The Long View 2002-05-14: Thanks & Goldhagen

I used to support John by buying on Amazon through his site. All of his Amazon links and such have been stripped away, although you can still buy his books. If you still want to do something for him, pray for him. It is what he would have wanted.

For a while, he was an independent scholar, and he updated his blog frequently. After a few years, he got a regular job, and only updated on the weekend, but I found that I enjoyed what he had to say even more when I had to wait for it.

Thanks & Goldhagen

 

Before I forget again, I would like to thank those of you who have been chipping money into the Amazon Honor System boxes on this site. The system does not tell me who you are, which is probably just as well. I hope you are getting notes of gratitude. These are sincere, even if they are sent automatically. Thanks to the rest of you, too. Feedback and visit-counter clicks are not quite the same as wire transfers, but they are very much better than nothing.

Thanks are also in order to Ronald J. Rychlak, for his rejoinder in the June/July issue of First Things to Daniel Goldhagen's notorious piece in the New Republic, "What Would Jesus Have Done?" In that article, Goldhagen accuses Pius XII of silence and inaction with regard to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. In fact, he repeats just about every claim ever made against Eugenio Pacelli, regarding his career before and after he became pope. Some of his accusations are even posthumous. My reaction was that Goldhagen's article was a poor interpretation of the historical record, but I did not quarrel with most of Goldhagen's facts. Rychlak has gone a long step further. He shows that Goldhagen systematically misstated the record, suppressing information contrary to his thesis and distorting the information he does cite.

It is hard to know where to start. Contrary to what Goldhagen says, the Vatican protested early and often about the deportation of Jews from the occupied nations of Europe. The list of protests includes diplomatic representations to the governments of France, Slovakia and Croatia. The protests to the Vichy government were met with threats. Nonetheless, when the French bishops publicly protested, Vatican Radio broadcast the text for days. Goldhagen, of course, tells us specifically that the Vatican was silent about that protest.

Goldhagen says that the Nazis did not actually carry out repraisals for protests to their Jewish policy or the euthanasia program. This is simply wrong. When Cardinal Galen protested the killing of the handicapped, the German government did not arrest him, but it did arrest dozens of clergy from his diocese. This kind of thing happened routinely whenever the government was criticized. Also, contrary to some accounts, the euthanasia killings did not stop, though they were no longer done publicly.

Frankly, in the controversy about the attitude of the Vatican toward the Jews during the Nazi era, I never thought the Concordat with Hitler's new government was particularly significant; treaties like that are too routine to signify anything. Be that as it may, Rychlak points out that the Concordat was not the first treaty the Nazis signed, as Goldhagen said. He misstated a secondary source. The Concordat was the first bilateral treaty the Nazi government concluded, but that government had already signed some important multilateral agreements.

It might be said in Goldhagen's behalf that the piece in the New Republic was at least nominally a long review article of secondary sources, on which he was dependent. Maybe when his own book on the subject comes out later this year, he will have done his homework. Well, maybe he will, but he seems to be doing now what he did with his sources in Hitler's Willing Executioners, which also rested on tendentious use of secondary sources.

Goldhagen must have the opportunity to defend himself. However, as things stand now, we have to ask whether his behavior goes beyond mere mistake. Can Goldhagen's work in this be compared to that of Michael Bellesiles's book, Arming America?

As every history buff in America knows, that book argued that the widespread use and ownership of guns is a fairly late development in American life. The author based his argument on statistics found in old records from local court houses. The problem was that, since his thesis touched on how we should interpret the Second Amendment today, several historians took the trouble to check his primary sources. They found that he seems to have routinely mischaracterized the sources the other historians could find. The really disturbing element, however, was that they could not find much of the material he claimed to have used, even though it was supposed to be on the public record.

Goldhagen has not quite reached that point, if only because he has yet to publish original research on Pius XII and the Holocaust. Should he proceed with his plans to publish, we may be sure that his work will receive the closest attention.

 

* * *

Speaking of unscrupulous authors, I should mention that I have an article in the June/July First Things, too, a review of Robert Kaplan's Warrior Politics. As per FT's eminently reasonable author's contract, I will be able to put the review on my website after 90 days.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site