Friday, February 23, 2007

Hollow Honours

Several years ago the Canadian Government paid tribute to the former President of South Africa and icon of the anti-apartheid movement. The government bestowed upon Nelson Mandela something that had only been given once before: honorary Canadian citizenship. The first recipient of this honour, Raoul Wallenberg, was posthumously awarded for his life saving activities as a Swedish diplomat in Hungary during the Holocaust. After Mandela was so honoured the Canadian government made a bold statement by conferring the honour upon the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso of Tibet.

Well, I can’t deny that I’m proud of Canada: We have chosen to honour three individuals who have each represented the best that humanity can offer. Wallenberg risked his life to save perfect strangers, Mandela never surrendered his dream of living in the land of his birth as a free man, and Tenzin Gyatso – the Dalai Lama – is a man who has been persecuted purely on the grounds that his beliefs fly in the face of the official doctrines imposed by the government of China. As a representative of Tibet the Dalai Lama has been a “man of peace” that you can be inspired by even if you aren’t a Buddhist.

So what is the point of this article? Quite simply, I became aware that there is an article that mentioned the idea proposing that the United States government should confer honorary citizenship upon Anne Frank. This has come about in light of new evidence that the Frank family unsuccessfully attempted to obtain visas to the United States, as did hundreds of thousands of others, before they were captured and murdered by the Nazis.

According to an editorial to be published in today’s (Friday the 23rd of February, 2007) edition of the “Jewish Daily ForwardRepresentative Steve Israel (Democrat/NY) reintroduced a bill (Joint Resolution 48) that would make Anne Frank, the most famous child victim of the Final Solution, an honorary citizen of the nation that turned away as many Jews as Canada did during this dark period in history (yes, “none is too many” shall forever be remembered as a comment to the question as to how many Jews he wanted to allow to enter the country as a result of the extenuating circumstances raised by the Nazi persecution of Jews …).

The conclusion of the editorial is that a better way to honour the memory of Anne Frank would be to allow for more refuges from Iraq to seek safe haven in the United States, the nation that has torn apart their homeland. An astonishingly low number of Iraqi refugees have been allowed to enter the United States since 2003, a number so low, they may have all come on one 747: 466 people out of the nearly four MILLION that have been displaced by the contrived war against a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks against America.

While I agree that the United States has a tremendous responsibility to play towards these displaced people, innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of one megalomaniac against a despot, I also believe there is a deeper issue here; one that cannot be dismissed so easily by the conferring of honorary citizenships upon dead children. We can look at the history of the latter part of the twentieth century and see the history of the United States as having been on an inexorable collision course with its current embroiled fate in Iraq.

The United States has actively pursued a foreign policy that can be described as egocentric at its least and all out colonialist at its worst. Their self-proclaimed role as the world’s policemen, through the expression of the “Pax Americana” philosophy espoused by those who believe that America’s model of democracy should be exported to the four corners of the world, is one that serves the special interests of America, not the people of the world. Over and over it has been demonstrated that the United States is more than willing to send in the troops and (attempt to) install a new governmental system, replete with constitution, so long as the area in question has something that is of special interest to the United States.

America has a history of intervening in places only when their interests are served, yet when a purely humanitarian situation arises, and the need for intervention is desperate, where is “Pax Americana”? Where were the Americans in 1994 when the genocide in Rwanda ran rampant, killing approximately 500,000 people in about thirteen weeks? Why are they not in Darfur when another genocide takes place, and why do they tacitly allow – nay, support – the innocent killing of civilians by the IDF in Palestine?

The answers are far simpler than anyone might care to admit, but it all really comes down to the fact that no American president is interested in investing either the lives of American soldiers or the money necessary when there is nothing to be gained for the national interests of the United States. Saving a bunch of coloured people just doesn’t translate into political currency “back home”, and supporting Israel is also good for business, even though the demographic of Jews in the U.S. is very small, they have a powerful lobby through AIPAC (and, for a twist on AIPAC and their ability to keep secrets, try this; here is an article on AIPAC’s hold on Washington).

There isn’t any oil in Rwanda or Darfur; nor are there any Jews living in the path of danger … at least none with the clout to request assistance from their lobby in Washington. Thus countless innocent lives were snuffed out with impunity in the long night of genocide while the sleeping giant merely turned over in its luxury bed, barely registering the fact that anything was going on at all. Intervention into Kuwait, on the other hand, when Iraq threatened the precious oil supply, necessitated an immediate and devastating response from the United States military.

It would not be a tribute to the memory of Anne Frank for the United States to bestow an honorary citizenship on her so many years after her death; in fact, the act would defile her memory by virtue of the fact that the United States actively pursued a course of non-intervention in the European theatre in the hopes that the Nazis would take care of the Soviets, a thorn in the side of FDR’s Democrat ideology and the increasing paranoia of a rabidly anti-communist America.

[As an aside, HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, has appeared in several guises in the past seventy-three years. It first appeared as the McCormack-Dickstein Committee (1934), and was charged to investigate the proliferation of Nazi propaganda in America. The committee took its name from the chair and vice-chair, John W. McCormack and Samuel Dickstein. Martin Dies was the chair with Samuel Dickstein as co-chair of the Dies Committee (1938-1944), which was charged with the investigation of (supposedly) German American involvement in Nazi and Ku Klux Klan activities. It is notable that Dickstein himself was named in Soviet NKVD documents as a Soviet agent. HUAC, as most people are familiar with it, was established as a permanent standing committee under the mandate of Public Law 601, passed by the 79th Congress in 1946. The nine-member committee was empowered to investigate suspected threats (either real or perceived as the Hollywood blacklist, and others, demonstrated) of subversion or propaganda that attacked “the form of government guaranteed by our Constitution”. The result of this mandate led to one of the most paranoid episodes in modern American history, comparable to the Salem witch trials in their zeal for seeking out “enemies of the state”.]

Had America entered the war when Hitler invaded Poland, in 1939, rather than waiting until the convenient attack by Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese force that devastated the ships that hadn’t been (coincidentally) sent out of the confines of the harbour (including the most important ships, the aircraft carriers), it is quite possible that things would have been quite different. Had Hitler seen that the United States wasn’t prepared to sit idly by while he raped and pillaged Europe and that they were mobilising to support their allies, it seems likely that he may not have been as grandiose in his attempt to take over the world … and eliminating the untermenschen that populate so much of the planet.

Of course we cannot know if this is the case at all, and I rather think that the psychotic nature of Hitler and his henchmen would dictate that he would have stayed the course regardless of the opposing forces (which is sort of like Dubya Bush and his “stay the course” idiocy relating to “victory” in Iraq).

When a nation had an opportunity to provide actual sanctuary to someone in real life, as the United States did through the rejected applications of the Franks (and hundreds of thousands of other European Jews), it is the apotheosis of hubris to believe that granting one child honorary citizenship will absolve them of their complicity in the deaths through apathy, inaction and institutional anti-Semitism.

By waiting for the attack from the Japanese Imperial Navy as an excuse to enter the war the United States allowed Hitler to become well entrenched in Europe, sealing the fate of millions, including the Gypsies, mentally ill, homosexuals, individuals with disabilities, and others who were perceived to be unfit to live. If the United States government wants to honour the memory of Anne Frank it needs to recognize that their inaction played a critical role in the extermination of these innocent people; they need to acknowledge that their motives were entirely guided by political considerations rather than the human cost of waiting not one or two but three years into the holocaust that was consuming the rest of the world.

I do want to say, for the record, that I am not discounting the brave manner and heroism that American servicemen and women demonstrated in their fight against the enemy in the Pacific theatre, as well as in Europe and Africa, nor am I dismissing the heroic Americans who volunteered to go to China as part of the “Flying Tigers” or those who participated in the “Battle of Britain”. Each of these individuals deserves to be remembered for their bravery. The national policy of isolationism that led to the United States refraining from entering the war, however, meant that a relatively few number of talented flyers participated in a desperate battle when so many more were needed.

It would be a great disservice to the memory of Anne Frank to now, after so many years, make the hollow gesture of conferring upon her something that would have likely made her story unknown to the world. Had Anne Frank and her family been allowed to emigrate to the United States the likelihood is that she would have gone on to grow up as a normal child, fulfilling her desire to become a writer. Her diary, written while the family was in hiding from the Nazis, would have been about the boat trip across the Atlantic and the processing at Ellis Island … hardly the remarkable tale that the “Diary” stands as in its current form.

With the reintroduction of his bill Rep. Steve Israel is attempting to wipe away a stain that sits squarely upon the front of the American flag, and it cannot be removed so easily. It will take a great deal more to atone for the apathy of the past, and the damage that America is currently causing in Iraq. When the homeless in Iraq have been resettled and Israel is no longer able to fire American-made munitions at unarmed civilians, they will have turned a corner on the path to righteousness.

Then, perhaps, they will be able to comprehend what they could possibly do to honour people like Anne Frank. Instead of hollow honours they may finally realize that actions speak louder than words.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post... as usual. You might want to look at my latest on how AIPAC (The Lobby) is losing it's grip among Canadian Jews...