Misuses of the Holocaust
Published on: February 20, 2013
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  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Joseph Stalin reportedly said: “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

    The word tragedy implies some unfortunate aspect of an event that may not have been wholly avoidable. The word murder does not imply tragedy but intention and avoidability. Mass murder goes even further by implying that it is an act involving something sadistic that derives pleasure as a result of inflicting pain, cruelty, degradation, and humiliation.

    Dr. Berger’s overview of the nomenclature of mass murder thus evokes the reversal of Stalin’s dictum: “All murders may be considered a statistic but all genocides are uniquely sadistic.”

  • The term genocide was coined by the Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who was obsessed with the Turkish attempt to exterminate the Armenian people long before World War II broke out. As Polish Jewry was threatened by the Nazi invasion, Lemkin, who was living in America and was of course sensitized to the prospect of mass murder, tried unsuccessfully to convince his family to flee for their lives. Lemkin went on to become a moving force in the passage of the UN Convention on Genocide and to lobby unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate to ratify it, dying young in the process–the whole tragic story is well told in Samantha Power’s “A Problem from Hell.”
    The UN Convention, by the way, says that genocide consists of an attempt to wipe out a people in whole or in part, so the failure of the Turkish Empire to kill every last Armenian doesn’t make Turkey any less culpable of genocide.

  • WigWag

    In my mind, the violence that the Turks perpetrated against the Armenians in the early part of the 20th century clearly falls within the definition of “genocide.” Anyone who wants to read a fictionalized but searing rendition of the events that began in 1915 should read “Bird without Wings” by Louis de Bernieres. The author is more famous for his novel “Corelli’s Mandolin” but his novel about the Armenian Genocide is truly extraordinary. It is available for the Kindle at Amazon for $11.99.


    One irony that Professor Berger fails to note, is that most American pro-Israel organizations, which are exquisitely sensitive to the horrors of the holocaust, lobbied for years to prevent Congress from recognizing the Armenian Genocide for what it was. At the time when they were surreptitiously advising Senators and Representatives not to grant the designation of “genocide” to what the Armenians experienced, Israel was closely allied with the Turks. Secular and religious Turks may not agree on much, but one thing they do agree on is that the word “genocide” must never be uttered to describe what their forebears did to the Armenians.

    As soon as the secular parties in Turkey were replaced by the Islamist parties, the alliance between Turkey and Israel was severed and all of a sudden American pro-Israel organizations became far less interested in lending a hand to the Turks when it came to calling on Congress to look the other way about Turkish behavior in 1915.

    The Anti Defamation League, led by the legendary Abraham Foxman, (a holocaust survivor himself) had opposed a Congressional Resolution about the Armenian Genocide for decades. After relations between Israel and Turkey soured, Foxman finally decided to take a more nuanced approach. He said,

    “In light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians.

    We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.

    I have consulted with my friend and mentor Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and other respected historians who acknowledge this consensus. I hope that Turkey will understand that it is Turkey’s friends who urge that nation to confront its past and work to reconcile with Armenians over this dark chapter in history.

    Having said that, we continue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.”

    The hypocrisy on this issue goes well beyond that displayed by American pro-Israel organizations. In 2008, while campaigning for President, Obama said,

    “…My firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”

    Obama earnestly promised that if elected, he would support the passage of a resolution by Congress describing the Armenian tragedy as a “genocide.” Of course, after he was elected and no longer needed to rely on the votes of the large Armenian community in California, Obama broke his promise and has never once used the word “genocide” to describe what happened to the Armenians.

    In fact, in 2010, when the then Democratic Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, brought a resolution up before his committee to apply the label “genocide” to the Armenian experience, both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton opposed the resolution. Hillary Clinton said,

    “Both President Obama and I have made clear, both last year and again this year, that we do not believe any action by the Congress is appropriate, and we oppose it,”

    The resolution co-sponsored by Congressman Berman passed his Committee by the narrow vote of 23-22. Ironically, the fervently pro-Israel Berman had opposed very similar resolutions in the past when pro-Israel organizations, then sympathetic to the Turks, worked to get the resolution quashed. Once Turkey turned hostile to Israel, Berman decided to take a different approach.

    One final irony in all of this is that there is a substantial and well-documented history of vicious anti-Semitism practiced by the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire both before and after it disintegrated. The blood libel was a ubiquitous feature of Armenian-Jewish relations during the Ottoman era, Armenian prelates encouraged their parishioners in their hatred of the Jews as “Christ-killers” and violence by the Armenian minority against the even smaller Jewish minority in the Ottoman Empire was common place.

    Those interested in learning more about all of this should consult the works of Taner Akcam of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University. Akcam is Turkish himself but if he was to return to his country, even for a moment, he would be arrested by the Turkish Authorities for acknowledging that what the Turks did to the Armenians was in fact a “genocide.”

    Adam Garfinkle’s stunningly good book “Jewcentricity” is also well worth a look in this regard.

    When it comes to “genocide” things are complicated and ironies abound.

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  • kelso

    Other man made “catastrophes” that fit the UN Conventions definition of genocide. Top of the list of mass killing would be Communist China. Stalin killed three million in one country alone, Ukraine. Puritan Oliver Cromwell killed two million unarmed Irish in the mid seventeenth century, some say two thirds of the population were slaughtered. His New Model Army was financed by Amsterdam banker, Fernandez Carvajal. Cromwell, the regicide murderer, is honored with a statue in Westminster. The House of Orange (Windsor) would take over England in 1688, James II having to flee for his life to France.

  • The Holocaust can be misused terribly, simply because the facts can be so distorted. First of all, there was a build up to it, with the Nuremberg Laws enacted in Germany from 1933 to 1939. That did such drastic things like strip citizenship, termination from employment, and confiscation of assets. Second of all, the mechanics of complete extermination were enacted during times of war. The Wannsee Conference was held in 1942, during the midst of World War II. Third of all, it is not just Jews which have been the victims of genocide. So when allegations are made that it just immediately happened, it would have happened even if there was not a war, or that Jews were the only victims, are just sensationalistic for extremists. When you study the Armenian Genocide of World War I, it is a verbatim to the Holocaust. In fact, many of the laws that instigated it were enacted faster by emergency decrees, as oppose to the lengthy enacting of the Nuremberg Laws. But what the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust both have in common, is that the Allies knew it was going on. It is just that their strategy was to stop the war, and the massacres will stop. But their vast numbers of casualties are what justifies them both as genocides.

  • westie

    Let’s not forget the genocide that has been recognized by UN that is currently evolving in that hell pitt of South Africa.

  • WigWag

    “Ironically, the precise Arabic synonym, naqba/”catastrophe”, is used by Palestinians to refer to their experience in 1948 when the State of Israel was established. Given the fact that many Palestinians understand Hebrew, it seems unlikely that the Arabic word is used innocently, without an intended allusion to the Shoah. In that case, it would be another misuse of the Holocaust: While Palestinians have well-grounded grievances against the Jewish state, equating what Israelis have done to them with what the Nazis did to the Jews is, again, wildly disproportionate.”(Peter Berger)

    Actually, Professor Berger’s term “wildly disproportionate” is, if anything, a serious understatement. During the six year period from 1939 to 1945 the Jewish population of Europe plunged from 9,950,000 to 3,500,000. While not all of these Jews were exterminated (some voluntarily emigrated before it was too late and a small number survived the death camps) the vast majority were murdered by the Nazis, often with the cooperation of the citizens of the nations that the Nazis invaded. A substantial percentage of the Jews who survived were citizens of the Soviet Union who were, for the most part, beyond the reach of the Nazis.

    Conversely, the Palestinian population has thrived since the creation of the State of Israel. In 1948, when Israel declared independence there were at most 1.3 million Arabs living in Palestine. In 2010, the United Nations estimated the Palestinian population of Gaza, Judea and Samaria and Israel (Green Line) to be around 6 million.

    As a result of the Nazi extermination campaign the Jewish population of Israel declined by two thirds. Since the creation of the State of Israel, the Palestinian population has increased by more than four fold. Comparing what the Palestinians call the Naqba (their self-imposed tragedy) with the Holocaust is not to misuse the Holocaust; it’s to abandon any sense of human decency.

    It is also worth pointing out that while Professor Berger is certainly correct that the Palestinians may have “well grounded grievances” against Israel, as loathe as they may be to admit it, they have much to be thankful for.

    As bad as it is, the economy of the West Bank compares favorably to the current economic circumstances of neighboring Jordan and Egypt and is better than that of Syria. The economy of Gaza is in the process of stabilizing while the economy of Egypt is collapsing. Palestinians have far more physical safety than their Arab cousins in Syria do and Egypt may shortly join the long list of failed Arab nations.

    54 nations in the world have a lower per-capita GDP than Gaza and the West Bank and the Arab population of Israel has a higher per capita GDP than residents of Saudi Arabia. Life expectancy of Arab citizens of Israel actually exceeds the life expectancy of the average American. Arab Israelis have a life expectancy approaching that of some of the most long-lived populations in the world including the Japanese, the French and the Swedes. Life expectancy in Gaza, Judea and Samaria is virtually indistinguishable from that of Egypt, Syria and Turkey and exceeds that of Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco. Average life expectancy for the world is 67.88 years; life expectancy for the Arabs of Gaza, Judea and Samaria is 72.17 years.

    Arab Israelis enjoy some of the highest literacy rates in the world; literacy rates in Gaza, Judea and Samaria exceed those of Egypt.

    Comparing their Naqba with the Shoah should be viewed as far more than an exaggeration; it should be viewed as akin to Holocaust Denial.

    Of course, Holocaust Denial itself is deeply embedded in Palestinian culture. The man that President Obama and his feckless European counterparts assures the world is a “partner for peace,” President Abbas, centered his entire academic life around Holocaust Denial.

    In his doctoral thesis from 1982 obtained from the “People’s Friendship University” in the Soviet Union, Abbas claimed that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis with the understanding that the murder of Jews would lead to their wish for the creation of a Jewish State being fulfilled. His thesis was entitled, “The Connection Between the Nazis and Leaders of the Zionist Movement 1933-1945.” In 1984 Abbas published a volume in Arabic entitled “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism.” In the book, Abbas claimed that less than a million Jews were killed by the Nazis and that Zionist collaborated with the Nazis to facilitate the murder of Jews.

    As recently as four weeks ago (January 21, 2013), Abbas gave an interview to a Lebanese television channel in which he said “I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism prior to World War II (translation from the Arabic by MEMRI).

    It is important to remember that Abbas is considered to be a fierce moderate in the Palestinian world; he has been embraced by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and courted by George W. Bush.

    Governments in Western Europe and the United States believe that the Israelis should negotiate peace with the Palestinians through an interlocutor who believes that Holocaust never happened and that Jews were responsible for their own near extinction.

    It seems to me that this tells you everything about misuses of the Holocaust that you need to know.

  • WigWag

    With all due respect to the estimable Professor Berger, he owes the Serbs an apology for suggesting that their behavior in Kosovo can be mentioned in the same breath as the word “genocide.” His assertion suggests a lack of understanding about the history of the Balkans.

    In fact, the very same Turks who engaged in a campaign of annihilation aimed at the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire are responsible for most if not all of the tragedy that has taken place in the Balkans. For most of past thousand years the population of Serbia (including Old Serbia/Kosovo) was Christian. The same was true of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania. Large segments of Kosovo and Bosnia were Islamized when the marauding Ottoman Turks forcibly converted the Christian population of those lands to Islam, or, if they didn’t forcibly convert the population, made it so difficult to live as a Christian that they offered the subjects of the lands they invaded little choice but to convert. The ethnic strife that has characterized the Balkans for so many years has little or nothing to do with the Serbs and everything to do with the same society that tried to exterminate its Armenians.

    Comparing what is now referred to as “ethnic cleansing” to genocide or genocide-light is both naïve and simplistic. In fact, the forced movement of populations is not an anomaly in European history it’s the rule.

    The Western Powers negotiated an exchange of populations between the Ottoman Empire and Greece that resulted in several million Ethnic Greeks leaving Turkey to return to Greece while millions of Muslims living in land controlled by Greece were forcibly moved to the Ottoman Empire. No one considered this genocide then and no one considers it genocide now.

    The victorious allies in World War II led by Winston Churchill and Harry Truman forcibly removed 5 million ethnic Germans from what became Poland and the Ukraine and forcibly removed them to Germany, a land most of them had never visited.

    A good argument can be made that the unification of Europe and the creation of the EU (as precarious as that venture might seem today) only became possible after the Europeans completed their centuries long project of ethnic sorting. The historian Jerry Z. Muller makes precisely this argument in his extraordinary 2008 article in “Foreign Affairs” entitled “Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism.” It can be found here,


    Professor Berger would be wise to read it before he makes the specious argument that what the Serbs did in Kosovo, as unpalatable as it may be by 21st century standards, bears any relationship at all to genocide.

    Milosevic may have been a repulsive and self-absorbed character, but he was no more a perpetrator of genocide than Winston Churchill or Harry Truman. His attempt to ethnically cleanse Kosovo was no different in kind from what the victorious World War II allies did to literally millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the war.

    At around the same time, over a million Jews were forcibly expelled from Arab lands including Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Yemen. A wonderful and heartbreaking account of what it was like for these Jews to be forced from lands where their families had lived for generations can be found in Lucette Lagnado’s incredible book, “The Man in the Shark Skin Suit.” It is well worth a close read.

    While we may look at all this today and consider the forced expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands to be barbaric; no one considers it to be genocide.

    During the division of the Indian subcontinent into two nations, tens of millions of people were uprooted. Millions of Muslims were forcibly removed from their homes in what became India and were forced to move to lands they had never visited that fell under Pakistani sovereignty. Conversely, many millions of Hindus were exiled from their homes in what became Pakistan and forced to move to what became India. Has Professor Berger ever heard anyone compare this to genocide?

    The simple reality is that if forced expulsion of ethnic populations from their ancestral homelands is to be considered genocidal, than history has been characterized by genocide every few decades for the last several hundred years. Nothing cheapens the definition of genocide more severely than this loose description of the term.

    The attempt of the Serbian Government to recapture its ancestral homeland in Kosovo after Christian Kosovars were viciously attacked by the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) for years was not genocide. One doesn’t need to support Milosevic’s decision to exile the Albanian Kosovars or find his decision palatable, to realize that analogizing it to genocide is a gross exaggeration.

    In fact, it’s worse than exaggeration and it’s worse than a “misuse” of the term, “genocide”; it’s slander.

  • Mohammad Magout

    I think Dr. Berger’s suggestion that the Arabic term for what happened to Palestinians in 1948 is related to the Hebrew term “Shoah” is unlikely. The term “nakba” was apparently coined by Constantin Zureiq–a Princeton graduate and, at the time, a professor at the American University of Beirut–in a book titled “The Meaning of Nakba”, which was published in 1948. Had the term “nakba” been really intended to allude to the Holocaust/Shoah, it would have had, in my opinion, some semantic or lexical relationship to the Arabic term for Holocaust (“mahraqa”). Mahraqa (meaning something like a process or event of burning) is, from an etymological perspective, unrelated to “nakba” (they come from different roots). Besides, as an Arab native speaker, I am surprised to hear that “nakba” has something to do with “mahraqa” in terms of meaning. Actually the name “shoah” would suggest to an Arabic speaker something related to burning, rather than catastrophe, because it sounds like “shewa'”, which is Arabic for “barbecuing.” So there is neither an etymological relationship nor semantic connotations between the Arabic words for the Palestinian and Jewish catastrophes.

  • Pennywhistler

    “Again, in fairness, it should be noted that this analogy is not made in most anti-abortion advocacy.”

    Actually, it is.

    “It should be pointed out that this particular rhetorical misuse of the Holocaust has not been widespread.”

    Actually, it is.

  • Pennywhistler

    I am not thrilled that all the other comments about an article about the misuses of the Jewish Holocaust in current American “political” propaganda manage to ignore the Jewish Holocaust completely.

  • Berger’s essay captures nicely the acts of denial perpetrated by officialdom (making their acts legal if not moral or ethical, with or without public knowledge and consent), and in this case, the denial of life and identity. Some would say being allowed to live without one’s identity can be more horrify and existentially torturing than death or physical torture. Berger’s statement that “As Elie Wiesel has insisted, precisely by facing the unique character of this atrocity, one becomes alert to all the other atrocities of which human beings are capable,” reminds me of the closing of Victor Frankl’s aptly titled book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” his memoir of his creating “logotherapy” and surviving 4 Nazi Concentration camps that also, for him, affirmed his “logotherapy.” He ended his book with:

    Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
    Since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.

    It is this that Berger addresses: “all the other atrocities of which human beings are capable.” In this context we can say:

    Since the attempts at genocide and ethnic cleaning/sorting, we know what man is capable of.
    Since similar responses of genocide and ethnic cleansing/sorting by former “victims,” we know what is stake.

    Berger begins with the question, “Did gun control prevent Jews from stopping the Holocaust?” This is a brilliant way to introduce his subject, given the current round of the fierce anti-gun movement (which is taking on the ubiquity and universality of the anti-smoking movement). [My irresistible temptation, given Berger’s discussion of the anti-smoking movement in his new memoir on being a sociological adventurer, pp. 169-177, is to report the February 22, 2013 Oregonian editorial entitled, “Are gun owners the new smokers?” Oregon legislators are considering, as another “front” in their battle/movement to outlaw guns, is to severely limit where they can be carried, just as with smoking. With guns, they are beginning with the State Capital and schools, and contemplate moving on to any public buildings, such as libraries, city halls, etc. Are public parks and places next? With cigarettes, you can at least carry them from one restricted smoking only place to the next. But how will “conceal-carry” be allowed if the pathsways between allowed places are restricted? Another question: how are these two separate “lands,” that of “government controlled land” and “private controlled land,” to be reconciled?]

    Berger’s essay is another inoculation against the notion of “America as Nazi,” part of the growing relativizing some use to justify their own murderous actions, using their fundamentalist planks to spew their relativizing, so as not to have to engage in risking giving up any of their planks’ splinters by working with others to achieve a middle position that prevents however you want to define “genocide/race cleansing/race sorting,” be it by termination (ovens, firing squads), demotion (removing status of identity, such as denial of citizenship papers or voting rights – think America’s Jim Crow south) , or expulsion (removing from geographical location to another, either over a border or kept in a specified zone, or through some form of ostracizing or excommunication, or excluding as in those southern counties without any Blacks in them), all of which fall under, in my reading, of Bergers “all the other atrocities of which human beings are capable.”

    My concerns are not in Berger’s essay but in Wig Wag’s complaints.

    First, despite her brilliant account of why Arabs should want to have societies like Israel and relations with Jews like the Israeli Arabs have, and be treated as well as the Isralis treat Arabs in their midst, she undermines her sense of fairness by reacting negatively to Berger’s use of “wildly disproportionate” in his statement that even though “Palestinians have well-grounded grievances against the Jewish state, equating what Israelis have done to them with what the Nazis did to the Jews is, again, wildly disproportionate.” Given her recognition too of what Arabs have done to Israel, I don’t see how she sees the scale weights as described by Berger as being inaccurate.

    But this is minor compared to her saying that Berger’s statement “Serbian campaigns of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia and Kosovo,” is slander. She prefers “ethnic sorting,” and gives a good history of peoples being moved away from what they held as home (and their accompanying identity) and to a geographic area of fellow ethnics but not those sharing their previous identity).

    I worked in New York City in the 1980s, a poly-mix indeed, working with both American borns and those speaking multiple languages with living experience in more than one country under formerly East European and Asian dictatorships (I also knew those who escaped the Hungarian uprising in the 1950s, the Czech spring of the 1960s, and Chinese Cultural Revolution, among others). None would have been as pickie in the use of these terms as Wig Wag.

    I’m reminded of two films, The 1984 German television film Wannseekonferenz (The Wannsee Conference) runs 85 minutes—exactly the length of the conference itself, with a script derived from the minutes of the meeting, in German with English subtitles, and the 2001 BBC/HBO film Conspiracy, staring Kenneth Branagh as Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Eichmann, and also scripted according to the exact timeframe and minutes of the original meeting.

    They are chilling reminders of Hanna Arendt’s term, “the banality of evil” (and hence its easy acceptance) as rendered by bureaucrats, whether then or, now, with the UN General Assembly, various UN organizations, and other areas of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. How easy to drop death when never having to see it fact to face. Government protocols abound to “protect us” either from others or our selves, whether by eliminating Jews, smoking, guns, or other human or material annoyance of those in charge at the time, then as well as now.

    Wig wag says Berger “owes the Serbs an apology for suggesting that their behavior in Kosovo can be mentioned in the same breath as the word “genocide.” She would prefer the term ethnic sorting.” Amazing, isn’t it, how we can never get away from the “definition of the situation”? Hence Berger’s calculi of pain and meaning as off sets.

    Wig Wag always brings an impressive erudition and wide ranging reading and research to bear in her comments. They seem to abandon her in her statement that Berger is committing slander all the while she admits that “what the Serbs did in Kosovo, as unpalatable as it may be by 21st century standards, bears [no] relationship at all to genocide.” She allows for high pain to achieve her high meaning.

    She also errors in her misreading of the other key in Berger’s essay, the question of a desire for identify contrasted with the distaste of and thus desire to eliminate another’s identity, whether individual or corporate. I don’t know what triggered Wig Wag’s response, but I would hope she reconsiders her accusation of “slander,” given this account by Wikipedia that shows how many others, including the UN in the 1990s and the United States in 2005, consider what the Serbs did as genocide:

    “In the 1990s, several authorities, along with a considerable number of legal scholars, asserted that ethnic cleansing as carried out by elements of the Bosnian Serb army was genocide.[9] These included a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly and three convictions for genocide in German courts, (the convictions were based upon a wider interpretation of genocide than that used by international courts).[10] In 2005, the United States Congress passed a resolution declaring that “the Serbian policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing meet the terms defining genocide”.[11]

    These Serbian campaigns “included unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians; the targeting of political leaders, intellectuals and professionals; the unlawful deportation and transfer of civilians; the unlawful shelling of civilians; the unlawful appropriation and plunder of real and personal property; the destruction of homes and businesses; and the destruction of places of worship.[8]

  • WigWag

    I find it perplexing, Peter, that you think I should reconsider my vehement objection to Professor Berger’s implied characterization of Serb behavior in Kosovo as genocide based on what you read in a Wikipedia entry. I’ve gone back and read the entry that you cite and its flaws couldn’t be more obvious.

    The entry you mention does point out that in 2005 Congress passed a resolution declaring “the Serbian policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing meet the terms defining genocide”. The irony, of course, is that the same Congress which refuses to declare the Turks guilty of genocide against the Armenians (the Senate has never passed a resolution to this effect) is happy to take a stand on the behavior of the Serbs. The best guess for the number of Armenians exterminated by the Turks is 1.5 million. At most, of the one million Albanian Kosovar refugees forced to flee their homes in 1999, 11,000 died; even that is probably an exaggeration. A Congress which can’t motivate itself to define the murder of 1.5 million Armenians by Turks as genocide really doesn’t have much credibility when it finds its moral voice and defines what the Serbs did to the Albanian Kosovars as genocide.

    As you suggest, the Wikipedia entry that you directed me to also mentions a General Assembly resolution about Serb behavior in Kosovo. Presumably that would be the same General Assembly that for years equated Zionism and racism. If a resolution seeking to reinstitute that characterization was introduced, how many member nations of the General Assembly do you suspect would vote for it? Thirty percent? Forty percent?

    Amongst the countries voting in the General Assembly to accuse the Serbs of genocide include the Iranians (who have spent the last several decades trying to wipe out Iranian Bahia’s), the Egyptians (who treat the Copts little better than animals), the Saudi Arabians (who make it a capital offence to convert from Islam to Christianity), the Turks (who are attempting to hide their shame about their behavior towards the Armenians by mercilessly attacking and subjugating their Kurds) and the Syrians (if you read a newspaper, you know all you need to know about them). I trust that you get my point.

    Of course, the Western Europeans also believe that Serbian behavior towards the Kosovar Albanians was genocidal. But it is ironic, don’t you think, that nations that spent the better part of a thousand years expelling populations they didn’t like, murdering minority groups and sorting themselves by religion, language and nationality, suddenly find their moral compass only after their centuries old process of ethnic sorting has largely been completed? Are the Germans, the French, the British, or anyone else in Western Europe in a position to lecture anyone about genocide? Forgive me for concluding that the Emperor has no clothes.

    It is true that the Serbs committed acts of barbarity and perhaps war crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo. So did the Croats. In Kosovo itself, the KLA committed atrocities against the Serbs.

    Over the weekend, I just finished reading Nick Turse’s new book, “Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Viet Nam”


    The book suggests that atrocities committed by American soldiers in Viet Nam range far beyond the well-known Mai Lai massacre. If Turse is to be believed, American soldiers committed war-crime after war-crime in Viet Nam. Yet despite the barbarity, no one in their right mind thinks that United States behavior in Viet Nam was genocidal.

    Why are the Serbs held to a different standard? Could it be that a long standing bigotry by the largely Roman Catholic and Protestant worlds against Orthodox Christianity has something to do with it? Maybe it’s something else.

    Barbaric behavior in war is not the same as genocide. It is a “misuse” of the term genocide to suggest otherwise.

    Professor Berger owes the Serbs an apology. The fact that he is not alone in slandering them is a meager defense.

    One last thing; with all due respect, there is little that is more banal than citing Hannah Arendts’s tired old cliché, the “banality of evil”. Of course, Arendt would know evil when she saw it. Her lover and long-time friend, Martin Heidegger was a Nazi. It would be a “misuse of the Holocaust” to make excuses for him; don’t you think?

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    I have not read Turse’s book “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam.” However, I can tell you from first hand experience when I was in the 25th Medical Battalion, 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi, South Vietnam, that working with the Division Psychiatrist, that all who committed crimes — including war crimes — were swiftly and severely punished in that war by the U.S. Army. There was no toleration for crimes or rogue actions.

    The ARVN South Vietnamese soldiers were not held to the same standard. They would mutilate enemy Viet Cong soldiers captured on the battlefield and then U.S. Army medical personnel would be called in to medivac by helicopter the VC wounded. The U.S. Army did not look the other way while South Vietnamese forces tortured enemy captives.

    This is what I experienced first hand.

    Look: the day I was departing from Vietnam I was transported in a truck by armed guard to Tan San Nhut airport for a flight back to the U.S. On the way our caravan went through a Vietnamese village. Children were loitering along the roadways and would make furtive runs at our truck as it slowed to get through the village as they tried to attach what appeared to be molotov cocktails explosives to our vehicle. The reality of the Vietnam War was perhaps too complex for sensationalistic journalists.

    The day I was out processing through Tan San Nhut airport the VC were rocketing the airport. I remember laying on the concrete floor of the airport terminal with hundreds of other soldiers — some leaving and some coming in to Vietnam — until the rocket attack ceased.

    Yes, there were war crimes and regular crimes (rape, crimes of passion against Vietnames girlfriends, etc). but these were severely punished. I had to do the initial psychiatric clearances of those who had deserted the battlefield, those who had committed crimes, and those who were unfit for combat. The military justice system worked to deter crimes, including punishing those who had victimized Vietnamese citizens. From that first hand experience, I would say that it would be a gross mischaracterization to lump Vietnam War crimes by U.S forces with the Turkish genocide of Armenians or the Jewish Holocaust. But as Dr. Berger might say: everyone is welcome so their social construction of reality.

  • My response to Wig Wag’s response to my post is in three parts:

    1. Her response to my response.
    2. Vietnam, plus Lusvardi’s response to her on Vietnam.
    3. Discussing in the context of Berger’s “Pyramids of Chulula” and Barzun’s “From Dawn to Decadence”

    Your desire to prevent current and future genocide drives your lament over conflicting versions of the past. Let’s work toward resolving these issues for the living and not yet born, and focus on the past only in order to learn about how to prevent it being repeated, for we must still, in Jesus words, “let the dead bury the dead” (with a caveat in Thucydides in Section 3.

    I’m delighted to read that Elie Wiesel is your friend and mentor. I have attended his lectures and read his articles and book (although admittedly decades ago). Indeed, he and Berger have appeared together. So you are in great company. I believe if you talk to Wiesel he will agree that Berger is not being slanderous, as Wiesel too has said the Serbs were guilty of genocide in Bosnia.

    You make great points illustrating indeed that war, from both sides “is hell”. As an aside, I must admit I’m reluctant to respond but believe the etiquette of blog responses is that if someone takes the time to respond to your comment, one should be willing to respond rather than remain silent, lurking as a verbal drive by.

    I very much appreciate your closing line, “When it comes to ‘genocide,’ things are complicated and ironies abound.” That should be sufficient to allow Berger’s (or any other considered, unprejudiced comments about any genocide), stand without being called slanderous because they are not strong enough one or too weak on another. You correctly point out that my concern is your “vehemence,” especially in light of her own statement that “It is true that the Serbs committed acts of barbarity and perhaps war crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo.”

    Wig Wag writes very clearly that there are no clean hands in these events. Defense and survival are dirty businesses, which is why we have the Geneva Conventions. The question is what price people and groups are willing to pay to survive, and whether they will survive with others or seek it only at the expense of others (whether “let’s just win” or “winner take all” types), especially when dealing with those who won’t engage under the Geneva Conventions. The use of Pilate’s bowl will not result in “my hands are clean.”

    A prediction was made about all of this: in the report of Sir Fairfax Cartwright, Ambassador to Austria, to the Foreign Office, January 31, 1913 (Jacques Barzon, “From Dawn to Decadence,” p. 690), “Serbia will someday set Europe by the ears and bring about a universal war on the Continent.”

    This takes us back to the double “I’m innocent” excuse by Adam in the Garden saying his disobedience of eating of the fruit was not his fault, but that it was the fault of THAT woman that YOU gave me, as he readily blames Eve and God.

    It makes little difference whether the world goes out with a bang (Bernard Shaw) or with a whimper (TS Elliot). Out is out. Wimper or bang, war is, again, hell (literally and figuratively), as Wig Wag describes, no matter how virtuous, chivalrous, heroic, manly and nobel it was thought of being before it began, as seen in Part 2 below (indeed, one could make the argument that to describe war in those virtuous terms is the devil himself speaking in disguise).

    And I certainly wouldn’t want to get into a defense of any of the nations, groups or individuals Wig Wam discusses, as all, in their own way, joined in a circle, not to sing Kumbayah but to open fire, thinking they could win the circle shoot only to find out they were committing circular suicide, paying no attention to any stated “lessons learned” from history.

  • Part 2 of 3.
    That leads me to Vietnam, which, as the History Channel notes, is as “misremembered” now as it was “misreported” then. It is not necessary to get into a fight over Vietnam. Many myths exist. Many, as noted above, “definitions of the situation.” Here is one such link to “myths” of the Vietnam War: http://www.vhfcn.org/stat.html. The key is to look forward to prevent another.

    I’ve known men who were in combat in World War 1 and each war since, not to mention many I knew whose lives were saved by our not doing a shore landing invasion of Japan. A college professor of mine was at the Battle of the Somme in WW1: I challenged his claim of a million casualties in 3 months. I checked. It was 1.5 million casualties in 5 months. I was shocked. At Verdun, in 1916: 700,000 lives lost in four months. Thus, In WW1, “5,000 casualties on a normal day.”

    How wonderfully times have changed from the 100,000+/year Americans killed in WW1 and again in WW2, to Vietnam’s 2,900/year (58,000 over 20 years (1955-1975), although most major combat activity was over in 1972; if you take the “popular” time period, 1964-1975, the bulk of the dying, the average still remains below 4,000/year). When we look at the American dead of WW1 (116,00 in less than 2 years), and the American dead of WW2 (405,399 in 4 years), not to mention the 650,000 of our Civil War, the 58,000 killed in Vietnam celebrates our having stopped the previous “total war” approach (although laying that approach aside may not last if there is another 9/11).

    But think of it: many more young men of military age died on U.S. highways during the Vietnam war than in Vietnam.

    One of the major problems in South Vietnam was the terrorism aspect of little kids being strapped with grenades or other explosives under their clothes and then being sent to the Americans, where they would then be exploded, killing the kid and the soldiers. The same occurred among grown up civilians (a theme of the film “Good Morning, Vietnam”). Once this happens, for soldiers, the war is no longer about any abstract us vs. them but about personal survival.

    My concern regarding Wig Wag’s use of Turse’s book “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam,” is how “tens of thousands” of book miss it — “it barely appears” — in all estimated 30,000 other books written. by one account). There is a difference between soldiers going on search and destroy assignments to send back body counts on the one hand, and the unleashing of purposeful rampaging brutality on the other hand.

    Wayne Lusvardi’s comments are a welcome antidote to Vietnam War bashing. I was in Washington during the John Kerry “slander the Army” years, and know the fierce reaction to him that was called being “swift boated.”

    In the last two years of that war, there were no US combat troops: Vietnamization was a success. We did not lose the War in Vietnam nor Bay of Pigs: we gave them away (NVA General Giap wrote in his memoirs that North Vietnam won the war not in the jungles of Vietnam but on the US college campuses, but that’s an aside for another day). We stopped our promised air support for both. John Kerry said it would not be a big deal, as the North Vietnamese would only kill a couple hundred South Vietnamese. They killed 2 million. Pol Pot then added 3 million more. Vietnamese killed 2 million Vietnamese, Cambodians killed 3 million Cambodians. As Lusvardi points out, the military did not condone and acted quickly when any untoward actions occurred. I was drafted in 1966. And although by the luck of the assignment draws I was not in the field, I know several hundred names on the wall in Washington, D.C. Some soldiers on both sides were indeed less than reverent with some dead bodies. I was assigned to the General Staff at Continental Army Command and processed papers verifying what Lusvardi wrote about how the military moved with dispatch and imprisoned violators..

    Even though Lusvardi says is accurate, those holding anti-war or anti-Vietnam views will not readily change their definition of the situation.

    9/11 again reminds us of what human being are capable of. And yet the animus against the military is still so strong that many vets are not given the post service support they have earned. Draft dodging used to be a national sport. Criticism of those who did not serve is foolish as is criticism of those who did. May mercy someday be restored for those making the kinds of personal sacrifice few learn about but that Lusvardi has so calmly listed. These are but “other atrocities of which human beings are capable”.

    Definitions of the situation indeed. Lusvardi: “But as Dr. Berger might say: everyone is welcome so their social construction of reality.” My hope is that they will be less welcoming of those who define reality by being reality deniers.

  • That brings us to the longer history Wig Wag has referred do regarding the Balkans and Vietnam. Here both Berger (“Pyramids of Sacrifice,” 1974, pp. 3-8), and Jacques Barzon (“From Dawn to Decadence,” 2000, pp. 684-712), help us sort this out.

    Berger reminds us elsewhere that Thucydides said he hoped we’d find his book on history useful, because, “(human nature being what it is)” history will in some way be “repeated.” Barzon reminds us that the devastation of WW1 was so deep that “it turned the creative energies from their course, first into frivolity, and then into the channel of self-destruction” of the great “repeat” or “do over” that became WWW2.

    And, of course, we are always caught with people claiming their chicken came before their egg. We hear conquerors claim the right to “the spoils” while the conquered proclaim their right to what was taken as well as the “right of return, often purposefully not acknowledging that they, the newly conquered and dispossesed, had in their own time done conquered and disposed others before them.

    This is a major point too many don’t understand. Berger’s discussion of the great pyramid (largest man made object in the world) at Chulula, Mexico (“Pyramids of Sacrifice,” pp. 3-8) discusses how six pyramid structures were superimposed on top of the previous one, each by a different dominating group, each covering (and thus restraining) the gods of the predecessors (Cortez, taking no changes, covered it with dirt to disguise it, built a church on top of them all (with future generations forgetting they are there). For good measure, Cortez also built 100 chapels in a circle around the chapel mound to make sure no earlier deities could break lose.

    In Berger’s phrase, “conquerors erect their sanctuaries over the ruins of the sanctuaries they destroyed.” “The political lesson” of Chulula, writes Berger, is found in “the unity of theory and practice,” “the relation among theory, sweat, and blood” (the first by the elites and the last two by those the elite conquer and command). This has been Eastern Europe and the Balkans and Asia since WW2.

    Whether discussing Mexico’s pyramid days or two 20th century world wars, we see the elites making decisions carried out on the backs of the non-elite. In Berger’s words, “intellectuals convincing the wielders of power to carry into practice some particular theoretical scheme, or power wielders hiring intellectuals to concoct theories that will legitimate that particular exercise of power ex post facto.”

    Barzun notes how much has changed, what he calls “the recasting of this ideal of liberty into liberality,” meaning “anything goes,” whether by individuals or nations, and that includes the fools-gold golden rule, “do in the others before they do you in,” including genicide by those so disposed.

    Barzun calls this “The Great Switch,” under the pressure of socialst ideas, resulting in the Welfare State, such that we are now “Liberal Conservative Socialists,” where the best government governs most. Hence his claim that we are coming to the end of a 500 year era.

    The 19th century and early 20th century were times of a very different “social definition of reality” of war that we can barely grasp today, as war and killing were glorified by those who believed war was the way to “purify the air” (Baron Karl von Stengel, 1901), that it was “one of the conditions of progress, the sting that prevents a country from going to sleep” (Ernest Renan, 1876), leading Bernard Shaw to sarcastically write, Jan 1, 1914, “I am pleased with the spirit of those who are now advocating war for its own sake as a tonic.” He then drops the other shoe: “Let those who believe in it repair to Salisbury Plain and blaze away at one another until the survivors (if any) feel that their characters are up to the mark.” As Edward Carpenter put it, war was “the cure for civilization” as it brought “emancipation that nobody could oppose.”

    The poets glorified war. Intellectuals and elites celebrated and urged it. Ronald N. Stromberg’s book title says it: “Redemption by War: The Intellectual and 1914.” Thus, as Barzun writes, “As for war between peoples, it is the fittest, youngest, and most selfless individuals who get killed. Victory is ruinous….”

    The church also chimed in, as they were “the most rabid glorifiers of the struggle and inciters to hatred.” And, of course, they enlisted God with such phrases as “He is certainly on our side, because our goals are sinless and our hearts are pure.” The moderate position was “kill but do not hate” (p. 701)

    Barzun (p. 701) declares that: “not before 1914 was the flush of blood lust seen on the whole intellectual class.” He then asks, “What made the cultural elite give up its ideas, its habits, and its friendships?” Perhaps Norman Angell, summarized it best in the title of his 1909 pamphlet that few listened to: “Europe’s Optical Illusion,” that he later expanded into a book, “The Great Illusion.” For Angell, writes Barzun, “modern war between great powers means a dead loss for both victor and vanquished.” He wrote that “a large scale war in the 20th century Europe would be suicide disguised as self-interest.” As Barzun points out, “the Great Illusion was not heeded. It was enacted.”

    The Lutheran Church in Germany felt so badly about its own opposition interpreted later as their have adopted “go along to get along” action, that it fostered the now long running “Evangelical Academies” to put Germany back together again, as Berger and Muller write about, with others, in “Confession, Conflict, & Community.” Will today’s universities and colleges, especially denominationally oriented, seek to bring the golden rule and Good Samaritan ethics to the fore regarding today’s conflicts, foreign and domestic?

  • WigWag

    Peter, I have enjoyed the very interesting comments you have written about this post from Professor Berger.

    Let me see if I can simplify my argument that it is slanderous to accuse the Serbs of committing genocide against the Kosovar Albanians.

    In the late 1990s during the Kosovo War, approximately one million ethnic Albanian Kosavars were exiled from their homes in large part because of actions taken by Serbian forces under the command of Slobodan Milošević. According to Carla Del Ponte, the Special Prosecutor appointed by the United Nations to investigate war crimes in the Balkans, 11,000 ethnic Albanians died. The number is disputed and it is probably considerably less.

    Even assuming that the number 11,000 is accurate, it represents one percent of the total number of Kosovars who faced exile. It is important to remember that the total Muslim population of Kosovo in 1999 was 1.5 million; a substantial percentage of the Muslim Kosovar population was never forced from their homes. 11,000 Albanian Kosavar deaths represent a mere three quarters of one percent of the Albanian Kosavar population.

    As tragic as this may have been, to claim that it represents genocide strains credulity. It does no one any good to conflate tragic but commonplace brutality with genocide. Dumbing the definition of genocide down only serves to make genocide seem less uniquely horrendous.

    Why so many in the west are so anxious to slander the Serbs is a mystery to me. As far as I can tell, their behavior is no better and no worse than the behavior of so many other nations around the world.

    I can think of several potential reasons that the Serbs make good targets for Western Governments; (1) they are allied with the Russians; (2) they are Orthodox and the Western world is bigoted against Orthodox Christians. This is probably true of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant worlds as well as the bastard child of Catholicism and Protestantism; liberalism. (3) Slandering Serbs is a way to placate a Muslims at a time when the West is engaged in one of its periodic conflicts with Islamism.

    I am not sure whether any or all of these theories might be correct. But what I am sure of is that it is slanderous to accuse the Serbs of behavior that is no worse than the behavior of anyone else.

    The entire death toll of the Kosovo War represents a mere two months worth of deaths in Syria. It pales in comparison to the destruction of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is but a mere fraction of the number of Kurds killed by the Turks in the last few decades.

    The Serbs are far from perfect. Their accusers aren’t either. But the accusers of the Serbs are hypocrites.

    Those accusers are in no position to be hurling the first stone.

  • Robert Hunt

    Dear Mr. Berger,

    You mentioned a lot of socialist killing but for some reason you overlooked the forty to sixty million killed in the Soviet Union which was supported by almost all the leftists in the United States.
    The New York Times even won a Pulitzer Prize for denying the Ukrainian Holocaust.
    Then in the sixties,many communists in America, probably some who work for your magazine spent years of their youth working hard for the coming holocaust in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, over many years. I challenged these communists on my college campuses, but they refused to reconsider even though I could easily point out the then recent holocaust carried out by the communist chinese in their two northern provinces which, according to the New York Times decades later, killed seventy to ninety million alone. This doesn’t include the vast number killed in other socialist frenzies the party attacked the chinese people with.
    The holocaust against american and other children across the world is certainly the same, as the similar killing of innocents by socialists across the last two hundred years.
    They all share one thing, offering innocents up to their god. Why else would an american president run a campaign based upon killing as many children here as humanly possible? Why would people vote for it?
    The deaths of innocents are the guiding power of all socialist movements, besides covering up for the guilt of other socialists across the world

    • Grigalem

      This is factually challenged on so many grounds – not the least that “leftists” “supported” the mass killings in the Soviet Union, and “many communists in America, probably some who work for your magazine spent years of their youth working hard for the coming holocaust in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam”.

      Utter balderdash. Mean ugly balderdash, at that.

  • In response to Wig Wag, preceeding #12.

    I appreciate and thank you for your kind comment that you found my thoughts “very interesting.”

    Your point about the Serbs has always been crystal clear from the start. I did not mean to suggest you were unclear.

    Given your definition of the situation (which must always be understood as having at least two sides, as Lusvardi so timely reminds us) you made your case. From my definition of the situation we disagree about your charge. And with both the UN and the USA calling it genocide, we are unnecessarily distracted from our shared goal: to influence ending such mass killings, now and in the future.

    Had you said you disagreed with the UN and with the US on their statements about the Serbs committing genocide, and anyone else who says or suggests it, you would be within bounds to say, from your standpoint, they are being too harsh and ignoring what you list as obviously mitigating definitional circumstances that, in your view, prove your case. But do you really want a sliding scale of definitional acceptability for these words, holocaust, genocide, group slaughter/murder, where one number is acceptable and one more is not, which is not what you mean but is what it sound like?

    From my reading of Berger in his books, articles, and in this blog, I’ve never seen or sensed him slander anyone. Sadly, you have chosen to use a legal term which, when one is proven guilty, has to pay damages. What you have proven is that there are those of us who accept the UN and US designation and there are those who do not. Your choice “suggests” you believe who you so label in this context is guilty of purposefully saying something false and damaging with malicious intent to harm the reputation or those with a different point of view. That is no where in play here.

    My sense, even in the academic world, is that we are better served by approaching disputes/conflict resolution, where possible, via the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 (after all, “religion” is in the title of this blog), which raises the “curiosity” of why so many people subscribe to Jesus words but too often don’t (won’t?) practice them: talk to the other person first, one on one about whatever is bothering before telling others. Is it so or has there been a misunderstanding? And before going public, take others to talk the person as well (which we do when we post on a blog that is read around the world).

    Just because people have different interpretations of the definition of the same facts doesn’t mean automatically that slander is involved. So going first to the person helps avoid bearing false witness to others before we are clear on what is being said/meant by the other.

    I suspect we could go on forever. I’ve enjoyed the discussion with you.

    Your wise “Those accusers are in no position to be hurling the first stone” fits all of us, reflecting the human condition, as you continue to reflect when you write: “The Serbs are far from perfect” and that “Their accusers aren’t either.” Most who take seriously the word in the blog title, “religion,” take the existence of sin and evil as givens, believing we are constantly seeking the grace needed to deal with them in our lives, as we encourage all others, including the groups about which we write, to practice the Golden Rule (all religions have a version of it, including Islam), and to be good neighbors, as Jesus instructed in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, rather than “pass by on the other side” when we see people in stress and thus avoid them in what we could call, using a Berger phrase, “implicit excommunication.”

    My sense is that we ignore the present and future at our peril when we lament over the long past at the expense of the present and future.

    Finally, I hope we will have the opportunity in another exchange to discuss your statement of liberalism being the bastard child of Catholicism and Protestantism. Fascinating. I look forward to learning what you mean by that.

    All the best. Now lets see what Professor Berger has in store for us today.

  • Edith Shaked

    Berger wrote: “Is the Holocaust of
    Jewry during World War II an absolutely unique event? … the Nazis deliberately planned the physical destruction of an entire people”


Why does Berger uses “Holocaust of European Jewry as connected with “Nazis deliberately planned the physical destruction of an entire

    The Jews of European North Africa who
    were persecuted, deported and murdered in the Shoah, were also part of the
    Jewish people that the Nazi regime sought to annihilate.

    It’s time to stop using “European Jews” – the perpetrators were killing JEWS and “the Jews of Europe,” inclusive of Jews in French North Africa and Italian Libya.

    They were equal opportunity killers.

    Bauer, academic advisor at Yad vashem is
    correct when stating that the Shoah was an attempt to annihilate the Jewish
    people and to kill Jews wherever they could be found.

    Edith Shaked, Holocaust educator

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