Sunday, December 03, 2006

Kamm v. Kurlansky

Oliver Kamm is a lefty British writer (and sort-of blogger) who recognizes the threat posed by radical Islam, supports Israel, and is generally anti-anti-American--at least, anti the ludicrous heights anti-American rhetoric has risen to in recent years. Like Norm Geras or the much more acidic Christopher Hitchens (except for the supporting Israel) part, Kamm is a lefty who gets it. He even signed Geras' wishy-washy-but-better-than-nothing Euston Manifesto, the "democratic progressive" document which explicitly supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem (increasingly rare on the left), denounces "Islamist" terror, and urges economic globalization (of a kind that won't cause any problems whatever, of course).

As a plus, he regularly dissects the Alzheimeric bloviations of Noam Chomsky. Anybody can do that, obviously, but he's good at it.

Kamm's also a little stuffy, and his "progressivism" sometimes requires him to take the long way 'round to the obvious. But he often gets there (a notable but unsurprising exception: he doesn't believe the BBC leans left).

Taking a while to get there myself, ain't I?

Kamm had a post last week on Mark Kurlansky, author of Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. Apparently he had a (truncated) debate with the pacifist on Sky News, during which he used an argument against pacifism dear to the D-blog's sullen and violent heart:

We discussed briefly Kurlansky's view that nonviolence is an effective and principled course in foreign policy. I pointed out that passive resistance against colonialism or oppression has been effective only where the protestors have been able to appeal to a common set of moral values with the oppressor.

I cited George Orwell to the effect that it's difficult to see how Gandhi's techniques could work against a regime where political opponents disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. I said it was perfectly obvious that against the secular totalitarian states of Hitler and Stalin, or the theocratic totalitarians we fight today, an appeal to conscience will be rebuffed if it is even understood. I added that the only way you can make such a plainly implausible case on historical grounds is by minimising the evil of aggressors and emphasising the sins of omission and commission by our own side.

An appeal to conscience would be "rebuffed if it is even understood," eh? Kamm can be quite wanker-like. But he's right: Beria would have stuck Gandhi in the Lubyanka and, after a short interrogation (and assuming he didn't have the gink strangled with his own yarn or whatever it was he made on that stupid spinning wheel), put him on a timber-cutting gang in Kolyma, where the G-man would have lasted about three days. Kamm continues:

Having read Mr Kurlansky's book, I was very sorry to see that this is what he does; one of his most egregious historical claims, I pointed out, had come straight from David Irving . . . .

Yep, good ol' Honest Dave, currently doing three years in an Austrian prison for Holocaust denial. And the "egregious historical claim" Kurlansky borrowed from the fat liar was the central historical fact tested in Irving's libel action against real historian Deborah Lipstadt:

Astonishingly, Kurlansky asserts (p. 141) that "historians estimate that between 100,000 and 130,000 people" died in the Allied bombing of Dresden. Reputable historians of modern Germany in fact estimate that around a fifth of that total perished at Dresden . . . . Irving, whose work directly on this subject (his book The Destruction of Dresden, published in 1963 and running to numerous later imprints) was exposed by Professor Richard Evans as being founded on "consistent and deliberate falsification of the historical evidence" to serve the end of "achiev[ing] implicit and in the end explicit comparability with the mass murders carried out by the Nazis at Auschwitz and elsewhere" (Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial, 2001, p. 183). . . .
Here's a link to Evans' superb book.
Mark Kurlansky, author of bestselling histories of Cod and of Salt, has thus written a book that I initially thought was shady and disgusting, but turns out mainly to be historically illiterate, morally vacuous and professionally incompetent [well, anybody can make a mistake]. The publisher of this foul and stupid work is, I regret to record, the respected house of Jonathan Cape. The book carries a preface by the Dalai Lama, who expresses the "hope and prayer that this book should not only attract attention, but have a profound effect on those who read it" - in the gut, presumably.
That's a little joke from Kamm, who's definitely not a ha-ha kind of guy. How liberating would he find it to say, just once, "Bite me, Dalai Lama"? Very, probably. But he's a progressive, so he can't say any such thing. He can't even say the truth, that the much-revered (scroll up to "Private Life") Dalai Lama's pacifism is every bit as delusional as Kurlansky's.

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