Wednesday, June 01, 2005

History Shmistory

I would like to share with you a quotation found in the Wisconsin State Journal (I don't have the link, I clipped it out of a "real" newspaper.) "'Time doesn't erase the lessons of the Holocaust,' says John Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who teaches photojournalism at the University of Florida. Kaplan equates images of Holocaust evils to the images of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib..."

This is an excellent example of what historical analysis is not. To equate, or even to compare, the horror of the Holocaust to the Abu Ghraib scandal (about which The Onion had the headline "Inside Joke at Abu Ghraib Lost on Rest of World") is an affront to the victims of the Holocaust. Even the creator of the word "genocide," Raphael Lemkin, was adamant that that we not use the term "Holocaust" to describe acts which we now know as genocide. The Holocaust is a unique term for a (I hope) unique event in history. Yes, bad things were done at Abu Ghraib, but there are times when a qualitative difference is so great as to be entirely distinct and beyond comparison. This is such a case.

4 Comments:

Blogger Noumenon said...

You know, you have no evidence that John Kaplan disagrees with you. His own words quoted here don't say anything about Abu Ghraib. The author's description of him only says he says images from Abu Ghraib are like images from the Holocaust -- which could be accurate in a narrow sense if he's referring to images of dogs used to threaten and allegedly bite prisoners. You're trusting editorial writers too much if you expect them not to take this kind of quote completely out of context and then make technically accurate but misleading summaries of their opponents' positions.

Even if the quote is in context (it doesn't exist anywhere on the Web except for this article), the author is just setting up a straw man and looking for a name to attach to it. Who is John Kaplan? Is he the head of an influential peace movement? Is he an opinion leader for the left wing? Is he on the Democratic National Committee? No, he's an associate professor at the University of Florida, whose name turns up no significant hits when Googled with "holocaust" or "abu ghraib." But when you want to make people who are worried about Abu Ghraib look rabid and irrational, and send people away angry about how anti-American they are, this unrepresentative nobody makes a great pick.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

You know, you have no evidence that John Kaplan disagrees with you. His own words quoted here don't say anything about Abu Ghraib.

It depends on how you view paraphrase. I consider paraphrase to be as credible as a quotation because paraphrase requires considerably more care with regards to context and content. Quotations, thanks to technology, are a dime a dozen to "raiders".

I count the Pulitzer prize as establishing his credibility with regards to images much more than his associate professorship.

3:20 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

I wrote to John Kaplan to ask if he was misquoted. It seems that he was, but his perspective must be quite different from mine because he is not upset about it. One thing I got wrong is that the guy who wrote the article seems to have been really trying to do responsible journalism -- there's a whole half hour interview behind those two sentences I thought were a cheap slam. Here's what Kaplan wrote me:

Thanks for asking. Actually, when interviewed by Mark Schwed, I was comparing the Abu Ghraib pix not to the holocaust at all, but to the recent high school yearbook pics published in Boynton Beach, FL. My point was that the pictures would be considered insensitive for many reasons, one being that they were published so soon after the similar looking pictures from Abu Ghraib were seen by the world.

---later---

If you could just let the readers of the blog know that the sentence or two published was all that was taken out a 30 minute interview, and that the point I was making was what I shared with you earlier, I'd appreciate it. I was in no way comparing the holocaust with the incident at Abu Ghraib, nor was I asked to.

3:21 AM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

I believe I have read about the picture he is referring to. It was in a Boynton Beach Florida highschool yearbook, in which an African American student is pictured with a leash around his neck. The leash is held by his white girlfriend and has the caption "Most Whipped". As in, p****-whipped. Offensive in itself, but many people derived racism from it.

You can find the picture here: Yearbook picture.

4:16 AM  

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