Questioning Myths: Bread & Puppet Theater’s Peter Schumann

Schumann & Vacarr
Goddard College President Barbara Vacarr with
Bread & Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann
Courtesy of Goddard College

On Sunday, July 22, 2012, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, bestowed its Second Annual Presidential Award for Activism to Bread & Puppet Theater founder and artistic director Peter Schumann as part of the commencement for the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts. Goddard president Barbara Vacarr stated in a press release, “Peter Schumann embodies the ideals of social justice that reflect Goddard’s mission and values […] We are proud of the shared history of Goddard and Bread & Puppet, and we celebrate that history today.” It was the culmination of a relationship between the radical theatre company and the college that began in 1970 when Schumann moved his company from Manhattan to take up a four-year stint as the college’s theater in residence. In 1974 Schumann and his puppeteers would move to a former dairy farm in Glover, Vermont, where they have been based ever since.

Though Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin declined the invitation to attend the ceremony, in a letter to President Vacarr, he would praise Schumann’s selection for the Award:

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Peter has used his powerful voice to entertain, educate and encourage meaningful action. Like Goddard College, Bread and Puppet Theater challenges us to use our imagination, ask questions and express ourselves.

Schumann’s contributions to the activist counter-culture are vast. It is not uncommon in major metropolitan areas for political demonstrations to include large papier-m√¢ché puppets, especially on behalf of traditionally “leftist” causes like environmentalism, anti-militarism and anti-capitalism. People who have never seen a performance of Bread & Puppet generically refer to this form of activist puppetry as “Bread & Puppets” much as “Xerox” is used as a generic term for photocopying. The rise in popularity of radical marching bands owes much to the brass bands that would convene in various cities to accompany Bread & Puppet on tour. In fact, in my city of Somerville, Massachusetts, HonkFest, an annual festival of activist street bands was first organized by members of the Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band, which has long provided music for Bread & Puppet’s performances in the Boston metropolitan area. In short, since the founding of his company in 1963, Schumann has greatly influenced the visual and musical style of protest in America-introducing a festive anarchic alternative to the regimented marching and chanting usually associated with public demonstrations.

His artistic legacy is equally wide ranging: Though his plays do not lend themselves to being performed by other companies, legions of artists working in the field of puppetry and performance art often reveal their Bread & Puppet pedigree by the techniques they incorporate into their work. He has expanded upon the techniques of Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre while re-introducing such pre-modern theatrical forms as pageants, passion plays and morality plays to the modern and post-modern stage. On the other hand, his heavily visual style relies so heavily on symbolism and allegory that the very concept of an individual character is often crowded out (it’s a not uncommon criticism that the characters in Bread & Puppet function only as stock or allegory.) It is this artistic legacy that inspired me to work with Bread & Puppet when the opportunity first came up in 2003.

As President Vacarr stated in her speech honoring Schumann:

[…J]ust as individuals do, human societies tend to see what they want to see. They create national myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy narratives that, if not challenged, lead to destruction.

[…] Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths. Artists, writers, poets, activists, journalists, philosophers, dancers, musicians, actors, directors and renegades-that just about covers everyone in this tent tonight-must be tolerated if a culture is to be pulled back from disaster. He points out that these artist renegades serve as prophets and are therefore dismissed, labeled by the power elites as subversive. Given the harsh realities of Peter’s earlier life I would add that society’s wrath does not stop at dismissing the voices of subversives, as we know about so many who have suffered at the hands of those who would silence them.

[…V]isionary artists like Peter Schumann are our sharpest eyes, our keenest ears, our most adept linguists as they see that which has been made invisible or unwelcome, they hear the voices missing from our dominant narratives and they speak in languages that pierce unconsciousness and translate slick sound bites into nuanced and deeper understandings of our world.

Peter Shumann Recieves Activism Award from Goddard College on Vimeo.

Of course, with a career is as long as Peter Schumann’s, it is important to “confront unexamined assumptions” lest biography be idealized into hagiography. My own assumptions about Schumann began to crack in 2004, when I was performing with the troupe during a two-week run in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The run was comprised of a double bill of World on Fire and How to Turn Distress into Success. One evening I was a fly on the wall when Schumann griped to a friend and former troupe member that he had wanted to incorporate excerpts from a speech by Osama bin-Laden but that current members of the traveling company (the ones that actually resided on the Bread & Puppet farm in Glover, Vermont-not part-timers like myself) had refused. Schumann was flabbergasted both by the fact of the rebellion and reason for the rebellion: the troupe did not see bin-Laden as he did: an anti-Imperialist. Schumann displayed no awareness that bin-Laden and the al-Qaeda organization espoused the imperialist goal of imposing a global caliphate, sanctioned violence against Muslims who did not share their particular Salafist beliefs and practices, as well as holding to a form of antisemitism that collectively viewed Jews as a radical evil that needed to be eliminated. At the time, perhaps because I was so entranced by the directorial virtuosity of World on Fire and excited by my role as a puppeteer in that production, I gave the rant no mind and dismissed it as an eccentricity formed during the height of the Cold War.

I continued working with the company during its Boston-area productions. It was only in February of 2007 I was driven to break from Peter Schumann and Bread & Puppet. Though I have written at greater length and detail about this break elsewhere, I will attempt to summarize: Schumann had conducted a puppetry workshop in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour. Upon his return, he created a series of murals entitled “Independence Paintings: Inspired by Four Stories” that were to be exhibited at the Boston Center for the Arts Cyclorama in conjunction with a series of performances that I had already agreed to work on. The pieces juxtaposed scenes of the Warsaw Ghetto populated stereotypical Ashkenazi Jews accompanied by Palestinian narratives about the separation wall that divides Israel from the West Bank, Israeli checkpoints, and Israeli counter-terrorist activities. At a February 12 presentation Schumann made some vague comparisons between the economic hardship caused by having to pass through checkpoints in order to enter Israel and the hardships of Nazi-engineered starvation in the Ghetto. The juxtaposition was interpreted by many attendees of the symposium as drawing equivalence between the conditions of the Warsaw Ghetto with that of the West Bank and thus equating Israel to the Third Reich. Schumann’s critics viewed it as a slander against Israel and a trivialization of the Holocaust; Schumann’s defenders saw the equation as a testament to Israel as a genocidal enterprise and explicitly endorsed the equation. Any attempt at a more nuanced defense of the juxtaposition seemed illogical.

A striking peculiarity of Schumann’s presentation was how he placed the blame for Jewish suffering in the Ghetto on “the failure to reach out to the Polish resistance.” However, during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April and May of 1943, the Jewish resistance groups did work with the Polish resistance groups. The combined resistance efforts, though valiant, were ultimately out-gunned. Schumann simultaneously slandered those Poles who rose to resist Nazi occupation, and the Ghetto fighters who rose up to resist extermination. He went through the evening without mentioning German responsibility for the Ghetto.

The Warsaw Ghetto had been part of a system of ghettos and slave labor camps that Germany established between 1939 and 1941. It extended from modern-day Poland eastward toward the Baltic states. Not content to segregate the Jews, the Germans deliberately starved, overworked and overcrowded them, causing somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews to die before the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau were put into operation. By contrast, the Palestinian population of the West Bank has continued to grow since Israel seized the territory from Jordan in 1967, and the GDP had been improving during the time of Schumann’s visit.

Uncle Fatso
Left: 1934 issue of Die Brennessel portrays
a Jewish press magnate subverting Germany
with a phallic tube of lies
Right: Bread & Puppet iconic avatar of the evils of modernity, Uncle Fatso with phallic cigar

The experience of seeing an artist I admired trivialize and misrepresent the Holocaust, and even draw support from activists who were making deliberately anti-Semitic statements, including explicit comparisons between Zionism and Naziism, pained me. So while others were celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day, I wrote an email explaining my decision to sever ties to the troupe.

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One afternoon, several weeks later, I was angrily berated on public transit by Mary Curtin, the show’s producer, when we found ourselves riding the same bus. It was clear to me that if I were to be verbally abused in public for following my conscience, then my position should be made public.

Though he would subsequently claim it “wasn’t my intent” to equate Israelis with Nazis and that he “may have unnecessarily hurt some people’s feelings,” Schumann again exhibited the “Independence Paintings” in September of 2007 as part of Burlington Vermont’s annual ArtHop.

In subsequent years, due to my ongoing commentary, I have been interviewed as a critic of Peter Schumann, and read many an interview where Schumann has responded some of my criticism while further elaborating his views on Israel, Jews, World War II and the Holocaust. My admiration for Schumann’s contributions to the arts has not dissipated, but my ability to regard him as a moral authority, a position he has staked out for himself and his admirers have ceded to him, has.

Schumann speaks frequently of being born in 1934 in a region called Silesia, but he neglects to mention that it was part of the Third Reich and that his hometown of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) was a major base of support of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Indeed, the local German population provided a fertile ground for Naziism to take root: in the 1920s, mob violence had already forced much of the city’s Jewish and Polish populations to leave, and, over the course of Schumann’s childhood, the city was rendered Judenfrei through deportations. Breslau was a city surrounded by a network of concentration camps and slave labor camps providing commercial products for the city. Despite the political nature of his art, Schumann never addresses the fact that for the first 11 years of his life, he was a child of Nazi Germany. He never discusses whether or not his parents were party members, whether or not he was a member of the Deutsches Jungvolk (the Hitler Youth subdivision for boys aged 10-14), or how these experiences influenced him. Popular book-length studies of Schumann and Bread & Puppet (like George Dennison’s An Existing Better World: Notes On The Bread & Puppet Theater and Marc Estrin’s essays for Rehearsing with Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theater) make no mention of Schumann’s life in Nazi-era Silesia.

Indeed, outside of one 2006 interview with Rosette Royal of Real Change News, it’s hard to find an instance in which Schumann admits to being from Germany (a 2008 profile in The Boston Phoenix passingly identifies him as “a resident German alien with a green card”) but he makes no mention of life under the swastika:

Schumann: Well, bread is the staff of life. Anyway, the old bread is. The bread you buy in the store is not. But the habit of bread baking – which I have picked up and learned from my mother – I, as a kid, never ate other bread than what she baked. And when we were kids, we were refugees. We went gleaning the fields for the grain. We ground it with our hands in the little coffee mill and all the rest. It is a sourdough rye bread. […] I have tried it out. I have hiked with only my mother’s bread in my bag, and you can live on it. (Pause.) If you chew it long enough.

RC: You said you were a refugee?

Schumann: I was born in Silesia, which was German. It became Polish in 1945, after the war. It was part of Germany that was given to Poland by the Yalta Conference. Ninety-nine percent of the population of Silesia was made into refugees at the end of the War and we were part of that 99 percent. We were all looking for a new life, so we live as refugees for a few years. Then I came to the States in 1961.

This is the closest he comes to making a clear statement on the political circumstances of his youth, and perhaps the most detailed statement he has made regarding the “harsh realities of Peter’s earlier life” of which Vacarr spoke when she introduced Schumann. It is strange that an artist so defined by his political positions would be silent about this part of his childhood when other German artists of his generation, like the late dramatist and director Heiner M√ºller and the otherwise apolitical children’s book author Eric Carle, are more forthcoming. A child should not be blamed for the crimes of his parents’ generation, but it seems odd that he cannot bring himelf to describe the regime whose crimes he chooses to evoke.

The Germans of Silesia and other parts of central and eastern Europe did not become refugees simply because the victorious Allies were enjoying the spoils of war, but because the very ideology of Naziism and the war in Europe had been predicated on the idea of Großdeustchland, a German nation-state that extended to wherever the German language was spoken. The German Silesia that was taken away from Schumann was one where Jews were exterminated (Auschwitz was located in a part of Silesia annexed to Germany in 1939) and from where Poles were deported, often to slave labor camps in the German controlled General Government region. At risk of over-simplifying, the deportation of Germans to the post-1945 Kleindeutschland East and West was to ensure that both that the defeated Germany could not reap the rewards of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and that any future Germany would never again be able to make territorial claims on its neighbors.

More often, Schumann and those writing about him are far more vague, if not misleading. A 2011 profile by Tim Johnson in The Burlington Free Press states in the accompanying timeline:

1934: Born in German-speaking Silesia, a region in central Europe now part of Poland

Schumann violin
Schumann performs his acceptance of
Goddard College’s Second Annual
Presidential Award for Activism
Courtesy of Goddard College

The timeline does not pick up again until 1961 and the only other details regarding Schumann’s childhood in The Burlington Free Press story is his account of how he and his siblings had performed on Christmas shows using the puppets he had received as presents. (I was interviewed for this piece, and suggested to Johnson that he ask Schumann about growing up under the Third Reich but the article made no mention of Naziism.)

In a 2007 article in Seven Days, another Burlington-based publication, journalist Ken Picard attempted to insulate Schumann from criticism with an outright falsehood:

For his part, Schumann has repeatedly denied the accusations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial-after all, he and his family fled Nazi Germany when he was 10.

In this case, the Schumann family is portrayed as being refugees from Naziism. More often, he is only portrayed living in Germany as a young dancer, sculptor and choreographer after leaving Silesia.

In a 2008 interview conducted by Greg Cook for his blog, The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, Schumann comes up with what is both a strange comparison between Israeli civilians who have been victims of terrorist attacks and what appears to be a graphic fantasy about Nazi soldiers as victims of atrocities near the end of World War II (note the repeated use of the word “probably”):

[Your critics] seem to say your work doesn’t represent that the Israelis are doing this to fight terrorism from the Palestinians. And so that by not representing the Israelis’ problems you’re being unfair.

I don’t know. It’s like when you go to any war naturally the guerillas who rise up against occupation forces are to be blamed for atrocities they commit, but that’s not on the same page with the atrocity of the occupation. Take an extreme case like the Nazis in Poland. Naturally what the Polish and the Russian guerillas probably did against the Nazi soldiers was probably pretty horrible, dismembering them or burning them or putting them into cement walls, or whatever they could to, probably, to punish them. Is that on the same page as the very fact of the invasion?

Alongside the 2011 Burlington Free Press article, in a sidebar piece on the controversy (for which I was interviewed but is no longer available on the website), Schumann continues to dissociate himself from having grown up in Germany. In fact, he is primarily concerned with how evoking the Holocaust is offensive to Germans:

Schumann was called a “Holocaust-denier,” among other things. “Ridiculous,” Schumann said recently. “Offensive and stupid.” For anyone of German descent, he said, the Holocaust is “one of the most horrible things.”

Schumann’s rhetorical game is crafty: he uses the Nazi extermination of the Jews to attack Israel; he uses the post-war deportation of Germans from eastern and middle Europe and the deaths of Nazi military and paramilitary personnel to attack Israel; and all the while he is soliciting his audience to see the Germans as victims. So, when in the 2006 Real Change News interview he says…

Palestine is an ice-cold reality under the feet of the occupiers. Palestine is homelessness that results from the gestures of politicians. Palestine is a giant body arrested, crushed, and rises up and lives.

…it’s hard not to wonder if Palestine serves as a symbol for the Germany he lost as a youth, the Germany that is “an ice-cold reality under the feet of the occupiers.” The Germany that is “homelessness that results from the gestures of politicians.” The Germany that is “a giant body arrested, crushed, and rises up and lives.”

Articulating myths of German victimization while deliberately avoiding any talk about German responsibility, or what it was like to live in Nazi Germany, perhaps it is not surprising to find Schumann evoking other myths as well. In the 2008 interview with Greg Cook, he described “the Western community,” a nebulous term that appears to refer collectively to the governments or press agencies of North America and Europe as serving Israel:

I think it’s awful that the Western community does not interfere with what Israel’s doing as an occupation force [in the West Bank]. The Western community does not do anything about it. They don’t even speak up against it. They don’t do anything. They basically serve as the Israeli propaganda for the events there.

Fliegende Blaetter
A 1942 issue of Fliegende Blätter depicting Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Rosevelt and Joseph Stalin as puppets of a grotesque Jew.

Note that he does not talk about any particular country, just a vague power that Israel supposedly has over “the Western community.” How does Israel get the “Western community” to produce propaganda for Israel and obey Israeli interests? Money? Well-placed people in government? How does he explain the frequent disagreements that occur between some western governments (especially those of western Europe) and Israel, or what some view as anti-Israeli biases in mainstream western news outlets like the BBC and The Guardian? Rather than providing a criticism of Israeli policy, he propounds an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory using the fuzzy logic of allusion and moralistic pronouncements; he is unable to consider that western governments can have an agenda without it being subordinate to Israel’s agendas. Essentially it’s a recapitulation of the canard of Jews or Zionists controlling both the international press and national governments the world over. He would, of course, have been familiar with this trope, growing up in the Third Reich. Ironically for Schumann, this trope was often illustrated in cartoons of his youth as a Jewish puppeteer manipulating a cast of characters that included Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Joseph Stalin.

Using the same logic, one could argue that Vermont “serves Bread & Puppet propaganda”: the Governor sends his letter of congratulations when Goddard College decides to bestow an award, while many Vermont-based writers and journalists seem eager to help Schumann conceal his inconvenient past.

Later in the same interview, Schumann offers more conspiratorial hyperbole:

Israel… [is] a fascist democracy just like the U.S. is. And these fascist democracies that are not real democracies, but fake democracies, they do as they wish. They build their ethics with the help of ethics professors as they go. They just have to find the right ethics professors, and they do all the time. They pay enough and so they find another ethics professor.

Does Schumann really suppose that either the U.S. or Israel resemble the Silesia in which he was nurtured, with its concentration camps, genocide industry and slave labor? Were he willing to describe the Silesia of his youth, would he still make such comparisons?

That Goddard College would so honor someone who would so cravenly trivialize the Holocaust is particularly ironic given that only one year prior, Vacarr bestowed the Presidential Award for Activism on Stephan Ross, born in Lodz, Poland, as Szmulek Rozental, a childhood survivor of the Dachau Concentration Camp who settled in the U.S. and went on to found the New England Holocaust Memorial.

Though Schumann presents himself as an anarchist and anti-fascist, describes himself as a pacifist and is irreverent of traditional religion, his callousness towards the victims of fascism, his espousal of German victimhood, his dissociation of German responsibility for Nazi-era atrocities, his nostalgia for Gro√üdeutschland and his romantic portrayal of his Nazi-era childhood, combined with his reliance on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to explain international politics, is evidence of a crypto-fascistic world-view lurking beneath his long hair and white-shirted Bread & Puppet uniform. One may ask if Schumann’s politics are not rooted in, as Barbara Vacarr’s describes, “myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy narratives that, if not challenged, lead to destruction”?

Nazi-era propaganda cartoons provided by Calvin College’s online German Propaganda Archive.

  • Jaego

    Not even Jewish Scholars believe in the 6 million anymore – it has gone the way of the lampshades and the soap. Remember that? (Orthodox Rabbis used to say kaddish for bars of soap) But somehow, in the popular media, the number never changes – even as the sign on the Auschwitz Gate keeps going down, the six million never changes. It’s almost as if the media doesn’t care about the Truth; as if someone with an Agenda owns it or something… Is Shulzberger (NY Times) a Jewish name btw? Is Thal?

  • Jaego:

    Your position rests on a weak foundation of factual errors, half-truths, and outright lies. Indeed, you seem to be parroting talking points I’ve seen elsewhere in the writings of the infamous Holocaust denier, Bradley Smith.

    1.) “Not even Jewish Scholars believe in the 6 million anymore”

    Incorrect. Though Raul Hilberg, in his seminal work The Destruction of the European Jews (one of the earliest studies of the “final solution” written before the term “Holocaust” became widely adopted) places the figure at 5.1 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, most scholars today (both Jewish and Gentile and of many nationalities) agree upon the 6 million figure, give or take a couple of hundred thousand.

    2.) “gone the way of the lampshades and the soap.”

    There are examples both of human skin lampshades and bars of soap made from human fat– however, these appear either to be small scale experiments by Nazi scientists (in the case of the soap) or the work of isolated psychopaths who worked at death camps and had time to devote to a macabre hobby.

    The items were rare, but they did exist.

    The myth is that either item was mass-produced for consumer use.

    The real point is that when genocide is policy, the more extreme forms of individual savagery become more widespread.

    3.) “Orthodox Rabbis used to say kaddish for bars of soap”

    Sounds more like an anecdote that is currently being used for anti-Semitic Jew-baiting. One says Kaddish for people, not soap. Certainly an Orthodox Rabbi understands the ritual.

    4.) ” the popular media, the number never changes”

    Well, the popular media is not scholarly opinion. Still, your claims posit that the consensus view of scholars in North America, Europe (both eastern and western), as well as Israel who have studied the documentary evidence are inferior to your knowledge.

    The onus is on you to demonstrate that it is scholarly opinion that is wrong; but you have not.

    5.) “the sign on the Auschwitz Gate keeps going down”

    What you neglect to mention is that when the sign that read “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” went down in December of 2009, it had been stolen and vandalized by a Swedish neo-Nazi and his accomplices. (It has since been recovered and repaired but now kept at a museum while a replica is currently at the gates to Auschwitz-Birkenau.)

    6/) ” Is Shulzberger (NY Times) a Jewish name btw? Is Thal?”

    You just could not refrain from showing your true colors as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, could you?

    Now, what’s your opinion on Bread & Puppet Theater?

  • Mad Arab

    Schumann comes across as an egalitarian who sees Jews as people first and Jews second. He represents the universal aspect of morality whilst many Jews wish to remain particular. That’s understandable for both parties. Nobody wants to give up an ancient identity for some vague utopia. We can learn a valuable lesson here. Namely, that people from all nations can be victims or oppressors.

  • How do you square that with his apologetics for a German nationalist utopia, Mad Arab?

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  • Walker Storz

    I have already picked apart your facile arguments, Ian, in messages to you on facebook, and you have not responded. Nevertheless, if you would read these two articles by great thinkers, you would probably have a better understanding of life, art, and Israel:

  • Walker, to the best of my knowledge, we have never corresponded by Facebook or by any other medium, nor have I had any recent correspondance regarding this article.

    If you wish to “pick apart my facile arguments”; I invite you to do so here, or on my blog. Simply calling Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky “great thinkers” is not an argument. I have less to say about Zinn, since I have read only a small amount of his work; but as to Chomsky, I have found that he has a well documented tendency to make up the “facts” he cites, and while he is a master rhetorician, the logic of his arguments tends not to hold up.

    Neither of the links you posted have much to do with the subject matter of this piece; it’s about the fact that Peter Schumann has been less than forthcoming about his life in the Third Reich, that he’s often portrayed Germany as a co-equal, if not primary victim of WWII, and that his criticism of Israel seems to recycle a number of Nazi-era rhetorical tropes, including the notion that Jews or Israel control the international media and numerous governments.

    • Walker Storz

      I did pick apart most of the same arguments at this link:
      I have yet to see the comments go up. Much of it should overlap– I didn’t address some of the other points yet.
      The main point that I thought was relevant in the Zinn piece was the difference between enshrining the Holocaust and respecting the Holocaust by learning from it and putting it in context to the tangible atrocities that are now occurring: “My point was that the memory of the Jewish Holocaust should not be circled by barbed wire, morally ghettoized, kept isolated from other atrocities in history. To remember what happened to the six million Jews, I said, served no important purpose unless it aroused indignation, anger, action against all atrocities, anywhere in the world.” My point was that the simplistic claim that Peter Schumann is a soft-core holocaust denier does not logically derive from the material he presented. I think that the piece is not trying to equate the Israelis with the Nazis, or the Palestinians with the Jews of the warsaw ghetto– but rather to show that there are some similarities, and that (over long periods of time) the roles can change–the oppressed can become the oppressor. You may have not like the conclusions that you thought were implicit in the piece, but that hardly constitutes a critique–Your accusations of “soft-core” holocaust denial are kneejerk reactions that constitute a lack of depth and a failure to attempt to engage with the work on your own terms.

      • Walker Storz

        on *its* own terms.

  • Interesting:

    Not only is Walker Storz lying about sending me messages via Facebook; he does not, as of this writing, appear to have a Facebook account! What some people will do to get my attention!

    • Walker Storz

      Would be nice if you took this inaccurate piece of information down.

  • Walker Storz

    I also fail to see how Noam Chomsky is the young, idealistic left-wing thinker’s version of Ayn Rand. They’re hardly worth discussing in the same sentence. Ayn Rand’s fiction writing was terrible (I’ve never read it, just skimmed the plots, but I’ll take Hitchens’ word for it and save myself the time), and her philosophy abhorrent. Her philosophy isn’t just morally abhorrent, but completely impractical, ignoring the reality of interdependency, ignoring the fact that so-called “job creators” need to (and do) systematically exploit labor to create capital, and ignoring the fact that there is no state that has successfully practiced free-market or laissez-faire capitalism without any form of government regulation. What is extremely ironic is how much the fundamentalist Christians in the medicare slashing (Paul Ryan, ex.) wing of the GOP have embraced her philosophy, considering how much she abhorred religion (and altruism, which is a small part of the New testament that the GOP chooses to ignore). I also loved seeing her protege Alan Greenspan basically admit to Congress that he was completely wrong about deregulation. “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

    As far as Noam Chomsky goes, I find him always quietly articulate, no bombast or bluster, but merely offering methodical critiques of authority systems and the media/propaganda systems that support them. I cited Noam because I stumbled across some of his philosophy while I was rejecting free-market capitalism, but had no idea what could fill that void: certainly not Stalinism, or Marxism-Leninism. Noam offered a sharp argument that Communism and Fascism should both be categorized on the far right of a right-left political spectrum, since they both rely on authoritarian central governments. I simply cited/linked to Chomsky because his arguments on the Israeli occupation were the most satisfying I had come across. You didn’t offer any critiques of his work before dismissing all of it as unbalanced propaganda. Why such dismissiveness? Unlike Ayn Rand, his work is widely held by academics in high esteem, as well as valued by progressive organizers. You could dismiss it as mere youthful infatuation, but the person who essentially turned me on to Noam’s work was one of the most successful anti-foreclosure activists in Boston. I haven’t heard any arguments against Chomsky’s work that didn’t involve heavy doses of bluster and ad hominem attacks such as “anti-semite,” “anti-american,” un-patriotic, etc… I’d love to hear your honest perspective on the pieces I linked to that I considered very relevant to the discussion. And I didn’t mean to hide behind “anonymous” at all, I was simply rattling off a quick post. And I do have a facebook–you haven’t responded to many of my messages.

  • Walker Storz

    The quote re: Atlas shrugged should be attributed to John Rogers

  • Walker, your bombardment of no less than ten private facebook messages came into my inbox over night, this combined with three more posts at my blog, this morning’s facebook friend request and a stated desire to meet in person, places you well within the realm of an internet stalker. And yes, as of yesterday, when I was wondering “who is this Walker Storz person was and why does he claim to have contacted me on facebook?” there were no messages in my inbox and facebook’s search engine came up with no results.

    I’ve no interest in defending the philosophy of Ayn Rand, not just because I think it is not a particularly intelligent philosophy, but because it has nothing to do with the topic of this article.

    I find it very interesting that you state that you state:

    I simply cited/linked to Chomsky because his arguments on the Israeli occupation were the most satisfying I had come across.

    I have to ask, do you find it satisfying because it summarizes the complexity of the situation or because it gives a simple answer that permits you to avoid thinking about complexity? Chomsky, despite his own PR, is actually held in very low regard by scholars in fields like political science, foreign relations, and history, because he has a simple tendency to make things up, or just throw his support to anyone whom he views as fighting U.S. hegemony. So we have a career marked by his support of Holocaust denial in the name of academic freedom, an attempt to minimize the Cambodian genocide as U.S. propaganda, his support of Milosevic apologists who claim that the Srebrenica massacre was not a war crime but a legitimate military operation, his recent claims immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden that al Qaeda was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. Noting that Noam Chomsky is the man who says theses things is not an ad hominem attack, it’s a simple biographical matter, and one that undermines his credibility either as a scholar or a moralist on issues of foreign relations or human rights.

    Leaving aside your strange behavior, you’ve really not advanced a credible counter-argument to my critique of Schumann.