Reviewing A Review; Or Why Liberals See "Nazis" in the Strangest Places
"The Patriot presents a deeply sentimental cult of the family, casts unusually Aryan-looking heroes ...."
"If the Nazis had won the war in Europe, and their propaganda ministry had decided to make a film about the American Revolution, The Patriot is exactly the movie you could expect to see ...."
"In one scene towheaded preteens are armed by their father and turned into the equivalent of the Werwolf boy-soldiers that the Third Reich was thought to have recruited from the Hitler Youth to carry out guerrilla attacks against the invading Allies."
"In the film's most exciting sequence, [Mel] Gibson is provoked by the foreigner into becoming one of those bloodied, ax-wielding forest supermen so beloved in Nazi folk-iconography: an 18-century equivalent of the Goth leader Arminius (aka Hermann the German) who annihilated two Roman Legions in the Teutoburger Forest."
"The most outrageous of The Patriot's many faults is the way [director Roland] Emmerich and [screenwriter Robert] Rodat show the British troops committing a war crime that closely resembles one of the most notorious Nazi war crimes of World War II -- the massacre of 642 people (including 205 children) in the French village of Oradour sur Glane on June 10, 1944. The film mimics the horrible event with clear accuracy and turns it into just another atrocity committed by redcoats in 1780 ... At Oradour, the Waffen SS 'Das Reich' division punished local resistance activity by first shooting all the men and boys. Then they rounded up the women and children, locked them in the town church and set it afire."
"[The Patriot casts] George III's redcoats as cartoonish paragons of evil who commit one monstrous -- but wholly invented -- atrocity after another ... If you didn't know anything about the Revolution, you might actually believe the British army in North America was made up of astonishingly cruel, even demonic, sadists who really did do this kind of thing -- as if they were the 18th century equivalent of the Nazi SS."
"You could actually argue without too much exaggeration that The Patriot is as fascist a film (and I use the term in its literal sense, not as a synonym for 'bad') as anything made in decades."
"Emmerich and Rodat -- unwittingly or not -- have done something unpleasantly akin to Holocaust revisionism. They have made a film that will have the effect of inoculating audiences against the unique historical horror of Oradour -- and implicitly rehabilitating the Nazis while making the British seem as evil as history's worst monsters."
Excerpts from Jewish film critic Jonathan Foreman's "The Nazis, er, the Redcoats are coming!," a review of The Patriot. The full text is online at salon.com .
For anyone interested in the insidious character of "anti-nazi" propaganda -- with which, of course, we're still bombarded almost daily, more than a half century after NS Germany's defeat -- Jonathan Foreman's review of The Patriot is worth examining.
I happen to agree with its general argument: The Patriot presents a grossly inaccurate depiction of British soldiers during the American Revolution, casting the British as cartoonishly evil villains while fabricating horrific crimes, repeated acts of what Foreman calls "bestial cruelty," that they never committed.
Foreman's review focuses on two contrasting historical facts, in themselves perhaps undeniable: During the Revolutionary War British soldiers did not burn down a Church with American civilians inside, an episode that nevertheless appears in Roland Emmerich's film, but in 1944, at Oradour-sur-Glane, German SS soldiers did burn down a Church with French civilians inside. The Patriot thus falsely presents British soldiers as though they were like "nazis" -- that is, "demonic sadists" guilty of unparalleled, gratuitous violence against noncombatants. [Image: Church-burning scene in The Patriot.]
Now there is some question whether SS soldiers actually did set fire to the Church at Oradour, and good evidence that at least a few risked their lives attempting to save French civilians trapped inside. But let's stipulate that the story is essentially true and that the "nazi" war crime in question occurred more or less as advertised.
What is absent from Foreman's Oradour reference, like all the now ubiquitous contemporary references in the popular media to "nazi" atrocities, is any before, any set of antecedent events that might explain why German soldiers would burn down a Church filled with French women and children. We are left instead only with the "bestial cruelty" of "nazi" war criminals -- demonic, sadistic, unprovoked, incomprehensible by normal standards of historical explanation.
Foreman tells us, correctly, that it is wrong to present British soldiers in the Revolutionary War as "cartoonish paragons of evil," but he believes, and he assumes that his audience will also believe, that there is one authentic set of "paragons of evil" whose sadistic violence isn't at all cartoonish. Only "nazis" are really capable of the "bestial cruelty" The Patriot falsely attributes to the British. That, briefly, is Foreman's principal explicit complaint; I will get to his more implicit concerns in a moment.
But were German soldiers, even German Waffen-SS soldiers, themselves really like "nazis"? In other words, did "nazis" -- demonic Germans who killed gratuitously, gleefully, more savagely than any other set of killers in history -- even exist during World War II? Or were German soldiers simply like any other soldiers, capable of criminal retaliation against civilians when provoked, but no different in kind from any other occupying army facing determined resistance from a hostile population?
Here are some facts about the events that preceded Oradour, the before that allusions to "nazi" war crimes regularly ignore, represented in this case only by the "local resistance activity" (an apparently innocuous before) that Foreman briefly mentions:
*On June 9, 1944, the day before the Oradour massacre, the SS division Das Reich recapture the town of Tulle, which had fallen into the hands of French partisans. There they find the mutilated corpses of sixty-two German soldiers who, after surrendering to the Resistance, had been butchered: "Some had had their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths. Others had been covered with excrement. One man had holes in his heels with a rope through them, and a [smashed] face, indicating that he had been tied to the back of a truck and driven around."Now the before, the antecedent events that explain the war crime, Foreman's "local resistance activity," does not excuse Oradour. It does, however, eliminate from it the crucial element that makes "nazi" war-crime allusions so rhetorically powerful -- the implied charge of sadistic, gratuitous cruelty. We now know that savagery preceded Oradour, to which SS savagery was a response.
*Also on June 9, the Germans learn that French partisans have captured SS-Sturmbannführer Helmut Kämpfe, a popular officer, and plan to publicly burn him alive in Oradour, a center of partisan activity.
*On June 10, in an attempt to rescue Kämpfe, a company of the SS regiment Der Führer, under the command of Stubaf. Adolf Dickmann, enters Oradour and discovers "a smoldering German army ambulance in which the driver and co-driver had been chained to the steering wheel and burnt alive together with their wounded passengers."
*Dickmann takes hostages and houses the women and children in the local Church. The Germans hope to exchange the male hostages for Kämpfe, Dickmann's close personal friend.
*The Germans search the town for arms, discovering caches of illicit weapons in almost all the houses. (Partisan warfare, it should be remembered, is not sanctioned by international conventions and is technically illegal.)
*The Germans discover another smoldering body, which they identify as Kämpfe. The partisans have, as the Germans feared, burned him alive.
*Dickmann then, according to the conventional account of the Oradour massacre, orders the male hostages shot and orders his men to set fire to the Church, incinerating all but three of the women and children inside.
*The SS institutes court-martial proceedings against Dickmann, a clear indication that Oradour-like war crimes were not routine SS behavior. Dickmann will later die in Normandy without coming to trial.
We also know that any group of soldiers, including American or British soldiers, might very well have retaliated in a similar way under similar circumstances. German soldiers, even German SS soldiers fighting the celebrated Resistance in France, are thus revealed as normal men, no different from ourselves. They cease to be "demonic sadists" and "history's worst monsters."
If aging SS veterans commissioned a film in which the atrocities committed against Germans at and around Oradour figured prominently, but no reference to German retaliation were made, we would call the film dishonestly misleading. Not literally false, because the French atrocities did in fact occur, but a serious deception nevertheless, because our hypothetical SS film would leave the impression that only French partisans committed war crimes. The same is true of the Oradour reference as it is exploited in Foreman's review and as it regularly appears in litanies of allegedly unique German savagery.
In almost any war one side can be dishonestly demonized even by a truthful enumeration of its crimes, if the crimes of its adversaries are suppressed. That just recently occurred in media accounts of Serb atrocities in Kosovo, and for illustrative purposes I practiced my own version of this deception by omission earlier. I neglected to mention that at Tulle, after the SS discovered the mutilated bodies of their comrades, they retaliated by hanging ninety-nine Frenchmen. That additional fact, an understandable but still criminal act of revenge, obviously changes our evaluation of the event; Germans become perpetrators of a war crime in addition to being innocent victims. Tulle can be turned into an example of typical French barbarism by suppressing, as I did, the after, and an example of typical German barbarism by suppressing the before. The latter in fact happened: Tulle now appears among the list of German atrocities in occupied France, another sadistic "nazi" war crime, because the sixty-two Germans tortured and murdered by the Resistance have been studiously omitted from popular accounts of the event.
The deceptive propaganda image of the "nazi" has, after more than five decades of such omissions, entered everyone's mental repertoire of familiar historical references, so whenever a writer wants to evoke uniquely evil "bestial cruelty," he simply summons up the "nazis" and everyone will know what he means. The propaganda image of the "nazi" also serves contemporary political objectives, which accounts for its longevity. The old Manichean mythology of the Second World War, which contrasts the Allies as the heroic forces of Good to the Axis as the embodiment of absolute Evil, is the legitimating narrative of the current anti-national, anti-racialist political order, and it requires unique "nazi" evil to sustain it.
About seventy years ago, so the story runs, a reign of unprecedented cruelty and violence was unleashed upon the world, a dark, atavistic assault on human civilization that the Allied forces of light heroically defeated, just barely. This evil still lurks beneath the surface of the Western Civilization from which it erupted, even in the nations responsible for its defeat, and we all must therefore be vigilant that no similar eruptions occur again. The perpetual "diversity" campaigns in the Western democracies against "intolerance" and "hate" are necessary prophylactic measures, mandated by the enormity of the horror they are meant to prevent, against a recurrence of the absolute, metaphysical evil that the "nazis" briefly incarnated.
Accordingly, whatever characterized NS Germany -- its "racism," to cite the most important example -- is bad and its contrary good; you merely need to learn that Hitler supported 'X' to know that 'X' is wrong. That's why Jonathan Foreman is so insistent that "nazi" evil must be reserved for authentic "nazis," that no one but National Socialist Germans ("history's worst monsters") should be shown committing "nazi"-like crimes ("unique historical horror[s]"). Any hint that such crimes are a tragic but common part of most modern wars would undermine the near-universal belief in unique "nazi" evil and threaten the programmatic anti-racialism that the political Left has successfully erected upon it.
Not surprisingly, the subtext of Foreman's review, hardly even concealed, is White "racism." Hence his otherwise inconsequential description of the film's "unusually Aryan-looking heroes." He means, of course, that they look too White, too much like the bestial "nazis" who regularly committed unprecedented acts of sadistic violence during World War II. White physical features, absent a sufficiently multiracial cast, absent Morgan Freeman in an anachronistic supporting role, now conjure up, in the eyes of not a few liberals, the specter of mass murder. [Image: Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) and his "unusually Aryan-looking" family.]
Foreman could have selected the Soviet massacre of Ukrainians at Vinnytsia as his locus classicus for real "bestial cruelty." Or, had he wished to be bolder, he could have selected the American massacre of Vietnamese peasants at My Lai. Unpublishably bolder would have been the Jewish massacre of Palestianian civilians at Deir Yassein, which coincidentally offers a close parallel to another atrocity scene in The Patriot. But none of these comparable crimes would have suited his underlying political concerns, none would have resonated as effectively as "nazi" atrocities in a film review that faults director Emmerich -- himself German, Foreman is careful to point out -- for casting "unusually Aryan-looking [and thus sinister] heroes."
We can now understand why a liberal Jew would see "fascism" in a cinematic account of the American Revolution. Although he tells us that he "use[s] the term in its literal sense, not as a synonym for 'bad'", "fascism" in its literal sense appears nowhere in Foreman's review. Its real synonyms are, clearly, white racialism and political nationalism. No sooner has he detached "nazi"-like crimes from the British Redcoats than Foreman assigns them instead to The Patriot's American Rebels, who remind him of "Werwolf boy-soldiers" (themselves a fiction, incidentally) and the "bloodied, ax-wielding forest supermen so beloved in Nazi folk-iconography." Foreman, and in this respect he can stand in for most of the System's spokesmen, is frightened by seeing White Americans with guns (or even axes) fighting for American national liberty. He thinks he's really seeing "nazis."
Conflating Euro-American patriots with genocidal "nazis" is multiracialism's response to its growing sense of unease at American national history. Most nations, and all healthy nations, maintain some sense of historical continuity between their national beginnings and their present reality; a nation that loses respect for its past, and a well-founded belief that its present is a natural evolution from it, is fast losing its nationhood. Contemporary multicultural America, however, rests on the increasingly implausible lie that the Founding Fathers and the Patriots who shed their blood for political liberty would have approved of the shape our balkanizing multiracial empire has assumed, that they really envisioned the nation they fought to create resembling southern California, that they were all early exponents of multiracial "diversity" and the abolition of national borders. The White Patriots of 1776 are therefore now embarrassing to liberal multiracialists because they know, although most Euro-Americans have not yet caught on, that the founders of the American Republic would be shocked by multiracial morass into which it has descended, that the America of the present is so increasingly distant from its beginnings that it is rapidly becoming an entirely different country. On issues surrounding race Thomas Jefferson, some multiracialist liberals now (rightly) suspect, had far more in common with Adolf Hitler than with Bill Clinton.
Embarrassed liberal disquiet at the national past is not exclusive to the United States. The anti-nationalist establishment in Germany is embarrassed by old-fashioned patriotic reverence for Hermann the Cheruscan; its counterpart in France is embarrassed by old-fashioned patriotic reverence for Charles Martel and Joan of Arc. Old-fashioned European national heroes, unlike modern European politicians, disapproved of foreigners on their nation's soil and fought to expel them, a motive not dissimilar from the "xenophobia" that animated the rebels of 1776, who had come to regard the British as foreigners on their soil as well and, after an almost exclusively White revolution, successfully expelled them, winning national independence in the process.
At the outset I called "anti-nazi" propaganda "insidious" because, unlike false statements of fact, which can easily be refuted, it relies instead on false or skewed presuppositions -- supposed "facts," forming part of everyone's common knowledge, that lie behind explicit statements while carrying their own unexamined political meanings. The "fact" that "nazis" were guilty of unprecedented, demonically sadistic war crimes says nothing explicit about White Americans or White Australians or White Swedes etc., but it carries the unexamined and uncontested political meaning that racial feelings among each are similarly evil and can easily erupt into similar horrors. Those are "truths" that everyone "knows" and no one need demonstrate.
Jonathan Foreman's review is thus revealing for expressing, more clearly than most multiracialist media commentary, how the myth of unique "nazi" evil has been broadened to embrace all expressions of White national patriotism.
For an account, by mainstream historian H.W. Koch, of the (alleged) Oradour massacre see Background to Oradour, on this site; the quotations that appear above, in my summary of the events around Oradour, are from Koch's article and from (off-site) Marc Rikmenspoel's Tulle and Oradour: The German View. For debunkings of "good war" propaganda see Dr. William Pierce's Media Myths and (off-site) Joseph Sobran's Friends of Uncle Joe. For my own views on racialism and the Hitler myth see Some Thoughts on Hitler.