Saturday, 10 October 2015

Could the Jews have shot their way out of the Holocaust? Or, Ben Carson and self-caricature in politics.

When Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, Tom Lehrer announced that he would give up singing satirical songs. In a world in which that could happen, he felt there was no longer any place for satire.

Well, it’s curious to discover that things could decline still further from that low point. The US is once again providing us with a wonderful new political spectacle.

The front runner for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party – that’s the party of Abraham Lincoln, mind – is a man who prides himself on having dragged himself up by the bootstraps from colossal wealth to even more colossal wealth. Donald Trump is one of those characters who like to throw the abusive comments out there, and then apologise for any offence they may have caused, but in such a way as to suggest that their targets (in Trump’s case, principally women) are themselves at fault for lack of a sense of humour.

Behind him, in second place for the nomination, is Ben Carson. It’s a commonplace to describe something as not being brain surgery, as a way of saying that there’s nothing more complex or requiring more intelligence. Carson gives the lie to that facile notion. He’s a neurosurgeon but seems to show that either you can operate on brains without having huge capacity in your own, or having used up so much of your brain for the surgery, you have too little left for politics.

Ben Carson: proof that even if you operate on brains,
you don't necessarily make great use of your own
I suppose the clue was provided by Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted about Carson “what about a real black president who can properly address the racial divide?” Ah, yes. Carson is a real black, unlike the present occupant of the White House.

Murdoch has since said he was sorry for the tweet, proving that Trump isn’t the only exponent of the late, empty apology. 

In any case, if Murdoch likes Carson, that’s probably enough to make his candidacy deeply suspect. Carson has helped us out, anyway, and put the question beyond all doubt. First of all, we had his comment that no Muslim should run for President because Islam is inconsistent with the US Constitution. The US Constitution was written by men such as Madison and Jefferson for whom few principles mattered as much as completely equal rights between religions. Perhaps Carson hadn’t found the time to work much on the Constitution, between reading the medical journals.

No comment went so far, however, in proving the nature of the man than his crass comment, that had there not been gun control in Germany, the Jews might have been able to prevent the Holocaust happening. This is linked to the strange reasoning that the huge numbers of guns available in the US keeps people safe, against all the evidence (for example in 45 school shootings this year alone) that they put huge numbers at serious risk.

Even without that illogic, the Carson comment is based on extraordinary ignorance. There was resistance by Jews during the Holocaust, even armed resistance, most notably in the Warsaw Ghetto. And how did that work out? Inevitably, civilians – even with guns – were no match for a trained army with heavy weapons. Had the Russians intervened to support them, they might have won, but the Red Army stood still and waited while the Wehrmacht polished off the Jewish resistance. The mere possession of guns is far from enough.

Still. One wouldn’t expect Carson to know that. He belongs to the Tom Lehrer school of politicians or institutions that satirise themselves. Except that in his case, he’s more of a caricature than a satire.

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