THE CANADIAN RED ENSIGN
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2019
Blow It Out Your Ear, Bernie!
The third story is the one that really takes the cake. Grant Hunter is a member of Alberta’s provincial Legislative Assembly and a minister in the province’s government. He holds the portfolio for red tape reduction. I have not checked, but I suspect that Alberta is the only province in the Dominion with such a ministry. Since red tape is generated by bureaucracy, expanding the bureaucracy for the purpose of reducing it seems slightly counterproductive to me, but apparently Mr. Hunter is of another opinion. He has come under criticism for a tweet that said the following:
Wernher von Braun said, “To conquer the universe you’d have to solve two problems: gravity and red tape.” We’ve made it clear that we are committed to reducing red tape in Alberta. Lots more to come.
It is not the part of the tweet in which he toots his own ministry’s horn for which he has been criticized, but for the opening quotation. He removed the tweet after a bunch of triggered snowflakes jumped down his throat. A more appropriate response would have been to tell them to stuff it.
The objection to the quotation is based not upon what it says but upon who said it. Wernher von Braun was a German aerospace engineer – in layman’s terms that means rocket scientist. He turned twenty-one shortly after Adolf Hitler became Germany’s Chancellor in 1933 and in 1937, like any other German in those days who valued his professional career – the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the industrialist Oskar Schindler are other famous examples that come to mind – he joined the Nazi Party. He served the Third Reich in his professional capacity as one of the leading scientists in their rocket development program, and yes, the rockets were designed for military purposes rather than space exploration. Then, following the Reich’s defeat in 1945, he and several others who had worked under him were drafted by the United States government to serve their military in basically the same capacity. It was undoubtedly von Braun who was foremost in legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s mind when he made fun of the American government’s recruitment of scientists, engineers, and other technical experts from Nazi Germany in his hilarious 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned How to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. However, von Braun served the United States much longer than he served the Third Reich and was essentially the architect of the American space program.
Unlike Bernie Farber, Wernher von Braun was a brilliant scientist who achieved great things, and until very recently the idea that he was tainted with the crimes of the government he worked for at the beginning of his career and that quoting him is some sort of grave moral offense would not have been taken seriously and anyone silly enough to propose it would have found himself laughed to scorn. Sadly, those days are behind us and so we find CBC News reporting on Hunter’s tweet, the silly backlash, and its removal, and sure enough, there is Bernie waiting and ready to toss his two cents in:
“It was an unnecessary quote,” said Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
“He’s at best a controversial figure. He is for sure a Nazi and … it was silly to quote a man like him. Politicians have to know better,” Farber said. “I just think it shows his [Hunter’s] thoughtlessness.”
Farber, whose organization monitors hate groups, said he doesn’t think people’s concerns about the quote’s use are being overblown. It would have been easy to quote a Canadian economist or another figure on the topic of red tape, he said.
“I just think [Hunter] should acknowledge he should have made a better choice in terms of who to quote and apologize,” Farber said. “That’s always the way forward out of things like this to acknowledge your mistake and move forward.”
Not a single one of these statements is accurate. Von Braun, at his best, was a genius, a pioneer in the field of rocket science, whose work laid the foundation of space exploration and gave subsequent generations a new heroic role model to add to policeman, soldier, and fireman – the astronaut. As for his being a Nazi, it would seem that English verb tenses are not Farber’s strong suit. The present tense is hardly appropriate for someone who has been dead for forty-two years and whose membership in the Nazi Party ended thirty-two years prior to his death. Perhaps Farber holds to a rather twisted version of Calvinism and believes “once a Nazi, always a Nazi.” It was not silly to quote von Braun, what is silly is Farber’s attitude about all of this. There is no indication here of any “thoughtlessness” on Hunter’s part, and there is absolutely no need for him to apologize. Indeed, there is a need for him, Hunter that is, not to apologize, because he is the victim of a form of bullying, and the true way forward in this situation is to refuse to apologize to people who do not deserve an apology and to tell them to take their manufactured offense and blow it out their ears.
If anyone should be apologizing over a quotation it ought to be the news media apologizing to the Canadian public for inflicting so many Bernie Farber quotes on us. By uncritically accepting him as the expert on hate and hate groups that he has appointed himself to be, much as the American media used to do with Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center [sic] before that organization’s reputation finally collapsed under allegations of hypocrisy, shady fundraising, serial defamation, and the like, they have lent him a credibility that in my opinion he does not deserve. Incidentally – or perhaps not, I’ll let readers judge for themselves – when Farber and Evan Balgord founded the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, of which Farber is chairman, last year it was with a start-up grant from the SPLC, and the organization, in a letter to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security that was signed by Farber and Balgord, along with two of its board members, said of itself “The organization is modeled after, and supported by, the esteemed Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in the United States.”
I first remember hearing the name Bernie Farber around the turn of the millennium. At the time the Liberal Party, headed by Jean Chretien, had been governing the Dominion since 1993 and their Immigration ministers had been trying to strip several elderly men of their citizenship and deport them. These were men of German and Ukrainian ethnicity, who had fled to Canada as refugees following the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War. They had been teenagers during the war and had been forced by the Nazis to serve the German forces in various auxiliary capacities, usually as interpreters but in some cases also as guards. On February 2, 1997, CBS aired an episode of 60 Minutes in which the main segment was entitled “Canada’s Dark Secret.” In this segment Mike Wallace interviewed a private investigator named Steven Rambam who claimed that Canada was a haven for Nazi war criminals. The Liberal government, in response, was trying to project an image of clamping down on Nazi war criminals and since there were no Adolf Eichmanns or Klaus Barbies at hand to prosecute they decided to pick on these men instead. Cheering them on at every turn was the Canadian Jewish Congress, which had hired Rambam and for which Bernie Farber worked as Executive Director for the Ontario Region and National Director of Community Relations. Later Farber was promoted to Chief Executive of the entire organization before it was taken over by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy which soon after renamed itself the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs and dissolved the CJC. Farber had also been interviewed by Mike Wallace in the aforementioned 60 Minutes segment and in the controversy surrounding the attempted deportations was frequently quoted as supporting the government’s actions.
Peter Worthington, the late, great, founding editor of the Toronto Sun, went to bat for the elderly Ukrainians who were being so unjustly railroaded. He was particularly incensed over the cases of Wasyl Odynsky and Helmut Oberlander. Odynsky had been forced by the SS, during the German occupation of the Ukraine, to serve as a concentration camp guard. The Nazis told him they would kill him if he refused and would kill his family if he ran away. Oberlander, a Ukrainian of German ancestry, was forced by the Nazis to serve as a translator and supply guard for the Einsatzgruppe. Neither man served the Nazis voluntarily, nor was either of them an active participant in the war crimes of the Schutzstaffel. As Worthington put it in his column for April 29, 2001:
Men like Odynsky and Oberlander were victims, too – first of Sovietism which seized their country, then of the Nazis and now of a misguided quest for justice without discretion.
That column, entitled “Ukrainian Teens Were Nazi Victims” was written as a rebuttal of one by Bernie Farber that had appeared the previous day, itself in response to an earlier column by Worthington on the subject. Farber took the position that these men deserved to be deported, because even though they may not have tortured and murdered anyone themselves, their labour as translators and guards – forced labour, remember – enabled those who did commit these crimes. This is a particularly disgusting form of the fallacy of guilt by association and Worthington, quoting from Farber’s column, rightly, in my opinion, said “In my view, that statement by Farber is so wrong, mistaken and out of line, that it inadvertently demeans the Holocaust.”
This would not be the last time Worthington and Farber would lock horns on this subject and while Worthington always got the better of Farber the latter never retreated one iota from his position. In 2012, when Stephen Harper’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney stripped Oberlander of his citizenship – one of many reasons why I have nothing but contempt for the present premier of Alberta – Farber told the Globe and Mail “It matters not if he was a translator or a cook – they were all part of the pirate ship and they helped oil the wheels of genocide.” Earlier this year, when the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the 95 year old Oberlander’s motion to have the fourth (!) revocation of his citizenship overturned, Farber was again all over the news gloating and saying that he hoped the Liberal government would quickly deport him.
My point, if it is not obvious, is that someone who cannot tell the difference between the Nazi thugs who tortured and murdered civilians and kids who were forced by these same thugs to do their bidding, should not be taken seriously when he poses as an expert on Nazis and Nazism. Someone who for over twenty years acts as the head of the cheerleading squad while governments, Liberal and Conservative alike, try repeatedly to denaturalize and deport an elderly man, who has been a law-abiding subject of Her Majesty for his entire adult life, because the unit that he had been forced to serve by the invaders of his country of birth when he was still a teenager were responsible for war crimes, caring neither about the aforementioned difference nor the trauma being inflicted upon this man’s family, has absolutely no business whatsoever lecturing the rest of us about “hate.” When he throws a silly conniption about a government minister quoting the leading American aerospace engineer we should pay him no heed.
Good luck with the Nobel Prize, Bernie, but you can take your silly posturing and blow it out your ear!