Auschwitz: Some Reminders

This Monday, January 27, marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We’re constantly being enjoined “never to forget” the significance of this day. Just to remind you of what actually happened on January 27, 1945: the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht, wresting Auschwitz from the Nazis, liberating its inmates in one sense, and “liberating” Poland in a somewhat different one. Recall that it was the Soviet government that, in league with the Nazis, carved up and invaded Poland to start the war in the first place. Had they not done so, there might never have been an Auschwitz. And recall that we then spent the Cold War fighting the government of this same Red Army, which arguably went on to instigate the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and commit genocide in Afghanistan. Continue reading

“Twin Towers, Twin Memories”

For the last eighteen years, Chris Sciabarra has been writing up a kind of blog-based micro-history of 9/11 as seen from the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, where he lives. Here’s a link to the whole archive, from September 2001 to September 2019, which I highly recommend.

I happened to be at Casa Sciabarra as Chris was putting the final touches on the most recent installment in the series, “Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories“– about fraternal twins, Zackary and Andre Fletcher, both members of the FDNY, the New York City Fire Department. Sadly, Andre perished on duty as a result of the attack. The post consists of an interview with Zack, reflecting on the meaning of the day and the loss of his brother. If you read one thing about 9/11 today, I’d suggest reading this.

The Past is Another Country, but Rather Like Ours

One of the chief reasons for studying the past and reading old books, as for learning about our contemporaries in other cultures and other parts of the world, is to appreciate the tremendous diversity of human possibilities. It is, however, difficult to spend much time studying the past without being impressed by how similar people can be across wide spans of time and despite great differences of culture. For someone who, like me, has spent many years with his head crammed in books written over two millennia ago, 1859 AD doesn’t seem so long ago, and Victorian England doesn’t seem quite so different from America in 2017. But of course the differences are striking once we zoom in a bit; to take but a few examples, neither the lightbulb nor cocaine had yet been invented, women could not vote and the United States had about 4 million slaves, and probably nobody believed that it would ever be possible to create bombs that could kill millions of people in seconds. It was a different world. Yet John Stuart Mill could write this in On Liberty:

Continue reading