Sunday, December 21, 2008

Myth of the outsider intellectual

A review of The Myth of Natural Rights by L.A. Rollins.

You know, I like outsider art as much as the next hipster, and outsider intellectuals too, at least in theory. People like Eric Hoffer, Harry Smith, various sixties visionaries (who are now part of the establishment, but weren't when I liked them), Robert Anton Wilson. Can't think of too many others right now, probably because I myself have gone mainstream long ago. But I am very sympathetic to the general feeling that the academic establishment has climbed up its own bunghole when it comes to actual thinking. Oh, academics can do wonderful work when they have actual subject matter, scientific or otherwise, but who expects shattering philosophical insight to come from someone with tenure? Mad geniuses on the margins, that's what we need.

Unfortunately simply being marginal and bereft of higher education does not in itself constitute a guarantee of quality. So I have to report that The Myth of Natural Rights by L.A. Rollins and with an introduction by omniorthogonal reader tggp, is for the most part a combination of the banal and the offensively stupid.

The book itself: I was impressed with the jacket design and typography, although the cover illustration is ugly and I have no idea what it is supposed to mean. It's a nice package -- too bad about the contents. There are four sections:

1) A long argument that rights are not natural objects like rocks or the law of gravity. Well, duh. I figured that out all by myself long ago. I suppose this might be useful new information for dim-witted libertarians, but I didn't get anything out of it. Rollins goes on to declare that all morality is a sham, which is the kind of deep insight most people have and get past at age 16 or so. The interesting questions lie beyond that realization -- if morality isn't dictated by god or nature, then what is it, how does it work, how should we deal with moral issues if we can't refer back to god's authority? It's not like people haven't given this some thought, but Rollins ignores this work, preferring to spend a hundred pages beating a mostly-dead horse.

2) Holocaust revisionism. This part made me sorry to have paid money for the book. Here's a rule of thumb: anyone trafficking in this crap is ipso fact a moron, a dipshit, a bottom-dwelling creep. It's hard to tell whether Rollins actually believes the Holocaust didn't happen, or if he's just trying to prove some point by being independent of respectable opinion. In the former case, he's an idiot. In the latter case, he's playing around with the deaths of millions for his amusement and retarded self-gratification. I guess I'd hope it's the former; stupidity is more forgivable and correctable than being an asshole.

3) A satiric lexicon in the style of Ambrose Bierce / Bob Black, which was actually pretty good.

4) Some juvenile stuff aimed at Allah and George Bush. Yawn.

So much for the alternatives to the mainstream. The one good outcome for me from reading this book is that it caused me to move Marc Hauser's Moral Minds to the top of my pile. Kind of establishment, being a scientist at Harvard no less, but he actually knows what he is talking about (I presume) and doesn't (I presume) regurgitate sophomoric philosophy as if it were news.

It occurs to me that I might be less hard on section (1) if not for the offensive nature of section (2). Is that fair? Who knows. Presumably Rollins doesn't believe in fair, so he can't complain.

There are two points that merit longer responses and I may get to them eventually: First, if rights are not natural objects, then what are they? I hinted at an answer to that here but it deserves a longer explanation. Second, the question of how one evaluates the quality of information sources is one that interests me. Holocaust revisionism itself is supremely non-interesting, but how do I know that I should trust mainstream historians and not the dedicated scholars of the Journal of Historical Review? That is an interesting question in this age when all sorts of information and mis-information flows freely across the internet.

[2014 postscript -- how did I not realize until just now that this Rollins book was, in its earlier incarnation, the inspiration for Robert Anton Wilson's book Natural Law: or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy? I am remarkably dense sometimes.]

27 comments:

TGGP said...

I think Rollins makes the point that you shouldn't trust the Historical Review people.

Mupetblast said...

Holocaust revisionism itself is supremely non-interesting.

Only because it's the most popular (infamous) form of revisionism we've heard of. It's still interesting insofar as it's most definitely counter-establishment.

In that sense, Slavoj Zizek is interesting because he admires Stalin, even though being "shocking," period, is no longer particularly novel.

la.rollins said...

As TGGP pointed out more succinctly, one of the three Holocaust-related pieces in the book criticizes some of the Holocaust revisionists. mtraven, your reaction to that Holocaust stuff seems to confirm the point I was making in the first essay, "The Holocaust as Sacred Cow." But if you do indeed think the Holocaust is sacred and should treated accordingly, why not explain why in an intelligent and rational manner, rather than just calling me names? Yeah, why not, you ignorant slut? (See how easy it is to call names, you conformist c--t?) By the wy, mtraven, you guessed wrong about my lck of higher education.

mtraven said...

@Mupetblast: Being counter-establishment is not enough to make something interesting. That is sort of the point. To think otherwise is to be operating at a pretty juvenile level.

For something to be interesting (to me at least), it has to have a reasonable probability of being true or at least new. Holocaust revisionism does not meet either criterion. Mencius Moldbug's blog was interesting when I first discovered it, despite the fact I disagreed with him and found it ridden with biases and distortion, because he presented a genuinely new perspective. Since he's been essentially repeating himself for the past year or so, it has been less so.

I'm not sure it is accurate to say that Žižek admires Stalin (see here for instance). He certainly make hay out of taking counter-establishment positions, but if he is interesting it is in the intellectual justifications he manages to generate for these positions, not the positions themselves. I haven't read enough of him to form an opinion, but since he is getting trashed in the middlebrow press right now I'm tempted to take him up (which I guess means I'm not immune to the lure of being counter-establishment for its own sake I guess). He has a lot of entertaining clips on Youtube. And being entertaining buys you a lot.

mtraven said...

@rollins: of course the Holocaust is "sacred". So is the truth. You are desecrating these things, so don't pretend to be surprised at the reactions you get.

Sacred doesn't mean, of course, that actual serious historians can't sift through actual evidence about the Holocaust to improve the actual historical record. That is not what Holocaust revisionists do.

It's great that you have a section in your book critiquing some Holocaust revisionists. Some of the other sections were OK too. But it only takes one turd in the punchbowl to ruin it.

TGGP said...

In his "Sacred Cow" he points out how some claims advanced by "revisionists" have been promoted by orthodox Holocaust historians like Raul Hilberg. What is it Rollins says about the Holocaust that is "out of bounds"?

I don't think Rollins is surprised, but he might be indignant anyway.

TGGP said...

Rollins tried to post this, but said it didn't get through (he's also had trouble posting comments to my blog before):

mtraven; Gee, so I guessed correctly that you haven’t read my book carefully. Here’s a thought to consider: If you don’t look closely you might mistakenly identdify as a turd what is actually a piece of chocolate candy. (Yum yum.)
Now I’m going to post the massage (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) that I tried to post on Omniorthogonal today, but which seemed to disappear into thin air rather than being posted: You say that the Holocaust and the truth are sacred am that I’m desecrating both. I’ll pont out that you still haven’t explained why the Holocaust is spposedly sacred. Or is this supposed o be axiomatic for all good little boys and girls? Another question: Is the Holocaust unique in its sacredness or are all atrocities sacred? Is the “genocide” in Rwanda sacred? Is the Cambodian “autogenocide” sacred? (And did Chomsky and Herman et al desecrate it?) Is the “Armenian Genocide” sacred, as Nancy Pelosi might think? Is the Nakhba sacred? Is the Gulag sacred? Is the French Reign of Terror sacred? Is the St. Bartholomew’s Night Massacre sacred? Is the firebombing of German and Japanese cities sacred? is Winston Churchill’s and the British Navy’s hunger blockade of Nazi-occupied Europe sacred? Etc., etc., etc.? My guees is that you’ve got nothing intelligent and rational and informed to say about this. Perhaps I’m desecrating the Holy Cause (though you haven’t bothered to prove it), but I deny (omigod, I’m a denier!) that I’ve desecrated the truth in what I’ve written about the Holy Cause. Can you back up that vague accusation with anything
specific? I don’t think so. My guess is that you’ve got nothing intelligent and rational and informed to say about this? (For the record, I will add that, although I have not desecrated the truth vis a vis the Holocaust, I do not regard, or pretend to regard, the truth as sacred.) But if you believe the truth is sacred, then come on. Tell the truth. What’s your real resson for refusing to read what I’ve written about the Holy Cause? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

Well, Rollins, if he thinks you are "a moron, a dipshit, a bottom-dwelling creep", then doesn't that tell you why he refused to read your Holocaust denial drivel? Geez, life is too short to read that crap or to engage with bottom-dwellers who believe in it.

Wilson Pickett said...

So what the hell does Rollins say about said Holocaust? Does he deny that it happened? What a completely uninformative book review.

mtraven said...

Anonymous pretty much captured it, but what the hell.

Sacred: what does that word mean? Here are some previous posts that mention that word which might give you a clue as to what I, at least, mean by it. Death and things and places related to death are very commonly considered sacred; rituals for dealing with death and dead bodies are a central component of all religions. The concept of desecrating a gravesite or tomb ought to be familiar. Different people will hold different things sacred, but decent human beings are generally willing to give a decent level of respect for the sacred areas of others. Ie, I'm not Christian or Hindu, but I don't feel a great urge to desecrate or disrespect their sacred places. This is a basic part of being a non-assholic human being.

The memory of the Holocaust is sacred to me because a great many of my relatives and people perished there. Maybe you don't feel any emotional connection to it. Fine. Then why don't you leave it the fuck alone, rather than sticking your ignorant nose into it?

There are only two possible motivations I can see for indulging in holocaust revisionism: either you are a Nazi sympathiser eager to do your part in defending the cause by minimizing its crimes, or you just like to go against what you perceive as establishment opinion. Let's be charitable and assume that your motives are entirely of the latter sort. In that case -- why don't you devote your energies to proving that the moon landings were faked, or that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster, or the Queen of England is a drug dealer, or any of hundreds of other equally retarded conspiracy theories? If the answer is simply that you can piss more people off by denying the Holocaust, then don't get huffy when people get pissed off.

Let me pose a scenario for you: I decide I don't like you and your kind, so I come over to your home, burn it down, kidnap, torture, and kill your family, friends, and loved ones, and attempt to kill you too but can't quite finish the job. Some years pass, and then I go about trying to rehabilitate my somewhat tarnished reputation by claiming that your children really died of typhus rather than by my hand, or that I only killed half your friends, not all of them, and generally attempting to confuse people about the truth of what happened by spreading poorly-sourced bullshit.

Wouldn't you consider the second half of this crime spree to be a desecration of the memory of your loved ones?

TGGP said...

One possibility I can think of is that Holocaust denial is actually illegal in some areas. One could say that's because it's more offensive and if he was going for maximum shock-value it's a better bit. I don't know. It could also be that he finds the Holocaust less plausible than the moon landings. He actually enjoys shooting sitting ducks in barrels like Alex Jones (crazy Ron Paul supporting radio guy) and premillenial dispensationalists. Chip Smith is into the big H (though I don't recall him being open about his own beliefs), but has nothing but mockery for 9/11 Truthers and Creationists. I think David Cole mocks Truthers as well.

TGGP said...

Because Rollins has trouble getting comments through various websites, I'm posting this in his stead:

Anonymous: If you don't want to read Holocaust revisionist stuff, you don't have to. But if you haven't read it, you don't KNOW that it's crap. (Because I've actually studied the matter, I know some Holocaust revisionist lit is pretty crappy.. But I also know some conventional Holocaust stuff is pretty crappy too, Shermer and Grobman's "Denying History," for instance.)
Wilson Pickett: No, L.A. Rollins doesn't deny that the Holocaust happened. In "The Holocaust as Sacred Cow," he pointed out that some people who believe in a conventional version of the Holocaust are true believers espousing dogmas that don't or might not stand up to informed criticism and sometimes resort to BS and/or a refusal to debate , to protect their dogmas. In "Revising Holocaust Revisionism," he criticized some points made by revisionist historian James J. Martin, pointed some falsehoods in various revisionist writings, and advocated skepticism about Holocaust revisionism and the Holocaust. In "Deifying Dogma," a review of "Denying History" by Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, he debunked the hype that the book "thoroughly refutes" the revisionists and pointed out various omissions and distortions in the book.
TGGP: In my book I discussed how I encountered Holocaust revisionism as a result of my priorinvolvement with libertarianism and historical revisionism, including WWII revisionism(Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, etc.). As for why I got interested in Holocaust revsionism, I do recall being attracted by the possibility that something "everyone" believed might not have been true. Once I started seriously studying the matter, which took up a fair amount of my time I didn't have enough time to give equal time to every other minority point of view, and so I haven't, although over the years I have read a good deal of other "fringe:" lit, including Bill Kaysing's "We Never Went to the Moon," Simon Wiesenthal's "Sails of Hope," which says Columbus was a Jew, "The African Origins of Civilization" by Cheik Anta Diop, Stephen Knight's book on Jack the Ripper which says Jack was three Freemasons, Hugh Schoenfeld's "The Passover Plot" (Jesus faked his own death, or tried to), "The Christ Conspiracy" by Archaya S (Jesus never existed as an actual person), a book by a woman whose name I don't remember "proving" Elvis Presley was still alive (it came with a recording of a phone call she got from Elvis!), Arthur Koestler's "The Thirteenth Tribe," claiming most Jews are descended from Khazar converts to Judaism, "The Sign and the Seal," Graham Hancock's book about the Ark of the Covenant being in Ethiopia , Temple's book "The Sirius Mystery" etc., etc., etc
One other "fringe" subject to which I have devoted a lot of study is conspiracy and conspiracy theory. If we go back to 1965 when I got interested in the JFK assassination, I've been studying conspiracy and conspiracy theory for over 40 years, trying to separate fact from fantasy. I won't go into detail about that now.
mtraven: As I've said before, maybe I've desecrated the Holocaust. I don't know and I don't care. But when you say to me, "Maybe you don't feel any emotional connection to it. Fine. Then why don't you leave it the fuck alone, rather than sticking your ignorant nose into it?" you're just showing how ignrant your nose is about my nose. I didn't start sticking my knowledgable nose into it publicly(i.e., riting about it) until I'd stdied it for about nine years. Overall, I studied it for about 25 years. (During the last several years, my interest in the subject has declined .) I'm pretty confident that my nose knows much more about it than your nose, though your nose might know more about your relatives than my nose does.
Perhaps I've misconstrued the "scenario" you pose, but I get the impression that your nose doesn't know that some of the Jews who died during the Holocaust did indeed die of typhus. If, in fact, your nose doesn't know that, and if your nose is interested in the truth, which you've falsely accused me of desecrating, your nose can do a search for "Auschwitz--typhus as a cause of death,"w hich will lead to some non-or-anti-revisionist articles that confirm the occurrence of a typhus epidemic at Auschwitz, and at least one article mentioning typhus in some ghettoes. And a search for "Anne Frank--cause of death" will lead to nonrevisionist articles reporting that Anne Frank and her older sister Margot died during a typhus epidemic in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Does my telling you about this factual information desecrate something sacred? It certainly doesn't desecrate the truth, since it's true.
As for your "scenario," your analogy is pretty poor because (1) I didn't kill your relatives, and (2) I haven't tried to tell you anything about what happened to your relatives. My nose doesn't pretend to know what happened to them.
Another point: Is your nose blissfully ignorant of the fact that some of your fellow orthodox Holocaust believers have sometimes exaggerated or otherwise distorted the truth? If that is the case, and my nose knows that it is, is that a desecration of the truth? And if not, why not?
For the record, I'm not "huffy" that you're pissed off. But when someone starts badmouthing me the way you have done, I'm not inclined to just take it lying down.

Anonymous said...

Because Rollins has trouble getting comments through various websites, I'm posting this in his stead:

Does this guy actually exist or is he just your sock puppet (or are you the one that doesn't exist except as his sock puppet)?

if you haven't read it, you don't KNOW that it's crap.

Humbug. I don't need to read Flat Earth theories or "Young Earth" creationist theories to know that those are crap. Life is too short for absurd drivel.

Bill Kaysing's "We Never Went to the Moon," Simon Wiesenthal's "Sails of Hope," which says Columbus was a Jew, "The African Origins of Civilization" by Cheik Anta Diop, Stephen Knight's book on Jack the Ripper which says Jack was three Freemasons, Hugh Schoenfeld's "The Passover Plot" (Jesus faked his own death, or tried to), "The Christ Conspiracy" by Archaya S (Jesus never existed as an actual person), a book by a woman whose name I don't remember "proving" Elvis Presley was still alive (it came with a recording of a phone call she got from Elvis!), Arthur Koestler's "The Thirteenth Tribe," claiming most Jews are descended from Khazar converts to Judaism, "The Sign and the Seal," Graham Hancock's book about the Ark of the Covenant being in Ethiopia , Temple's book "The Sirius Mystery" etc., etc., etc

Hey wow, all this is crap that's not worth reading, too (and yes I actually have read most of them, unfortunately)!

I've been studying conspiracy and conspiracy theory for over 40 years, trying to separate fact from fantasy.

With indifferent success, apparently. Maturity usually brings the ability to detect crap without having to read the entire book first.

I get the impression that your nose doesn't know that some of the Jews who died during the Holocaust did indeed die of typhus.

Oh please. This is your evidence that our understanding of the Holocaust needs revising? Hello, every single Jewish death caused by the Nazis - whatever the actual death mechanism - is part of "the Holocaust", not just the deaths via gassing. If you think that we're not supposed to believe in gas chambers or a systematic Nazi program of extermination just because some Jews died of typhus, you're out of your tiny mind.

la.rollins said...

Anonymous: Consideringwhat an asshole you are, maybe you are the world's foremost authority on crap.

TGGP said...

I started my blog in the fall of 2007. Rollins only got an internet connection fairly recently. I actually joked at the time about someone impersonating him, and he perhaps semi-seriously provided evidence of his authenticity. You can contact Chip Smith, unless all three of us are the same person. I'm pretty sure we're not, because I'm 22 and Chip read Rollins' Myth of Natural Rights in the 80s, when I was too young to read or write such a thing (if I had even been born).

I actually agree with Anonymous on the irrelevance of how they died. I don't understand why Holocaust deniers obsess so much over gas chambers. That might be because so much of my knowledge of it is due to Ordinary Men, which focused on more mundane methods of execution. There have been plenty of genocides that didn't involve gas chambers (all of them other than the Holocaust). Rounding up people at the point of a gun, forcing them to work and letting them die by the truckload of malnutrition and disease doesn't really seem like much of an improvement.

Anonymous said...

Consideringwhat an asshole you are, maybe you are the world's foremost authority on crap.

Well, cogent logic like this is definitely going to make me want to read your book! I can tell immediately that you have useful things to say and important new facts to relate.

la.rollins said...

TGGP: I think it does matter how they died, at least it matters if you're interested in history, as distinguished from, say, morality. If you're interested in what happened, how it happened, and why it happened, then how they died does matter. For example, I think it matters that some Jews (and maybe others) who died during World War II died of starvation and that one contributing factor was the British Navy's blockade to prevent food from being imported into Nazi-occupied Europe. Here's a relevant quotation from Nicholson Baker's 2008 book, "Human Smoke":
"Churchill, in a speech in the House of Commons, raised the issue of hunger. He had heard proposals 'founded on the highest motives' for allowing food to pass the British naval blockade, he said. "I regret we must refuse these requests." Fats make bombs, he explained, and potatoes make synthetic fuel. Then he said: "The plastic materials now so largely used in the construction of aircaft are made of milk.' It was August 20, 1940.
"Those who groaned beneath the Hitlerian yoke would, Churchill said, have food if and when they threw the yoke off."
Is this irrelevant to understanding what happened? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

I think it matters that some Jews (and maybe others) who died during World War II died of starvation and that one contributing factor was the British Navy's blockade to prevent food from being imported into Nazi-occupied Europe.

I think it matters A LOT MORE that the Nazis imprisoned them in filthy, overcrowded camps and ghettos without adequate food, sanitation or medicine, leading to many deaths from starvation and disease.

The idea that there was "insufficient food" in Europe to feed the Jews because of the British blockade is contradicted by the obvious fact that pretty much ONLY the Jews (and other targeted groups like the Russians) starved, while there was plenty of food for the Germans and their allies. If the Germans singled out specific groups for starvation - and they did - then it is obvious to anyone with a brain that hunger was just as much a weapon of the Holocaust as bullets and poison gas. In short, HITLER, NOT CHURCHILL, was to blame for these deaths. That's if you're interested in history - understanding what happened - and not in tying yourself in knots trying to find a way to exculpate the Nazis for their crimes.

la.rollins said...

HITLER WAS TO BLAME FOR EVERYTHING! A simplemnded slogan for simpleminded people. But in case there's anyone interested in history, as distinguised from simpleminded war propagand, I'll say a few more things. Some schmuck said ,"...petty much only the Jews (and other tageted groups like the Russians starved, while there was plenty of food for the Germans and their Allies." That might be true enough if you add Greeks, non-Jewish concentration camp inmates, and maybe non-Jewish Poles to list of "targeted groups." So the Nazis treated some groups they considered enemies worse than they treated Germans and their allies, and gave those groups less to eat. That was very naughty of them, no dubt. But how does prove that the British naval blockade had no effect? How does tht prove that the blockade didn't make things worse for those targeted groups? and it wasn't just the British blockade that made things worse for some of the targeted groups. The Soviet scorched earth policy whereby retreating Soviet troops in 1941 destroyed everything that might have been useful to German troops, including food, made starvation worse for the Russians.

Anonymous said...

HITLER WAS TO BLAME FOR EVERYTHING! A simplemnded slogan for simpleminded people.

Seems much more simpleminded to me to assert that the Nazis were not to blame for deaths due to hunger and disease that resulted from the conditions that they deliberately created.

It should be obvious to the least intelligence (though apparently not to you) that there would have been no British blockade if the Germans hadn't declared war on Poland. Hitler is to blame for the hunger and all the other vast miseries the war created because he started the war. It was a war of choice - an aggressive war - and all the consequences must be laid at his feet.

That might be true enough if you add Greeks, non-Jewish concentration camp inmates, and maybe non-Jewish Poles to list of "targeted groups."

I do. And don't forget the millions of Poles and Russians whom the Nazis actually starved, as well as the tens of millions of them who the Nazis would have starved if they'd won the war in the East.

So the Nazis treated some groups they considered enemies worse than they treated Germans and their allies, and gave those groups less to eat. That was very naughty of them, no dubt. But how does prove that the British naval blockade had no effect?

The blockade could not be effective before June 1941 (and your quote is from August 1940) because the Nazi-Soviet Pact was in effect and the Soviets could (and did) supply the Nazis with any food or raw materials that were denied to them by the British. Ergo, anyone who starved during this period starved because the Nazis intentionally made this happen.

How does tht prove that the blockade didn't make things worse for those targeted groups?

What made things worse for these groups was not British policy but German policy - specifically the expropriation of food from Poland in order to feed the Reich, as well as the confinement of these groups in unhealthy conditions. Do you seriously argue that Churchill forced Hitler to deport the Jews to the East and force them into ghettos and camps?

The Soviet scorched earth policy whereby retreating Soviet troops in 1941 destroyed everything that might have been useful to German troops, including food, made starvation worse for the Russians.

Good Lord this is preposterous! The Soviets are now to blame because their people suffered after Germany attacked them? Rarely does one encounter such distorted logic.

Also, as a matter of fact this is not true. The Germans rapidly captured the food producing regions of the USSR before the Soviets could "destroy the food". The reason millions of Soviets starved is NOT because the Soviets destroyed the food but because the Nazis deliberately denied that food to the Russians. The Nazis purposefully - with malice aforethought, and as a matter of intention not accident or oversight - starved Russian prisoners and civilians, and intended to starve 30 million Russian civilians (including the entire populations of Moscow and Leningrad) after German victory in the East. This plan was devised in May 1941, before the invasion and before the Soviets had any chance to "destroy the food".

But in your twisted mind Churchill and Stalin are to blame for all this, not poor old Hitler. Tchah, I spit.

la.rollins said...

TGGP: Just for the record, I was not trying to say that dying from typhus or starvation is better than being shot or gassed to death. For all I know, it might be worse.

la.rollins said...

Anonymous: Tell us about the plan you say was devised in May 1941, specifically, how you (supposedly) know about it.

Anonymous said...

Go here and read document EC-126.

This document
is also instructive.

“The Annihilation of Superfluous Eaters”: Nazi Plans for and Uses of Famine in Eastern Europe

by Steven R. Welch

The deliberate use of famine was an integral part of Nazi plans and policies regarding Eastern Europe during World War II. The following essay will examine three key examples: first, the so-called General Plan for the East (Generalplan Ost; hereafter GPO); second, the “hunger strategy” carried out by the Germans in the occupied regions of the Soviet Union following the invasion of June 1941, which included the starvation of Soviet POWs and Soviet civilians; and third, the Nazi ghettoization policies from 1940 to 1942 which created famine conditions in which hundreds of thousands of Jews died of hunger and hunger-related diseases.

I. The General Plan for the East

The General Plan for the East, the first draft of which was presented to Heinrich Himmler in July 1941, embodied the Nazi vision for a complete and ruthless demographic revolution in Eastern Europe. The GPO was premised on the belief that the Wehrmacht would quickly and decisively vanquish the Soviet Union and thus bring a vast new territorial empire under Nazi control. Hitler and other leading Nazis conceived of the newly conquered areas as a German “India” over which they would wield absolute power and within whose boundaries they could realize their plans for a sweeping racially-based reorganisation of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The GPO was to provide the blueprint for this new colonial empire. It called for all of Poland, Czechoslovakia and large parts of the Soviet Union to be transformed into gigantic German settlement areas. This would entail “resettling” or killing between 30 to 50 million of the present inhabitants of those areas: 80-85 per cent of the Polish, 75 per cent of the Belorussian and 65 per cent of the Ukrainian populations would be affected. The GPO implicitly factored into its grisly calculations that many millions of the victims would die as a result of famine and disease brought on by malnutrition and overwork. After the massive liquidation of much of the Slavic population of Eastern Europe the remaining fourteen million people were to be reduced to the status of slave laborers for the ruling Germans who would control all property and monopolize positions of skilled labor. The territory vacated by the millions of deported or liquidated Slavs was to be settled by some 4.5 million Germans drawn from the Reich, from overseas Germans and other Germanic groups (such as Norwegians and Danes) in Europe. The entire process was originally scheduled to be completed within thirty years. Himmler later insisted that the pace be accelerated so that the program of Germanization would be accomplished within no more than twenty years.
The first draft of the GPO included a provision for the forced resettlement of five to six million Jews as part of the Germanization project. By the time a revised version was prepared the following year this provision had disappeared. By then the mass murder of European Jewry in specially designed extermination camps was already well underway. As an official from Alfred Rosenberg’s Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories noted in April 1942, the Eastern Jews did not need to be included in the revised version of the GPO since they “would already be eliminated before evacuation [to the East].”
Thanks to the defeat of the German army by Soviet forces the provisions of the GPO remained for the most part unfulfilled. Himmler did attempt one large-scale resettlement project in November 1942 in the area of Zamosc in the General Government. Thousands of Polish farmers were forced out of their homes to make room for 27,000 ethnic Germans. From the German perspective the action ended as a dismal failure: throughout the region security worsened, produce deliveries declined and Polish resistance escalated. The deteriorating war situation from 1943 on prevented any further experiments in mass resettlement. After the disastrous defeat at Stalingrad Hitler ordered that further work on the GPO be suspended. Had Hitler’s forces been successful in the East, however, there can be no doubt that under the auspices of the GPO tens of millions of Slavs would have been subjected to a program of mass killing in which deliberately imposed famine would have been a major component.



II. The “Hunger Strategy” of 1941-42

In spring 1941 the Reich Food Ministry and the Armed Forces High Command (OKW) developed what Rolf-Dieter Müller has termed a “hunger strategy” devised to deprive millions of Soviet citizens of food in order to provide surpluses which would feed the German army in Russia as well as allow foodstuffs to be sent back to the Reich from the occupied territories in the East. This hunger strategy, as Müller has convincingly demonstrated, was not an unintended or unavoidable outcome of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union but was deliberately planned in advance and must be regarded as a “consciously implemented policy of extermination.”
Plans for the economic exploitation of the occupied territories had been considered in some detail by German civilian and military experts in advance of the invasion. A statement of goals for the upcoming campaign from early May 1941 succinctly noted: “1. The war can only be continued if all armed forces are fed by Russia in the third year of war. 2. There is no doubt that as a result many millions of people will be starved to death if we take out of the country the things necessary for us.” A much more detailed document prepared by the ‘Economic Staff East, Agricultural Group’ on 23 May 1941, painted an even grimmer picture of the mass starvation and deindustrialization planned for some Soviet regions. The planners commented dispassionately that “the population of these areas, in particular the urban population, will have to face most serious distress from famine.” The document went on to state with brutal frankness that the policy being enunciated would result in mass death for the population of the occupied regions:

It follows from all that has been said that the German administration in these territories may well attempt to mitigate the consequences of the famine which undoubtedly will take place, and to accelerate the return to primitive agricultural conditions. An attempt might be made to intensify cultivation in these areas by expanding the acreage under potatoes or other important food crops giving a high yield. However, these measures will not avert famine. Many tens of millions of people in this area will become redundant and will either die or have to emigrate to Siberia. Any attempt to save the population there from death by starvation by importing surpluses from the black soil zone would be at the expense of supplies to Europe. It would reduce Germany’s and Europe’s power to resist the blockade. This must be clearly and absolutely understood.

Within the context of the racial ideology of Nazism, which posited the supremacy of the Ayran master race over the inferior Slavs and Jews, the murder of “many tens of millions of people” by means of deliberate starvation was accepted as perfectly legitimate and indeed desirable. The utter disregard of humane values by the German planners provides very striking evidence of what Hans Mommsen has referred to as the “deformation of public and private morality” during the Third Reich. The hunger strategy which the economic experts in the Wehrmacht and the state ministries formulated was a clear violation of international law which required that occupying forces insure an adequate food supply for the indigenous population. The economic planners cynically choose to ignore their obligations under international law and endorsed a policy guaranteed to condemn millions to starvation. In comments made on the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union, Alfred Rosenberg explicitly rejected the notion that Germany had any obligation toward the peoples it was about to subjugate; German interests alone were paramount: “the job of feeding the German people stands, this year, without a doubt, at the top of the list of Germany’s claims on the East…We see absolutely no reason for any obligation on our part to feed also the Russian people with the products of that surplus-territory. We know that this is a harsh necessity, bare of any feelings.”
Rosenberg was articulating a view which was shared by all members of the top Nazi leadership. Three weeks into Operation Barbarossa Hermann Goering spelled out German priorities when it came to the distribution of food supplies: “It is clear that a graduated scale of food allocations is needed. First in line are the combat troops, then the remainder of the troops in enemy territory, and then those troops stationed at home. The rates are adjusted accordingly. The supply of the German non-military population follows and only then comes the population of the occupied territories.” He went on to note, “In the occupied territories on principle only those people are to be supplied with an adequate amount of food who work for us. Even if one wanted to feed all the other inhabitants, one could not do it in the newly-occupied Eastern areas. It is, therefore, wrong to funnel off food supplies for this purpose, if it is done at the expense of the army and necessitates increased supplies from home.” The economic welfare and indeed the survival of the subject populations was to be callously and criminally disregarded; all that mattered was what benefit Germany could derive from the occupied territories. Hitler of course was in full agreement with a policy of maximum exploitation and minimum concern for the population of the occupied territories: “Our guiding principle must be that these people have but one justification for existence—to be of use to us economically. We must concentrate on extracting from these territories everything that it is possible to extract.” It can come as no surprise that the hunger strategy could count on Hitler’s complete support. On 8 July 1941 General Franz Halder, Chief of the Army General Staff, noted that the Führer had indicated that it was his “firm decision to level Moscow and Leningrad, and make them uninhabitable, so as to relieve us of the necessity of having to feed the populations through the winter.” All the evidence amply justifies Theo J. Schulte’s judgement that “the economic and military leadership of the Third Reich…advocated a radical policy of exploitation that did not merely allow for but, rather, was based on the need for the extermination of millions of people.”
The hunger strategy had a devastating impact on the Soviet population in the occupied regions. One of the most remarkable and brutally frank assessments of the consequences of the strategy was provided in a report from the Armaments Inspector for the Ukraine, Major General Hans Leykauf, dated 2 December 1941. Leykauf’s report is noteworthy for its matter-of-fact acknowledgment of the scale and scope of mass killing being carried out by German forces in the East:

When we shoot the Jews to death, allow the POWs to die, expose considerable portions of the urban population to starvation and in the upcoming year also lose a part of the rural population to hunger, the question remains to be answered: who is actually supposed to produce economic values?

Leykauf’s attention, of course, was focused not on the lethal human consequences of the hunger strategy and the other atrocities committed against the Soviet population but solely on the effects such a strategy might have on the productivity of the occupied regions. As he made clear, his own views were based not on humane “sentiment” but on “sober economic calculations.” These calculations undoubtedly informed his suggestions for a continuation of the hunger strategy:

Scooping off the agricultural surplus in the Ukraine for the purpose of feeding the Reich is therefore only feasible if traffic in the interior of the Ukraine is diminished to a minimum. The attempt will be made to achieve this
1. by annihilation of superfluous eaters (Jews, population of the Ukrainian big cities, which like Kiev do not receive any supplies at all);
2. by extreme reduction of the rations allocated to the Ukrainians in the remaining cities;
3. by decrease of the food of the farming population.

As military reports from 1942 indicate, the German insistence on the “annihilation of superfluous eaters” helped to foster famine conditions which afflicted large numbers of the Soviet population. A rear army group reported in May 1942: “the population is afflicted by hunger and is therefore under pressure to wander around the countryside to barter for foodstuffs. The fact that the German Wehrmacht has done nothing to guarantee the nourishment of the civilian population has influenced opinion and made the population distrustful towards the victorious German forces.”
The 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war who fell into the hands of the Wehrmacht during 1941 were even more disastrously affected than civilians by the deliberate hunger strategy of the Germans. Christian Streit has estimated that approximately two million of these Soviet POWs died or were executed. Streit’s pioneering research into the treatment of Soviet POWs by the German forces demonstrated that in the run-up to the invasion of the Soviet Union the German military leadership made virtually no preparations for dealing with the massive number of prisoners of war expected to come under German control during Operation Barbarossa. “In full knowledge of the consequences, the provision of food for the prisoners was totally subordinated to the goal of exploiting the food resources of the East in order to raise the rations of the German population.” Predictably, the results were catastrophic. Major General Wagner, the army’s Quartermaster General in charge of the POWs, declared at a conference on 13 November 1941, “Those non-working prisoners of war in the prison camps are to starve. Working prisoners of war can in individual cases be fed from army provisions. But unfortunately this cannot be ordered on a general basis, given the overall food situation.” This policy guaranteed that the death toll among the prisoners would be extraordinarily high. Major General Leykauf, in his notorious December 1941 report on the fate of “superfluous eaters” cited above, commented directly on the plight of the Soviet POWs: “Billeting, food, clothing and health of the prisoners of war is bad, mortality very high. The loss of tens of thousands even hundreds of thousands during this winter is to be expected.” Only in the aftermath of the failure of Operation Barbarossa and in the knowledge that a lengthy conflict with the Soviet Union would require the utilization of all possible productive forces did the German military authorities alter their hunger policy toward the Soviet POWs with the intention of preserving and exploiting their labor power.
Rolf-Dieter Müller has delivered an appropriate overall verdict on the hunger strategy adopted by the Nazi regime in 1941-42:

The victims of this plan were not unavoidable casualties of war but martyrs of a deliberate policy on the part of the occupational authorities, who set about implementing the first phase of their plan to colonize and germanize the lands of the Soviet Union. It was the beginning of a premeditated genocide on a colossal scale. The population was divided into racial categories, with ‘undesirable’ elements or ‘superfluous mouths’ being left to starve or simply murdered.


III. Famine in the Jewish Ghettos 1940-42

The final example of Nazi use of famine is provided by the ghettoization policies adopted in the period 1940-42. As Christopher Browning has pointed out, ghettoization policy emerged from the initiatives of local authorities and within the context of debates between two groups of officials whom he labels as “productionists” (those who favored allowing Jews to work in order to feed themselves) and “attritionists” (those who endorsed a harsh policy of allowing Jews to starve to death as a means of extracting all the assets which the ghettoized Jews allegedly were hoarding). In late 1940 and early 1941 the attritionists held the upper hand among the German authorities in Warsaw and as a result they succeeded in deliberately imposing a starvation policy on the ghetto there with disastrous consequences for the Jewish inhabitants. As the commissar of the Warsaw ghetto, Heinz Auerswald, noted, “A quantum leap in deaths for May of this year [1941] showed that the food shortage had already grown into a famine.”
In spring 1941—at the same time that the hunger strategy toward the Soviet Union was being formulated—German authorities in the General Government adopted a fundamental change in German policy toward the Jews in the Lodz and Warsaw ghettos, endorsing the position of the “productionists” who insisted that the ghetto inhabitants were not to be allowed to starve to death but should be provided with enough food to transform the ghetto into a productive entity. This change in German policy slowed down but did not halt the hunger and attrition in the ghettos. “In 1941 and 1942,” Israel Gutman has written, “112,463 persons died in the two ghettos [Lodz and Warsaw] of starvation and disease, which means that 20 percent of the population perished in the space of two years.” Despite the temporary ascendancy of the productionists, starvation still remained one of the chief weapons in the Nazis’ anti-Jewish armoury. In August 1942, Hans Frank, Governor-General of Poland, declared: “Clearly we are sentencing 1.2 million Jews [i.e., the Jewish population of the General Government] to death by starvation; and if they do not die from hunger, we will have to adopt other anti-Jewish measures.”
At the same time in 1941 that local German authorities were debating how to deal with the Jews confined to ghettos, Reinhard Heydrich, Head of the Reich Main Security Office, was busy formulating more far-reaching and deadly plans concerning European Jewry, plans which also incorporated famine as a deliberate tool of extermination. Götz Aly has argued that in March 1941 Heydrich developed a plan which called for Jews to be deported first to the eastern periphery of the General Government and then, following the anticipated quick military victory over the Soviet Union, to the swamp areas of the Pripyat region. Those Jews who survived these ordeals would then be deported further into Siberia. In Aly’s words, “the [Jewish] deportees would die a ‘natural’ death, in part starving and freezing to death in ghettos and camps, in part working themselves to death under a barbaric police regimen.” Famine thus played an integral part in the initial plans which eventually culminated in the ‘Final Solution’.



IV. Conclusion

The three examples which have been briefly outlined above provide clear evidence that famine was a central component of Nazi plans for occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Although the ambitious and lethal demographic reorganization envisaged in the General Plan for the East never advanced far beyond the initial planning stages, the actual hunger strategy implemented in conjunction with Operation Barbarossa, as well as the inhumane conditions created in the ghettos of Eastern Europe, had catastrophic consequences for the Slavic and Jewish populations of the region. Raul Hilberg has estimated that over half a million Polish Jews died in the ghettos. Approximately 7.5 million non-Jewish Ukrainian, White Russian and Polish civilians died as result of German occupation. In addition, some 3.3 million Soviet POWs perished through hunger, disease or shooting at the hands of the Germans on the Eastern front over the course of the war. These horrific figures underscore the magnitude of the death and suffering produced by the calculated starvation strategies applied by the Nazi regime. Along with numerous other methods of death and destruction, the deliberate use of famine must be rated as one of the favored Nazi means of exterminating the regime’s racial and ideological enemies.

la.rollins said...

Anonymous: Do you assume that all the "documents" put into evidence at Nuremburg were authentic?

la.rollins said...

Here's another quotation from Nicholson Baker's book "Human Smoke":
"Dr. Henry Szoszkies distributed a report to American newspapers about the Jews in Poland. It was September 13, 1941."
"Roosevelt's money blockade, which made it difficult to buy food for people living in German-controlled countries, was contributing to the problem, accordng to Szoszkies. 'The latest restrictions imposed by the United States Treasury on the sending of remittances abroad,' he said, 'have increased the plight of many Jewish families who were receiving regularly--via Portugal and other neutral countries--food parcels through the generosity of their relatives in the United States.'"

mtraven said...

I'm going to close comments on this post, something I haven't done before, because I find this kind of discussion somewhere between offensive and tedious. Rollins has his own blog; I suggest you continue the discussion there.

Anonymous said...

Do you assume that all the "documents" put into evidence at Nuremburg were authentic?

Never seen any evidence that they are not authentic. The burden of proof is certainly on you to demonstrate that they are not. But feel free to knock yourself out trying.

"Roosevelt's money blockade, which made it difficult to buy food for people living in German-controlled countries, was contributing to the problem,

Who is more stupid, you or Nicholson Baker? So hard to decide. The so-called "blockade" was not making life difficult for the Jews. The German policy of deporting Jews to the East, concentrating them in crowded, filthy conditions, denying them food, and killing them was making life difficult (and in many cases, impossible) for the Jews. Do you really think the Germans - who intended to starve and work the Jews to death when not killing them outright - were going to let the Jews get care packages from Uncle Hymie in Hoboken? You're simply nuts if you do.