Monday, June 29, 2009

American Psychos: How James von Brunn, Mark Weber and Bradley Smith fit into the current state of American anti-Semitism

My version of the headline says it all, if we were to tell the story in brief. Mark Oppenheimer’s series of five articles on Mark Weber and me and anti-Semitism is the usual stuff, though it is better written than most, and it has some new personal information on Mark and me, something Mark must not be very happy with but is easy going for an ordinary autobiographer like me. But for the rest, without meaning to sound mean-spirited, it is more of the same by a Holocaust True Believer.

This isn’t to say that Oppenheimer is not a likeable guy. He is. I liked him within the first minute of meeting him, and I feel the same way toward him now as I did then. I would wish that we would live in the same neighborhood, drink at the same bar—or rather, eat lunch in the same diner—and be able to talk things over once in a while. I would try to teach him how sometimes, when it’s simple, it’s just as good as when it’s complicated. And of course, I would listen to him. I really would.

If you will, dear reader, I would like you to point out to me where Oppenheimer addresses any specific statement I have ever made (I think he does once or twice), what he says about it, and how close to the truth you think it might or might not be. It would help me begin to respond to what is, in the end, a somewhat interesting 9,000 (yeah, 9,000) words. Maybe when I read it more closely it will be more interesting. As a matter of fact, I am certain it will be. Meanwhile . . . .

I will say up front that Oppenheimer is more interested in Weber than he is in Smith. I think that only natural. Oppenheimer is an academic, a Yale Ph.D. in church history, and Weber is of an academic turn of mind, has an M.A. in history and has written and published on historical issues. I am none of the above. I think what I do is too simple for Oppenheimer to get his head around it. But we will see. Any suggestions you have—I’m all ears.


Gurfinkle said...

Why not try to imagine how David Cole, that is the original David Cole, would have dealt with this a**hole.

This guy does not take you seriously, he writes that he does not take you seriously, and yet you play along with him, the good fellow well met. He insults you explicitly and implicitly. To hell with that, confront the SOB, I would !

Confront him, you say? With what, you say? How about the fact that you can't get one @#$SS academic to provide you with one name. That would do for starters.

widmann said...

Oppenheimer does not address any revisionist argument in his "Denial Twist" series. Rather he treats both you and Mark Weber as if you were on a psychiatrist's couch. The given is that both of you are anti-Semitic and incorrect about the Holocaust. The point of the article is then a "human" piece to understand what makes you tick. Oppenheimer seems to arrive at the answer through the conversation with you old girlfriend -- you failed as a writer so you turned to something you could succeed at. Likewise Weber is depicted as a child trying to strike out at his parents.
Everytime you mention free speech and open debate with regard to the Holocaust it must be joined with the fact that revisionists are in prison and threatened with prison throughout Europe. Germany burns books. Irving was imprisoned for comments made in a speech in the late '80's. The Holocaust is such a taboo that it cannot be researched or challenged without fear of persecution -- still the story has changed, positions have been backed off of. The soap stories and Dachau gassings as well as the over 1 million killed at Majdanek story are all part of the dustbin of history thanks to the revisionists. Why should the Holocaust be protected by draconian law? That is the key question.

Chip said...

Likewise Weber is depicted as a child trying to strike out at his parents.

In fairness, this is presented as the view of Weber's sister. And Oppenheimer rejects it.

I think you are all correct about Oppenheimer's MO. He's stalking anti-Semitism and clearly has no interest in engaging revisionist arguments at any level. That's par for the course.

At the same time, it's a nuanced article. If Oppenheimer's humanistic approach is parcel to a journalistic strategy, it still comes off as human. I don't think something like this would have been published a decade ago.

widmann said...

Chip wrote: "I don't think something like this would have been published a decade ago."
A humanist look at revisionism was published nearly 10 years ago, in fact in the Feb. 2001 issue of Esquire. John Sack wrote a piece called, "Inside the Bunker." Sack was actually so taken with the revisionists that he spoke at more than one of David Irving's conferences in Cincinnati.

Anonymous said...

Chip: If Oppenheimer's humanistic approach is parcel to a journalistic strategy, it still comes off as human.

"Oppenheimer's humanistic approach" ? "comes off as human" ?

Why all this sophistry and beating around the bush? Why don't we call a spade a spade? What Oppenheimer is trying very hard to do with James von Brunn, Mark Weber and Bradley Smith (without much success as far as I am concerned) is anything but human. How about... anti-human?

Anonymous said...

"Successful" people like Oppenheimer don't like when "losers" like Bradley Smith and Mark Weber come alone and disturb that fragile feeling of success.

"Get life, loser!" is the ultimate argument these "winners" throw at their opponents when everything else fails.

And the thought that there might be a lot of people like von Brunn out there simply scares the wits out of them. It's not too complicated.

Anonymous said...

I don't like this Oppenheimer guy one bit. Nevertheless I have to agree with him on one thing - you are an anti-Semite, but you wouldn't admit it even to yourself. Being an anti-Semite is the good part of it, being afraid to admit it is your problem. But that's not your biggest problem. You are not a racist - that's your le plus grand problème. I am sorry, that's the way I see it.

On the other hand, James von Brunn is an anti-Semite and a racist. That's Oppenheimers' problem.

Ivan de Coward said...


If you haven't guessed it yet, it probably occurred to you where those three anonymous comments came from. I hope you will forgive me for that little trick. Well, that's probably just a lip service to the protocol of human communication, because it really doesn't matter if you forgive me or not.

So why do I bother you and myself by doing all this. What do I want from you? Why do I care about people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vladimir Putin, Ernst Zundel, William Pierce, James von Brunn, Mark Weber, David Irving, Bobby Fischer, Israel Shamir, Ron Paul and many others? And do I really care for them? Why would I care about Bradley Smith whom I have never met and never will, somebody who lives in a different country, of a different age, culture and even of a different race? What is common to all these individuals? Is it anti-Semitism? Perhaps, there is a compelling reason to put all of them in the category of anti-Semites. But that really doesn't answer my question.

I guess the honest answer would be - I do not care. You cannot care for somebody who is not in your life. But I do care for a human quality all these people share - honor, decency and independence of thinking. I believe all of them have that fine and rare quality in one degree or another. Winning is not that important to people in this category when they engage in a fight. Well, that's not quite correct, actually it's correct at all. Winning is everything, but "winning" has a different meaning to them. Winning to them is maintaining who they are. Winning by way of losing honor and dignity is a loss for them, and losing while maintaining honor and dignity is a win. In more general terms it's about survival.

I feel affinity to these people and when they are attacked I feel the uncontrollable urge to attack the attackers. It's about survival. I want to survive the way I am. I do not think I am so bad that I do not deserve to survive without fundamental change in my nature. But who is the judge? There is no judge. There is life, there is survival and there is extinction. You are the judge, your own self. But that is true for those in the opposite camp just as well - they don't have honor and dignity, they don't care about such silly notions but they too want to survive without fundamental change of what they are. Who can blame them? Nobody. This is not a blame game this is a fight for survival.

Chip said...

How about... anti-human?

I'd like to see how you justify this with careful reference to the article. I've read it a couple of times and I don't think it's clear that Oppenheimer is even convinced that Bradley is motivated by anti-Semitism, as everyone here seems to assume.

Oppenheimer is broadly engaged in what positivists refer to as Bulverism (a term I just learned). Yet his approach strikes me as more presumptuous than fallacious. Like virtually every person I know, he simply believes that the standard Holocaust history is so well-established that expressions of skepticism are safely read as prima facie evidence of some underlying motive. I think he's wrong on this point, and I sincerely hope his natural curiosity prompts him to delve into the literature and see how it breaks down. You never know about people.

But given Oppenheimer's natural bias, I just don't think it's accurate to appraise his piece as some kind of sophisticated hatchet job. He wasn't writing for a revisionist audience, folks. He was writing for a largely Jewish audience and I think it's possible that some of his readers will be surprised by an account that doesn't cave to caricature. It's usually far worse, and I suspect that some of you are missing the gestalt.

I think my defense of Oppenheimer's article is sufficiently qualified. I'd be happy to discuss it all further, because it interests me. I will ignore snarks.

Widmann: thanks for the tip regarding the John Sack piece in Esquire. I'll look it up.

Ivan de Coward said...

Ok, Chip, where shall we start.

1. I'd like to see how you justify this with careful reference to the article.

Would you agree if I have said that Mr Smith clearly didn't want his former girlfriend to be involved in this. Same for Mr Weber regarding his sister (ref: Although Smith had refused to give me his ex-lover's name, forcing me to track her down without his help, he had told me about her existence; he was not ashamed to have lived with and loved a Jew. Weber, by contrast, had refused to discuss the truth or falsity of the rumors that he had a Jewish sister). This doesn't necessarily imply that Mr Smith and/or Mr Weber had something to hide or to be ashamed of. There could be a million reasons for each one. It doesn't matter what the reasons were, what matters is that they didn't want to. And Mr Oppenheimer should have respected that. It's just a common decency. But Mr Oppenheimer went out of his way to track them down and interview them. Why would he do that - this wasn't a police investigation was it. Was it about finding the truth by a passionate truth-seeker? I don't believe so. Do you?

Have you paid any attention to Mr Oppenheimer's language while you were reading his article twice? (ref: One scholar of Holocaust denial told me, quoting a friend, that Holocaust deniers they "are like the shit you step on in the street - it has no relevance unless you fail to scrape it off before entering your home." In part, I understand the sentiment: I often felt as if Weber, in particular, had come home with me, invaded my office, even my bedroom. But I don't share the scatological disgust. ). Do I really have to explain that, in this kind of "journalism", often what is said is less important than the way it was said. In this particular case it's like saying: If I wasn't a nice person I would think that you are a shit.

If you do not understand... well, let me back off, if you do not see things like this, there isn't much I could do by further dissecting of Mr Oppenheimer work to convince you of what I think his intentions were.

2. When I said "sophistry" I had in mind your and Mr Widmann's comments, not Mr Oppenheimer's series. I am surprised that you have interpreted it in this way, for, as I recall, I have mentioned in my email to you awhile ago how sophisticated you are. And here you go again with your Bulverism (a term you just learned). Ok, fine, let's see what it means:

Bulverism is a logical fallacy in which, rather than proving that an argument is wrong, a person instead assumes it is wrong, and then goes on to explain why the other person held that argument.

Are we dealing with a treatise on mathematical logic here, or, maybe, a scientific article for Journal of Practical Psychiatry. It's like analyzing Bill O'Reilly of "The O'Reilly Factor" for logical inconsistencies. For God's sake, this is a clear case of character assassination pasquinade. Mr Oppenheimer doesn't even bother to hide it.

continued ->

Ivan de Coward said...

-> continued

3. I suspect that some of you are missing the gestalt.

I love this one. What do you call it when one accuses his opponent in something he is guilty of? I believe it's called hutzpah, correct me if I'm wrong.

It reminds me of "the big lie technique" Hitler supposedly advocated in Main Kampf when, in fact, Hitler simply was warning about how the Jews - the masters of lie, as he called them - are using it.

"The gestalt" of Mr Oppenheimer's article is the genre to which it rightfully belongs: Character Assassination.

Here is another excellent example in that genre: Hitler appointed me his biographer by Johann Hari

One more: Zinedom uber Alles by Cali Ruchala.

The last one is especially vicious in view of the fact that the target for character assassination is a person who just passed away.

If the target for assassination is known to the reader, more or less, the article usually has the opposite effect to the intended one. But the majority of the target audience usually falls for it.

Chip said...

Mr Oppenheimer should have respected that. It's just a common decency. But Mr Oppenheimer went out of his way to track them down and interview them. Why would he do that - this wasn't a police investigation was it. Was it about finding the truth by a passionate truth-seeker? I don't believe so. Do you?

I've already expressed my view that Oppenheimer set out as an anti-Semite stalker. I don't think this precludes the possibility that he was mining for some truth as well. The fact that he's looking through his own reality tunnel doesn't surprise me, but if he was playing at character assassination, my sense is that he failed rather dramatically.

Bradley's ex speaks fondly of him in the article; she speaks of a decent man possessed by idealism and haunted by failure. This is the same Bradley Smith that I recognize and respect from his autobiographical writing. If Oppenheimer was enlisting her in his effort to assassinate Smith's character, she didn't much help. Wonder why he bothered quoting her at all?

As to Weber's sister's comments, they're pretty much what you would expect out of a sibling rift; she thinks her brother is just trying to provoke a reaction, a view that Oppenheimer does not embrace. When Weber says that he loves his sister and wishes her well, Oppenheimer doesn't smear him; he emphasizes that he believes him. Clearly anti-human stuff all around.

Look, Bradley and Weber are both public figures who have openly courted controversy for many years. You don't enter this arena without some idea of what may come. It doesn't appear that Oppenheimer ambushed the women from their lives; it appears that he asked around for phone numbers and called them up, and that they - both grown-ups - agreed to chat. That's the way journalism is done. Perhaps you consider it indecent and maybe it is, but I don't fault a writer for doing the work as he sees it.

As to "shit on the shoe" and Oppenheimer's subsequent nice guy two-step, I think the bit that comes a few sentences later is more interesting. Oppenheimer writes:

Holocaust denial is, like more benign species of fundamentalism, a well-furnished playground for immature and sometimes deranged intellects. It isn’t necessarily about Jews, or even about the Holocaust; it’s about finding something to do with one’s mind. These people aren’t stupid or cynical: Smith does seem to have a noble libertarian streak, and Weber is smart and industrious.

Yes, I realize it's patronizing. But the point about sincere curiosity motivating revisionist thought strikes me as something less than calumny, and again something less than character assassination as I understand it. Simply put, this is not what I've come to expect from popular accounts of Holocaust denial. Significantly, it allows that HR is not defined by anti-Semitism, which is rare. It's better, not worse.

For what it's worth, I also think Oppenheimer's take is a little bit true, albeit not so much wrt Smith or Weber. His strokes may be broad, but I don't doubt for a moment that "[I]mmature and sometimes deranged intellects" are disproportionately drawn to this subject. Do you? I've encountered many such people, and to at least some degree, I am such a person.

Oppenheimer's problem, in my view if not yours, is that he stops there. He assumes revisionists don't have real arguments, so he approaches it like a sociologist.