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An Open Letter to Kurt Anderson on Charles Krafft

KRAFFT_5005 [1]2,618 words

Dear Mr. Anderson,

Though you claim to have been “heartened to see the vigorous debate” following your interview with Charlie Krafft [2], your website curiously no longer accepts comments for that episode. Don’t want to get too heartened, I suppose.

Anyway, you can take what follows to be my response to your response to Kraftt’s response.

Based on the comments that made it through, it seems the consensus, even among your ideological allies, that you did your own cause a disservice by this interview. Indeed, my initial impulse was to send you a thank-you letter for it, for giving Mr. Krafft—and, by proxy, our side—such a public relations victory. For, while Krafft comes across as reasonable, measured, and intellectually curious and cautious, you come across as stuffy, condescending, self-righteous, narrow-minded, dogmatic, and rude. Indeed, this episode of your podcast now serves as a prime example of the kind of un-intellectual bullying usually done to our side by you hard-line, chisel-it-in-stone, Holocaust-as-gospel types. May your ham-fisted editing and editorializing, contrary to your purpose, forever turn Krafft into a martyr and a hero.

Your condescending self-righteousness is particularly grating at the 7:30 mark in the interview, when, after Krafft says he is still willing to hear new evidence that might bring him out of his current skepticism, you say “I am happy to hear that!” Your tone here is cringe-inducing, full of false concern and even a hint of mockery. It is as if you are more focused on showing off your Holocaust-acceptance plumage to the audience than you are concerned with consoling a man who is suffering through a late-career public scandal.

But the problem is so much more than your tone of voice, Mr. Anderson. For you never offer Krafft the same promise. You never say that you, too, would be open to changing your mind upon hearing new evidence. And this silence is glaring. It speaks volumes about you and about your side, wherein rightness is always pre-scribed and fore-ordained and never-to-be-questioned.  And it is this inability to question that marks your side as merely a religion and a dogma, as ideological firepower for established power structures.

Indeed, for you, the Holocaust is even more sanctified and inviolable than any religion. If I questioned aspects of the Bible account of the flood, asked about whether such and such cubits could really hold two of every animal—you as a typical modern, liberal-minded, freedom-loving westerner would say I was showing a healthy skepticism; you would encourage me.

But you hold the Holocaust in some other, meta-empirical, zone. For on what do you rest your certainty of the elements of the story of the Shoah that we question? What unambiguous evidence has left you unable to be unconvinced? What can you point to? If, when we question numbers, where is your crime scene forensics project that has identified—or attempts to identify—the bone fragment remains of 6 million distinct, gassed individuals? Such a project would, in theory, churn up a mountain of evidence that you could point to, to convince us all—all us pesky skeptical question-askers and clarification-requesters and evidence-requirers.

But such a forensics project doesn’t exist, curiously. Funding problems, I suppose. But even it could get funded, it would be de-legitimized in the current mental climate that you endorse. For its scientists, by not accepting unquestioningly and apriori the number 6 million, would fit precisely your definition of the Holocaust denier: in the moment they launched their scientific investigation, they would fall into your religion’s most grievous sin.

You see, Mr. Anderson, you look at life like a video game or a morality play, as something entirely scripted, pre-ordained, pre-programmed, pre-understood, pre-approved, where through a series of vignettes a character gains “certain” bits of wisdom, gains Knowledge with a capital K, Knowledge that can be owned like a bag of gold coins or collected like shibboleths, which could in turn be exchanged or muttered for access into some imagined next level or inner circle. You see The Knowledge as a good in and of itself, a thing whose utility in the context of the game or play makes any questioning of it pointless, even perverse.

The number 6 million for you is The Knowledge. It is a sacred number. But anyone who keeps this sacred number in their pocket has no right to the name of scientist or historian. For a true scientist or historian, nothing is so stable or sacred; the universe is always everywhere ripe for new inquiry. In my world, the knowledge (small k) that inquiry gleans is not so permanent and hard-edged as you would have it be—and thus is not as easily weaponizable for political purposes, like your sacred Knowledge so clearly is.

Don’t you see it as a problem, as a shortcoming, as a moral failing, that, unlike Krafft, you aren’t the least bit open to such an unfettered airing of, as you say, “the synopsis of all the evidence?”

My purpose in this letter is to make you think about your closed-mindedness, about your refusal to reconsider your own assumptions and beliefs, as a problematic object. I am not at leisure here to offer all the thousands of reasons why many feel that much of the Holocaust Story seems flimsy and untrue—such reasons are found in abundance elsewhere, such as here [3]or here [4] or here [5]. I am only trying to get you to the point in which you change your mind about hearing the evidence itself.

Step one: Why doubting should be the first step, not the forbidden step.

First, Mr. Anderson, you seem like a reasonably educated man. Have you taken an undergrad philosophy course? If you had, it would be no news to you that the greatest modern sages in our tradition have usually taken as an ultimate good, and a philosophical first step, the questioning, the doubting, of all their previously-held assumptions. Descartes famously did this at the beginning of his Meditations. Kant, in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” talks about the “mature thinker” as one who doesn’t unquestioningly accept all that his society’s guardians of knowledge espouse. Hegel warns us against unquestioningly accepting, as givens, our “familiar” ideas like “God” and “freedom.”

But your side not only has left the Holocaust Story unquestioned, it has actively pursued, ridiculed, and incarcerated all question askers and truth seekers. Don’t you think of this as a problem? Don’t you see it as a problem that you seem to gloat on what you imagine now to be Krafft’s “wrecked career” [how little you know of the art world!] simply because he had the audacity of a modern-day Descartes, or Kant, or Hegel? Seems kind of provincial of you, doesn’t it, Mr. Anderson?
So the questioning and scrutinizing of everything has long been held by our greatest philosophers in high esteem, but it seems that the topic at hand should, more than most, lend itself to particularly close scrutiny and interrogation. For we are talking about, after all, a war zone.

Holocaust enthusiasts often act as if there was never such a thing as wartime propaganda (or if it exists at all, it just didn’t exist during the war in question). It is as if there were never allied claims of Belgian babies on German pikes in World War One that turned out to be trumped up charges to gin up anti-German sentiment in the United States. It is as if in the first Gulf War there weren’t exaggerated accounts of Saddam’s men knocking over incubators in KuwaitCity to pique public interest in a military intervention. It is as if in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq there were never exaggerated claims of weapons of mass destruction. But honest people will admit that atrocities are often falsely attributed to combatants of a nation’s enemies in times of war. The political expediencies of doing so seem obvious. Indeed, most serious scholars can even point to some particularly glaring examples of over-the-top propagandizing efforts by the allied side in the war in question. Shrunken heads and lamp shades and bars of soap and the electrified floor of Belzec—all these have been abandoned by mainline Holocaust scholars, by your side. And if such atrocities that were central to The Story are no longer part of it, how can you blame people for questioning other aspects when they ring no more true to them than these abandoned ones, such as the number 6 million and the idea of a systematic gassing and a deliberate genocide?

You equate the questioning of the Holocaust story to belief in a flat earth. This connection is hardly apt, since believing in a flat earth never got people thrown in jail, as being a “denier” now does in several so-called progressive, post-Enlightenment nations. A more appropriate historical parallel is clearly the Catholic Church’s persecution and incarceration of those followers of the heliocentric model of Copernicus. As with the Holocaust, a massive and powerful bureaucracy was invested in the “truth” of geocentrism. It was supported by Holy Scripture. Indeed, the idea that the sun circled the earth was even readily apparent to the masses: just open your eyes, gawddamnit, and you can see it happening! Who could deny the obvious? Similarly, school children worldwide are all now supposed to be convinced by the mountain of hair they see in holocaust museums, though it could easily be taken to prove nothing more malicious than a massive delousing campaign.

Sometimes it takes a skeptic to look past the hype of the so-called “obvious,” past the easy and convenient answers, past the dogma of the edifices of power, to uncover the simple, unadorned truth. The great Galileo lived the later years of his life much like an imprisoned “holocaust denier” of today. Publishing in his Sidereus Nuncius the results of telescopic investigations that supported Copernican heliocentrism, Galileo earned the condemnation of the Holy Inquisition and a subsequent imprisonment and house arrest.

Step two: a personal aside

As if I was a true disciple of these philosophers and scientists, I have always valued a rigorous, curious questioning; I have always valorized independent inquiry, whether or not the results, as in the case of Galileo, flew in the face of established dogma. These values were probably instinctive, but they were also nurtured in me at a young age. During my fourth grade year I was placed in an A.T. (Academically Talented) program at my school. The only thing that separated us from the rest of the kids at the school was that, rather than just being lectured to by the teacher in a big group, the A.T. students were allowed to break off individually and do their own research, pursuing more deeply the lesson at hand, or whatever other topic we were interested in.

The only instruction we received in A.T. was this: occasionally the A.T. teacher would dim the lights. This signal meant we were all to grab our bean bags and meet her in the center of the classroom. There, when all the students had assembled together, she would adopt her overawed, story-telling voice, to convey some interesting anecdote or two from her own life, or from history, or from science. She did this not only to convey information, but also to make us generally more curious about the world around us, to whet our appetite for the pursuit of knowledge, to inspire the research that we were doing yet further.

Interestingly, it was in this dimly-lit, bean-baggy context that I first heard of, and at the tender age of nine first harbored doubts about, the Story of the Holocaust. For one day the lights went dim and we gathered around our teacher, who told us that she had some big news, and that she thought we were all finally ready to hear it. Soon, like on so many occasions before where she had talked about things as exotic and various as Rasputin and the Romanovs, or her near-death experience, or the Big Bang theory, her voice became hushed and charged with drama.

“Take a look at this, kids!” She muttered.

She passed around photocopies of photographs of—what? It was barely recognizable what we were seeing. Some formless lumps of some kind?

“What you are looking at . . . is people.” She said as tears welled up in her eyes. “This is proof that evil exists in the world.”

She explained that in the photos were a lampshade and a bar of soap—Jews were turned into these objects at the hands of the evil Nazis. Part of my mind was duly shocked and my stomach welled up into my throat. But, even then, in the back of my mind, something didn’t quite ring true. This was house-of-horrors antics, like push-your-hand-into-the-guts-and-pull-out-tomato-sauced-spaghetti fare. I didn’t buy it.

So what would you have said of this nine-year-old boy? Would you have said, as you did of Krafft over the tones of a poignantly plinking piano, that he was “fascinating” and “singular,” that the “lies he believe[d] in” were “horrific,” or that he had “made himself a tool for the worst sorts of hate groups?” Would you have condemned this nine year old, whose father was a psychologist and never found him to be the least bit demented, to go get some help from a shrink, though you profess to know nothing of the practice yourself? Would you insist this little boy go off and get re-educated at once at the nearest HolocaustMuseum? To do nine Hail Anne Franks in penance for absolution? What is the difference between this little boy’s innocent doubt of a story that even Holocaust Story Enthusiasts admit is an exaggerated bridge too far, and the innocent skepticism of a man like Krafft questioning “consensus” reality?

Your character assassinations red-flag that there is something fishy there. If you are so confident that your story is air-tight, why not let people freely scrutinize it? The anti-denier legislation of some countries only makes the Story of the Holocaust seem shakier, as if it cannot stand on its own, as if a bit of pressure will reveal the cracks that would bring the whole edifice tumbling down.

Step three: What we believe, generally speaking.

Far from being the enraged, hateful, demented demons your type usually make us out to be (in a rather enraged, hateful, and demented way, I might add), most people I know who question the received doctrine of the Holocaust (including, if I may say so, myself) actually have a very humanitarian, circumspect, cautious, and dispassionate reading of the events in question. Most fully admit that Hitler put into camps people whom he felt to be not entirely loyal to his regime. The United States, of course, did the same thing. But the United States was not surrounded by enemies with her supply lines cut in 1945. The United States was not in starvation mode in 1945. If it were, then, when the camps of Japanese were liberated by our invaders, many of these unfortunate prisoners would be found at death’s door; they would be starving and dying of typhus in great numbers. This is essentially what happened in Germany at the end of World War Two. Wouldn’t their prisoners starve, when everyone in Germany was starving? Wouldn’t typhus be rampant in the camps when it was rampant in general? If you think something more deliberate and sinister and systematic and widespread happened in these camps, the onus is on you to prove so convincingly. By what magic do you think your having been convinced trumps our having been unconvinced? If we do not accept the proof you give, you can not blame us for your own failure.

That’s how history and science work among a free people, asshole.

F. C. Stoughton