Olympic Coverage: Soviet Horrors are Being Swept Under the RugPosted: February 14, 2014
From Russia with Euphemisms
Hannah Arendt coined the term “the banality of evil” to describe the galling normalcy of Nazi mass-murderer Adolf Eichmann. Covering his trial in Jerusalem, she described Eichmann as less a cartoonish villain than a dull, remorseless, paper-pushing functionary just “doing his job.”
The phrase “banality of evil” was instantly controversial, largely because it was misunderstood. Arendt was not trying to minimize Nazism’s evil but to capture its enormity. The staggering moral horror of the Holocaust was that it made complicity “normal.” Liquidating the Jews was not just the stuff of mobs and demagogues but of bureaucracies and bureaucrats.
“To read Anne Applebaum’s magisterial Gulag: A History is to subject yourself to relentless tales of unimaginable barbarity…”
Now consider the stunted and ritualistic conversation (“controversy” is too vibrant a word for the mundane Internet chatter) about the Soviet Union sparked by the Winter Olympics. The humdrum shrugging at the overwhelming evil of Soviet Communism leaves me nostalgic for the Eichmann controversy. At least Arendt and her critics agreed that evil itself was in the dock; they merely haggled over the best words to put in the indictment.
What to say of the gormless press-agent twaddle conjured up to describe the Soviet Union?
In its opening video for the Olympic Games, NBC’s producers drained the thesaurus of flattering terms devoid of moral content: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures.”
To parse this infomercial treacle is to miss the point, for the whole idea is to luge by the truth on the frictionless skids of euphemism…
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
- Whitewashing Communism (punditfromanotherplanet.com)
- Hannah Arendt: My thoughts (peachplumorange.wordpress.com)
- Arendt’s Mistake (maxdunbar.wordpress.com)
- Hannah Arendt’s Brilliant Mistake (onewaystreet.typepad.com)
- Gray Lady Goes Godwin on Tea Party (pjmedia.com)
- On Hannah Arendt and “the Banality of Evil” (leiterreports.typepad.com)
- Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: What is the banality of Evil? (literaturesalon.wordpress.com)
- How international coverage missed the point of the Sochi opening ceremony | Mary Dejevsky (theguardian.com)
- Hannah Arendt ‘Banality of Evil’ Theory on Eichmann Revisited On Screen (algemeiner.com)
- NBC’s Olympic Whitewashing of the Soviet Union and Communism (usnews.com)