When You Hit Bottom, Don’t Keep Digging

Eliana Johnson explains why it was stroke of genius to attack Obama for calling the Holocaust “senseless violence” and announces that her critics only bear out her opinion of her own brilliance.

Here, let me help.  I don’t think Johnson really set out to defend the Nazis.  She’s on record, after all, as mocking Holocaust denial and similar lunacy.

No, what she was trying to do was get licks in on Obama and, as is the custom with many a Right Wing Noise Machine pundit, she just latched on to whatever she could find and cranked out something deriding it.  In this case, it was the rather unassailable point, also made by one Ronald Wilson Reagan in 1983 that the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people by the Nazis was “senseless violence”.  That’s slim pickins when you are looking for something to deride Obama about today, but she decided to go ahead and jerk the knee anyway.

There was a ghost of a point in what she was shooting for in deriding “leftists” as opposing all violence as senseless: one that NRO has made many times over the years:

It’s a perfectly respectable point and, if she’d had her wits about her, she could have made it.  She could, in fact, have said that what ended the senseless violence of the Holocaust–a violence *so* senseless that Hitler actually diverted urgently needed manpower and materiel from his war effort in order to maintain the pointless slaughter–was the violence the Allies brought to the Third Reich.  That would have been a point well worth making and could easily have been tied in to her ultimate point: that Obama left Americans high and dry at Benghazi when what they needed was the firepower to fend off the violence brought against them.

But in her eagerness to merely contradict something just because it was coming from Obama’s mouth, she did not make that point.  Instead, she opted to try to make the point that, because the Holocaust was a massively coordinated group effort by people with college degrees and sophisticated technological skills, it was therefore “sensible”.  What this reveals, of course, is a deeply impoverished view of what “sensible” means.  The mere fact that a lot of people devote themselves to an insane project that is fundamentally and radically at odds with reality–that is, with the Logos–does not make it sensible. It makes it the touchstone of just how massive senseless violence can become. Obama and Reagan are perfectly sound in their assessment of the Holocaust as a massive act of senseless violence.  The fact that this massive act of senseless violence was meticulously planned and executed by a huge act of societal cooperation does not make it “sensible”.  It simply illustrates that civilizations, like men, can go mad in the grip of grave sin and completely lose touch with reality–that is, with the Logos who is love and truth… and sanity.

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  • Eliana Johnson says in the article: “The hysterical reaction elicited by my post underscores precisely the point I intended to make…”

    Don’t you love the ol’ “you disagreeing with me proves that I’m right” argument? Stop digging, indeed.

  • A Philosopher

    Ah, the argumentum ad websterium. A sure sign of a losing position.

  • As one who is perfectly aware that I qualified for a train ride had I been alive at the time, I too take exception to the idea that the Holocaust was senseless violence. It was done for a reason, to fulfill a plan, to cover for a conspiracy that was coming apart and that too many of us do not draw the proper lessons for this study in evil breaks my heart. It mocks the dead.

    We have no excuse to not study this, learn the lessons embedded, and never, ever, ever do that again. That we’re dancing on the edge of the same damnable conspiracy terrifies me about the prospects of my children.

  • Kirt Higdon

    I think we should separate out the question of whether or not Eliana Johnson was trying to score a cheap shot against BHO from the far more important question of whether the Holocaust was in fact senseless. Was it senseless compared to the Holodamor? The genocide of the Armenians? The Great Leap Forward? The Vendee massacres? The persecution of Diocletian? It’s certainly true that no sin makes moral or eternal sense but the Church still tries to make sense of sin – see mortal or venial, material or formal, structures of sin and occasions of sin. One needs to have some understanding of sin to avoid it so it has to be in some respect sensible. I certainly don’t think that either Obama or Reagan intended to minimize the Holocaust, but they did not enhance understanding of it by use of the modern secular cliche senseless. And not understanding something like the Holocaust increases the chance of it happening again.

  • Irenist

    Ms. Johnson seems to have been trying to score a political point. A ubiquitous human failing I’m in no position to throw stones at.
    As to the sense/senseless question, this semantic dispute reminds me a bit of Aquinas’ discussion of whether the fomes (i.e., tinder) of sin is a kind of “law” unto itself:
    Genocide is a sin in which its perpetrators descend from the Logos’ Law of Mercy to the Darwinian logic of the law of the jungle: bash in the heads of the chimps from the other troop with rocks. It’s not a participation in the Logos, but it has its own diabolically bestial “logic.” Of course, whether to call the “logic” of savage beasts “senseless” (because it is savage) or “sensible” (because a biologist can use game theory to understand its instinctive cunning) seems like more a matter of personal semantic intuitions about how best to denounce the Shoah which are ultimately “aesthetic” in that they concern the allusive connotations of the words more than their denotation. My humble advice: De gustibus (de verbis) non est disputandum.

  • Jmac

    Perhaps I’m not appreciating some finer point here, but what difference does it make if the Shoah was sensible or senseless? Especially in the context of Obama’s speech, it sounded a lot more like a cliche than some large-scale sociopolitical opinion, and I don’t really understand the need to critique one sentence so harshly. At first blush, it seems more like a grammar Dalek play than anything else.

  • Kirt Higdon

    The difference it makes is that if the Shoah was at least in some respect sensible, then we can have an understanding of it and perhaps head off another one. If it was senseless, then it is rather pointless to deplore it or try to understand it. We try to make sense even of natural disasters although clearly hurricanes and earthquakes cannot reason. They nonetheless are subject to natural laws which are sensible and which we can gain an understanding of.