A historian’s analysis of The Pink Swastika, part 2

(Editor’s note: Yesterday, historian Dr. Jon David Wyneken began a series regarding the book, The Pink Swastika by Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams. I asked Wyneken for his assessment of the book. Part one was posted yesterday and part two is posted today.)

Stein then reviews and analyzes The Pink Swastika. Now for her sections on Lively and Abrams and the elements of the Christian Right who embrace their arguments:

By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, a new Christian right cultural genre-books, videos, special reports, was specifically dedicated to identifying the gay threat and calling Christian believers to arms; dozens of conservative Christian organizations devoted themselves solely to antigay activities (Herman 1997), and anti-gay discourse came to encompass an attack on the status of homosexuals as a “minority” group deserving equal rights under the law. This marked a shift on the right from a focus on the immorality of homosexuality, to an attribution of superior power to gays. Gays were viewed as undeserving “special interest groups” which have won “special rights” by manipulating government corruption, gerrymandering elections, and appealing to a judicial system dominated by liberals, a powerful, morally corrupt school system, and a Congress that promotes the destruction of the family (Johnston 1994:7; Herman 1997) (Stein, 528-529).

During these initiative campaigns, the Christian right at times deployed rhetoric and imagery that echoed European anti-Semitism. The Oregon Citizens Alliance film, The Gay Agenda, closely resembled the 1940 Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew. Echoing traditional anti-Semitic propaganda which deliberately inflated the power of Jewish bankers, international Jewish conspiracies, and so forth, conservatives suggested that lesbians and gay men have higher incomes than others. A cartoon published by the Oregon Citizens Alliance showed a gay man manipulating the strings of the government and the economy. It was, one gay writer pointed out, ‘a virtual copy of a Nazi cartoon,’ one that replaced ‘the stooped, hooknosed puppeteer with a fresh-faced gym boy (Solomon 1997:7).’ At the same time, the OCA challenged the right of lesbians and gay men to align themselves with the victims of the Holocaust. In the 1994 campaign for ballot measure 13, which sought to deny civil rights to lesbians and gays, a rightwing group calling itself ‘Jews and Friends of Holocaust Victims’ purchased space in the Official Oregon Voters Pamphlet (1994:79) arguing in favor of the ballot measure:

Who’s a Nazi? Americans are watching history repeat as homosexuals promote the BIG LIE that everyone who opposes them is harmful to society. It’s nothing new. They used this tactic in Germany against the Jews…Don’t buy the BIG LIE. Opponents of minority status for homosexuals are not “Nazis” or “bigots”. And homosexuals aren’t “victims” of your common sense morality. Protect our children! (Stein, p. 529).

In the following passage, Stein correctly argues that Lively and his supporters attempt to flip the victimhood metaphor from gays to themselves. The Pink Swastika has been a key aspect of that effort.

The ‘true’ victims are the guardians of ‘common sense morality,’ the Christian right. As a leader of the Oregon Citizens Alliance suggests, “‘gay rights’ activists-not pro-family conservatives and OCA supporters-should be wearing the label of Nazi.” Homosexuality was a CENTRAL element of the fascist system, that the Nazi elite was rampant with homosexuality and pederasty, that Adolph Hitler intentionally surrounded himself with homosexuals during his entire adult life, and that the people most responsible for many Nazi atrocities were homosexual.9 This encapsulates the argument of The Pink Swastika (1995), authored by OCA activist Scott Lively, along with Kevin Abrams, who is identified as an Orthodox Jew residing in Israel. The book is a carefully constructed piece of political rhetoric, mixing serious scholarship with lies and outright distortions, truths with half-truths and falsehoods. The authors draw upon a variety of scholarly sources to make the argument that many, if not all, of the major leaders of the Nazi movement in Germany were homosexuals-including Hitler, Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, and Hess. While they do admit that homosexuals were persecuted by the Nazis, they suggest that homosexuals comprised the core of the Nazi Party. The Pink Swastika explains how homosexuals can be both Nazis and their victims. The authors contend that more masculine, “butch” homosexuals were responsible for building the Nazi party and creating the SA, or Brownshirts. Male homosexual “femmes” were persecuted by the Nazis, but largely escaped death…The Pink Swastika concludes with the claim that the contemporary gay rights movement, far from sharing a historical lineage with Holocaust ‘victims,’ actually has historical links to the Nazi perpetrators of genocide. (Stein, 530).

Stein then comes to a similar conclusion about the claims made by The Pink Swastika as I do when she writes:

Despite the claim of a direct link between Nazi ideology and homosexuality, historical evidence points to the opposite conclusion: that while the Nazis may have aestheticized homoerotism to a point, they identified homosexuality with the emasculation of men, which they saw as a threat to the traditional patriarchal, procreative family which they idealized. (Stein, 531).

Stein asserts that The Pink Swastika seeks to accomplish ends which serve political, not scholarly, purposes. As noted, the line of thinking employed in book seeks to flip the victim status from gays to conservative Christians. Furthermore, as Stein puts it, the book seeks to “pit two traditionally liberal constituencies, gays and Jews, against one another, thereby…drawing parallels between Jews and Christians” (Stein, 531).

Speaking about Christians who advance the rhetoric and argumentation of The Pink Swastika, Stein writes:

Christian conservatives have deliberately distorted Holocaust memories to deflect lesbian/gay victim claims, and to make moral claims of their own. In the process, they have degraded the memory of Holocaust victims and alleviated the burden on the perpetrators. (Stein, 535).

I generally agree with Stein’s conclusions here, and I ask all those reading this site, no matter their political beliefs, orientations, etc., to thoughtfully consider these conclusions, even though some of her criticisms of your various positions may challenge you.

I would go further, though, than Stein does in challenging the validity of Lively’s book as legitimate and responsible history. First, though Lively does use a number of secondary sources in his research (including scholarly books by Grau, Michael Burleigh, and others), he does no original research in primary archival documents; ; meaning, he has not examined the thousands of documents available on these subjects for himself. While certainly effective synthesis histories can be written from strictly secondary sources (and a number of high-quality historians have written such books), the most effective and legitimate ones are usually written by scholars who have done extensive primary archival research on those subjects in the past and have a mastery of the secondary literature as well. In my professional opinion, Lively does not fit either of these categories.

Second, responsible historians tend to cast a skeptical and cautious eye on any historical conclusions that appear reductionist, monocausal, and polemical in their conclusions. In particular, books that use historical topics to score contemporary political points are often dismissed by scholars out of hand as not dealing with the past honestly. Anachronism is not the historian’s goal or friend. While lessons can and should be drawn from history, these are not nearly as easy to arrive at as many (especially Lively, it seems) think.

Finally, in my opinion (and one that I would hazard a guess many other Christian and secular historians share), in any contemporary debates on ANY political / social subject, the arguments for and against certain positions should be made on the basis of the issues at hand, not on simplistic extrapolations from historical events, figures, and issues that were particular to their own contexts and time periods. Though certainly history can and should elucidate our understanding of the present as well as the past, using the past as a weapon in a contemporary political/social debate is inherently dangerous, for it risks obscuring more measured views of the past with hyperbole, confirmation bias, polemics, and (most importantly for me) historical inaccuracies that, through reductionism, view everything in history and in the present in overly simplistic terms. Doing so, in turn, does nothing to further either better historical inquiry or produce effective academic/political/social dialogue on vital contemporary issues (As an aside, I should also add that for Christians, I dare say, such reductionism is anathema to developing a stronger faith based on humility, prayer, theological study, contemplation, and intellectual honesty). But don’t just take my word for it. A number of excellent scholarly historical works—by both Christians and non-Christians—have been written about the nature of historical inquiry, research and writing, and the historical profession’s purpose(s) in explaining contemporary events and issues. In particular, the works of Richard J. Evans (In Defense of History), John Lewis Gaddis (Landscapes of History), Joyce Abbelby / Lynn Hunt / Margaret Jacob (Telling the Truth About History), and George Marsden (A Christian View of History? and The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship), David Hackett Fisher (Historians’ Fallacies) and Jacques Barzun (The Modern Researcher) all explain and defend various notions of historical inquiry and methodology much more effectively than I can here. All readers of this site, and especially current or aspiring writers, should examine such books in order to learn exactly what historical inquiry is and what it is not. In my mind, Lively’s book is an example of the latter. History is a complex and challenging and often humbling discipline for many reasons, something I ask all readers here to keep in mind as you continue to debate these very important issues.

Prior posts in this series:

May 28 – Scott Lively wants off SPLC hate group list

May 31 – Eliminating homosexuality: Modern Uganda and Nazi Germany

June 3 – Before The Pink Swastika

June 4 – Kevin Abrams: The other side of The Pink Swastika

June 8 – A historian’s analysis of The Pink Swastika, part 1

June 9 – A historian’s analysis of The Pink Swastika, part 2

June 11 – American Nazi movement and homosexuality: How pink is their swastika?

June 15 – Nazi movement rallies against gays in Springfield, MO

June 17 – Does homosexuality lead to fascism?

June 23 – The Pink Swastika and Friedrich Nietzsche

List of posts on Uganda and The Pink Swastika

A historian’s analysis of The Pink Swastika, part 1

(Editor’s note: This guest post is authored by Jon David Wyneken, Associate Professor of History at Grove City College.)

Back in March, Warren asked me (a colleague of his in the Department of History here at Grove City College) if I had any opinion on the validity of arguments made by Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams in their book The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. I told Warren that the book had not been well-received by academic historians for a number of reasons, and at his request I did some research to illustrate this as clearly as I could. In the interest of full disclosure, the reader should know that I have a PhD in Modern German history with a focus on the period 1933-1955, so I have studied the Nazis extensively and am very familiar with their policies against those they considered “undesirables.” I have also done research and worked at seminars at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and have done research on the Nazis in numerous archives in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

However, there are a number of scholars who have done more in-depth work on the issue of homosexuality in Nazi Germany than I have, so I looked into a some articles by such scholars that provide a number of effective and convincing counterarguments to Lively / Abrams. Historians like Geoffrey Giles and Gunter Grau have done a great deal of work on this (Lively does cite Grau a few times in The Pink Swastika, but I encourage readers here to examine Grau’s book of documents entitled The Hidden Holocaust? to see just how wrongly selective Lively was in his use of that text), and the most recent edition of Jeremy Noakes’ four-volume collection, Nazism: A Documentary Reader provides revealing material from Grau that Lively left out of his book. I have given Warren all of this material and I know he will be making use of it on this site. I know he will also provide the titles of complete articles/books that readers should examine, and I will continue to make Warren aware of any other materials I come across that will help him and readers better understand why Lively’s book is simply not good history and is, in fact, not really history at all. Instead, in my view, it is a book that uses history as a weapon in a contemporary political battle, completely outside the historical context of Nazi Germany.

Fortunately, there are other scholars who have made this point much better than I can here. In particular, Arlene Stein’s 1998 article from Sociological Perspectives (Vol. 41, No. 3 [1998], pp. 519-540) entitled “Whose Memories? Whose Victimhood? Contests for the Holocaust Frame in Recent Social Movement Discourse” makes a strong case against Lively and against all groups—whether Christian or secular, from the political Right or Left—who try to revise the historical record of the Holocaust for their own contemporary political (and hence, in my opinion, ahistorical) ends. Stein in my view rightly criticizes a number of groups and individuals in her article, and she is very careful and balanced in her conclusions. While I encourage all readers to read her entire article (those of you with JSTOR access can find a full-text copy there), I have provided below a few selections from her article that illustrate what she thinks (and I agree) is behind Lively’s book/arguments [in part two]. I have presented the quotes below sequentially as they appear in the article in order to give the reader a better sense of the entire piece. The first series of quotes present her arguments about how some gay/lesbian organizations have misused the history of the Holocaust for their own ends—I have done this so as to provide for the reader a more balanced view than is provided by Lively on these issues. First, Stein indicates two levels of appropriation:

Uses of Holocaust memory by those who lack a direct connection to the historical events are, in effect, acts of appropriation. But all acts of appropriation, I will argue, are not equivalent. Against the post-structuralist belief that texts, such as stories, take their meaning relationally within a global universe of interacting texts, an ethical approach to the appropriation of historical memories, particularly atrocity memories such as the Holocaust, distinguishes among claims on the basis of the social contexts within which texts are produced, and the uses to which they are put (Plummer 1995; Lamont 1997). Hence, I distinguish between two different types of appropriation: revisionism (efforts to rewrite the history of the Holocaust which make claims about a historical event) and metaphor creation (efforts to compare present events or experiences to those of the Holocaust). The distinction between these two rhetorical strategies, I will argue, is best understood in relation to the social contexts, such as contemporary social movements, in which Holocaust memories are deployed (Stein, 520-521).

Then she describes the type of appropriation by GLB groups:

The Holocaust frame appeared in lesbian/gay rhetoric at three different moments: the early 1970s, in relation to the rise of the gay liberation movement; the early to mid 1980s, in response to the twin threats of the New Right and the AIDS epidemic; and the 1990s, in response to anti-gay ballot measures sponsored by Christian conservative organizations in several states. Gay activists have sought to revise the historical record to reflect the extent of gay victimhood during the Nazi period; they have also used the Holocaust as metaphor, comparing the plight of homosexuals today to the plight of victimized minorities during the German Reich. Through the use of the Holocaust frame, lesbians and gay men have positioned themselves as victims and situated their opponents-garden variety homophobes, negligent AIDS bureaucrats, and Christian right anti-gay campaigners-as perpetrators. Invoking the history of the Third Reich, contemporary lesbian and gay activists recall that the Nazi Party sought to “cleanse” German society of those groups that violated the tenets of Aryan purity and that were believed to pose a threat to national unity: Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists, and the disabled. Though the “final solution” targeted Jews for annihilation above all else, other marginalized groups were caught in the frenzy of purification. Among them were homosexual men, who were seen as a threat to the patriarchal family idealized by Nazism. A 1928 Nazi Party statement proclaimed: ‘Anyone who thinks of homo-sexual love is our enemy. We therefore reject any form of lewdness, especially homosexuality, because it robs us of our last chance to free our people from the bondage which now enslaves it.’2 Between 1933 and 1945, tens of thousands of homosexual men were sent to concentration camps, and perhaps 10,000 of them perished.3 (Stein, 523)

In summary, the spectre of a Holocaust has been utilized by lesbians and gay men to dramatize their plight as an oppressed group in American society. Lesbians and gay men engaged in a form of revisionism, adjusting the historical record to reflect the historical oppression of homosexuals during the Nazi reign of terror. They also used the frame as metaphor, drawing parallels between contemporary homosexuals and the victims of Nazism fifty years earlier. In relation to the AIDS epidemic, lesbian and gay activists invoked the memory of the Holocaust to suggest that government inaction is tantamount to genocide. In response to the anti-gay campaigns of the Christian right, they suggested that homosexuals, a relatively powerless group, are being used as a convenient scapegoat for widespread social anxieties (Stein, 527).

Stein illustrates how a scholar approaches a topic. She is even handed and fair in her analysis. I encourage readers to carefully consider her points.

(Editor’s note – Due to length, I am dividing Dr. Wyneken’s analysis into two parts. Although readers might come to the conclusion that Drs. Stein and Wyneken have found some agreement with Lively and Abrams, this would not be an accurate perception. Tomorrow’s post will provide Stein’s assessment of The Pink Swastika and Dr. Wyneken’s reasons for agreeing with her significant criticisms of the book. Please look for the conclusion tomorrow.)

Other posts in this series:

May 28 – Scott Lively wants off SPLC hate group list

May 31 – Eliminating homosexuality: Modern Uganda and Nazi Germany

June 3 – Before the Pink Swastika

June 4 – Kevin Abrams: The side of The Pink Swastika

June 8 – A historian’s analysis of The Pink Swastika

June 9 – A historian’s analysis of The Pink Swastika, part 2

June 11 – American Nazi movement and homosexuality: How pink is their swastika?

June 15 – Nazi movement rallies against gays in Springfield, MO

June 17 – Does homosexuality lead to fascism?

June 23 – The Pink Swastika and Friedrich Nietzsche

June 29 – The Pink Swastika and the The Hidden Holocaust?

List of posts on Uganda and the Pink Swastika