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City of Brass

City of Brass

Answering Ahmadinejad on the Holocaust

The Katie Couric interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a classic example of how he changes the subject away from his own controversial statements. I don’t think Ahmadinejad is a particularly evil man, just a typically corrupt and cynical politician who cultivates domestic support by inflaming populist sentiments among the conservative and uninformed populace, while abusing the powers of his office to deny that same populace their rights so as to maintain his grip on power. Meanwhile, he plays a different card in the foreign arena, to allow his sponsors (like Russia) plausible deniability. This is why he was never going to explicitly deny the Holocaust in his interview with Couric, but instead used the opportunity to ask what sounds like a reasonable question about focus. From the interview, here’s his reply:

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Ahmadinejad: [In] World War II, 60 million people were killed. Why are we just focusing on this special group alone?

We’re sorry for all the 60 million people that lost their lives, equally. All of them were human beings. And it doesn’t matter whether they were Christians or Jews or Buddhists or Muslims. They were killed. So, we’re sorry for everyone.

Hey that sounds pretty reasonable, right? 60 million died, why are we focusing so much on just one-tenth of that number? The implication he is making, which is pure gravy to his uneducated populist base, is that the Jews are whiners who demand special treatment and recognition. But there’s something very special about that 6 million indeed which he (knowingly) omits – the manner and intent of those deaths.

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I am not minimizing the scale of death in WWII – one life is one life. In the conflict, around 15 million Russian civilians died, and add another 15 million dead Chinese on top of that. Up to 3 million German civilians were killed as well. Both sides, Allies and Axis, aimed their military machines at civilian populations, and what the ruthless mechanical slaughter started, war crimes committed by soldiers on the ground finished. It was the sheer scale of death – a crime against humanity inflicted upon itself, and a stain that will always taint the valor and heroism of those who served as a whole – which directly led to the enactment of the Geneva Conventions and (more importantly) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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But all of this was war. That doesn’t absolve it, but it does provide the causative context. In a real war, civilians die. What sets the Holocaust apart is that it wasn’t war at all, but genocide. The 6 million Jews who died were not caught in the crossfire or bombed for strategic reasons. They weremarched into gas chanbers and executed like cattle, or roaches. In war, collateral damage deaths are counted with the full recognition by both soides, aggressor and victim alike, that the victims are human beings. It is that recognition of their humanity that lends them value as a target. There is, in the twisted logic of war, an honor being done to the victims of war. The Jews weren’t afforded that honor, however – they were not killed in the context of war, but murdered.

6 million murders. All of one race, one group, one people. The intent was not strategic or tactical, but hatred. We have a word for this: evil. That’s what sets the Holocaust apart from the rest.

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