Saturday, July 26, 2014

1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 2014 Gaza Uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place in 1943. Essentially, some of the Jews who had been trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto took up arms against the German army. They were aware that Jews from the Ghetto were being systemically taken to death camps.

This essay is about comparing the current militant movement in Gaza, and more broadly among non-Jews in Palestine/Israel, to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. There are some similarities and many differences. A lot can be learned about people by noting how they interpret this data.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place in the context of World War II and the Holocaust, which was Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate the Jews. The situation in Gaza today is in the context of the aftermath of the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, known as Israel, and the contemporary U.S.-led "War on Terror."

While Adolf Hitler was raised as a Roman Catholic in Austria, where anti-Semitism (more properly, anti-Judaism) was virulent among the Church hierarchy, his stance towards Jews was essentially racist, not religious. While Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church agreed on many things in the 1930's (notably the need to exterminate socialists, atheists and communists), they disagreed on the disposition of the Jews in Europe. The Catholic Church sought to convert them.

Hitler, who had added racist doctrines to the Church's anti-Judaism, thought the Jews were genetically inferior (actually, different in a dangerous way). Converting them would simply allow their genes to mix more with his beloved concept of the Aryan race. Hitler and his more radical followers within the National Socialist Workers Party (Nazis), decided to exterminate the Jews in the midst of World War II.

Anti-jewish laws came first, in the mid 1930's, but they were not much different than similar anti-Negro laws in the U.S., or discriminatory laws common in most of the world's nations at the time. Then came concentration camps, at first used to house political prisoners (atheists, socialists and communists), and then increasingly to use Jews for slave labor. Ultimately some of the concentration camps became death camps.

The Warsaw Ghetto, created in 1940, was effectively a concentration camp within a city. Perhaps 300,000 Jews were packed into about 1.25 square miles of city. Gaza is much less densely populated, currently estimated to have a population of 1.8 million enclosed in an area of 139 square miles. However, because Gaza is desert terrain, most of the population lives in Gaza City and other urbanized areas. In both the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza the citizens were (or are) not free to travel outside of the designated limits.

The Warsaw Ghetto was meant to be temporary; its residents were meant to be deported to death camps beginning in 1942. The residents of Gaza have been there, for the most part, since 1948 and have hereditary refugee status. They are being confined, not exterminated.

The "uprising" began around January 18, 1943. Only a small percentage of Jews, perhaps 1000, appear to have fought the Germans. This may have been partly due to a shortage of weapons. Still, the German army needed only about 2000 troops to regain enough control of the ghetto to continue the deportations.

The same is true of Gaza. While people, when given the opportunities in elections, voted for Hamas, and to a lesser degree for the PLO, the number of active Hamas militants is estimated at about 10,000 (estimated by Israel), but that includes irregular volunteers. The other resistance groups in Gaza appear to be much smaller than Hamas.

Tunnels played a crucial role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Tunnels were used to bring in food and weapons. Without tunnels, the earlier death rate in the ghetto from malnutrition and consequent disease would likely have been higher. In the end, many of the fighters used the tunnels to escape the fate of those who did not fight: transit to a death camp.

The various groups in Gaza did not build tunnels because the like to dig. The were dug for the same reasons the Jews had in Warsaw: to get supplies. And both some of the Jews and some of the Palestinians used the tunnels to get the weapons they needed to fight the army of the nation that had put them in their respective ghettos.

Very few German soldiers, officially just 17, were killed by the Warsaw Jewish resistance, and it is unlikely that the real total was over 100. The Germans disproportionately killed civilians, most of whom died from fires or smoke inhalation.

The army of Israel, and its air force, have elected to fight in a manner that kills far more civilians in Gaza than actual Hamas militants.

In both cases the resistance fighters were poorly armed compared to the army they fought. The Polish Jews had only one machine gun and a limited number of small arms. Gaza is confronted with an Israeli army far better armed than the German army was. In addition, Israel conducts much of its war on non-Jewish Palestinians from the air. The use of (mostly inneffective) rockets launched from Gaza is also a new phenomena.

So we have a paradox. In matching the contenders up, Hamas gunmen match up well with ZOB and ZZW, the Jewish Warsaw gunmen. The civilians of Gaza match well with the civilians of the Warsaw Ghetto.

And the Israeli state matches the Nazi German state well. And the Israeli Army matches the German army quite well.

But once racism, religious intolerance, or even nationalism enter the picture, this obvious way to connect the dots goes out the window. Racism makes it impossible to do a rational analysis of who is in the right, and who is being wronged. See my recent essay Ethical Asymmetry [July 22, 2014] for a treatment of the ethical problems resulting from bias.

More:

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Gaza
Hamas

Friday, July 18, 2014

Facebook Ate My Bandwidth

Sorry, Facebook friends, I will no longer be looking at Facebook.

Facebook Ate My Bandwidth.

I get Internet through a satellite dish. I get a daily bandwidth allowance that is good for ordinary purposes. Occasionally a big software update will blow through it.

But lately (about a week now) Facebook has been downloading video endlessly when opened. If either my wife or I open Facebook, it goes through about 25% of the day's bandwidth in 10 minutes. It does not ask permission. It just eats.

I need my bandwidth for other things. We do get unlimited bandwidth from 11 PM to 4 AM, but those are my sleeping hours, and I need my sleep.

Its the techno 1% at work again. They have unlimited, incredibly fast bandwidth. They don't live in a rural area. They don't think. They code.

However, I think I can post to Facebook by writing in place like this and hitting a share button. If anyone needs to send me a message, send me an email.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hitler and the problems of National Self-determination

"The most believing Protestant could stand in the ranks of our movement next to the most believing Catholic, without ever having to come into the slightest conflict of conscience to his religious obligations." - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

The idea of national self-determination is closely linked to American President Woodrow Wilson and the post-World War I peace settlements. Nations are conceived of along ethnic, linguistic, racial and cultural lines. National self-determination provides that each group of people who constitute a definable nation has the right to their own national government.

The Democratic Party lauds Woodrow Wilson as a great President, a man of progressive (liberal) ideals who was also a man of peace and yet led the U.S. to its first great international war victory. A closer examination reveals a more complex picture, in which Wilson, a college professor turned politician, was a conservative racist who turned against his own idea of national self-determination as soon as he saw its global consequences, which did not sit well with his Aryan, racist agenda.

[Who's lying to you Litmus Test: if Woodrow Wilson was not a racist, why did racism remain legal in the U.S. after he had two terms as President?]

As I write this, ethnic and religious conflicts continue to escalate. Israel is bombing parts of Palestine it made into reservations for the natives when it got tired of its ethnic cleansing chore. Kurds are asserting their rights to recognition as a nation. The lines drawn by Wilson's colonial-era pals of the British, French, Dutch, and Belgian empires are still not working, largely due to their failure to correspond to natural national boundaries.

But there is another important consideration: the negative consequences of stressing ethnic cultures, religion, and nationalism.

After World War I Poland was created from former parts of Germany (and a bit of Russia). There was a substantial German-speaking population within the new Poland. The new Austria was German speaking, Roman Catholic, and highly anti-semitic.

Meanwhile, a lot of other cultural nations thought they should have the same rights as the Poles. Famously, Ho Chi Minh demanded independence for Vietnam, but he represented just one of hundreds of nations seeking self-determination. The Brits and French gave the right to self-determination to exactly one nation within their empires between World War I and World War II (the Republic of Ireland, but Britain kept Northern Ireland). The lesson was clear: only losers in wars might get dismembered into smaller nations with borders drawn on ethnic lines.

It should not be surprising that Hitler's Germany had strange allies in World War II (some in hostile neutrality, like Ireland). In almost every colony of the British, French, Belgian, and Dutch empires there were groups hoping Hitler would win, and in many cases fighting against the British or French.

While Britain won the war (and the French empire was re-instated), the cost was so high it was unable to maintain much of its empire afterwards. National revolutions, often led by Communists, lined up much more of the world along lines of national self-determination.

Many of the new nations had sub-nations within them. Vietnam had Roman Catholics and Buddhists who did not like communism or each other. India had many sub-nations that had be be invaded by Mahatma Gandhi's tanks to persuade them that they were not to be allowed to exercise their own rights to self-determination. Most African nations had multiple rival tribal or clan groups arbitrarily thrown together.

And a whole bunch of European Jews who survived the Holocaust decided they needed a land of their own, the land their ancestors had abandoned almost two thousand years earlier. They invaded Palestine, kicked out most other Palestinians, and set up a racist state they call Israel.

The United States of America, for all of its legendary past faults (genocide, racism, etc.), meanwhile has developed a new model. I just call it the Modern state. It is not based on race or religion, though there is nationalism. It is based on ideals tempered with pragmatism: liberty of conscience, a semblance of equality under the law, and pragmatic good government: good roads, fair schools, and not too much air pollution, even a bit of a social safety net, as long as taxes are not too high.

But this modern America had advantages in developing. Not just a lot of resources that were easily stolen from the natives, but a population (excepting black slaves) who came here more or less voluntarily at an exceptional time in history. At a time when people were questioning revealed religions like Christianity and Islam. At a time when Republics were a reality and were moving in the direction of becoming Democracies. And when agricultural and industrial revolutions were getting underway that would raise the standards of living for almost everyone.

I believe people have a right to self-determination, but I believe they should be cautious with that right. The Nazis determined that no Jews, atheists, or communists would be allowed to live in Germany. Then they decided to greatly enlarge Germany. That is not the example I am hoping other nations will follow.

When a people has been deprived of their own nation for a long time, and has been treated poorly by the nation(s) they inhabit, I think they might benefit from setting up as a nation-state. Thus I favor Kurdish and Palestinian states, among others. But ... I hope they are modern states, or turn into modern states. I hope the people choose to join the modern world, with modern values: equality and justice for all. Not states based on religious or ethnic tests.

When there is equality and justice for all, it does not matter which government rules us, nor which ethnic group we descend from or identify with.

It is sad that America's leaders after World War II (mirroring the equally culpable leaders of the U.S.S.R.) sought to create a new commercial-imperial global system run from Washington D.C. America's making enemies so readily, and imposing our will when possible with bombs, assassinations, rigged elections and embargoes, marred our international image and robbed our modern system of moral authority (as did discrimination in the U.S. against non-whites, until around 1970).

Adolf Hitler was not a self-made man. Germany, Austria and Turkey surrendered at the end of World War I, after Woodrow Wilson and his allies had promised a just peace. Instead the defeated Central Powers  were treated to dismemberment and economic pillage. Hitler blamed this "stab in the back" on Jews and communists, and an angry nation elevated him to power. Nor were the Zionists who fought to create Israel in Palestine self-made: they were Hitler's creation. Hamas, in turn, was created by the Israeli Zionists.

We need the opposite chain-reaction. Self-determination based on nationalism or religion is not necessarily bad, but it is just as dangerous as imperialism. I hope when people assert their right to self-determination, they determine that they want equality and justice for all humans, not a new round of sectarian conflict.