More Propaganda, Less History

Melinda Henneberger, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, couldn’t have gotten it more right in her Kansas City Star article entitled “Cartoon equating Kansas mask order with the Holocaust is even more offensive than stupid.”  She bluntly stated that a minor inconvenience, like wearing a mask, does not compare to the slaughter of six million for the purpose of making Jews extinct. The cartoon is even more offensive in its portrayal of the Star of David on the mask than in its stupidity as an historical analogy.  It is equally appalling that an established American newspaper publisher would approve the publication of such a cartoon that equates a government policy designed to save lives with one that sought to ‘exterminate’ innocent people .  That he did so, as Henneburger pointed out, shows us “what learning more propaganda than history has done to us.”

The article that appeared in The Anderson County Review on July 5th is a result of what the propaganda of the far right and far left has done to our selective memory of past events and their significance for the present.  It has taught us that history, politics, and science are whatever they say it is.  The past, deceptively reinterpreted, haunts the present and the future.

The cartoon features Kansas Governor Kelly wearing a mask with the Star of David prominently displayed on it and Jews stepping into cattle cars in the background.  The caption “Put on your masks…and step into the cattle car,” goes beyond the realm of stupid. It is a heinous juxtaposition of the role of Jews and Nazis.  Dane Hicks, publisher of The Anderson County Review, said the cartoon satirized the “governmental overreach which has been the hallmark of Governor Kelly’s administration. Since when is a Jewish star a symbol of government power?  Clearly, the Jews boarding the cattle car were the victims rather than the perpetrators of the abuse of power.  This misrepresentation regarding Jews has been a recurring theme in historic antisemitism, i.e, the Jew as money hungry and Communist all in one.  This was not simply an historic misstep on the part of Hicks, but an unjustifiable moral failing of major proportion.  More condemnation of this cartoon was needed from the governor than her declaration that, “Mr. Hicks’ decision to publish antisemitic imagery is deeply offensive and he should remove it immediately.”

Still Hicks cries wolf denying his anti-semitism, saying he “intended no slight to Jews or Holocaust survivors.” He perceived his reference to the Holocaust as fair play because critics of President Trump have repeatedly compared him to Adolf Hitler.  Hicks noted that political cartoons are “gross over-caricatures and fodder for the marketplace of ideas…”

In the end, Hicks removed the cartoon and apologized to those directly affected.  However, this came “after some heartfelt and educational conversations with Jewish leaders in the US and abroad.”  The sad reality is that a man of Hicks’ stature needed this tutoring.  And even worse, the polarization and politicization of those responsible for community health practices has allowed and even encouraged the publication of slander and polemic in lieu of responsible reporting.  All of us need to remain vigilant defenders of justice to prevent the publication of myths and half-truths in this divisive time.

About the Author
Dr. Karen Sutton is associate professor of history at the Lander College for Women, a division of Touro College, in New York City.
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