Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rick Shenkman and the Reverend Hagee

*** Every once in a while I have to stop and reflect on what I am doing and what I should be doing with regard to the work. Since the work makes up a good part of the life, it is not a complete waste of time to try to see the picture.

I’m working on a documentary, provisionally called The Great Taboo, which is stalled right now, as it periodically is, due this time to an unexpected reaction of institutional censorship in Baja, Mexico.

I am working with The Lipstadt Question: “Can you provide the name of one person, with proof, who was killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz?” Some three thousand American, German and British academics in history, journalism, German, Jewish studies, political science, philosophy and so on have received the question. The question appears to quietly terrify our typical academic. Responses have been rare, and even in those rare instances off topic, as if the respondent, in spite of his academic accomplishments, does not really understand the question. The question being so simple, I find it truly remarkable that it is not understood. Of course, the great majority of academics who have received the question and have not attempted to respond may well understand the question and the implications of the question. That is why they do not respond. Their silence does not suggest idiocy certainly, but does suggest a significant lack of character.

Now I have to do something with History News Network (HNN). The editor of HNN, Professor Rick Shenkman, has banned me from posting on its Webpage. Shenkman writes that I question the “existence” of the Holocaust and express “doubts” about it. Shenkman appears to be out of the loop here, apparently not knowing what I have written or where I have written it, and is depending entirely on what he is being told by an assistant editor, most likely Jonathan Dresner, until recently of U. Hawaii at Hilo, and now at Pittsburgh State U. (Kansas).

According to his bio on HNN, Shenkman was educated at Vassar and Harvard, and is a Fellow of the Society of American Historians. He gives lectures at colleges around the country on such matters as American myths and presidential politics. In 1997 he was the host, writer and producer of a prime time series for The Learning Channel inspired by his books on myths.

For my own part, I was educated at John C. Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles, formally known as the place where they did the riots, one of which I was privileged to observe from the inside as it were, geographically speaking.

Now, based on the individual educational backgrounds of Shenkman and Smith, who would you think it wise to listen to regarding possible “myths” about the Holocaust, or about Auschwitz? Or would you say it might be “wise” to listen to both? Or is there just too much suggested irony here to even contemplate the question?

Shenkman writes: “I am told that you [me] expressed doubts about Auschwitz. That's enough for me.”

What doubts? Shenkman doesn’t care. He’s a professor. What did I actually write? Shenkman doesn’t care. He’s a historian. Do I doubt something about Auschwitz that might be difficult to believe? Shenkman doesn’t care. He’s a true believer. That’s enough for him. Vassar, Harvard, the Society of American Historians – so much chopped liver. Belief is the issue here. True belief. The Rick Shenkmans are the academic answer to the reverend Hagees. Hitler, Jews, the Holocaust. True belief all the way down.

Still, I am left with the question: what do I do about HNN? I don’t know. I don’t know what I can do. I don’t have any brilliant ideas. I do have a little something in mind that I can do. I suppose I will do it. But without support from those who are allowed to post on Rick Shenkmans HNN, without offending this True Believer, I don’t expect to get very far.

If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.

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