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Teaching 'Both Sides' --- in Ohio

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

Entrance Auschwitz I.  Sunshine.  Leafy trees.  What a background for mass murder.
Entrance Auschwitz I. Sunshine. Leafy trees. What a background for mass murder.
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You may (or may not) have heard of a new educational initiative in Ohio. It comes from a governmental body in that state, the Legislature. Legislatures do not ordinarily get into the granular level of educational policy, that is in prescribing the content of school and university curricula. But, as "Diane Ravitch's Blog" tells us : "Ohio Republican legislators have drafted a bill to require teachers to teach 'both sides' of controversial issues." For example, the sponsors want teachers to teach about the Holocaust from the perspective of "German soldiers." Apparently, they want the topic of slavery to be taught from both sides as well.

It should be noted that this sort of thing (perhaps not at the level of specificity to be found in Ohio) is being undertaken by right-wing forces all around the country. In this column, however, I will specifically address the situation in Ohio and tell you why (surprise, surprise) I actually think that it is a great idea. Well, NOT great that state legislatures should get into the specifics of curriculum. That is, it is particularly not great when the initiative is coming on behalf of one particular political party with, as they make clear in their pronouncement of proposed policy, a particular political agenda in mind. But in general, teaching "both sides" can be useful, at least when there are two reasonably accepted two sides. (That is except of course, when the "right answer" is to be politically determined, which gets into the whole area of State determination of "correct" ideology, a matter upon which I shall touch briefly at the end of the column.)

Why do I feel this way? Well, after dealing with some factual matters raised by the two examples put forth by the Ohio Repubs.' suggested topics for "two sides" consideration, the Holocaust and slavery, I will give several other examples of "two sides" which would be especially valuable today to consider in today's political environment.

The Holocaust: Some Facts

First, let's deal with The Holocaust. The Ohio Repubs.' concern with it apparently has to do with the relationship of "the German soldiers" to it. As it happened, "German soldiers," that is members of the Wehrmacht, the regular German Army, had little to do with the Holocaust (that is the organized physical extermination of what Jewish civilians the Nazi Germans could get their hands on, all over Europe).

The Holocaust actually started in a rather ad hoc way in that part of Poland which fell to the Germans as the result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of Aug. 25, 1939. In the beginning, Jews (and identified members of the Polish Resistance) were rounded up and taken to open pits that had been dug for the purpose, where infantrymen were ordered to line them up, shoot them, and then dump their bodies into the open mass-graves.

This created several problems for the Nazis right at the beginning. It was, in relative terms, for the Nazi high command an expensive use of ammunition. But of equal importance to that command, certain members of the rank-and-file military had an increasingly negative reaction to what they were being ordered to do, that affected their mental and physical states of being, which in turn affected their military readiness. So, over time, different methods of extermination had to be developed and a different type of German trooper had to be involved in implementing them. Thus came the "SS," the Schutzstaffel, which had been organized in the early days of Hitler dictatorship as his private guard, but during the War became the vanguard of Nazi Terror throughout the Occupied Territories.

In terms of the Holocaust, the members of the SS were chosen for their particular ideological commitment to Nazism and its central ideological element, anti-Semitism. Furthermore, as the extermination campaign expanded in the Eastern Territories to the extent that 6,000,000 Jews (and many other opponents of Nazism in those territories) were arbitrarily killed, more implementers for the terror operation were needed.

It thus happened that thousands of local residents in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic Countries, and etc., where anti-Semitism had been widespread before the War, were recruited by the Nazis to help run the death camps in all of their aspects. Indeed, before the War, amongst European Jews Poland was known as the most anti-Semitic of all the European Nations. As for Ukraine, as is well-known, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Nazis, Stepan Bandera, is still honored by certain Ukrainians.

As for the SS concentration camp guards and their personal reactions to what they were doing, as it happens I wrote about themselves myself in an earlier column:

"At the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC is an extensive collection of photos from the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz. The photos show these extermination camp guards 'on break,' in 1944 at the height of the camp's mass murdering campaign, having picnic lunches, engaging in choral singing, playing with their dogs, gathering for smiling group photos, and smoking cigarettes. (This was so even though at Hitler's behest in the 1930's, the Nazis had instituted the world's first comprehensive anti-smoking campaign, in Germany. And there you thought that all German armed forces members always followed orders.) They even decorated Christmas trees (after all, the slogan "Gott mit Uns" was on their belt buckles). And all this time, thousands of Jews and other nationalities were being gassed and burned at the camp every day. Talk about the banality of evil."

So, in dealing with the Holocaust and the study of its effect on "German soldiers," one would start that study with an understanding of which personnel, not just "German soldiers" who, as it happened, were involved in only a minor way at the beginning, and what institutions carried out one of the all-time-worst horrors of history. And then the analysis could go on to studying the notes just above, determining indeed if there were/are "two sides" to this particular question. As for the broader study of the Holocaust, I still recommend Lucy Dawidowicz' "The War Against the Jews."

The Institution of Slavery: "Two Sides"

Now, as for "slavery," it is presumed here that the Ohio Repubs. proposing this topic are referring to slavery in the British North American Colonies and the later U.S.. We shall consider the topic only very briefly here, but one does wonder what the "other side" is against the view held by many that a) the institution encompassed one of the monstrous evils of history (which indeed did span the planet from before the Common Era [see Greece and Rome]), and b) that its more contemporary version was a major factor in defining the history of the United States, down to this very day, as in "The 1619 Project."

Of course there were many justifications given for its existence in the original Colonies and then in the United States. One was presented succinctly by the man who would become the first Vice-President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens:

"Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery --- subordination to the superior race --- is his natural condition." (Thus, slavery as a general institution was immoral, according to Stephens. But for "Negroes" it was permitted, because they were considered to be "inferior beings.")

If, for example, this statement would be the basis for the "other side" on the slavery question now that would open some discussion (if the interchange stayed at the "discussion" level for too long), wouldn't it?

Further Topics that might be considered for discussion in a mandated "Two Sides" High School curriculum

Now we will get to why I think that the "Two Sides" proposal is really quite a good one (although I still believe that mandating high school curriculae from the Legislative level is not a good idea). Here are further here some other topics that might be considered for inclusion in the required set.

1. Should the Ohio State Legislature (or any state legislature, for that matter), become involved in determining the content, and non-content, of high school curriculae in the state. And, if they should, should the positions being "approved" for consideration in the various discussions be subject to the direct review by the Legislature or its designees (presumably designated by the Legislative Majority).

2. Should national and state policy on abortion be based on the religious doctrine that "life begins at the moment of conception?" Thus, a matter for further "two-sides" discussion could be that either the First Amendment to the Constitution (applied to the States by the XIVth Amendment) that clearly states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or pro hibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, . . ." applies to women, or it doesn't.

3. In the light of the recent Supreme Court decision that the Environmental Protection Administration has very limited powers for protecting the environment, should such Supreme Court decisions of the 1930s as the one(s) which reversed the famous 1905 "Lochner" decision (which had held that states could not regulate conditions of labor) be revisited, pro and con. And at the same time should such decisions as Plessy v. Ferguson be revisited as well.

4. Should the relatively recent Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage, consensual sex between adults regardless of gender, and the use of contraceptives between consenting adults be overturned? This is the position that in his concurrence in "Dobbs v. Jackson" Justice Clarence Thomas appeared to be advocating.

5. Should the "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision, which opened the door to the kinds of unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns which have resulted, all over the country, to the election of state legislature majorities which have been putting forth pieces of legislation like the one under consideration in this column, be reversed through legislative action (for given the structure of the current "Trump Court" judicially it will remain in place for as far as the eye can see)?

And so on, and so forth.

Postscript: The Definition of Fascism

This column has obviously been in part an attempt to pull the chain of the Republican majority in the Ohio State Legislature. But actually, this is no laughing matter. For here we have a political body which is intent on directly interfering with the educational and indeed ideological structure of the State's educational system, from pre-school through post-doctoral studies.

While of course there have been some exceptions, and of course public education in the U.S. has been "pro-capitalism," direct government interference in the content and process of the ideology presented in public education in the United States has not been a major element of it, even though indirectly of course it has been. (On the other hand, it should be noted government direction of its ideology has been a major element of socialist education, from the Soviet Union, to the People's Republic of China, to socialist Cuba. Is that the company that these Ohio Repubs. are intending to keep?) But what we have here is, however clumsily done, and however without-any-knowledge-of-what-historically-they-are-talking-about, a direct attempt, by the legislature (and through it the State government) to determine educational content and indeed what is to be considered "correct" ideology in public education.

Addressing this point, let us conclude this Commentary with the definition of fascism that I have used for quite some time:

"There is a single, all powerful executive branch of government, in service of a capitalist ruling class that controls for the most part the functions of production, distribution and exchange. There is no separation of powers [one of James Madison's signal contributions to the then-unique form of government established by the Constitution]. Thus, there are no de facto independent judicial or legislative branches, at any level. There is no independent media. There is a single national ideology, based on some combination of racism, misogyny, religious bigotry and authoritarianism, homophobia, and xenophobia. There is a state propaganda machine using the big and little lie techniques. (Emphasis added.) There may be a full-blown dictatorship, a charismatic leader, engagement in foreign wars, and the use of the mob/private armies."

Again, as I have been saying for quite some time, in a variety of political and historical contexts, under what for some time now I have been calling the "Republo-fascist Party," if their policies and programs are not headed off soon, this is what we are heading for, folks, and it ain't no joke.

(Article changed on Jul 22, 2022 at 10:17 AM EDT)

(Article changed on Jul 22, 2022 at 10:29 AM EDT)

(Article changed on Jul 22, 2022 at 11:50 PM EDT)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY). As well as having been a regular political columnist on several national websites for over 20 years, he is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of 37 books Currently, on the columns side, in addition to his position on OpEdNews as a Trusted Author, he is a regular contributor to From The G-Man.  In the past he has been a contributor to, among other publications, The Greanville PostThe Planetary Movement, and  He was also a triathlete for 37 seasons, doing over 250 multi-sport races.  Among his 37 books (from the late 1970s, mainly in the health, sports, and health care organization fields) are, on politics: The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022; A Futuristic Novel (originally published 1996; the 3rd version was published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, Brewster, NY, sadly beginning to come true, advertised on OpEdNews and available on  (more...)

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