten the foundations of research based on survivor testimony, it could also be a gift for Holocaust deniers.”

. . . Mikołaj Grynberg, a writer who has documented Polish-Jewish accounts in his books, believes that the state’s agenda to promote Polish heroism goes against historical truth. “The aim is to feel good and be a chosen people – we are the only nation that has only noble people among us,” he says. “That’s adolescent thinking and bad news that we are not growing to be an adult country. So it will stay like this for years.”

The future of historical research in Poland is thus unclear, especially for someone like the distinguished historian Jan Gross, a Polish-American who has made his career documenting Polish persecution of Jews during and after World War II.  Gross was already subject to a defamation case for saying that the Poles killed more Jews than they did Nazis during the war, though the government dropped the charges in late 2019.

There’s really no doubt that many Poles were complicit in persecuting and killing Jews during the War. (I should add here that 6,000 of them were also honored for saving Jews, and have been awarded the honor of “Righteous Among The Nations” by Yad Vashem in Israel, a title I’d love to have but is conferred only on non-Jews like Oskar Schindler.) The evidence for a Polish animus against Jews also comes from the fact that after the war the Poles continued pogroms on their own, without the Nazis. The 1946 massacre at Kielce is only one example of several instances of pogroms. Further, Poles often refused to give back the confiscated property and houses of Jews who had fled the country after those Jews returned following the war.

The two points here are that the historical record is clear, and that Poland’s government is bent on distorting it to further their own purposes. The government itself is right-wing and authoritarian, and needs to go. But it won’t, as it’s popular with a large number of Poles.

h/t: Malgorzata

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 3, 2020 • 8:00 am

My store of wildlife photos has depleted to the point where I’m a bit worried. Please send in your good photos!

Today’s contributor is Joe Routon, who sent “street photos”—if photos of Auschwitz can be called that. Joe’s captions are indented:

These are some of the photos I made a few years ago in Auschwitz on a gloomy winter day. We felt a somber feeling of doom, similar to what the Jewish prisoners undoubtedly experienced. It must have been even more unbearable for them in the winter.

Gas chamber and crematorium.

The sign reads “Caution, high voltage, life risk.”

In one of the rooms there are over 100,000 shoes that belonged to people deported to Auschwitz for extermination. Other rooms contain children’s shoes, eyeglasses, and human hair, all removed before the victims were taken to the gas chamber.

In Budapest, Hungary, on the banks of the Danube, is a memorial sculpture “The Shoes on the Danube Promenade” with 60 pairs of men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes, all made of rusting iron. It is a monument to the Hungarian Jews who were shot on the banks of the river by the members of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian fascist organization.

In 1944 and 1945, Arrow Cross militiamen beat, plundered, and killed thousands of Jews publicly in Budapest. They would line them up on the edge of the Danube and shoot them, with the bodies falling into the freezing water, which conveniently carried them away.

Before shooting them, they would force the Jews to remove their shoes, which could be sold or traded on the black market. During those days, the Danube was known as “the Jewish Cemetery.”

In Miami Beach, Florida, this 42-feet high bronze hand, reaching out in desperation, pleading for help, is a memorial to the Jews who suffered and were murdered during World War II. On the forearm are an Auschwitz number and 130 human figures writhing in agony, clinging together in the hope of survival.