Friday, August 25, 2006

Overheard On Talk Radio, Part Drei: The Case of the Piehole

Forgive me for vulgarity (not for the first time, nor the last time), but I'm really f#cking sick of this "it's the 1930s all over again, and Saddam Hussein/Amendenijad or however you spell it/(fill in the blank) is Hitler" rhetoric. For one thing, talk of this kind highlights the general historical illiteracy and tendency to groupthink among contemporary Americans. Guess what, people: there were bad men in history before Hitler. There have been bad men since. Hitler was evil, but he had no monopoly on wickedness, tyranny, cruelty and depravity. And yes, some men have arguably been even worse than the excitable dictator with the strident voice, the puffy pants and the silly mustache. Stalin, for one (though admittedly he was handsomer, better dressed, and had a more elegant-looking mustache than that wild-eyed Austrian fellow), except that he was our ally, loved and trusted by Roosevelt during WW2, that bloody conflict now commonly viewed as a straightforward battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. In defeating Hitler, we ended Nazism as a political force, which was good, except for the fact that in so doing we aided the spread of Communism, which was bad-- very bad.

Last Friday, a caller to the Glenn Beck program wanted to take issue with the glorification of Winston Churchill that is an essential part of the typical template by which WW2 is viewed as a Manichean struggle between Good and Evil, rather than a means by which one Evil (Nazism) was supplanted by another, perhaps greater one (Communism), through the help of powers that committed plenty of evil themselves (see the deliberate destruction of civilian populations in Germany in Japan by U.S. and British forces) in the supposed pursuit of an eventual good. These days we all "know" that Churchill was a great leader who recognized the danger of the Nazis before anyone else (unlike the hapless Neville Chamberlain of the mainstream account of 20th Century history) and whose stirring speeches helped the British public endure the ruthless shelling of the Luftwaffe in the early months of the war. We don't, of course, hear about the Churchill that presided over the terror bombing operations of the RAF (in which German women and children were slaughtered rather than English ones), or who caved to the sinister, smiling Georgian with the elegant mustache and (along with Roosevelt) sold Eastern Europe into Bolshevik slavery at the Yalta conference.

Well, it seems that some of the usual suspects (Bush, Lieberman, and other politicians whose hay is made with "war on terror/stay the course" appeals) are now invoking the spirit of Churchill, insisting that it's 1938 all over again, that Iran is Nazi Germany, that "Islamofascism" is the new.... well, fascism. "Churchill stood up to the bad guys, and so should we," they declare. Of course, standing up to Islamofascism in their account invariably seems to involve invading the Middle East, taking it over by force in order to save it from itself (and killing not a few civilians in the process), and imposing the precious system of democracy down their throats.

That said, I don't know if the caller to Beck's show had any of this in mind when he called to offer an alternative view on Winston Churchill. Instead, he seemed to want to argue that Churchill (in an earlier post in his political career while stationed in the Middle East) was instrumental in causing some chaos in that region, particuarly in creating nation-states like Iraq, which led to tribal friction between the various groups who were suddenly thrown together and forced to see each other as fellow citizens.

Or at least I think that's what the caller wanted to say. I'm not sure, because Beck cut him off almost instantly-- in fact, the caller met his demise the very moment that it became clear he was going to be critical of Churchill. He only managed to say, "Churchill's one of the reasons why the Middle East is so messed up..." before Beck angrily told him "shut your piehole!" and then moved on to the next caller.

Beck is generally one of the more unpretentious, unabrasive, self-effacing talk jockeys out there. Of course, he's in lockstep with the Rush-Hannity axis on most matters, but he takes himself far less seriously, at least most of the time. He'd rather have fun with callers, including flaky or contrary-minded ones, than abuse or insult them. This is probably a large reason for his success. Yet clearly, there is a dark underbelly of brutal, self-righteous censoriousness beneath Beck's usually affable, comedic demeanor. I have heard hints of it before (the most disturbing being the time when he cheered Racheal Corrie's murder by an Israeli bulldozer-driver a couple of years ago), but nothing so blatant as this.

One has to wonder why criticizing Churchill in any way makes one so unworthy of being part of the national conversation. Why must we shut our proverbial pieholes, Mr. Beck? Is this perhaps a tacit admission that you have nothing of substance to feed us?


Blogger pacotelic said...

Well, if you look at body count and territory taken back from the Germans, The Soviets did actually win the war. I think it a tad disingenuous to call it "selling out" places like Poland, Croatia, and Czechoslovakia when they were all territories initially siezed by the Germans.

Of course, the Soviets were playing dirty pool by forming a centrally managed bloc, but you cannot say they didn't do most of the heavy lifting in the european theater.

Have you read "When Good Bombs happen to bad people" by Joe Sacco? The notion of terror bombing was not new to WW2, but it was perfected there.

BTW, this is Alan, in case you're interested. Good stuff!

8:17 AM  
Blogger Andy Nowicki said...

Actually, Poland was initially carved up between Germany and Russia back when they still had a cozy little nonaggression pact going prior to Hitler's ill-advised invasion of the Soviet Union.

But my larger point here is that Churchill and Roosevelt got played by Stalin at Yalta. They gave him exactly what he wanted, i.e., all of Eastern Europe. They ought to have called him on what you call his "dirty pool" playing, and stood up to him, but they either had no idea he was the villain he was, or they didn't care. In Roosevelt's case, the former seemed to be the case. There were a lot of Soviet dupes in the West, but none were dupier than ol' FDR, who regarded Stalin warmly and affectionately called him "Uncle Joe." Churchill apparently knew the score to a greater extent (see his famous "iron curtain" speech), but he was similarly ineffectual when it counted.

The Red Army did do a lot of heavy lifting in the Euro theater during the war, but they also did a lot of heavy looting and raping in Germany once the war was over. Their atrocities went unpunished at Nuremberg, because only the victor gets to determine what's a war crime and what isn't.

Alan, it's kismet to hear from you now. Just last week I was looking up information about The Meatmen. I recall that you introduced them to me back in the day. Now I'm a fan! It took nearly two decades for me to see the light...

Anyway, good to hear from you. Keep reading and responding. ( It's interesting to note that you seem to have become a WW2 buff.)

8:32 PM  
Blogger pacotelic said...

re: the Meatmen. Ha! I'm actuallyu going through music flux as aI ask myself if its really worth it to maintain the huge musdic collection that I had back in High School (which was , oh so many years ago). I'm slowly cataloging tapes I haven't listened to in 15 years, and asking if they are really worth it. I'm happy to report that the Fruity album is largely intact. All Haill pre-currency crisis Thai craftsmanship!

I am by no means a WW2 buff, but I do acknowledge the usefullness of Stalin against the axis. At Yalta, we should've given less, but he was a harder bargainer (bully?) than to roll over in obeisiance.

Your argument seems to be one of complicity, but how does this violate realpolitik? In other words, why is it not reasonable to make pacts with unsavory characters in the pursuit of more urgnet goals agains greater evils?

I know this is a slippery slope, but there are quicker ways to lose the moral high ground. Compare the possible efficacy of infiltrating Al-Qaeda versus the torture of prisoners at Al-Ghraib. Both could have been done for information, but one was more targeted at our opponents, while the other opened the possibility of losing the PR war, gaining false infromation, and fostering additional hatred for us among merely antipathetic civilians. The lack of realpolitik during the 70's made it illegal to assassinate leaders we found odious (for possibly valid reasons), and illegal to collude directly with terrorists in the gathering of informations (from such scandals as the Terwilliger affair-Khobar toiwers bombing, as well as the Iran Contra Deal). Unfortunately, in such a slippery devil as terrorism, I would condone a little propaganda and PR over the hamfisted deletion of the civil govt of formerly fearful fearful faction eager to tear one another's throats out. Only a purist approach to war would think nations were the only meaningful units when terror was the enemy. Only a purisdt approach would only look for saintly nations to bargain with agianst the rapidly expanding Fascist axis.

How was the book writing process? I'm wrangling an outline this month I'd like to start filling in.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Andy Nowicki said...

Well, I would argue that Stalin was the greater evil. But for the purposes of argument, let's just propose that Hitler and Stalin were equally bad.

It wasn't wrong to enter into a tactical alliance with Stalin against Hitler (i.e., to make a sort of pact with a Devil for the purpose of defeating another Devil), as long as in so doing the Allies harbored no illusions about his true demonic identity. But Roosevelt, as ruthless, tyrannical, and Machiavellian a leader as he was in so many ways, was unable to recognize "Uncle Joe" as evil,i.e. as one of his own kind, only worse. Thus, the capitualtion at Yalta. (If FDR was fatally smitten with Stalin, I'm not as sure what Churchill's excuse was for selling Eastern Europe into bondage.)

I understand the usefulness of good PR, although I am constitutionally averse to anything smacking of public relations talk, or what a PR-friend of mine once called "the language of professional liars."

In answer to your last question, the book writing process was arduous and time-consuming, and so far there have been very few dividends. I wish you well with your own project. What are you writing about? (Write me back at my e-mail.)

2:44 PM  
Blogger John Lowell said...


I really think it a tragic waste of emotion to concern oneself with brownshirts of the Beck or Limbaugh variety. They really have no value apart from providing a glimpse into the day-to-day status of the evolution of the newly emergent National Socialism here in the United States. To be beaten-up once by the SA is always to be beaten-up by them.

I believe your initial complaint had to do with the the misuse of historical parallels. It's always noteworthy to listen to the fascist name calling of a Regime trying so desperately to have the courts recognize for itself the legality of the fuehrerprinzip. A relevant link for your perusal:

John Lowell

10:35 AM  
Blogger Andy Nowicki said...

Thanks for your concern, but be assured, I'm not wasting much, if any, emotion on the rhetorical misadventures of the Rush/Hannity/Beck axis of blather. I just find their foibles interesting to observe and comment upon.

That said, I'm not sure your ubiquitous "brownshirt" analogy is all that helpful either. Limbaugh and Beck, et al aren't National Socialists, even if there is much objectionable in the ideologies they do embrace. I like good hyperbole as much as the next chap, but this whole "so and so is a Nazi" thing is just plain overdone.

Thanks for commenting. Don't be a stranger.

12:44 PM  
Blogger John Lowell said...

Hi Andy,

Stuck in the unenviable position of striking such analogies, trying at once not in any way to be hyperbolic, but finding it absolutely essential to be true to myself and to my sense of things. Beyond question its the degreed historian in me that reaches such conclusions and I do so both with regret and wholly apart from any hyperbolic use of these terms by others. In a phrase, I calls 'em as I sees 'em. And I "sees" Beck as every bit the brownshirt that was Ernst Roehm. The only thing missing in the equation is the street violence. Not to be argumentative but another 9/11 and I think you'll see both that and concentration camps for Muslims, frankly. Just today, this afternoon, Der Fuehrer owned up to the "renditioning" of the so-called "terror suspects" he so urgently sought to dehumanize, while at the same time torturing them. I'm sorry but I'm above all a Catholic, and I'm convinced that these people are just that, people, made in the image of God, no matter what they may or may not have done to us and that He requires us to love them as He loves us all. But the raving I've heard on the radio from the Glen Becks and the Glen Schmecks of the neo-con right has nothing whatsoever to do with the love of God. Rather, it qualifies right up there with the hate mongering of a Julius Streicher. And that's freightening.


John Lowell

1:58 PM  

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