Goldhagen and the Pope

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Having received multiple responses to a controversial opinion about the Goldhagen-Peretz connection, allow me to offer these rejoinders to my critics. Contrary to the statements of one reader, I did not express any categorical rejection of taking military action against demonstrated terrorists. What I pointed out in my comments are the different positions that advocates of military action have taken since September 11. One perceptive reader rightly inferred that I do not endorse the plan being proclaimed by neoconservative journalists for a broad campaign against all Muslim states that are unfriendly toward neocon interests or professed ideals. But that is not the same as opposing any application of force in response to terrorism, as should be clear from an essay of mine that appeared in the most recent issue of Orbis.

Another critic faulted me for ignoring the fact that while Pius XII protected many Jews, he "was a Satan" to the Serbs. This point is exaggerated. Certainly Pius did not call public attention to Serbian Orthodox minorities persecuted in Croatia and Bosnia during the Second World War. Croatian Franciscans were among the Nazi-sympathizers who incited violence against the Serbs. Unfortunately there is a long history of nastiness between the Eastern and Western churches; and it is hard to tell which side has the edge. What should be mentioned on the other side is that Orthodox nationalists cooperated with the Nazis in Poland, Ukraine, and Rumania and brutalized Catholics and Jews in all of these places.

In Communist countries, State-appointed Orthodox clergy showed the same lack of gumption as the Jewish rabbinate in standing up to tyrants. While the Eastern church continues to hold a grudge over the Fourth Crusade, it is alas all too easy to ignore one’s own group’s moral failings. In the case of American Protestants who have converted to the Orthodox faith, and many on the right have, it may be best to stay out of this blame game entirely. There is no good spiritual reason for taking over European ethnic hates together with Orthodox theology.

Moreover, it is foolish to think that disgruntled Orthodox Christians are going to get mileage out of Goldhagen’s brief. He is beating up on all of Christian civilization, by recycling and expanding the already discredited charges against Pius XII. Neither he nor Marty Peretz could give a wrap what Pius supposedly failed to do for persecuted members of the Orthodox Church in Croatia. And it is hard not to notice the connection between this free-swinging attack and the progress of the anti-anti-Communist Left. One of the unfounded proofs that Cornwell cites of Pius’s anti-Semitism and his supposed softness on the Nazis is that the pope was obsessively afraid of Communist takeovers in Europe.

In Hitler’s Pope that statement comes up repeatedly, to demonstrate Pius’s proto-fascist and anti-Semitic personality. Supposedly it was impossible for someone who feared that European Communists would profit from the Second World War or who believed that Communism posed a danger to Christian societies to rescue the Jews from the Nazis. Though there was indeed a greater fear of Communism than Nazism on the interwar European right, many conservative Christians of the time, e.g., Pius XI, all of the Habsburgs, much of the Prussian nobility, and even the anti-Semitic Polish National Democrats, were strongly opposed to Nazis and Communists both.

Like his predecessor, Pius XII not only expressed distaste for both, but, to the consternation of Cornwell and the contemporary Left, said perfectly correct things about the Communist danger. Note that for the anti-anti-Communist Left and for victimologist Goldhagen, one can never be sufficiently alerted to fascist and Nazi dangers, which always lurk in Christian hearts and societies. Nor did anyone, with the possible exception of Communists and Communist fellow-travelers, do enough to save Nazi victims, seeing that all believing Christians, by virtue of their beliefs, should be killing or at least encouraging the extermination of Jews. At the same time, the anti-anti-Communist Left is always suggesting, there are no Communist crimes or atrocities that nice people would bother to criticize, save perhaps for the failure of the Soviet authorities to allow Jewish dissenters to bake matzos or the intolerance of Stalin toward more progressive Communists, like the Trotskyists.

In 1998 the Socialist premier of France, Bernard Jospin, performed the most horrendous act of Holocaust denial ever carried out in his country. But since he did so to shield his Communist coalition partners against the charge of fronting for Communist mass-murderers, his depiction of European Communists as honorable "anti-fascists" did not create much of a stir. At the time both the New York Times and Le Monde expressed sympathy for Jospin, trying to keep his coalition together in the face of rightwing anti-Communist sniping. In France one can still be jailed for "a crime of opinion," thanks to the Communist-Socialist left and its right-center look-alikes, for claiming it was the Soviets, not the Germans, who killed the ten-thousand Polish officers found dead in the Katyn Woods. Thanks also to the prevalent anti-fascist moral asymmetry, the media and the academy continue to honor Stalinist toadies, Sergei Eisenstein and Ilya Ehrenburg, as great tormented Soviet artists. Meanwhile, although this woman has already passed her hundredth birthday, a non-Nazi filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, continues to live in public disgrace for having made two films for Hitler.

A final criticism cries out for response, because it is so elliptical. It is offered by a wannabe Goldhagen defender, who claims I would not admit that John Calvin supported the execution of Spanish free-thinker Michael Servetus (carried out in Geneva in 1553 after Servetus had been expelled once before). I could not imagine why I would deny this fact, but am also unclear about how this incident bears on anything said in my last piece. To my knowledge, neither Calvin nor the magistrates of Geneva, who arranged for the dispatching of Servetus, a noisy anti-Trinitarian, occupied the See of Rome. I certainly would have opposed the act, although it did produce one positive side-effect. Thereafter no Protestant country would inflict the death penalty on anyone specifically for heresy. Punishing Catholics, as in England or Ireland, for suspicion of political disloyalty was of course another matter.

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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