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July 12, 2009
Obama likens slave embarkation point to Holocaust
I wish President Obama would stop drawing faulty parallels between the Holocaust and other painful events -- recent and past. Intentionally or not, this derogates the special meaning of the Holocaust as a unique chapter in human history.
During his Cairo speech "to the Muslim world" in June, he likened the Palestinians' ''pain of dislocation" to the 6 million Jews murdered under Hitler's Final Solution.
Yesterday (July11) he similarly misused the Holocaust in an emotional visit to Ghana's Cape Coast Castle -- the "portal of no return" for slaves on their way to America. The president said it was "reminiscent" of his recent trip to the German concentration camp of Buchenwald "as it reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil." (see attachment).
Well, to a very limited extent, yes, since both Buchenwald and the Cape Coast Castle indeed are "evil" places
But basically no, because the two places have more fundamental differences between them than things in common.
The departure point for America-bound slaves is NOT on a par with the Holocaust in the history of human cruelty. While slaves were held under terrible conditions both at the African embarkation point and during their cross-Atlantic passages, slave traders had an economic interest in keeping as many as possible alive. His wife, Michele can testify to that effect as the great great granddaughter of slaves. Most slaves survived, had families, and their descendants eventually were emancipated and then won equal rights in our time.
Hitler's agenda, au contraire, was to exterminate an entire people -- to use the full modern resources of one of Europe's most advanced industrial powers to kill Jews by the millions throughout Europe. This is what makes the Holocaust unique in history. Most Jews shipped to Buchenwald Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and all the other death camps, especially some two million children, left no redeeming history of family survival. They and their potential progeny were simply erased from history. Anne Frank had no children of her own. Slavery, for its victims, did not spell a final solution. The Holocaust, for its victims, did.
Obama himself acknowledged this when he managed to find a silver lining, while in Ghana, in this dark chapter of African -- and American -- history. Or, as he cheerily put it, "on the other hand, it is here where the journey of much of the African American experience began." He wanted to be there with his family "in celebration with the people of Ghana of the extraordinary progress that we've made because of the courage of so many black and white people to abolish slavery and ultimately with the civil rights for all people -- I think is, a source of hope."
Well and good. But what is there to celebrate when one visits Buchenwald? What historical evidence is there that Nazi death camps left a legacy of "hope"? A legacy of vigilance, yes. A legacy for the better angels of our nature to remember and stand up against genocides wherever and whenever they may occur. But a legacy of "celebration" or a legacy of "hope"? No way.
However, there's one part of Obama's remarks at the Cape Coast Castle I do agree with. When he said that he wanted his two daughters to see this place to impart in them a "sense of obligation to fight oppression and cruelty wherever it appears and that any group of people who are degrading another group of people have to be fought against with whatever tools we have available to us."
A worthy statement. But one wonders if Obama himself is ready to apply his noble precept of fighting with all available tools against "people who are degrading another group of people" to the likes of Fatah, Hamas and Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who certainly fit his remark like a glove.
Perhaps the White House press corps might pose this question the next time he has a press conference.
In the meantime, however, it would behoove Obama to stop once and for all misusing the Holocaust to score rhetorical or political points.