Friday, January 28, 2005
Mister Answer Man: Special ‘Fancy Dress’ Edition!
Dear Mister Answer Man: What in the world is going on in Alexander Cockburn’s latest column for the Nation? You know, the one where he gets all bent out of shape at people who criticized Prince Harry for wearing that Nazi armband, complaining that “some jerk snapped Harry” at what was, after all, a “Colonialists and Natives” party? The one where he says “the Afrika Korps uniform was a nice idea and a lot more original than putting some shoeblack on his face and going as a native”? And where he gets all impatient about those bothersome Jews and their little obsessions: “Of course, the leaders of major Jewish organizations have had a field day, broadcasting their shock and dismay on an hourly basis and telling Harry to jog round the Auschwitz perimeter another couple of times. Moral reprobation from these folk about fancy dress looks threadbare in an age when Israeli soldiers force a Palestinian to play his violin at a border crossing.” And that’s just the coherent part of the column! The second half turns out to be a rambling, free-association mess featuring writing like this: “Actually, Rommel was outgeneraled by the matrons who ruled over matters of hygiene at the schools attended by the British officer class. How well I remember the matron at my own school, Heatherdown, who used to line us little boys up and then clasp our testicles in her chill hand and demand that we cough. . . . It was these matrons, so I was recently reminded by Mark Harrison in the Christmas issue of Oxford Today, who instilled in British officers the importance of hygiene. In the Western Desert of Egypt in 1942, Harrison writes in his essay ‘Medicine and Victory,’ because of ‘proper waste management’ the British Army ‘enjoyed a marked and consistent advantage over their opponents, as sickness rates were 50-70 per cent lower than in the German forces. By the time of the climactic battle of El Alamein, the Afrika Korps carried the burden of 9,954 sick out of a total strength of 52,000.’ Out of 10,000, the Panzer division had slightly less than 4,000 men fit to fight. All this gives fresh resonance to the phrase ‘dirty Germans.’”
This doesn’t make a shred of sense, Mister Answer Man! What’s happening? Has Cockburn finally come completely unglued? –J. M. LePen, La Trinité-sur-Mer
Mister Answer Man replies: Mister Answer Man questions the motive behind your question. In fact, Mister Answer Man does not even believe this is a real letter from a real reader! Mister Answer Man thinks it’s pretty damn obvious what’s going on with Alexander Cockburn’s latest column for the Nation, and he doubts that anyone really needs to ask. Though he admits that the Rommel- Heatherdown-matrons- testicle-clasping- British- hygiene segue came as a bit of a surprise!
Of course, Mister Answer Man still insists that a great deal of criticism of the state of Israel is perfectly legitimate, and that anyone who believes in the ideal of universal human rights (that is, as opposed to people who just blather on about them on Inauguration Day and then spend the rest of the month backtracking) and with the legitimacy of the United Nations should be concerned about Israel’s history of human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories and its dismissal of U.N. resolutions. Mister Answer Man rejects the simple and opportunistic equation between criticism of Likud and actual anti-Semitism! (Mister Answer Man has also sharply criticized Arafat and the Second Intifada, too. Mister Answer Man doesn’t romanticize either party in this conflict.) But that one violin-playing Palestinian aside, Cockburn’s column isn’t really about the state of Israel, now, is it. It’s about his exasperation at whiny Jews who get all riled up about a little swastika here and a little Holocaust reminder there. On the very week of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, no less. No, there isn’t much ambiguity about this one– the stench rising from Cockburn’s column is unmistakable.
As a longtime Nation Associate and occasional Nation contributor, Mister Answer Man is sad to see swill like this in its pages. In fact, Mister Answer Man thinks it’s bad for the left. Mister Answer Man wonders whether it might not be a good idea to let poor Cockburn spend his declining years and powers mumbling ominously to himself in the pages of Counterpunch, or, better yet, perhaps, Post Concussion Syndrome, the official journal of far-left intellectuals who have taken a few too many blows to the head.