Ben Carson vs. History

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As an International History major, I respect the power of the past. Looking back is the best way to craft a road to the future…except when we twist reality to advance our own agendas. Unfortunately Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson did just that when he decided to share his thoughts on gun control and the Holocaust with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer several days ago.

Usually I ignore politicians who talk about the Nazis – their claims are almost always juvenile and uninformed – but the level of foolishness Carson displayed brought Washington’s obsession with Hitler to a new low. His point was simple: if the Führer hadn’t taken the Jews’ guns (Regulation Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons, 1938), it would have been much harder for him to carry out the Holocaust. Sounds logical, right? Wrong.

There are so many problems with Carson’s argument I barely know where to start.

First of all, according to historians like Bernard E. Harcourt, Nazi Germany’s strict gun control laws were inherited from the Weimar Republic, not imposed by Hitler. In 1919, the German Reichstag banned the ownership of firearms by private citizens, as prescribed in the Treaty of Versailles. The Weimar Republic relaxed its gun control regulations in 1928, though legally purchasing a firearm remained incredibly difficult. Those laws changed very little until 1938 (there was some loosening before then), when Hitler made owning a gun significantly easier for most non-Jewish German citizens. While it’s true Jews and other “undesirables” were barred from possessing firearms, it is highly unlikely they owned many to begin with, considering they lived through nearly two decades of strict gun laws. I also have yet to find credible academic evidence that the SS, SA, or SD actually confiscated weapons from German Jews after Hitler’s new regulations took effect. Suffice it to say, Ben Carson’s supposed Jewish disarmament at Nazi hands may not have happened. In fact if anything is to blame, it’s probably the peace treaty Britain and France forced on Germany after WWI. Whoops.

Even if Carson and his historically inept counterparts — Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO), pro-gun rights lawyer Stephen Halbrook, NRA head Wayne LaPierre, and others — are right, and Nazi Germany did in fact disarm its Jewish population before WWII, their conclusions approach farcical levels. A couple more shotguns and the Reich’s Jews might have won, or at least made the Holocaust significantly more difficult to carry out…really? In 1939 the German Wehrmacht was more powerful than any military force in history. The Soviet Union, Britain, France, and the United States – each heavily armed fighting machines – sacrificed millions of lives to beat Hitler’s armies, and Ben Carson thinks ‘laissez-faire’ gun laws could’ve staved off the SS? At this point I’d refer him to Omer Bartov, one of the world’s foremost Third Reich scholars:

Just imagine the Jews of Germany exercising the right to bear arms and fighting the SA, SS and the Wehrmacht. The [Russian] Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery. The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?

Carson displays a similarly feeble psychological understanding of the choice Jews had to make when they were deported: they could fight back and die immediately (along with their families) or go peacefully, and hope the stories they’d heard weren’t true. Let me simplify it even more. Fighting meant certain death; going peacefully meant a slim chance of survival. Which would you choose?

My point is this: even if German Jews had been allowed to keep their guns, they probably wouldn’t have used them, and certainly not en masse.

The fact is, guns would not have changed anything. Jews used firearms during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Nazis responded by burning their homes, killing 13,000 people, and deporting the remaining 50,000 to concentration camps, many of the extermination variety (i.e. Treblinka). All Jewish rebellions were met with swift, merciless German counterattacks, and Hitler always won. (My historical knowledge here, or anywhere, isn’t perfect, so please correct me if I’m wrong.) After the Final Solution took effect in early 1942, only a vastly superior military force could have stopped the Holocaust. A couple more rifles here and there would not have made Moses’ descendants into anything of the sort.

History is not kind to Ben Carson. Despite his repeated claims to the contrary, gun control had little to no influence on the Shoah. (At the very least, I have found no credible evidence to the contrary.) So why did the lauded doctor make such a claim?

In short, he and his band of fake historians live in a counter-factual fantasy world created to advance their pro-2nd Amendment agendas (which I support, to an extent). Exploiting history’s worst genocide for political gain, they spread lies and terrorize everyday Americans with pseudo-history to increase pressure for less stringent gun laws. Do dictators take weapons away from their subjects? Yes, yes they do, and I applaud Carson for pointing that out. Believe it or not the possibility of a future tyranny is one reason I support Americans’ right to bear arms (within reason). Using the Holocaust to advocate for that right, however, is absurd, irresponsible and quite frankly offensive. As the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman writes:

The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families.

I respect Ben Carson, I think he’s a smart guy. But I suggest he avoid exploiting the dead to make cheap political points. It’s unbecoming of a renowned neurosurgeon.

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