Joshua Green has done it again.
The Atlantic Monthly senior editor and former student of Medill magazine professor David Abrahamson has stimulated conversation nationally with his disturbing blog post about Republican congressional candidate Rich Lott.
In the post, Green reveals that Lott has participated in Nazi reenactment as far back as 2003. While lott says he deplores the actions the “Wiking” group took, noting that they fought on the Eastern front, and asserts that he joined the group primarily to bond with his son, others are not convinced.
Green himself points out that there is scant reference to Nazi atrocities on the Wiking site, with far more language about the dangers of Soviet Bolshevism.
The post includes quotes from history professor Christopher Browning and others saying that any reenactment constitutes a glorification of Nazi actions and that the group has a very sanitized vision of what the Nazis stood for and did.
Among other books, Browning is the author of Ordinary Men, which is an unsettling look at a Nazi division that committed atrocities during World War II. In a memorable opening scene, Browning describes Major Trapp, tears streaming down his face, telling the men in his unit in Jozefow, Poland that they are about to commit horrible crimes. Those who felt unable to participate in these actions could do so without sanction or impunity.
A tiny number did.
Opinions about Lott’s actions have ranged from House Whip Eric Cantor’s denunciation this past Sunday to others who have derided our nation’s politically correct culture advocated for by a a censorious minority who stand for a moral relativism that is ruining our society.
In some ways, both analyses seem to miss the point about the way this growing group of Tea Party-supported people operate.
From my reading, on certain issues, they seek to have it both ways on issues of race, religion and sexual orientation. A number of Tea Party leaders say race has nothing to do with their opposition to Obama, yet their fury toward his administration seems to be propelled in part by just that.
Lott has drawn plenty of support during his campaign from Tea Party people, yet defends his actions as being a necessary element of educating people about the horrors of World War II while at the same time saying that he chose this group’s uniform to don precisely because their actions were less heinous and against different enemies than others in the same group.
The cloaking of a sympathetic view of Nazism that emphasizes its anti Bolshevism rather than its antisemitism under the guise of education to me seems to be the point: the drawing on and invoking of cultural subtexts, all the while denying their presence.
I have written before about our family’s history during the Holocaust and how I am named for my great-grandfather Joseph Lowenstein, who was murdered along with more than 1 million other people in the Auschwitz death camp. I also have written about our dear friend and author Ava Kadishson Schieber, who survived the war for four years by pretending she was a deaf mute while living on a Serbian farm.
Dad and Ava met for the first time this weekend and got along famously. She invited us to her apartment, which still houses the 17-volume set of leather-bound German encyclopedias that she read for hours while in hiding.
On Thursday night, while in a cab to meet Dunreith, Dad and Aidan, Ava told me about how she would walk four hours each way to get from the home in which she was hiding to her house that held the encyclopedias.
She made sure to take a different route each time, she said, to ensure that she would not be remembered by people who saw her. She was 15 years old at the time.
Some of the trips took her through the woods.
Even 65 years later, Ava, who is one of the strongest and resilient people I have ever met, has nightmares about being running and being shot in the back of the head while fleeing her killers.
I wonder how weekend warriors like Lott and others in his group would explain their actions to survivors like Ava.
I wonder what it will take to get a full and honest discussion of the meaning of difference among the Tea Party ranks. Passionate analyses of the role race plays have been taking place for months.
I hope that Green’s post prompts a broader discussion not so much of lott and his actions, or of whether mainstream politicians and the media are in denial of a movement that has galvanized millions across the country, but rather of who constitutes this group and how inclusive their visions and practices truly are.