Faith in Open Discourse – Letters – Blogs

To the Editor:

I feel I must first acknowledge the incredible intellectual weight of the signatories of this open letter (“An Open Letter to the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College,” The Chronicle Review, October 23) and their impact in political science, political theory and related fields. So early in my undergraduate career, a few of these signatories have already influenced me substantially. One in particular, Judith Butler, has significantly changed my views on feminism and Zionism, with her witty corned beef sandwich gag. One day, far in the future, I hope to join the ranks of these accomplished academics that I respect very deeply.

However, neither my respect nor the many illustrious signatories makes the arguments presented in the open letter correct on face value. I attended the conference at Bard College and heard Dr. Jongen speak. I can say that my stomach hurt when he spoke; I felt physically ill. His perspectives run counter to many of my political opinions and values. Yet, I am glad to have been in the audience to have seen the productive and critical discussion that arose as Dr. Jongen was critiqued, questioned by the audience, and confronted with facts. It was very valuable for me to see this exchange. We must hear the other side speak and understand how they view the world in a setting where the perpetrators of hateful rhetoric can be deliberately examined and perhaps dismissed. Yes, Dr. Jongen was given a platform, but he was not given support, no one walked out of that conference committed to the AfD party’s values.

Islamophobic, anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiments exist in our world, and are increasingly incorporated into mainstream political thought and the discourse and decisions of our leaders. Not only would censoring these ideas run counter to liberal democracy, but it also turns a blind eye to the development of hateful and xenophobic rhetoric that we see so blatantly in mass politics today. Make no mistake, Dr. Jongen, in my opinion, is wrong and harbors dangerous viewpoints. But, placing him on a podium and allowing the audience, moderator and critic to publicly question him gave us the opportunity to consider his arguments, and as a collective, wholly disregard them. Dr. Jongen, who has a doctorate in philosophy, quite frankly embarrassed himself. He was not given privilege, he was overtly critiqued. He was not “legitimized” and his opinions did not threaten the plurality, for his opinion is part of the plurality which the Hannah Arendt Center rightfully presents.

After the conference, a few of my peers and I approached Dr. Jongen and discussed the proceedings of the conference. He seemed visibly shaken by them, as if he had just run a marathon with little training and not enough water. This, of course is an apt metaphor for what he had just done: He spoke expecting to be lightly critiqued, but instead his views were soundly dismissed as foolish. He even thought he might find a few allies, but there were none. No one, but the four of us, undergraduates at a neighboring college, even spoke with him afterwards. No one reinforced his worldview, no one offered him directions, no one wished him goodbye.

To be clear, he was not dehumanized; he was just lost. I was actually saddened by our exchange; I felt sorry for him. I kept looking for him to be mean or cold, but all I found was a lost man with dreary, watery, grey eyes smelling slightly of cologne in a grey suit and looking, with darting eyes, for people to talk to; I found a lost human in front of me.

I do not mean to oppose the perspective of the signatories, only to offer a perspective, however novice, from an unaffiliated point of view. This exchange was of paramount importance to my education and understanding of political discourse. Being present for the critique of Dr. Jongen’s reactionary and divisive opinions has cemented my faith in open discourse and given me the tools to engage in such debate with his American counterparts.

Matt Harris
Marist College Class of 2020

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  • 99Luftballons

    disqus_6HfnTuxPSq, Eichmann had to imagine what Hitler wanted. Hitler wanted Nazis to act on their own. He tended to let them do whatever they wanted to do.

    Hitler wanted parts of Poland “Germanized.” He told the Gauleiters, “There would be no questions asked.” So Albert Forster let any ethnic Pole claim, without evidence, to be an ethnic German. His rival who was forcibly deporting Poles to Warsaw, which angered the Gauleiter there, was displeased. He told Forster that wasn’t what Hitler intended. Forster quoted, “There would be no questions asked.” His rival said he would report Forster to Himmler. Forster replied:

    “If I looked like Himmler, I wouldn’t talk about race!”

    This was reported up the chain of command to Himmler who calmed his underlings down. Forster continued with his plan, so ethnic Poles, but not Jews were saved. Forster was also contemptuous of the ethnic Germans coming from the Soviet empire, as part of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, that were to be resettled in Poland. He considered them inferior workers and wanted none of them in his area.

    The “Final Solution” was planned due to a letter from Göring to the head of Interpol Reinhard Heydrich who then organized and led the Wannsee Conference. Eichmann, as the reputed expert on Jews, prepared stats for Heydrich on the number of Jews in various countries and the number who had emigrated. Heydrich had Eichmann write the minutes. No Göring or Hitler at the meeting–not even Himmler. No quoting orders from Hitler.

    Heydrich would soon be killed by British commandos. Heydrich conveniently dead, Eichmann was in a great position to tell a convenient story to the gullible. And Heydrich may have just forged the Göring letter or it may have been signed without being read by the drug addict.

    Interestingly, the notice of 31 July 1941 on the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” was not written on Göring’s letter paper but by Heydrich on a plain sheet without a letterhead.

    Perhaps the biggest point of consensus among historians until recently, therefore, was, as Eberhard Jäckel has argued, that ‘the most remarkable thing about the Wannsee conference is that we do not know why it took place’

    At least on historian has claimed that Hitler made a decision in early December 1941 (Pearl Harbor?), but Eichmann wasn’t there, and we don’t have minutes.

    • 99Luftballons

      Given the pattern of professors claiming credit for the work of grad students or college administrators putting their names to the work of others, it is worth considering who really wrote the “Göring letter,” with its very suspicious lack of appropriate letterhead. Heydrich couldn’t one of Goring’s staff to copy the text onto the proper letterhead prior to signing?

      Considering the American government and military habit of repeatedly delegating important tasks down the chain, while retaining credit at the top, and the rarer pattern of the ambitious underling sending a solution up the chain, it is easy to imagine that Eichmann was the true author of the “Göring letter,” the Wannsee Conference agenda, and at least the outlines of the solution, with either Heydrich having delegated the tasks to him or Heydrich having taken up what Eichmann had developed on his own initiative. Or given the prevalence of girlfriends writing essays and doing assignments for their boyfriends, maybe Eichmann had similar help.