What is the big deal about first day of school?

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First day of school drawing.
Today is my daughter’s first day of school. My friends who have had children before me always treat this day with reverence and nostalgia at your baby becoming a school age child. First day of school photos in their cleanest, unstained school clothes are obligatory, and usually a few tears at shed at the classroom door as your child is entering their classroom.

Me? I was happy. I shed no tears of sadness or nostalgia. I couldn’t wait for this day to come. It will be the first time in over four years where I have somewhere to send my child for three hours a day, two days a week (and if it all goes well, I may upgrade her to three days a week). I did take lots of photos, I met my daughter’s teachers, two lovely and experienced early education teachers who enjoy their job with every fiber of their being. It will be three hours ram packed with learning, playing, experiencing and socializing – with a small snack break in the middle. It will be everything I can’t offer her at home nor do I really want to. That’s why there’s a thing call pre-school, with professional and expert early education teachers to teach my child.

My daughter is exceptionally outgoing and gregarious, her little brother is more shy and retiring and doesn’t like to engage in the full body play that she enjoys. At the age of four, I often find her restless and bored at home even with all of the ‘educational toys’ we have for her (the only kind allowed around here). Her gregariousness has even chased away our cat who was her usual outdoor companion. So, at the ripe old age of four and a half, she’s ready for school. And me? I will get three hours a day where I just have one child to look after instead of two. I can’t wait for the other one to go to school.

We live in an area which is predominately upper middle class and white. And it’s not the laid back white middle class (if there is even such a thing), it’s the upwardly mobile, pushy, so scared that that any unforeseen economic event will shove them down the class ladder – therefore they are always on edge types of white people. To mask that insecurity, a sheen of false superiority and snobbery takes its place. A classic example of that is some parents talking amongst each other (and making sure everyone else can hear) where they went for summer vacation and even more importantly, where they are going skiing and snowboarding for winter vacation (yawn, eyeroll). These are not parents enjoying the first day of school activities with their children, these parents are there to see how their child compares with another and to throw away more money in after school ‘enrichment courses’ which is basically an accelerated class in writing, reading, science and math. It’s the parents of the few non-white children in my daughter’s class who are really present in mind, body and soul enjoying the first hour with their child’s first day of school. I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘scavenger hunt’ with my daughter in the classroom to show the kids where everything is in their classroom; the bathroom, washing up sinks, where certain toys are, where the art supplies are and where you hang your coat and put your backpack.

It was also nice to observe my daughter in an unfamiliar environment. I get to see how my ‘parenting’ panned out – no embarrassing meltdowns luckily but I was glad to see she was comfortable in unfamiliar places. She walks up to people and introduces herself, she says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, she responds when spoken to, I breathed a sigh of relief. She loves to draw, sing and dance. She expresses herself artistically and when I saw my girl make a beeline for the easel and drew a picture of her backyard of her cat (the same one that runs away from her) and flowers and grass; I knew she will be fine. When it was my time to leave the classroom, she nearly pushed me out of the classroom and said “I want to play with my new friends”. Her only upset was that she didn’t get any playground time today – it was a short day today to get the children acclimated to the new year and new school.

I did forget to teach her one thing – how to use a pair of scissors. It was an instrument, due to it being possibly dangerous for her and her little brother or worse she might cut his hair off if she gets mad at him, I neglected to show her how to use a pair of scissors, but I am sure the school can sort that out.

Where are the feminist and pro-life activists’ outrage at the rise of maternal deaths in the US?

A new study has just been released by the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians which says, except for the state of California, maternal death has been on the rise in America from the years 2000 to 2014. And specifically in Texas, the rise of maternal deaths from 2010 to 2014 has doubled in just four years. Furthermore, in the advanced and developed world, the US has the unique distinction of having the highest maternal mortality rate when compared to our European and Canadian counterparts.

A maternal death is defined as a woman who dies as a result of complications with her pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. The Texas Department of Health is going to create a task force to investigate why the Lone Star state in all of its glorious grandeur can’t seem to care enough about pregnant women to prevent their deaths. Here are some specific statistics about the state of Texas:

[B]etween 2000 and 2010, Texas saw only a “modest increase” in maternal mortality, from 17.7 to 18.6 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The next year, Texas’ rate spiked, to 33 deaths per 100,000 live births, reaching “levels not seen in other U.S. states,”

During the worst years of the recession, a factor which would impact maternal mortality, the maternal mortality rates were stable and nearly unchanged. However, Obamacare was passed in 2010 and some of its provisions immediately became the law. Many states, especially Red states in the south chose to not expand the Medicaid and some states like Texas chose to cut funding for medical services as well, and some of the greatest cuts went to women’s healthcare services. Governor Rick Perry passed a series of draconian laws cracking down on women’s access to safe and legal abortions and contraceptives. Any facility that performs abortions must pass a strict guideline of having a hospital grade operating room in its facility, which most women’s health clinics don’t have, so they faced closure.

In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.

And also:

But about half the state lacks ready access to OB-GYN care, making it difficult for women to obtain contraception or for pregnant women to confirm the health of their babies. Just this month, Texas’s health department drew fire for allocating $1.6m of the $18m the state budgets for low-income women’s family planning to an anti-abortion group that does not provide basic health services.

So, the state of Texas, allocated parts of their paltry budget to right-wing Christian groups to print pro-life flyers to hand out rather than provide health services to women. In a state as big as, and as spread out as Texas, this would force women who live in rural areas to drive for hours to the cities to get basic routine prenatal examinations. On top of closing women’s health clinics, Texas has some of the lowest income thresholds to apply for state Medicaid for pregnant women, and this is something they are quite proud of. While other states allow women who earn 198% above the federal poverty limit to qualify for aid, the state of Texas (and Alabama) only allows up to 18% above the federal poverty limit – and they are proud of this, it’s written all over the websites where you apply for aid in Texas.

Now that the forensics and statistics are out of the way, the bigger question is: where is the outrage at these unnecessary, preventable maternal deaths? This is, categorically, a pro-life issue. This is a pro-women, pro-mother and pro-family issue; where are all the pro-life rallies and Christian outrage for women who die of maternal deaths? Why aren’t the pastors of these huge megachurches (many of whom are based in Texas) who get their sermons broadcasted every Sunday up in arms about this? They devote a lot of airtime to homophobic rants and tirades against women who get abortions telling anyone who will listen that it’s the gay people and abortionists who will cause the downfall of this country. Don’t these people have mothers, grandmothers, daughters and sisters? Where is the Catholic Church on this? They hire lobbyists in Washington to pass anti-abortion legislation and ban coverage of contraceptives on their health insurance plans to women who work for them, where is the outrage at mothers dying as a result of complications in pregnancy and childbirth? If they care so much about the life and rights of an unborn child and are willing to go to bat for them at every legislative juncture, what about the people that give birth to them? Their mothers – do their lives not matter?

And where are the feminists on this? Where does Hillary Clinton’s campaign stand on this issue? She’s a mother, a grandmother, she says she cares about women, all women, what does she have to say about this? More importantly, what will she do to make sure maternal deaths (along with infant mortality) goes down to zero in this country?

That the spike in maternal deaths all around the country occurred after Obamacare was passed and implemented is telling too. Obamacare, with the goal of controlling healthcare costs and providing quality healthcare to all people, has clearly failed in the most fundamental indicator of the health of a nation and that is maternal mortality (and infant mortality). This is another failure of Obamacare. Because he allowed states to choose whether they wanted to join the public exchanges or not (instead of mandating it), the states that opt out such as Texas, healthcare access to the poorest residents of those states will suffer.

This study didn’t go into the demographics of the women who died from maternal deaths and the college will commission further studies on the specific demographics of the women, but it’s not a stretch to think that it’s the most vulnerable women who are dying needlessly during pregnancy and after childbirth. These are probably poor rural women, undocumented women who won’t go to doctors for fear of being deported and their local health clinic has been forced to close and women who neither have the funds to purchase health insurance and make too much money to qualify for state medicaid.

While the headlines of this report is shocking at first, we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, the lives and wellbeing of women are not the top priority of anyone. We have Brock Turner, despite being convicted of rape on all charges by a jury, the judge gave him a slap on the wrist – saying the public shaming and humiliation of the trial is punishment enough. Austin Wilkerson of Boulder, Colorado, another convicted rapist, the judge declined to give him a jail sentence and sentenced him to community work and 20 years probation. Another judge took his judicial powers even further and decided to set aside rape charges of David Becker, a Massachusetts high school student so that he can “enjoy” his college experience (and rape more women) and not have to be registered as a sex offender. And then you have pro-life fanatics who will do anything to prohibit, impede and shame women who wish to seek use of contraceptives and safe access to abortions yet the same people see no problem with rapists not going to prison for their crimes.

The findings of this report is sobering but it is more tragic than anything. It’s tragic not just at the loss of life and loss of mothers to their children but that many maternal deaths are wholly preventable if women just had access to health services early in their pregnancies. The reason not all women in this country have access to good prenatal care boils down to politics, religious fanaticism and class war on the poor by refusing to allocate tax dollars for poor women.

 

Resist the Distraction of ‘Sexism’ and ‘Misogyny’ Accusations

The Era of ‘The  Bitch’ is Coming screamed a headline by The Atlantic. The writer Michelle Cottle is warning everyone to be prepared for a fresh wave of “four-to-eight years of the kind of down-and-dirty public misogyny you might expect from a stag party at Roger Ailes’s house.” While open racism isn’t tolerated and often called out, sexism and misogyny, especially if cleverly delivered, is still tolerated, accepted and even considered funny. What’s more, while it’s fair that people on the receiving end of racist abuse make their grievances known and heard, women subjected to sexism and misogyny are expected to keep quiet and laugh it off, especially women in powerful positions. For a woman to call out sexism is seen as whining and complaining and not addressing a legitimate grievance.

Cottle goes on to explain which types of misogyny and sexism Hillary Clinton might encounter in the coming months and years. Inevitably, they relate to her age, her looks, her body, her allegedly ‘bitchy’ demeanor, her coldness and aloofness, the sound of her voice, how she laughs (the cackle), her bitchy-resting face when she’s not smiling and when she does smile the compliments she gets for ‘finally smiling’ as if she’s some miserable cow who refuses to crack a smile.

All of these ‘warnings’ of sexism and misogyny is just a distraction from the real criticisms. It’s using identity politics to distract from the real issues of a Hillary Clinton presidency. It’s a red herring. Sexism and misogyny is wrong. It’s nobody’s business when Hillary Clinton chooses to smile, she’s not a professional cheerleader, she’s not obligated to plaster a smile on her face to make everyone feel more comfortable. By the same token, she’s not required to be nice all the time either. She, like a man, is allowed temper flares, throwing things across the room and pounding the table when things don’t go her way. We don’t call a man derogatory names when he does those things, we say that he’s assertive and sets high standards. Shaming her age (especially when in connection with her appearance) is below the belt and appealing to the lowest common denominator and it really just says you don’t have any legitimate criticisms hence you make fun of her age and appearance. Hillary Clinton has never made herself out to be objectified or admired for her appearance, in fact, she self-deprecates when it comes to the style department (“remember my hairband days?”). She’s no Jackie Kennedy, and since that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the real issues.

Because Hillary Clinton’s opponent is Donald Trump, she’s not required to have a platform besides “I am not Trump”. She’s not required to present sound policies on the economy, preserving and expanding social security, raising the minimum wage, creating real universal healthcare, federally mandated paid parental leave, government subsidized childcare, raising the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, prison reform, drug sentencing reform, real immigration reform and integrating the millions of undocumented immigrants into the political process by allowing an immediate pathway to citizenship for all (not cherry picking the young, educated and English speaking ones), providing free college in all state institutions and reversing the toxic and destructive neoliberal economic policies of her husband and Obama. These are the issues that are important to the voters, especially the Millennial voters that she supposedly cares so much about. But thanks to freakshow that is Donald Trump, she doesn’t have address any of these issues. All she has to do is insist she’s no Trump and Mexicans aren’t rapists and murderers, she won’t build a wall at the Southern border and Muslims aren’t banned in this country.

We already know she’s not Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton, in some respects is far more dangerous than Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a buffoon and a clown, he appeals to the other lowest common denominators of racism, xenophobia, anti-immigration and white nationalism (which also includes misogyny and sexism). Whether he acknowledges it or not, most of his boldest proposals can’t be implemented and are just white nationalist fantasies. For all of Trump’s boasting of his business acumen, his artistry at making business deals where he sends his opponents scurrying to the hills, the reality is far more different. He considers business bankruptcy as a legitimate business strategy (which translates to not paying your suppliers or investors by declaring you are bankrupt) and has filed for business bankruptcy many times. He has no political record to speak of and so he has a political clean slate. He can say whatever he wants to do if he becomes president without having to back it up with previous track records or explaining his political decisions.

Hillary Clinton has no such luxuries, she has a long record of votes and political decisions that she must explain and defend, starting with her days as this country’s First Lady. She supported her husband’s punitive welfare and criminal justice reform, which 20 years later show that the most affected are people of color. One out of every four Black man today can expect to be incarcerated during some time in his life. The welfare reforms gutted the most essential social services to the most vulnerable populations in this country many of them women and children. The Yes vote for the invasion of Iraq, which haunted her during her 2008 bid for the White House, is based on false, made up, concocted intelligence of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and the Saddam Hussein regime having ties to Al Qaeda. None of which were true. As Secretary of State, she sanctioned the destruction of Libya and the fueled proxy war in Syria. All of this is done in the name of destroying ISIS. ISIS is now the designated boogey man (after the death of Osama bin Laden) in which our national security is threatened so we must be very vigilant and militaristic with our enemies around the world.

Anybody who criticizes her foreign policies, her connections to Wall Street, or calls her a war criminal is disciplined and told that it’s an unfair sexist attack. Or short of that, they are patronized and told they don’t understand how dangerous the world is and how the world works. Her image as feminist who fights for human rights has been shattered. You cannot claim to fight for human rights when you bomb and destroy nations and those that suffer the most from the fallout are women and children. You cannot claim to be a feminist when one quarter of the donations for The Clinton Foundation is from Saudi Arabia, arguably one of the most abusive and repressive regimes against women in the world. You cannot claim to be a feminist or a human rights activist when you allow Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemeni civilians and starve Yemeni children for oil and money. Clinton’s interventions in the internal affairs of Honduras has caused a failed state where right wing military thugs rule the country. The fact that she would consider Henry Kissinger a friend and mentor should raise serious blood soaked red flags.

But right now, we are told by the elites that we must not be childish and hold on to these grudges because we have a more important danger in our midst, in the form of an orange clown with small hands who tends to talk out of his rear end. This is our real enemy right now. This is who we are supposed to be afraid of; not the trigger happy former Secretary of State responsible for destroying at least two sovereign states and destabilized several more. Those Sanders supporters who refuse to fall in line with Hillary Clinton are privileged, spoiled and willfully sabotaging the candidacy of the first woman president.

Electing a woman to the highest office in the land is a milestone, a shattering of a once thick and impenetrable glass ceiling, which given the patriarchal structure of our society, is a monumental effort; but it must not be confused with political revolution. Electing a woman as president of the United States will usher in the progressive change voters want only if the right woman is elected. Just like electing the first Black president Barack Obama didn’t usher in a time of post-racial harmony in America; one can argue the opposite happened.

Many countries have already reached this milestone: Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, the world’s largest democracy, Pakistan also previously elected woman Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Bangladesh is currently governed by a woman Sheikh Hasina right now, the United Kingdom has produced two female Prime Ministers with Theresa May’s recent ascension to the position after the ousting of David Cameron and the fact that she has no children and how that might affect her style governance was still brought up in the year 2016. In Brazil and Argentina, abortion is still illegal and punishable with jail sentence; women in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to all intents and purposes are still second class citizens, especially women who reside in Tribal areas ruled by the Taliban. Electing a female head of state didn’t emancipate these women on a large scale. In traditional societies like Pakistan and Bangladesh; their fates are still determined by male members of their family with very little legal protection from the state.

For all of us who feel we have no stake in the discourse or outcome of this ghastly trainwreck of an election, all we have are our pens, our right to critique, debate, argue, to contradict, contrast, to speak out against the mass propaganda that is thrown at us. And on top of that, we have to wade through all the other dreck like The Atlantic article about the supposed flood of sexism and misogyny that’s about to come our way because of the possible elevation of Hillary Clinton as the President of the United States; which is really telling us that we should not criticize Hillary Clinton at all because women who don’t support other women deserve a special place in hell. In that case, I’ll tell Lucifer to save them a spot.

Hannah Arendt and Free Inquiry

Hannah Arendt was a student of free inquiry. Her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil was an exercise in free inquiry, much to her own detriment. But it was only to her detriment because the results of her inquiry didn’t conform with the commonly accepted beliefs then (and perhaps now) about the Holocaust and how one views and discusses a Nazi war criminal. There is only pure condemnation of the person who committed these crimes, there is no allowance for attempting to understand the man behind the crimes, the reasons for committing the crimes, or nuances in their reasoning. They were monsters who sought to destroy the Jewish people and other undesirable people as deemed by the Nazis. In the biopic directed Margarethe von Trotta Hannah Arendt, in her final speech to her student she says “trying to understand is not the same as forgiveness”. She considers it her “responsibility to understand” and “reconcile the shocking mediocrity of the man with his staggering deeds.”

Seeking free inquiry and engaging in intellectual debate and trying to see an event in history from a different point of view is not the same as playing the devil’s advocate or in the case of Arendt, attempting to explain away or excuse the evils of the Nazi regime. If we don’t want history to repeat itself again, it’s not enough to pass legislation to ban fascist or neo-Nazi political parties, to ban inflammatory fascist or Nazi language in public, to ban Nazi worshipping; we need to find out how (not just why, we know why) a total moral collapse of a seemingly civil society took place in less than 10 years. Antisemitism isn’t new. Discrimination isn’t new. Racism isn’t new. Oppression of minorities isn’t new. All those things existed for millennia; but how did it go from something that exist as a fact of life to mass murder by the most grotesque of methods.

The knee jerk reaction to any Nazi criminal is that they are evil, they are monsters and no excuses can me made for their behaviors regardless of their personal circumstance; even if they had a gun to their head. Arendt resisted this urge, though a very legitimate urge and she wanted to find out more. Adolf Eichmann was in front of her in a Jerusalem courtroom. This was as close as she’ll ever get to a ‘Nuremberg Trial’ and this was the biggest Nazi criminal on the lam that was caught. It would be a terrible waste to not do an up close psychological autopsy of the person. So she inquired, and she let her free inquiry take her wherever she needed to go. What she found wasn’t spectacular, it was “banal” and that didn’t fit into the existing narrative about Nazi criminals.

The public discourse on the Holocaust is heavily policed, it was policed in the 1960s and it’s policed now. There are one set of accepted facts and discourse that is very black and white, the Nazis exterminated the Jews while the world watched and did nothing. The Nazis are to blame and the world did watch as this unfolded. But nothing in the world is black and white. The Nazis are fully responsible the this heinous crime they committed but they had help along the way. It’s not out of order to say while Nazis are fully responsible, but many people aided and abetted and looked the other way and some of those include Jewish people. The Judenrat may not know at the time that the ultimate demise of their fellow Jews they were deporting. But the existence of the Judenrat is a fact – and as Arendt points out in her Eichmann trial reporting, the Judenrat was not only in Germany, it was in almost every country. This is well documented. Arendt backed up most of her claims with sources from other experts – including the preeminent Holocaust expert Raul Hillberg. Even in the context of not blaming or shaming, merely questioning and analyzing, it’s not comfortable to discuss or even think about but by not thinking and talking about it, we forget the lessons.

Perhaps the most infuriating thing anyone can say when they are on trial for a crime is everything they did was “legal”, or that “I was following the orders of my superiors” (and that superior is almost always already dead). When Arendt talks about the ability to “think”, which is synonymous to claiming your personhood is suspended, great evil can happen. You don’t need to be a monster to commit horrible deeds, a little nobody like Adolf Eichmann – and there were millions of Eichmann’s in the Nazi Party can and will commit evil or allow great evil to happen.

The idea of what is legal vs. what is right is still highly relevant today. The recent spate of police killing unarmed black men were all legal in the eyes of the law. According to the law of the land, they acted in self defense, they did no wrong and they won’t be prosecuted. The worst that will ever happen to them is losing their jobs. But anyone who is thinking with half a brain knows that what they did was wrong, and the police definitely wasn’t “thinking” when they killed unarmed black men who posed no threat to their personal safety except in their prejudiced minds. Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did what they believed to be the right thing and are now punished for it, especially Manning. What is right morally and ethically, which is exposing government crimes to its citizens has been deemed illegal, based on some bogus notion of ‘National Security’.

Dissenting opinion is and has always been heavily policed. Especially by those who call themselves Liberals. Another favorite pastime of Liberals is sliding in and out between what’s legal and what’s right. We are stuck at a juncture of what is free speech and how much free speech do we tolerate before it becomes inflammatory and unacceptable. Azealia Banks was banned from Twitter permanently as well as Milo Yiannopoulos, for directing his followers to racially abuse and troll the actress Leslie Jones. These two incongruent Twitter buddies were both banned for using racist, bigoted inflammatory language, but they weren’t banned until the corporate interests of Twitter was harmed. Both of these people have been trolling, racially abusing people for a long time, but they were trolling nobodies so no one cared enough to do much about it even if the abuse Tweets got reported. Banks was warned by Twitter a few times, that didn’t stop her, but when she unleashed her fury at a supposed slight by former One Directioner Zayn Malik and began racially abusing him and insulting his family, she was banned from Twitter. Prior to that she’d been verbally assaulting anyone who dared cross her mentions who she found displeasing in some way.Yiannopoulos gets his kicks out of trolling people, but one day he trolled the wrong target and he was banned from Twitter permanently. No one needs a Yiannopoulos on social media anywhere, he’s social media vermin, but he’s entitled to be one. Even in the interest of free speech, which includes trash speech, Twitter has behaved hypocritically, censoring when they felt the content will harm their bottom line.

The rise of right wing authoritarian governments popping up in places like Poland and Hungary; and their wholesale rejection and demonization of Syrian refugees as all being terrorists and how their religion and ‘way of life’ is incongruent with the ‘civilized’ West; the “banality of evil” is rearing its ugly head again. These governments have won elections, steered their electorate towards their way of thinking and believing, they have galvanized their police to be physically brutal with refugees . With the erecting of barbed wires along the open border Schengen Zone in the EU, it’s conjuring up lots of ugly images of the past.

With the US presidential election based on identity politics on one side and proto-fascism on the other, the policing of dissent is more prevalent than ever. Someone who refuses to vote for Hillary Clinton is tantamount to supporting Trump. Those who do not support Clinton are sexist, racist, anti-feminist and are coasting on their ‘privilege’ (whatever that means – Hillary Clinton is the most privileged woman I know). Those who don’t choose either one of the two awful presidential choices in front of us are betraying our democracy and process and allowing evil (Trump) to take over. Bernie Sanders will forever be blamed for daring to thwart the coronation of Hillary Clinton, he’ll be blamed for drawing supporters away from her, especially the sought after Millennial crowd. Sanders actions have been seen as sexist, therefore all of his supporters must be sexist, or anti-feminist, who would dare to risk losing the election to a fascist clown. All of these ‘critics’ do not see the irony of being undemocratic themselves as they are policing people how to publicly engage in discourse of a supposedly free presidential election. It’s not a wise strategy to shame or scare the voters into voting for you.

Those who engage in free inquiry must do so the ‘right’ way; which makes the ‘free’ part moot. And as soon as anyone steps on toes of another, swift apologies must come or else you would be labeled racist, sexist, anti-feminist, indulging in privilege and a whole bunch of other new lingo and terms I’ve yet to know their meaning. Hannah Arendt was called a self-hating Jew, at least that was a clear and direct “character assassination” to which she can clearly refute. How does one refute the charge that one is ‘coasting on privilege’ by simply supporting one candidate over another?

Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

Hannah Arendt volunteered to report on Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1960 for The New Yorker magazine, she wrote a series of articles for them, later compiled in a book called Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. After her reporting, Arendt went from a well respected political theorist, especially on theories totalitarianism, who also fled Nazi persecution to a controversial figure. She was hated in some circles, especially certain Jewish circles. Many long time friends cut off contact with her, she nearly lost her teaching job at the university and she was ostracized from the intellectual circles which she used to be a part of.

How did she go from well loved, well respected intellectual and academic to being hated and ostracized? Because she dared question the mainstream accepted views of the Holocaust and how the Holocaust was discussed and viewed. She was described as a self-hating Jew who blamed the victims for their own demise. Her love affair with an old professor Martin Heidegger, one of her early mentors, who later joined the Nazi Party kept being brought up and thrown in her face. She was accused of not researching deeply enough into Adolf Eichmann’s background and if she did, she’d find out that he really was a monstrous antisemite deep down in his bones and not just a unthinking cog in a system, as she asserts.

The main accusation against her is that she blamed the Jewish leaders (Judenrat) at the time of the Third Reich for the Holocaust, shifting it from the true perpetrators – the Nazis. And those who took kinder to her said she was insufficiently sympathetic to the plight of the Jewish leaders during that time. The other accusation is that she determined that Eichmann wasn’t this big evil person with horns growing out of his head who helped facilitate and ordered the deaths of millions of people, he was a rather ordinary nobody, mediocre, robotic, more like a “clown”. He wasn’t even dishonest as one would think a monster would be. This notion was contrary to what the Israeli government portrayed him as, which was a monstrous evil person who committed great acts of evil due to his innate evil nature. Lastly, though much milder compared to the other criticisms, she criticized the Israeli courts about how the whole trial was conducted. It was essentially trial of emotional theatrics, Eichmann himself and his deeds weren’t on trial, but the actions of the Third Reich and the resulting extermination of Jews was on trial. The prosecution brought in Holocaust survivors as witnesses, none of whom had direct contact with Eichmann or even knew him, who could not speak to or testify for or against his crimes, but had directly or indirectly suffered from his crimes.

If one read the book cover to cover, all these accusations against Arendt are unfounded. Her writing style is very blunt and direct – she writes as though she’s speaking, it’s very easy to chop up quotes and editorialize out of context, but if you take the totality of her book, she didn’t shift the blame or responsibility of the Holocaust from perpetrator to victims. She didn’t excuse Eichmann for his monstrous deeds, she mourned the deaths of all the lives lost in the Holocaust (not just the Jews) and she even answered the common tropes about how Jews willingly allowed others to lead them to their deaths like a lamb to slaughter, but she did accuse the Israeli courts of putting on a theatrical show for the world to see and it wasn’t really about trying Eichmann for his crimes, he was just a prop.

Eichmann’s fate was determined the minute he was caught by the Israeli secret service in Argentina. The trial was just perfunctory, a formality, to give the appearance of justice being carried out when the outcome of the trial was already decided (much like the Nuremberg Trials). It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble and money to just put two bullets in the back of his head when they found him in Argentina, instead of dragging him on a long haul flight from Argentina back to Jerusalem, jailing him, clothing and feeding him and then put on a theatrical show of a trial when the result of the trial is already predetermined. He was found guilty, sentenced and hung on June 1, 1962.

Under those circumstances, Arendt decided that there was nothing to ‘report’ on besides the daily synopsis of what went on in the courtroom, which thousands of reporters around the world are already doing. So she took a philosophical approach to the trial instead. She decided to ask questions instead of just accepting the facts and answers which were provided to her.

The man on trial, Adolf Eichmann was a contradiction himself. He was charged with mass murder but he’s never personally carried out a single murder himself. He’s never shot anyone to death, never turned on the gas chamber at the concentration camps nor did he ever participate in any means of directly murdering someone. But he facilitated the transportation of those who will be murdered, meaning he sent people to their deaths on those horrible trains. Thousands at a time, tens of thousands in some weeks, hundreds of thousands in some months, his total body count was in the millions during the implementation of the Final Solution. Arendt’s first dilemma was how do you analyze and discuss a mass murderer who’s never personally murdered anyone?

She decided to look into the Eichmann the man himself, the Nazi political and bureaucratic structure, which was rather complicated. There were many layers of command across different bureaucratic departments; it takes someone well versed in the machinations of the Third Reich to figure it all out. What she found out about Eichmann the man was shocking in his mediocrity. This was literal a nobody, unremarkable in every way, possessed no gift or special talent, his career as a salesman went nowhere, his life went nowhere until he joined the Nazi Party where he finally became somebody. He was under the direct command of a real monsters and psychopaths Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. The often repeated Nazi defense of “I was just following orders” was used by Eichmann, as it was used by every Nazi war criminal that was captured and put on trial at Nuremberg and elsewhere. The person that gave the orders Adolf Hitler was dead, so in their twisted minds, they aren’t really responsible for the orders given by their “Fuhrer”. But what’s different about Eichmann was he wasn’t just paying lip service to “I was just following orders”, he believed it and he response he gave to all the charges against him was “Not guilty in the sense of the indictment”, when pressed further as to exactly what he meant, he spoke through his attorney Robert Servatius: “Eichmann feels guilty before God, not before the law,” and further elaborates that Eichmann had committed “[acts] for which you are decorated if you win and go to the gallows if you lose.” This is a close mimic of Joseph Goebbels quote: “We will go down in history as the greatest statesmen of all times or as their greatest criminals.”

While attending the trial, Arendt begun to notice a curious pattern about Eichmann, there was something off about him when he spoke and articulated his thoughts, for awhile she couldn’t put her finger on it and then one day it hit her, Eichmann was incapable of thinking, the man had no original thoughts of his own, he regurgitates and repeats cliches, sayings, quotes and books he read:

To be sure, the judges were right when they finally told the accused that all he had said was “empty talk” – except that they thought the emptiness was feigned, and that the accused wished to cover up other thoughts which, though hideous, were not empty. This supposition seems refuted by the striking consistency with which Eichmann, despite his rather bad memory, repeated word for word the same stock phrases and self-invented clichés (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliché) each time he referred to an incident or event of importance to him. Whether writing his memoirs in Argentina or in Jerusalem, whether speaking to the police examiner or to the court, what he said was always the same, expressed in the same words. The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.

Arendt’s many expressions of shock of just how unthinking this person Eichmann was would be comical to the point of hilarity if it weren’t about such a tragic subject under such tragic circumstances. Suppose being an academic and surrounded by intellectuals all the time, the chances of her encountering someone who was incapable of thinking or having an original thought of their own was rare. It certainly wasn’t someone she’d associate with being of a middle command position in the Nazi hierarchy who was responsible for sending millions of people to their deaths. Eichmann wasn’t even stupid, he just won’t think.

It would be natural to assume that Eichmann was clinically insane or suffered from some sort personality disorder, but after many thorough examinations by Israeli psychiatrists, they found nothing abnormal about him, in fact they found the opposite to be true. He was perfectly normal, quite a nice and affable person, loved by his family, friends and acquaintances – he just didn’t have the ability to think – as a dismayed Arendt points out over and over again (this is a fact she has difficulty getting over). Because he can’t think or refuses to think beyond the superficial, he had no opinion one way or another about antisemitism or the ideas of racial hierarchy propagated by the Third Reich. He accepted them at face value because his superiors told him to, in fact, he pointed out many times he had no ill feelings toward Jews and socializes with them and even had family members who were Jewish (by marriage). On his self-aggrandizing moments, he went so far to say he saved many thousands of Jews, therefore, it’s proof that he wasn’t really “a Jew-hater”. Arendt didn’t downplay his antisemitism, she’s saying that in the case of Eichmann, it didn’t matter, his mind didn’t reach the deep recesses of such thoughts.

Aside from analyzing the man that was Eichmann, Arendt also took this opportunity to educate the world on how the Holocaust happened, country by country of Nazi conquest. She laid out in painful, at times excruciating detail on how each country dealt with “the Jewish problem”. She would describe said country’s attitudes towards Jews prior to Nazi invasion and their attitudes and actions after the Nazi invasion. Some countries such as Romania was even more hostile to Jews than Germany, if one can imagine that. Sweden, being in the unique position of not being invaded by Nazis, accepted any and all Jewish refugees without preconditions. Denmark stood out as being the lone country that refused to participate in active Judenrein. The local authorities in Denmark flat out refused to comply with the Nazi decrees, starting with wearing the Star of David. When the king of Denmark heard that, he said he would order all Danes (starting with himself) to wear the Star of David if Jews had to wear them. Denmark refused to comply with deportation orders, the Danish civilians hid Jews in their homes, paid for their voyages to Sweden, obfuscate Nazi authorities, in the end the SS officer charged with making Denmark Judenrein threw up his hands and said the Danish population was noncompliant. As a result about 100 Jews were deported from Denmark, these were the ill or very old, who didn’t get the news about where to hide, but they weren’t sent to a death camp, they were sent to Theresienstadt, which was a ghetto for ‘privileged’ Jews who would not be moved on to death camps, of the one hundred Jews that got deported, 48 died, mostly due to existing illnesses. Arendt want to emphasize the case of Denmark to prove that it wasn’t impossible to counter Nazi thugs without violent means, you just had to be clever and most importantly, local authorities had to have conviction in their leadership and having a conscience helps too.

It was when she described how each country dealt with “the Jewish problem” drew the most controversy. The Judenrat (the local Jewish authority charged with deporting and confiscating the property of Jews) in many of these countries conquered by the Nazis assisted the Nazi’s in confisicating their wealth and deporting them to ghettos and then onward to death camps. Whether the individual Judenrats at the time knew what the ultimate fate of their Jewish brethren were, it’s hard to know – after all, those that participated in Judenrat; their lives were not spared. But what’s clear, with documented proof is that the Judenrat did assist in the destruction of the European Jews. And they did make the work of the Nazis easier as function of their existence. This is indisputable. She never blamed the Judenrat, she understands they were under duress, but the fact it happened, that she wrote about it so matter-of-factly; she was accused of not showing sufficient sympathy for the Judenrat and the position they were put in. This angered many and caused many to accuse her of blaming the Jews for their own destruction. She countered very early on in the book, the charge or a common trope that Jews put up no resistance and that’s how a regime could kill millions of them:

Nothing is more terrible than these processions of human beings going like dummies to their deaths” (Les lours de notre mort, 1947). The court received no answer to this cruel and silly question, but one could easily have found an answer had he permitted his imagination to dwell for a few minutes on the fate of those Dutch Jews who in 1941, in the old Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, dared to attack a German security police detachment. Four hundred and thirty Jews were arrested in reprisal and they were literally tortured to death, first in Buchenwald and then in the Austrian camp of Mauthausen. For months on end they died a thousand deaths, and every single one of them would have envied his brethren in Auschwitz and even in Riga and Minsk. There exist many things considerably worse than death, and the S.S. saw to it that none of them was ever very far from their victims’ minds and imagination. In this respect, perhaps even more significantly than in others, the deliberate attempt at the trial to tell only the Jewish side of the story distorted the truth, even the Jewish truth. The glory of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and the heroism of the few others who fought back lay precisely in their having refused the comparatively easy death the Nazis offered them-before the firing squad or in the gas chamber.

Hannah Arendt coined the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ to describe Eichmann, great evil occurs when men like Eichmann surrender their personhood and decides to not think. That she described Eichmann as ‘banal’ also angered people, it seemed like she was minimizing his crimes. To borrow the phrase from the philosopher Descartes “I think, therefore I am”, Eichmann chose to not think, he was following orders, everything he did was “legal” – this was a point he emphasized over and over again, ad nauseum, he never did anything illegal. Ever. Therefore, he cannot be guilty of the things he’s been charged with on the indictment. This frame of mind was what allowed him to get up every morning, shove screaming men, women and children on the train and send them to their deaths; without ever once thinking about what he was doing. The concerning part is not minimizing him as ‘banal’, the scary part is that a nobody like Eichmann himself, can be capable of such evil, as a result of surrendering one’s ability to think; which then leads one to conclude, anyone can do evil things if they surrender their personhood, which to Arendt is the ability to think.

Hannah Arendt dared to challenge the accepted discourse of the Jewish establishment with regards to the Holocaust. The backlash she suffered was immense. In the biopic on her life Hannah Arendt (2013) – a great review of it here. , it explores the questions she raised in covering the Eichmann trial was something she had to do. Towards the end of the movie, she gave a fiery defense of herself and all the accusations raised against her to her students.

Arendt received thundering applause at the end, the but point is not that she was somewhat vindicated in her views or that she got to say her peace, but that she should be allowed to freely express her views or “question” events in order to think more deeply about them without suffering harmful backlash.