Goebbels Gaffe: Distasteful, But Abbott No Worse Than His Critics

TWO WRONGS do not make a right, and the use of personalised Nazi slurs in Australian politics is, on balance, a practice best avoided. Yet the depiction of ALP “leader” Bill Shorten as “the Dr Goebbels of economic policy” is no worse than similar smears used against Tony Abbott, and other Liberals, by Labor: including by some who now feign outrage. The thrust of Abbott’s remarks, however — that Shorten is a bullshit artist — remains accurate.

Having long been active in Melbourne’s political and business circles, it probably comes as no surprise that I have a number of associates and cherished close friends who are Jewish; yet even if this were not so, I have never had any time for anti-Semitic filth, and I make no defence of others who see slurs against Jews as an acceptable form of discourse.

Yet when Prime Minister Tony Abbott got himself into trouble earlier this year over his use of the term “Holocaust” to describe an employment crisis, this column remained silent; that word — replete with its evocative imagery of the evils inflicted on the Jewish people during World War II, and rightly so — has plenty of other applications in the English language that ostensibly have nothing to do with Jews at all. Do we associate “a nuclear holocaust” as a smear against Jewish people? Of course not.

And given prominent figures on the Left have seen no bar to the use of “holocaust” themselves, I opted not to dignify the hypocrisy with comment.

But Abbott today finds himself under fire again, this time for his description of opposition “leader” Bill Shorten as “the Dr Goebbels of economic policy,” and whilst this description is tasteless (and would perhaps best have been avoided), it has been blown out of all proportion by Australia’s outrage industry, sections of the Left-leaning press salivating over anything it can turn into indignant attack material against Abbott, and by the Labor Party — including some of its MPs who it seems have chosen to hurl stones at Abbott from their brittle glass houses.

Abbott’s comments, made in the context of remarks from Shorten in 2012 that the Gillard government had “brought the budget back to surplus” — the deficit continues to stand at some $50bn annually, with Labor under Shorten explicitly refusing to allow savings measures aimed at redressing it to pass the Senate — sought to portray the Labor “leader” as a propagandist, a snake oil salesman, and a bullshit artist.

Shorten is certainly all of those things, and more.

But I think the invocation of Third Reich imagery — on all sides of politics — is, whilst perhaps mostly not the hanging offence the sanctimoniously aggrieved political opportunists might suggest, nevertheless a practice that should be summarily dispensed with.

Even so, the most outraged of Labor’s MPs — shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus QC, also Jewish — had neither the right nor the standing to profess offence, having himself accused Abbott of “Goebellian cynicism” four years ago, over the latter’s campaign against Labor’s carbon tax.

Federal Labor has been free with its Nazi portrayals of both Tony Abbott and others in the Liberal Party for many years, as this report in today’s Herald Sun evidences.

And anyone who has studied politics at an Australian university knows that interaction with even Labor’s youngest and greenest acolytes quickly uncovers a narrative of all conservatives as “Fascists,” and the ALP’s use of Nazi insults is an old story, not a new one: a ready example is Labor’s decades-long likening of former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen to Adolf Hitler personally — a practice that continues many years after Joh’s death — and routinely saw Labor protests in Queensland featuring collateral portraying the Queensland Premier with swastikas, dressed in Nazi uniform, and other examples of the conduct is now seeks to decry.

Its demonisation of Campbell Newman was enacted, in part at least, on exactly the same basis.

Can I just say that whilst throwing Nazi insults at each other is a practice that our politicians would be best served avoiding, the assumption of some moral high ground by the ALP is every but as repugnant as the words it seeks to crucify Abbott over: were we to catalogue every Nazi insult levelled publicly against conservative figures by the ALP, we would be here for a very, very, very long time indeed.

And that doesn’t make it right either.

Tony Abbott is of course no saint and, like anyone else, comes with his faults.

But I am getting really tired of beat-ups in the national press, seeking to crucify him over relatively trivial incidents, as often as not aimed at the Prime minister from a position of utter hypocrisy, and all concerned with the destruction of a Liberal Prime Minister at any cost.

Any genuine regard (in this case) for the sensitivities of the Jewish community Labor purports to express outrage on behalf of is, as best, an afterthought: not least when the likes of Dreyfus have been guilty of throwing the very same taunts at their opposite numbers when it has suited them.

Yes, Shorten is a complete bullshit artist; only an idiot would pay any attention to the story he seeks to peddle. Yes, Abbott could have better chosen his remarks, and it’s not the first time such an observation could be made of the Prime Minister: he hasn’t needed to invoke the spectre of the Nazi Party to attract controversy in the past.

And two wrongs certainly do not make a right.

But in the final analysis, this — like Abbott’s “job holocaust” remark — is little more than a storm in a teacup, and what currently passes for political discourse in this country serves it badly enough as it is without cynical ALP MPs trying to create major political controversies from such trifling errors as Abbott made yesterday.

Everyone should grow up, smarten up, and move on: and leave the Nazi jibes out of the political arsenal, where they have no place anyway.

 

Mein Kampf: Crucify It, Certainly, But Don’t Censor It

A FURORE has erupted in the German state of Bavaria — which owns copyright in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — over the merits of publishing a new edition of the work for academic use. A reasonable person will find this tome repulsive, and the atrocities it portends and continues to represent can and should never be excused, justified or diminished. But censoring this book is pointless; attempts to do so could cause more harm than good.

Just to be clear: I’m really only writing this piece to share some thoughts on an article I’ve read from The Guardian, and those thoughts in turn represent views I have held about Mein Kampf for almost 25 years.

I have deliberately weighted my anecdotes to my formative years, which — after all — are key to the formulation (or propagation, which seems a better word to describe the objectives of Mein Kampf) of the views and philosophies we all carry with us throughout our adult lives.

I urge readers to peruse the Guardian article through the link I’ve shared, and then come back to me.

My views about this book were crystallised early in 1990, as a first year student at the University of Queensland; as sad an admission as some may find it, I went to the university on class-free days during the first term of my first year purely to explore the political books in the three main libraries on the campus, free of the constraints of timetables or deadlines: hungry to build information and divergent critical opinions onto a passion for politics and an already-formed conservative philosophical outlook, I was like the proverbial kid in a tart shop.

I stumbled across Mein Kampf in the Undergraduate Library by accident, but by virtue of a system that guaranteed I would find it: well aware very quickly that I would have to spend many similar days “exploring” to read even a fraction of the material of what interested me, I ended up scanning the books shelf by shelf, pulling out titles that looked interesting, and making lists of what I would borrow over the course of the year.

It was impossible to miss Mein Kampf: there were, literally, dozens of copies of it.

At the time, I had been (immaturely, hamfistedly and fruitlessly) chasing a girl who was half Polish and half English, and had acquired an acquaintance from two of my four classes (friend was far too strong a word for it) who was a Nazi-sympathising lunatic from a grazing family with links to white South African interests who thought she should be “eliminated” on the basis of mixed race; needless to say, this bloke was given as wide a berth very quickly as I was given by the girl, but out of curiosity, I picked up a copy of Mein Kampf.

It was printed in German (which was no bar in those days, as my German hadn’t yet rusted away) and I saw very quickly that the passage I’d randomly perused was obsessed with concepts such as the purity of race and other xenophobic notions. It also seemed rather excited, rather hysterical, and rather circumlocutory in its approach to its themes: in short, it was a rant.

History — and European history since the 18th century in particular, intertwining as it does with modern politics — has always been a great of interest of mine, and even by the time I was an 18 year old in 1990 I’d read vociferously about diverse subjects ranging from the French Revolution to the Battle of Culloden, and to British socialism during the post-war reconstruction. But even through years of learning German, reading modern history, and scouring local libraries for anything and everything to learn more, I had never seen a copy of that book until I went to the university.

Of course, we all know what happened prior to and during the Second World War; I don’t seek to revisit that episode here. But Hitler’s autobiographical account of his own prejudices and of his hatred of Jewish people in particular — with its attendant call to arms to his own people and to fellow travellers elsewhere — is abhorrent.

Over the years, I have made a lot of Jewish friends; these are people no different in reality to anyone else. They are certainly nothing like the wild, fevered rantings of Hitler imagine them to be. But as a community they rightly refuse to let the memory of the obscenities committed against them by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s die, and it’s here that the point I seek to make today begins to take form.

I made a couple of attempts to read Mein Kampf: I simultaneously found it so vile and so boring as to be unreadable. I never made it past the first fifty pages.

It now apparently seems the Bavarian government planned to issue a reprint of Mein Kampf as a “critical academic edition,” but has sought to backtrack: this is a great pity.

Whilst I understand why Holocaust survivors would complain about the Bavarian crest being included in the proposed academic edition, lest it effectively give sanction to its abominable contents, I can’t agree that that sentiment is well placed; and whilst I understand why the Bavarian government would then seek to backtrack on its plans for republication before its copyright in the work expires, I think to do so would be a mistake.

(Never mind the easy availability of Mein Kampf through other sources, as the attached article notes: this point is, to my mind, a red herring in the overall debate).

World War II was the most destructive human conflict in history; over 80 million people died, and of those more than six million people were Jews slaughtered by the brutal Nazi regime in Germany. Far from hiding the details of the atrocities perpetrated by that merciless junta, they must be taught, passed down, and remembered: there is a reason most civilised countries commemorate their war dead, for example, and the sacrifices their soldiers made. It is the same reason many Jewish events incorporate one kind of commemoration of the Holocaust or another.

It is to ensure people remember — especially those too young to do so, or increasingly those not born at the time — in an endeavour to ensure the same misdeeds can never happen again.

Modern mainstream Germany bears a national shame etched deeply into its psyche; appropriate, perhaps, although it is debatable whether subsequent generations of Germans born in the postwar years should carry any of that guilt. Yet even now, neo-Nazi organisations and adherents of Hitler have existed in Germany for decades, and grow stronger each year; similarly inclined Far Right groups exist across Europe, most notably in France, where the National Front — once confined to the lunatic fringe — has evolved into an increasingly mainstream political movement of the French Right.

It is figures like Hitler, and books like Mein Kampf, that underpin all of these.

Some readers might get a giggle from the story of unrequited love badly mishandled by a belligerent kid. I tell it because the subject of that ill-fated pursuit, for no crime other than being Polish and Catholic, qualified for “elimination” in the eyes of a very intelligent, surprisingly charismatic young adherent of Hitler’s “teachings.” And the guy wasn’t exactly lacking a following, either, despite the stupidity of his views.

To put the example into a more realistic and malignant perspective, look around the world: brutal conflicts in the years since Nazi Germany in the Baltic, the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere — all with race and/or religion at their epicentre — share fundamental common ground with the demented philosophies espoused by Adolf Hitler.

The only difference is the weight of numbers, or the critical mass of people in each instance who subscribed to them, combined with the concerted will to follow through on them. Making that observation in no way diminishes the Holocaust, or denies that it occurred. In fact, it merely adds to the rationale for the determination of Jewish people to ensure it is never forgotten.

It is an almost unrivalled truism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Censoring books and wishing offensive history out of existence will not make it go away; on the contrary, it will simply embolden those who find such repugnant material inviting, and remove an important barrier to restraining the weak, and the impressionable, and the gullible, and the stupid.

This post makes no pretensions to be an analysis of any intellectual rigour whatsoever: on the contrary, and as I said at the outset, these are purely personal thoughts with a skew to late adolescence and early adulthood, and some ties to the personal relevance those years connect to a deep aversion to fruit cakes like Adolf Hitler and his so-called “teachings” that was already well formed.

Mein Kampf is an odious, evil book, and the ideas that lie within its pages are truly noxious and offensive.

But trying to stop people accessing it and reading it won’t achieve anything; in fact, the sin of omission is sometimes the worst sin of all, and driving evil sentiment underground will only legitimise it: especially for those seeking a cause in a misguided — and mistaken — quest for legitimacy.