June 02, 2012

Saturday Morning Essay: A Presidential Misstatement, Or More Truth Is Said In Error

Brought to you by Trader Joe's Dark Roast...

"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"  - John "Bluto" Blutarsky, in the course of a rousing speech to his frat brothers in "Animal House" (1978).

"Obama on Tuesday used the expression "a Polish death camp" while honoring a Polish World War II resistance hero rather than wording that would have made clear that he meant a death camp that Nazi Germany operated on Polish soil during its wartime occupation of Poland."  AP, May 30.

Well, sure.  Obama blew it, and without the galvanizing effect of John Blutarsky, who also erred but, as Otter said to a frat brother who sought to correct Bluto, "he's rolling."  President Obama is the first president than whom I am older.  I think I've got that grammar right.  I am about 1/2 generation ahead of the O Man, reckoning as we used to that a generation is 25 years or so. (Among younger Americans of my demographic, I think a generation is currently never.)  Obama is a full-scale member of the TV generation, that first cohort in American history who grew up, in an undiluted way, under the influence of the tube.  My generation was about 50/50.  We watched TV, but we also got a lot of information from reading material.  If Jerry Mander was right in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (he was, of course), you don't really absorb information you consume by way of video images in the same way you do with the linear process of reading.  This is probably why many Americans, perhaps a majority, cannot find the United States on a map of North America.  It just never sunk in.

Early in his presidential tenure, Mr. Obama sought to alleviate the embarrassment of an Austrian struggling with English at a conference by saying that he (Mr. Obama) "did not speak Austrian, either."  This was gracious, if somewhat imbecilic.  Compared to this gaffe, the Polish death camp faux pas is minor league.  And in any case, the death camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, several others) were in fact located in Poland, so the statement is not exactly incorrect.  One might wonder, indeed, why the Polish President Komorowski is so damn sensitive to a "misinterpretation" of what Mr. Obama said, when it's so obvious what Obama meant. 

Especially when you consider that Mr. Obama had taken time out from a busy day of largely ceremonial exercises in statecraft to give a posthumous Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a Polish (and Catholic) resistance fighter who allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto so he could be sent to a Polish, er, Nazi death camp and report on what he observed.  Somehow he managed to get out of the camp and brought news back to the West about Jewish extermination, er, Nazi extermination of Jews in Auschwitz, Treblinka and elsewhere.  When the news reached FDR, Roosevelt realized that the Germans had succeeded where FDR's quotas on Jewish participation in the professions in New York had failed, and he did nothing about Karski's revelations.

Still, it's never too late to do the right thing, so someone told Obama that it would be a good idea, if we want continued Polish cooperation with missile defense against Russia, er, Iran, to recognize the magnificent futility of Jan Karski's heroism in risking his life against unimaginable odds to get the news to an anti-Semitic, anti-American-Japanese, anti-everybody-except-East-Coast-WASPS President. 

It was all perfect until Mr. Obama called them "Polish death camps," and then the Polish front office got nervous and touchy again, because while it's true that Poland was a "logical" place for the Nazis to set up their death factories (3.3 million Jews lived in Poland before the war, Poland was away from Eastern and Western Fronts, Poland had a functioning rail network, et cetera), logistics weren't the only consideration.  It helps to have a sympathetic local population for such a barbarous undertaking. Couldn't that be true as well?  Does a wild Polish Pope shit in the woods?

No comments:

Post a Comment