Alexander. Edward

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Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1993 10:28:19 -0800 (PST)
From: Edward Alexander
Subject: Nation

Some of you may have followed the acrimonious controversy between
Alexander Cockburn and Edward Alexander in The Nation. It began with
Cockburn’s attack on Alexander in the August 17 issue. Alexander sent his
reply on August 11. The Nation did not publish it for six months. When
it did appear, in the February 15 1993 issue, it was severely cut, and no
ellipses were included to show readers where it had been cut. Alexander’s
full reply is printed below.

11 August 1992

Editor, The Nation
In an autobiographical essay, Alexander Cockburn has told
how he recognized that journalism was his destiny. He recalls
how his father, a U.S. correspondent for The Times of London who
specialized in sending his paper reports that were total
fabrications, tried to extricate himself from a humiliating
domestic situation by telling young Alexander an imaginative lie.
“It was a fine try, and . . . I felt . . . the powerful urge to
become a journalist, since only a journalist . . . could have
conceived such a preposterous story at a moment’s notice and
within moments recounted it with such vibrant conviction.”
Cockburn’s libelous attack on me in the August 17/24 Nation shows
how loyal he remains to his father’s ideal of the journalist as a
person who tells wilful untruths with aplomb.
After more than two and a half years of brooding over an
essay he claims I published about him in “the obscure venue of
the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a paper whose editors have felt
no compunction about publishing, without checking, his deranged
polemics,” Cockburn has gathered his mental energies for a
retaliatory strike. I have never published a word about Cockburn
in the Post-Intelligencer, whose obscurity, by the way,
encompasses a circulation more than twice that of the Nation. I
did publish a piece on him in the larger Seattle paper, the
Times, on 6 December 1989. If Cockburn thinks it strange that,
when he comes to Seattle for a series of lectures, a critical
essay should be published in the local press (rather than, say,
the New Statesman), and is shocked that the paper in question
should print an essay about his august person without first
requesting his imprimatur, I suggest he study the domestic
manners of Americans more closely.
Cockburn does manage to locate correctly a book review I did
in 1990 in the Congress Monthly, but says (repeatedly) that that
journal is published by the World Jewish Congress, which it is
not. This “error” is not accidental. Cockburn has on several
occasions been corrected for making it (see, e.g., Nation, 27
Aug. and 24 Oct. 1988). But he remains confident that incessant
substitution of “World Jewish Congress” for American Jewish
Congress will sound very like “World Jewish Conspiracy” and thus
prove music to the inward ear of a segment of Nation readers
(Gore Vidal, for example).
But these (and several other) demonstrations of filial piety
toward his father’s journalistic ideal in his eruption of August
17/24 are secondary to his allegation that I have been writing
“Nazi apologetics.” He quotes part of a sentence from a literary
review in which I endorse the (perfectly conventional) scholarly
view that among all peoples living under Nazi rule the Jews alone
were singled out, by plan and policy, for total annihilation.
Neither in that essay nor anywhere else have I denied Nazi
persecution, sometimes extending to murder, of Poles,
homosexuals, Gypsies. In the case of the Gypsies (Romani), the
word “genocide,” in the sense defined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943–
humiliation, dehumanization, forcible, even murderous
denationalization of a group–is appropriate. But since some
Gypsy tribes were protected, since individual Gypsies living
among the rest of the population were not hunted down, and since
many Gypsies served in the Nazi army, most scholars have
distinguished between genocide of the Gypsies and the Holocaust,
the campaign to murder every single Jew. (The relevant scholarly
journal, published in Oxford, is called Holocaust and Genocide
Studies.) Of course, I recognize that this may be a distinction
too subtle to be encompassed by what the poverty of the English
language compels me to call the mind of Alexander Cockburn (whose
expertise in such matters has long rested on his claim that
“Stalin did not plan or seek to accomplish genocide.”)
Now it requires such considerable mental agility to leap
from my denial that Hitler was bent on murdering every last
member of virtually every identifiable group except ethnic
Germans to the conclusion that I write “Nazi apologetics” that
one wonders how Cockburn could have managed it without help. In
fact, he has not. These febrile lucubrations have been cribbed,
nearly verbatim, from another of the Nation’s favorite experts on
the Jewish question, somebody who can teach even Cockburn a thing
or two about how to epater les Juifs: Noam Chomsky. On August
19, 1991, Chomsky (on the Electronic mail USENET network
[soc.culture.Jewish newsgroup]) referred to the very same passage
from my essay and described it as “pro-Nazi apologetics.”
Electronic mail is, of course, a truly “obscure venue” and would
constitute abstruse research for an English dilettante like
Cockburn, but it is safe to guess that Chomsky laid the fruit of
his own labors in the lap of Cockburn (who is also indebted to
Chomsky for the McCarthyite reference to Americans for a Safe
Israel as “a sponsor of the late Meir Kahane.”) Since readers of
the Nation are familiar with Chomsky’s sweaty defenses of the
real “revisionists,” the neo-Nazis like Faurisson, I shall
refrain from comment on the Goebbels-like inversion of his tu
quoque argument: i.e., you people who say that the Holocaust did
occur, that the Jews were singled out for total destruction, are
the true Nazi apologists.
Since Cockburn takes umbrage at my use of the word
“oppression” to refer to the experience of black slaves, I
suggest he take up his complaint with the authors of the old
Negro spiritual that epitomizes the experience of slavery in the
words “oppressed so hard they could not stand.” Still, I am glad
to recognize Cockburn in his new found role as champion of the
oppressed. Some of us still remember the unregenerate racist
Cockburn and his apologia for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,
“an unspeakable country filled with unspeakable people,
sheepshaggers and smugglers, who have furnished . . . some of the
worst arts and crafts ever to penetrate the Occidental world. . .
If ever a country deserved rape, it’s Afghanistan. Nothing but
mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as
their muskets.”
Let me conclude by admitting that I have not always been
correct in my estimate of Cockburn. Once, in a discussion, I
referred to him as a “gutter journalist.” “Oh, no,” said my
disputatious interlocutor, “he is a sewer journalist.” I now
stand corrected.
Edward Alexander
Professor of English
University of Washington, Seattle