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Tag: War

Nazi-Era Snapshots and the Banality of Evil

The world of human life is complex, and articles like this really help me sit back and consider some of the challenges of the human condition.

 

Nazi-Era Snapshots and the Banality of Evil

No Lakotas in the picture. All photos courtesy of Daniel Lenchner’s collection.

“Do you know about the Lakota Indians?” asked Daniel Lenchner, handing me a slightly faded photograph from the early 20th century. It was a class portrait with a location printed at the bottom: Lakota, North Dakota.

“Now,” challenged Lenchner, “can you find an Indian in this picture?”

I scanned the rows of Caucasian faces.

“Not going to happen,” he continued. “We got rid of them, you know. No more Lakotas in Lakota. It looks like a class portrait, but you could also say that this is a picture of genocide.”

That theme of implicit absence dominates Lenchner’s found-photograph collection. Scouring flea markets, estate sales, and the internet, Lenchner has collected over 500 snapshots of Nazistaken by Nazis that document their daily lives: their families, their friendships, and their leisure activities.

As a Jewish man with ancestors who perished in the Holocaust, these intimate glimpses into the daily lives of his family’s persecutors bring him face to face with what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called  “the banality of evil.”

I met the 68 year old Lenchner last month in his sprawling New York apartment to look through his collection and discuss its implications.

VICE: What’s striking about so many of these images is that without the uniforms you really can’t tell that these people are Nazis, can you?
Daniel Lenchner:
 Yes, that’s really what my thesis is: These people are normal in appearance, but appearances are deceiving. There is the modern news phenomenon of people being interviewed in the street after they discover that their neighbor is a mass murderer. They’re always expressing surprise, that they didn’t realize it, that they should have known. The underlying assumption is that they could’ve known. But, if the truth is that there is no way to know, then you shouldn’t be surprised.

I interviewed the great-niece of Nazi leader Herman Göring once, and her family albums are filled with pictures like these. She talked about feeling the love that’s evident in so many of the scenes: fathers holding their children, spouses embracing, friends laughing. How do you confront the presence of those kinds of emotions?
Yes, these guys went home to their wives and children, and maybe they sang them nice German lullabies, but it’s not an exoneration. I mean, Hitler loved dogs, and he was a vegetarian. Great. But, it’s all kind of irrelevant. At the end of the day these things are reconcilable. No, not exactly reconcilable, but they coexist. The evil and the not-evil coexist in a person. But, in Nuremberg, it didn’t come up that they were nice to their wives because it didn’t matter.

It looks like the man in this picture wasn’t such a great husband. Is this a Dear John letter written on the back?
A Dear Johann letter, so to speak.

Can you describe what we’re looking it?
Well, here we have this handsome studio portrait of a German officer, and on the back is this message from a woman, apparently his mistress. She writes that she’s giving back this photograph because it’s brought her back luck. He’s a playboy. She refers to his “wanderings in Weimar,” and makes reference to his wife.

What do you like about this picture?
It’s just so normal, so banal, just a man screwing around on his wife—nothing so unusual there. He’s a regular scoundrel, but put him in a Nazi uniform and all of a sudden we have a special kind of scoundrel.

In this case, the story is right there on the image itself, but most of these pictures have very little context. How much of what you see comes from the pictures themselves and how much is your own projection?
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Let me show you something that addresses that. This is one of the most stunning pictures I’ve ever bought and there’s absolutely nothing on the back. Take a look and tell me what you see.

I see a massacre.  
Yes, a little massacre, with what I believe is a rape. This is surely a woman with her babushka. She’s laid on this table with her legs splayed, and she’s been made a little comfortable with some straw under her head. I think everybody’s dead here: bodies, bodies, bodies. And, the Germans are done now. They’re heading to what looks like a small train station. Their backs are all turned away. “We’ve done our work and now we’re leaving.”

What might be most disturbing of all is this detail of putting the straw under the woman’s head. It looks like an attempt to make her comfortable as they raped and killed her. It seems like a recognition of her humanity.
Also, it looks like this dead man has his arm around this person here, in a protective pose.

As if he could shield them from bullets.
As I said, there’s nothing on the back of this photograph, but the story is very clearly there. I don’t think we have to read too much into it.

And yet, it’s hard not to project, isn’t it? This is not so different from the kind of war photography that we’re all familiar with…
Right, this almost could have been taken by Robert Capa.

The composition is excellent and the focus is razor sharp.
That’s right. One thing you can say about the Nazis is that they went to war with good cameras. They didn’t go with any goddamn instamatics. They went with Leicas: good cameras with good lenses. You can see the number on the train. You can see the blades of grass. You can see the dead man’s eyes.

It’s similar to a Robert Capa, as you say, but—and this goes back to projection—knowing who took this picture gives it an intimacy that takes it beyond photojournalism. The photographer is part of the photograph. That almost gives it the quality of a family snapshot, except instead of standing and smiling, everyone is dead.
And then, the question you’ll never answer: why did they take this picture?

Why do you think?
Sometimes you wonder, are they proud? Who knows. This I have no answer for.

Well, they certainly didn’t take it for your benefit. There’s something profoundly subversive about this ending up in your hands. I mean, the photographer could never have even imagined your existence.
No. But, who was it meant for? His superior officer, his friends, his wife, his children?

It’s jarring to see that photograph in the same collection as this other one here. This picture here seems delightful, really: a crowd of people laughing at something outside the frame.
Except, look there. Do you see the swastika? Suddenly it becomes sinister. What are they laughing at? We will never know. And, they are really cracking up. It’s great. You have examples of all the different ways that people laugh. Some people cover their face, and some bend at the waist, some hold their stomach, and here he’s leaning backwards, she’s covering her mouth, and she’s pointing to draw her friend’s attention.

You must be primed to see the swastika. It took me a second.
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. I’m so sensitive that I occasionally see swastikas where there are none.

With that kind of priming, what do you see when you look at the German people of today?
Well, I lived in Germany for five years as a college instructor for the American military. I taught comparative literature to GIs. That was during the mid-70s, so many of the people that I passed on the street had lived through the Nazi era. It was a little weird to say the least. You get on a German train and you can’t help but think about cattle cars packed with human beings. But, you’re also struck by all of the good things. The place is clean, and the trains run on time, and the people are so honest.

In what ways were they honest?
On the autobahn, for example, the bathrooms all had plates where you would leave a tip for the cleaning person. So, you walk into the bathroom, and there is a plate full of money. Now, you put that on the New Jersey Turnpike and it wouldn’t last three minutes. They’d steal the money and the plate too. But, in Germany not only do they not steal the money, but they put more in. You look at that and you think, Are these the same people responsible for the Holocaust? How can this be? Yet, some of those people must have been honest. They must have been honest in that narrow sense: placing money on the plate on their way to build a concentration camp.

The Lenchner family in Lodz, Poland in 1935. Only Daniel Lenchner’s father (back row, second from right) survived the war.

Roc’s new book, And, was released recently. You can find more information on his website.

“Why We Did It” – Oh Boy… Whether You Find It To Be Accurate Or Not It Will Probably Upset You…

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You can click on this picture to watch their interview if you would like

Recently Rachel Maddow went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and now that I have your attention here is some more information…

I considering myself a moderate, which more than anything means that new information can affect what I think. A while back Rachel Maddow produced a TV Documentary called “Hubris” which addressed the ‘so called” false pretenses that allowed our nation to go to war with Iraq – meaning that what was said about why we were going in was not in fact true. That documentary was posted on iTunes via the Rachel Maddow Show’s Podcast, and since she always asks people to post her show, and videos of it online I decided to post that entire documentary on my YouTube channel. It has since gotten about 100,000 views, and has filled my email with some incredibly angry YouTube comments from all kinds of people… I mean, angry stuff…

*By the way, I don’t just watch liberal stuff… I really can’t help but watch anything and everything I can get my hands/eyes on. I watch/listen to: The O’Reilly Factor, Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, Real Time with Bill Maher, and others when I can. I like things other than politics, this is just part of my rhetorical diet to know what’s out there.

Anyway: I want to note that I am not a “Truther” (I don’t think that the United State Government was behind 9-11, so let’s just get that out of the way…), I do however think that this war was a war of choice, and that it was mismanaged, which I think is rather well voiced by documentaries like “No End In Sight” (posted at the bottom of this).

Hubris” addresses the issue of WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction), and this new documentary goes into some of the reasons why the makers of the film believe our government wanted to go. I don’t can’t speak to it’s legitimacy, and I don’t think that Mrs. Maddow is unbiased. I do however really appreciate that she presents sources, and gives room for actual debate, rather than just pure ad hominem. If you’d like to give some feedback that would be great – but the reason why I decided to post this second video (Why We Did It) was to keep the videos tied together, and because it might help us hold a conversation about reasons why we might not want to be so quick to go to war again anytime soon without more checks and balances (i.e.: Iran, Syria, Ukraine). And if you’d like to check in on the conflict going on in Ukraine feel free to click anywhere on this sentence.

Part 2
“Why We Did It”

Part 1
“Hubris”

“No End In Sight”

Ground Zero: Syria – VICE (WARNING: Very Graphic)

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Feel free to skip ahead and not read all of my thoughts if you don’t have that much time, the video is way more important. But WARNING, it is very graphic.

I generally get really excited when I start hearing people, and seeing people talk about current events. However, this time around in regards to Syria it has kind of broken my heart. It’s rather bizarre to see what it takes to get people interested, however they are now interested and it’s time to pay attention.

I hate war. I really hate war. Having believed in God pretty much my entire life I always try to see other people as an extension of myself, and I don’t want them to die, especially in the midst of hatred and violence. Part of that frame of mind has led me to not get so hung up on land borders, or social groups. One of the biggest talking points on whether or not we should go into Syria has been whether or not it’s in our nation’s best interest. I think that this standard misses the mark by quite a bit. The standard should be “is their oppression, and do we have evidence that we can help?”. In the past when we have tried to help it seems that we have often ended with an enraged population, at home and abroad, that then blames us for all of their problems.

I don’t want the United States to be the police of the world, we don’t need to be in charge of being everyone’s moral authority. However, being supportive of those who are oppressed and being brutally murdered is not simply being the police of the world. For all those who want us to be an isolationist country the only way that I can find that to be a real noble cause is if they somehow think that by example or through accumulated resources we will someday be able to help others in need. Maybe this would be comparable to securing your own oxygen mask before you get the mask for the child next you on the airplane, I’ve used this example before. If being isolationist is only for our own benefit, then I hope all with that belief system never find themselves at the end of the barrel of a gun of an oppressor with only themselves to lend a hand.

Syria is different from Iraq in multiple ways: chemical weapons were used in Iraq 15 years before our war started there, chemical weapons are being used now in Syria. Of course there’s still the debate of justice and punishing those who have hurt others in the past, but we need to have a conversation about eminent threats to mankind right now. I don’t want to go to war, but if there are actions that we can take to help the people in this video I think they need to be strongly considered. Forget about the politics, rhetoric, teamsmanship, tribalism, I don’t care about that. These are people… If you don’t care about them something is wrong with you. And if in this discussion your primary goal is to find out who is wrong in America you’re missing the mark. Before you come to an absolute decision on what is right and wrong in this situation please research all of the options. I know this is an unattainable quest, as we don’t have all the information, and we won’t have all of it. But please don’t make up your mind so flippantly, we’re talking about our brothers and sisters in humanity.

I’ll finish with this, I am no military mastermind but I don’t think that we should put troops on the ground. It seems as if we aren’t going to anyways. I also don’t think that we should arm either side, and of course the only side here that we would arm potentially is the rebels, or the “Free Syrian Army”. When we’ve armed groups in the past it is come back to bite us, and even if they are on the side of lesser evil the rebels still have extremists, just look at the video of the guy eating the Syrian soldiers heart. I think that if we are going to do some isolated strikes on military bases that are attacking their people I might be open to that, but boy does that make me uneasy… What will the repercussions be? In our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes have multiplied Terrorist responses against our troops by 10 times… This doesn’t seem to be helping anybody. I understand that I can’t know the military strategy as it would be silly to make it public, but for me to support any action I would need to know that it is founded in some sort of a logical approach that will not hurt civilians, as they will turn against us, and actually prevent Assad from hurting his people as soon as possible.

WARNING: VERY GRAPHIC

“No End in Sight” A Serious Conversation About Iraq Amidst A Syrian Invasion (Full Film)

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No End in Sight” Iraq’s Descent Into Chaos – YouTube.

With all of the recent discussion about whether or not to invade Syria I thought that it was would be very helpful for people to watch a film such as this. Charles Ferguson is a fantastic documentarian, and this is probably his best one. It’s a detailed look at mistakes that he believes that we made in our war in Iraq. Those same mistakes could be repeated. I want to clarify that I support American troops, yet I hate war.

I am proud to be an American citizen. I love our unique culture. But just as it is easy to criticize someone in your family, and lose your mind if someone outside of your family were to criticize that family member, I feel incredibly compelled to say that I’m tired of us coming out as the bad guys when we try to help around the world, yet we have to admit our mistakes to one another. The War in Iraq was filled with mistakes… I am still open to hearing why I might be wrong about this, but so far that is what I think. The United States had over 3,000 soldiers die, in the nation of Iraq had somewhere in the range of 120,000 citizens die, which seems very under reported to me… Not to mention this was a very expensive experiment.

Considering the fact that this film is on YouTube it might not last forever, but if it stops working somebody just comment and I’ll find a new version hopefully… It is a very powerful film, and it was nominated for “best documentary” at the Oscars in 2008. This film was made while we were still occupying Iraq, so it is designed with that in mind (hence the name “No End in Sight”).

I know that this is very sensitive, but I think that considering the current state of things in Syria, and this year marking the 10 year anniversary of the invasion it seems like a good time to have a conversation, and honesty it is vital that our nations citizens agree with our wars… I am open to there having been positive effects of this war, but the more that I watch and the more that I read the less I can believe that this was a good idea. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think Assad is not an asshole, I do. I’m just very hesitant to allow our nation to continue to feed our military-industrial complex. I do however think that we should do something, I just don’t know what it is. With over 100,000 men women and children dead from a corrupt government something must be done, I just don’t want us to end up being the bad guys in the eyes of the world due to some kind of mismanagement again.

“No End in Sight” is a film about the missmanagement of the War in Iraq, but I am also posting below the new film “Hubris” (which seems a bit more politically slanted, but still worthwhile), and it is more so about the inception of the war, and tries to identify proclaimed ‘false pretenses’. It is important to point out differences between Iraq and Syria on this front, Iraq had used “weapons of mass distraction” 15 years prior to our invasion, while Syria has just recently used them. If you are only going to watch one of these films I definitely recommend “No End in Sight”, I think that it is one of the most important films I’ve ever seen. Please feel free to comment or share.

 

Kony, M23, and The Real Rebels of Congo: What Happened to Kony 2012, and What’s Next? – VICE

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If you are reading this you are most likely on the internet, and thus have more likely than not heard of Joseph Kony, who is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is famous for recruiting young children, brainwashing them to kill without hesitation, and then putting weapons in their hands. A group called Invisible Children has pushed to put an end to this senselessness. In the last couple of year one of their main founders, Jason Russell, launched a campaign to make a real push to get the word out about Kony while people were paying a bit more attention in the Presidential election year. Well, the campaign became much bigger than he’d ever expected, and it ended with Mr. Russell having somewhat of a personal meltdown, which sadly enough was ridiculed heavily, and somehow made light of the tragedies that have taken place over the last several years, and the work that Jason had been putting into stopping them.

Well, the “Kony 2012” campaign seems to have died out quite a bit, but there are still plenty who are interested in the situation. However, VICE, my favorite investigative reporting organization, has some questions about Kony, and any other rebel groups in the region, in particular the constantly war torn Democratic People’s Republic of Congo.

“Obama To Ask for Congressional Approval to Intervene in Syria” – Why this is big news

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Obama: “US should take military action on Syria

If you keep up with the history if American relations in geopolitics you are sure to know that’s e major point of conflict in our nation is whether or not the President has to ask for congressional approval for our nation to take war powers action, even though our constitution says that they are supposed to, and we are somehow continuously at war. This is a nuanced discussion/debate, but it appears that some potentially alarm sounding news has been made.

It appears that it’s finally about to happen again, President Obama has announced that he will seek congressional approval to take action in Syria. This is doubtful to act as a precedent for moving back in the direction of congressional approval being a requirement for war, but this is not nothing. Over the next few weeks and months this will likely spark a heated debate about the workings of our nation’s military forces, especially since taking action seems to be Very unpopular looking forward, unlike the Iraq war which had considerable support, but ended with a very low level of support. I think that this more isolationist approach reflects our nations more libertarian (which doesn’t just mean right-wing) ideals – which I think is somewhat of a product of our nation having faced such adversity over the last 5 years. It seems that people feel that we have to secure our own oxygen mask before we help out the kids next to us in the plane.

*To read more about congressional involvement in war declarations click this link below.
Declaration of War by the United States

This Is What Winning Looks Like (Full Length) – VICE

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This film was made by Ben Anderson and produced by VICE. It is described as “A destructing new documentary about the ineptitude, drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and corruption of the Afghan security.”

I found this to be very fascinating, but it would be very interested to know if there are counter perspectives.

Israel’s Killer Robots – VICE

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I have had mixed feelings about drones for a long time… However, the further I look into them the more terrified I get about what the future of this world might actually look like. I appreciate that drones don’t require a pilot, and thus take one life out of danger, however they have shown to have devastating results on those who stand bellow their flightpaths.

I have written multiple posts about drones, and it is something that continues to fascinate me. One of the posts is about Rachel Maddow’s criticism of the Obama administration’s drone policies. And one of the others is a talk by Malcolm Gladwell at Ted talks about connecting history to our current drone debate. If you only have time for one I recommend the Malcolm Gladwell talk entitled “the strange tale of the Norden bomb site”.

1. Rachel Maddow on Drone Policy
2. Malcolm Gladwell on History, War, and Technology

Words of Wisdom: Eisenhower on the Costs of War

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“Every gun that is made, every war ship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from
those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican President, United States General.

“Hubris: Selling the Iraq War” (Special Report)

Hubris

So lately I’ve decided to post a few Rachel Maddow segments, and I’m sure that has a lot of my loved ones in Oklahoma very worried about me. I would first like to clarify a couple of things. I don’t always agree with her, but when I do I find it worthwhile to share because I would imagine that many around me would otherwise never hear anything that she says, and I hear her often mischaracterized as just the opposite of the guys of Fox News (I don’t think that’s true, I appreciate that her shows are designed with enough information that you can refute what she says, and that doesn’t mean that I always think she’s right). Also, there are very few shows that are free on itunes as a podcast, but her show is, and while I didn’t have cable for 2 years I was very grateful for that.

Next I’d like to clarify my purpose of posting this video. I am not trying to pick a fight, or tease anyone. As a matter of policy and governance I simply disagree with the way that the Iraq War was instigated and executed. I say this with a limited knowledge of the military, so feel free to educate me if you know something that I don’t know. You are allowed to disagree and I can deal with that, although I might have questions for you. I try very hard to be reasonable, and part of that for me means that it’s important to reflect on our successes and failures. I don’t consider our troops to have failed, I am incredibly humbled that people risk their lives for me and live in the conditions in which our soldiers do, but I do consider our leadership in regards to this war to have been a failure on multiple levels.

If you find this video to be interesting, or even if you don’t, I recommend watching the documentary “No End In Sight” (which as of this post you can find on Netflix). If you are someone who has served in the United States Military I want to be clear that I am posting this with an honest concern for American lives, as well as for lives around the world, and I mean no disrespect.

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I think that it’s a complete failure on part of our media that most people I’ve talked to about the War in Iraq have no clue as to the unbelievable devastation that Iraq has experienced… This short documentary is definitely being produced by people who are unapologetically liberal, and I wouldn’t dispute that. However, I think that being partisan doesn’t disqualify an argument, poor logic and a lack of information disqualifies arguments, but unsympathetic partisanship really can kill a great conversation. I supported the war as a 16 year old boy, but I no longer think it was wise. This video explains part of my change of heart/mind:

For anyone interested in watching “No End in Sight” I will post the trailer below. Again, I’m sorry if I’ve hurt anyone’s feelings, this is in no way meant to taunt anyone on my behalf. I know that this is challenging and per usual on challenging topics I expect a lot of views, but very little interaction, and that’s ok. However you feel about this post I hope that you can accept my sentiment when I say God Bless America, and God Bless all of our brothers and sisters of the world.

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