It Does not Make Sense to Turn Everything into a Partisan Critique
A student of mine noted the following on Facebook last night from Eliana Johnson writing at NRO’s The Corner: President Obama Commemorates the ‘Senseless’ Holocaust. The piece in question starts out with what ought to be the least controversial of issues, condemning the Holocaust:
President Obama issued a statement yesterday to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He noted that survivors who bore witness to “the horrors of the cattle cars, ghettos, and concentration camps have witnessed humanity at its very worst and know too well the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence.”
Could there a be a less controversial statement? What could be wrong here?
The idea that all violence is “senseless” violence is one that has taken deep root on the left; it’s also, unfortunately, one that poses a major impediment to understanding the world.
Nazism may have been an ideology to which the United States was — and to which the president is — implacably opposed, but it is hardly “senseless.” By the early 1930s, the Nazi party had hundreds of thousands of devoted members and repeatedly attracted a third of the votes in German elections; its political leaders campaigned on a platform comprising 25 non-senseless points, including the “unification of all Germans,” a demand for “land and territory for the sustenance of our people,” and an assertion that “no Jew can be a member of the race.” Suffice it to say, many sensible Germans were persuaded.
This may well be one of the silliest semantic critiques I have seen in some time. To note that violence, especially genocidal violence, was “senseless” is not to suggest that the people who perpetrated the violence lacked reasons for their actions. It means that the violence, and resultant death, lacks meaning or good purpose, that it was ultimately unwise and unreasonable. The meaning is clearly that despite whatever reasons the murderers had for their murder, that the actions lacked legitimate thought and reason behind them.
How ideologically blind does one have to be to turn such a use of words, which is a fairly commonplace way of referring to violent tragedies, into a left/right critique?
Johnson clearly has it in for the formulation in question, because the rest of her post focuses on another instance of the phras:
On September 12, 2012, President Obama also lamented the “the kind of senseless violence that took the lives” of four Americans in Benghazi. That, you may recall, is the day the president supposedly said the murders occurred as a result of a non-senseless terrorist attack carried out by jihadists.
This sanitized version of events, both past and present, is surely more comforting. It’s also truly senseless.
First, love the way she gets Benghazi in there. Second, the notion that calling the murder of Chris Stevens and those with as “senseless” is not to “sanitize”.
Does Johnson think that “senseless” means “totally random and without cause;an unexplainable event”? Perhaps she needs to consult a dictionary.