Jewish Journal

Does The World Have Transient Global Amnesia?

by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

September 2, 2013 | 12:42 pm

Let’s just say that reasonable people (or, even, people in Congress) can disagree, reasonably, about the most appropriate way to deal with the situation in Syria. I’m OK with that.

But here is what I am not OK with.

There was an article in this past Sunday’s New York Times magazine – a personal reflection by a man who had a terrifying bout with something called transient global amnesia. In other words, he had inexplicable short-term memory loss. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/01/magazine/a-brief-vacation-from-myself.html?ref=magazine&_r=0 In order to test the extent of the damage, the attending physician asked him the name of the current president; he could not remember. Nor could he remember what he had for breakfast. The doctor then showed him three objects and asked him to remember what they were – apple, table, penny – and again, he couldn’t remember.

“We are all just one misfiring neuron away from forgetting who the president is or what we did last night or what transpired in our most intimate moments. In an instant, I had become like my grandmothers in their last years, floating through life, uttering the same old phrases as if for the first time.

“Your accumulated memories make you who you are — how terrifying is it that they can simply vanish? What do you become then? This question still nags at me every morning I can’t remember where I put my keys, each time I can’t recall why I came downstairs. Now I have a simple way to ground myself. I repeat three words in my mind: apple, table, penny.”

But this week, we need only repeat one word in our minds: gas, gas, gas.

Here was Chris Matthews, last week:

"If you basically put down a red line and say don't use chemical weapons, and it's been enforced in the Western community…Don't use chemical weapons. We didn't use them in World War II, Hitler didn't use them, we don't use chemical weapons, that's no deal. Although we do know that Assad's father did. Then he goes ahead and does it......"  http://www.city-data.com/forum/politics-other-controversies/1942953-more-stupidity-chris-matthews.html#ixzz2dO6MAdcj

And then, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer joined PBS Newshour to argue against military intervention in Syria. Here’s what he said:

“[But] chemical weapons are not weapons of mass destruction, like nuclear weapons are. The reason that chemical weapons were not used in World War II wasn’t because someone like Adolf Hitler was above using them for moral reasons."http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/july-dec13/syria_08-28.html

The Nazis didn’t use chemical weapons?!? What, then, would you call Zyklon B? And let the record note, they "even" used chemical weapons against combatants, i.e. the Soviet army.

I would have expected more from Chris Matthews.

But as for John Mearsheimer, it only shows that Israel-bashing is a gateway drug.

Remember Mearsheimer and Walt? John Mearsheimer collaborated with John Walt on The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy. They essentially say that a Jewish conspiracy is malignantly affecting United States foreign policy. Mearsheimer even blurbed a book by the execretious Gilad Atzmon, which refers to American Jews as “the enemy within” and which claims that “robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right.” Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli jazz saxaphonist who has compared Israel to the Nazis and has accused Jews of trafficing in body parts. He proudly calls himself a "self-hating Jew."

So let us not be surprised that Mearsheimer’s latest screed approaches the suburbs of Holocaust-denial -- or at the very least, minimalization.

We are now seventy years after the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and seventy five years after Kristallnacht. If the Shoah was a final exam, we all flunked. Just look at what has happened since the Shoah: Pol Pot. Rwanda. Kosovo. The Kurds. Remember “Hotel Rwanda”? The Hutus slaughtered eight thousand Tutsi a day for one hundred days straight, and no one did a thing.

You know the US Holocaust Museum? Every DC tourist’s favorite stop? School groups from Topeka and Anchorage and Chevy Chase wearing out the carpeting? A $53 million annual budget?

The US Holocaust Museum has not prevented a single death.

Not one.

As US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, writes in her magisterial book on genocide, A Problem From Hell: America And The Age of Genocide
http://www.amazon.com/Problem-Hell-America-Age-Genocide/dp/0061120146, time and time again, American leaders did not act against mass killing for one major reason: they did not want to. They knew that genocide was wrong, but they simply did not want to invest military, financial or political capital in fighting it.

True: no one wants another Viet Nam. No one wants another Iraq or Afghanistan. 

But: how about not wanting another Rwanda?

I remind you of the man in the New York Times Magazine who endured transient global amnesia.

Yes, there are many who now have (moral) amnesia.

Yes, it seems global.

But is it transient?

We cannot know. And as I write these words, we cannot know what, in fact, the Congress will choose to do about Syria. And as I said, reasonable people can disagree on the precise contours of American policy.

As we enter Yom Ha-zikharon, the day of remembering, Rosh Ha Shanah – let us at least, as Jews, be the shock troops in the war against amnesia.

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Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is one of America’s most prolific and most-quoted rabbis, whose colleagues have called him an “activist for Jewish ideas.” An award-winning writer...

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