A Note for the Sake of Historical Accuracy

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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29 Responses

  1. b-psycho says:

    What in the flying fish does all that have to do with “Breaking Bad”?Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to b-psycho says:

      I wish I could tell you; I wish I could say that the reason I can’t is simply that I haven’t seen the show. Something to do with how Walter White embodies the danger of Holocaust survivors/Jews.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to b-psycho says:

      It’s not about Jews. It’s about people with an unusually strong sense of self-preservation.Report

    • George Turner in reply to b-psycho says:

      The main character in Breaking Bad makes crystal meth to pay for his chemotherapy treatments, probably using what the DEA calls “The Nazi Recipe” (meth was developed and heavily used in Nazi Germany to boost their soldiers, and the drug also left a mass of post-war German ex-military meth heads.)

      However, Anna Beslaw made the connection between the show’s main character and horrible things some people do to survive, and then leaped to the assumption that Holocaust survivors must’ve done horrible things or they wouldn’t be alive. To go from the horror of what was done to the assumption that the starving people were evil is quite an unsupported leap.

      Given that the Holocaust was carried out by national socialist government SS workers who liked the snazzy uniforms, steady hours, short commute, free health-care, and generous retirement benefits, if anything it should make you wonder about your mail man, not the old lady in the retirement home with a number on her arm. Or the show might make you wonder whether the SS prison guards were being supplied with crystal meth, and then wonder whether crystal meth is fueling the extreme violence among drug gangs in Mexico (smoking weed doesn’t lead to mass decapitations, but crystal meth might).Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to George Turner says:

        <if anything it should make you wonder about your mail man

        Not as despicable as the original, but you gave it a shot.Report

        • George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          You should see some of the nasty notes our mail man has left us, written in magic marker!Report

          • Bob Wallace in reply to George Turner says:

            It brings the question “Why?”.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Bob Wallace says:

              For calling him “Postman Himmler” on the card that went with his Christmas present of five pounds of sauerkraut.Report

            • George Turner in reply to Bob Wallace says:

              We had an old Toshiba read-projection TV we were throwing out and it was sitting in front of the mailboxes. He ripped up a junk-mail envelope and wrote a nasty note about how we had to move the TV out of his space (“lebensraum” ) if we wanted our mail delivered on time with proper Aryan efficiency, except it was written in magic marker so he left out the fancy German words.Report

              • Rod in reply to George Turner says:

                Well that was a stupid place to put the damn TV, George. The man’s just a working stiff with a job to do and a time-schedule and you made his life harder.Report

              • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

                Yes, he was most irate about it, and even though it was my housemate’s TV, the postman assigned group blame. It’s true that acquiring it had been a collective effort. The TV started in Boston, followed a fireman to Kentucky, and got rescued from the sidewalk in front of the fireman’s house by my next-door neighbor, whose bedroom wasn’t big enough for it. So I called attention to the existence of a giant, unwanted projection TV to the housemate and his friends, who liberated it. Years later, someone gave them a 720P flatscreen, and out the door it went. The Toshiba would’ve been kicked all the way to the curb immediately, but it takes four people to lift it, so there it sat, violating his sense of order, efficiency, and purpose.

                BTW, one of my cousins once viewed a bunch of sailors in a lifeboat as inconvenient to his mission and had them machine-gunned, so we executed him at the Nuremberg trials. (The Peleus Affair with U-852. My mom is an Eck and proud of her cousin for not fingering Donitz). Aside from the oddity of being related to probably the only sub commander ever executed for war crimes, he and his crew of submariners were captured by the Somaliland Camel Corps. It makes me wonder if our own attack sub crews are getting enough training in desert camel combat tactics, just in case a mission goes horribly, bizarrely wrong.

                Anyway, I’m not saying the Toshiba Affair is exactly parallel to the Peleus Affair, but the guy was wearing a bluish gray uniform with an eagle on it.Report

  2. CK MacLeod says:

    Thanks, J.L. It’s too bad that Tablet doesn’t apparently have an editor or two as well-informed as you are. Even without being so, the editors they have – assuming Tablet actually does have editors – should have acted to protect themselves, their readership, and perhaps most of all the author herself from the lethal combination of ambition and immaturity.

    b-psycho: Breslaw has the kernel of an interesting idea, or of idea worth confronting and pursuing, regarding conventional morality and survival necessity, and living in the aftermath of having sacrificed the former to the latter, or, a similar but different thing, having experienced the latter as the subversion or destruction of the former. Like a soldier in combat or, in Breslaw’s mishandled comparison, a death camp inmate, Walter White knows and does things that cannot even be spoken of in normal society without destroying him and everyone he cares about. Goes without saying that he’s a a peculiar fictional character in a very peculiar predicament, but the general theory of “the exception” would apply in useful ways toward all three types, as well as to the addict, the terrorist, the tyrant, refugee, the torturer and torture victim… and, eventually, everyone else… which is what makes Breaking Bad accessible art, and the Concentration Camp an unsolved problem for all of us still.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Noah Millman gets at some of what you’re saying to b-psycho in this post: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/millman/survival-of-the-fittest. Except in a more abstract, trauma-survivor way than with reference to “Breaking Bad.”

      The problem is that between this article and nearly having some idiot merge into me on the highway while NPR was reviewing the most recent season, I’ve got some annoyingly bad associations with “Breaking Bad” that might keep me from watching the show for a few years. Until they subside.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        My problem was that a conservative hack I’d come to despise was an early fan of BB – so I held off for a long time. I finally watched S4 when it aired, then did S1 – S3, and S4 again, like reading a TV novel. (Ended up blogging on it a bit myself, of course.)

        Goes without saying I found it worthwhile, at times quite breathtaking: The concept gained strength, and the shows create the feeling of collective creative efforts integrated in the service of developing narrative and thematic necessity, forcing the result to reach much further, say much more, than perhaps it should have been able to, or than anyone can be expected fully to process… even though it’s also just a well-crafted TV show.Report

  3. NewDealer says:

    Oh Tablet.

    Normally, they are a very good on-line Jewish magazine* especially for non neo-cons like myself (and most Jews) but every now and then they have to publish an article like this and I sigh along with the neocons.

    *Though I do get angry at the anti-Reform Judaism sentiment that often gets expressed in the comments. Says the proud Reform Jew.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to NewDealer says:

      Yeah, I’m a little less frustrated with Tablet itself at the moment than when I wrote this. But I had thought this kind of stuff was done for once “Heeb” went under. Though there’s been a glut of fluffy stuff lately, I’ve felt. But maybe I’m just grumpy and want an Adam Kirsch book review every day of the week.

      As for their comment section… I was puzzled at one point, but now sometimes look for the ridiculous ones for fun. It’s so strangely different than the general content.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        I never liked Heeb. My own part in the Jew v. Jew debate is to be very turned off by the practioners of “Kitschy Judaism”. I define “kitschy Judaism” as basically turning 5000 years of history, culture, and philosophy into a bunch on jokes. I love Jewish humor but there is more to Judaism than Adam Sandler, Woody Allen, Sarah Silverman, and the Borscht Belt.

        Now that I live on the West Coast, I am told that “East Coast Reform” equals “West Coast Conservative” so things might be even more lax here. There might also be a generational gap. I notice that a lot of Jews who belong to the Millenial Generation are getting tattoos (Lena Dunham is the most obvious celeb example). A lot of them talk about “reclaiming”. This strikes me as odd. How can you reclaim what was never ours to begin with? I’d rather they just say they want tattoos. I would take that argument as being more intellectually honest. Though I know my views on Jews and tattoos is not going to change the minds of anyone. If someone wants a tattoo, they are going to get one.

        As for the comment section (and keep in mind that I know nothing about your politics or whether you are Jewish or not), I have a theory that Republican/Politically Conservative Jews have a feeling of being an embittered minority within a minority. It seems like every Presidential election brings about the same posts about whether Jews will stop voting Democratic this year. Every Presidential election reveals the answer to be no. If you are among the 20 percent of Jews who are partisan Republicans, this must be really frustrating. Also Orthodox Jews are becoming more common. I grew up in a very Jewish suburb. When I was around, the town was largely Reform/secular, now the town is much more Orthodox.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        I saw this book review today.

        The book seems to be your basic conservative screed about how Intellectuals and Professors are ruining America. The interesting twist is that it is written by a Jewish American professor of Computer Science at Yale. His argument is that pushy, leftist Jews are the problem and we should have never destroyed the old quota system.

        This might be the first example of right-wing self-loathing Judaism I have ever seen.


        • Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer says:

          America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) That’s like a parody of a compound title. It’s almost as funny as the feminist play from SCTV “Im Taking My Own Head, Screwing It On Straight, and No Guy’s Going to Tell Me it Ain’t”

          It passes the Amazon Rating test for being a worthless polemic: all the ratings are either 5’s or 1’s.Report

        • J.L. Wall in reply to NewDealer says:

          Yeah, I read that review earlier today, too. I don’t know whether I’d be willing to accuse Gelernter of self-loathing — his previous (one of his previous?) books was a defense of traditionally observant (if I remember the review I read correctly, he termed it, insistently, “normative”) Judaism — that apparently suffered from a similar, though less damning, tendency to assume that his audience needed no persuasion on any point he made.

          In his (slight) defense, the gist that I got wasn’t that he said that pushy, leftist Jewish academics are the entirety of the problem, just that their spread is correlated almost exactly with the spread of pushy, leftist academics in general, and so can be used to track it.

          And I’ve now wasted five minutes of my life giving thought to that book.

          But, you know, in response to the point the Chronicle reviewer makes — about conservative intellectuals attacking the existence of intellectuals — of course those who have spent much time in/around academia/academics would make the assumption that academics have more power and influence on the broader culture than they do!Report

  4. Tod Kelly says:

    I found that Tablet article incredibly bizarre.Report

  5. North says:

    I tracked back to and read her article with my jaw hanging open. It’s everything you and Jpod and Rod have denounced it as and more besides. I’m utterly astonished; I’d almost assume it was character acting.Report

    • George Turner in reply to North says:

      When philosophically tormented by the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” sometimes a little voice cries out “The victims must not have been good!” That removes the need to lay awake nights wrestling with the disturbing realities of existence.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

      I see what she was after, sort of. Did the best and the strongest die first? Don’t hit her! No, take me! Did the cleverest survive, some by hiding food, others by betrayal? Did only the meekest survive, looking down, becoming invisible?

      I don’t see it as Jew-specific, just human. Yes, Anna Breslaw is Jewish: Jews are the only people she knew personally who endured and survived this ultimate horror of man’s inhumanity to man.

      So why are you alive when so many millions died? Mere luck?

      What troubled me is this: the North Korean kid, born in their concentration camp, perhaps you read about it. Turned in his mother, watched without a tear or a sniffle as they hanged her.


      Ecce homo.

      I’m with Mr. North, breathless, my jaw hanging open too. For some of the same reasons, for many others. I could be any of the people in Mr. Wall’s story: the callow Ms. Breslaw making her mark on public intellectualism; her neo-con critics who have already made theirs; her father that didn’t want to be Terri Schiavo-ed.

      The North Korean kid, whom we can barely recognize as even human. Yet human he is, just as surely as the victims of the Holocaust were, those who survived it, those who carried it out. And how am I different from any one of them?Report

      • J.L. Wall in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        I think it’s the absence of a note of deformed Darwinism that distinguishes your acknowledgment that cleverness was an asset in prolonging life from her assertions about … about whatever they were about. I don’t deny that; I just think that it was almost always fruitless in the long run.

        Of course, this cleverness wasn’t, by most accounts, without its own code. I think it’s Primo Levi who asserts that you needed precisely one not-quite-“friend” (ally? comrade? companion? partner?) for cleverness to be truly effective.

        And you see the very point that I fear she’s missed in your last paragraph, Tom: the behavior of victims at the extreme reveals more about humanity generally than it does about the victims returned to some sort of normalcy, or their descendants in normal times. If the Holocaust taught us to fear anything, it should be humanity generally. We’re not so civilized as we think. And she’s quoting Amery! Whose writing is about this very gap between the extreme and everything else; all of his dilemmas and dualities stem from the fact that nothing he used to navigate life or ideas before or after can comprehend extremes beyond the mind’s limits.

        But that evolutionary notion in her writing … that such things weed out, almost (perhaps she means actually) biologically, the good in the human soul … I’ll take my stand with Faulkner’s faith in the human heart, even after the last ding-dong of doom proves me wrong …Report

      • George Turner in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        That was an interesting Atlantic article about the North Korean boy. The comments were interesting too, though there was a bizarre one that wanted the US to adopt communism and use the same concentration camp system here, to force people like Sarah Palin to plant crops using their teeth with their hands tied behind their backs. Yes, some people still want to run death-camps to get rid of the capitalists.Report

  6. Rod Dreher says:

    Thanks for the mention, J.L. In fact, JPod is one of my oldest friends. I get endless shit from him for working for TAC, but it’s all in friendship.Report