Voyage of the Damned: In 1939, the U.S. turned back a ship carrying refugees from Nazi Germany

The one good thing about Dictatorships are they are generally pretty stable. At least for awhile. It’s why the US backed or at least turned a blind eye to so many of them in the Middle East to keep oil flowing. Sucks for the people, but good for business.

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No they aren’t. Dictatorships require a constant state of conflict in order to keep the populace from being dissatisfied and overthrowing the government. Peace kills them. If they lack an external enemy, they go to war with themselves through repression. Thus breeding the elements which can lead to their downfall. Dictatorships are also notoriously wasteful with the economies of their nations. Turning the GDP into a personal piggy bank does not endear one to the hoi polloi.


They require constant upkeep, but they keep the overall populace inline. This is especially important when you have countries full of groups of people who hate each other.

I admit I bought into the hopeful “introduce democracy and everything will be groovy” schtick. The reality, at least recently in the Middle East, is that with out that strong power keeping shit in line, you have 101 factions running around gumming things up. Is Iraq more stable today than it was under Saddam? Sure you don’t have to worry about Uday kidnapping and raping your family, but what about other militant terrorists? Syria’s dictator lost his grip, but the non-Assad controlled areas are even worse with various factions fighting over who is in power. Egypt toppled their dictator and it has been a mess since. Remember they elected into power the Muslim Brotherhood, and then staged another coup a year later.

Dictatorships generally aren’t long-term sustainable (NK being a noted exception), but similar to monarchies, they can be very stable for a long time. And while they are stable, if they are friendly to our terms, the US will deal with them.


I have to admit I was surprised when I learned that the idea for Israel actually dates to the early 1900’s. My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, is interesting in this context.

The fear at the time was that people felt that Jews were likely Communists. And it is a little insincere to blame people of 1939 for not predicting the horrors of later years, or even not knowing the full extent of injustice in Germany that was happening at that time.

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But they really don’t keep the populace in line. They turn corruption from criminal transgression to a necessary tool to survive. They are good at hiding public sentiment against the government. Its not the same as being in line. In the Middle East those “strong powers” were always teetering on the brink of collapse.

Conflict is what kept them alive. Either anti-colonial conflict, The Cold War, conflict with Israel, or conflict with each other. The Shah fell because its government was at relative peace (even with Israel) and was left with trying to combat their own people. North Korea is only kept alive due to conflict with South Korea. They have to resort to blackmail in order to get infusions of cash and goods. A peaceful North Korea would collapse in an instant. In China the cracks are just forming to the point where its noticeable to the rest of the world. Their economy is starting a free fall and civil unrest in the interior of the country has been building up.

"Is Iraq more stable today than it was under Saddam? "

If you are Kurdish, Shia, or Marsh Arab you would rather be dealing with militant terrorists than a government committing genocide against you. ISIS doesn’t have napalm, helicopters or poison gas. Iraq probably should have been partitioned.
Assad Senior was so “stable” that he had gassed entire towns in order to maintain the government. When conflict with Israel and occupation of Lebanon went on the back burner, its when Syria started to lose it. Without outside conflict, Assad could not maintain his grip.

Egypt is a mess because of its dictator and the ungodly amount of time he was in power. The Muslim Brotherhood was the only political party which represented “dissent” because it was largely neutered under Mubarak and useful for driving out moderates and democratic minded people. There is a reason why these countries have tons of Islamicist madrassas but no free newspapers. Islamicism allowed dictators to direct dissent outwards and against moderate forces which would imperil the leadership.

A lot of the problems we see in these places after a dictator leaves are direct results of their rule. The lack of democratic opposition, military forces which act like gangsters, lack of education, lack of developed economies, massive theft of public resources. These are all the byproducts of autocracy. Stability in the eyes of the developed world is always a thin veneer.


I’ve heard this claim, but haven’t seen a lot of evidence for it (in fact, the claim seems to have been one of 2.5 million that was made by an unnamed government official who didn’t provide any evidence, which is way over the UNHCR estimate of 500,000 Syrian nationals in Saudi Arabia who are mainly there as temporary workers. There is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has granted shelter to those without passports or visas). Zero refugees seems very implausible, but the claim that 3 million refugees have been seamlessly integrated into SA society seems… unfounded, at least, and not even cited other than by this one unnamed government official. Maybe I’m wrong, but the scepticism doesn’t just seem to come from outside the country.


Even earlier (though not by much). One of the early zionists, Theodor Herzl, published his major work calling for a jewish state, “Der Judenstaat”, in 1896. His major argument was that only an independent country would save Jews from the (globally) rampant antisemitism. Which kinda makes sense retroactively.


Canada didn’t fare well in that story either. The MS St. Louis was also turned away from the port of Halifax, to our great shame. A new meme entered the Canadian psyche, shorthand for how vile some of our policies were.

If that’s what you felt I was doing, you misunderstood the intent of my statement. If anything, I am blaming people today for wanting to turn away refugees…


Actually both of you are correct, depending on whether or not the costs are internalized, or externalized. That’s the beauty of the “somebody else’s problem” FTL drive, you never really have to do the math yourself, you just need to be higher up in the pecking order than the ones who do.

That’s a powerful article. This quote has me reeling: "It’s important to remember the mistakes the country has made,” Dr. Messinger said of the memorial, the first of its kind.

And I have to wonder, when something as huge as a nation makes a mistake, can it even be thought of as a mistake? How can you tell? Short of complete annihilation, how do you point to a something like this and call it a mistake, when there’s no chance that it can ever be rectified. I think nations don’t make mistakes, they make choices. And it is the burden of those who survive, to live with those choices. Mistakes should be reserved for individual human beings, in possession of a conscience and morally capable of making ammends.

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That’s what my evangelical family has said! If you don’t have Israel, you can’t get the end times!


and here my Jewish relatives, some alive at the time, said that the fear that people had was that they were…Jews.


George Orwell, Antisemitism in Britian, 1945. His bullet points:

  • There is more antisemitism in England than we care to admit, and the war has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if one thinks in terms of decades rather than years.
  • It does not at present lead to open persecution, but it has the effect of making people callous to the sufferings of Jews in other countries.
  • It is at bottom quite irrational and will not yield to argument.
  • The persecutions in Germany have caused much concealment of antisemitic feeling and thus obscured the whole picture.
  • The subject needs serious investigation.

I did not say it was reasonable or logical. Or that I agreed with the sentiment, which I do not. but I have spent a significant portion of my life trying to understand the motivations behind the different sides of the world wars, much of that through interviewing veterans, witnesses and survivors. The association of Jews with communism was an important factor motivating both European and American anti-Semites at the time.

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You know the premise of that novel was “based on a true story”

We’ve ended our Passover Seder with “next year in Jerusalem” for much longer than that.

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Actually the theological objection of Haredim such as Naturei Karta is more that the State isn’t run according to Torah law rather than if it was founded by Moshiach

Edit: cleaning up autocorrect

Right, if I remember right the key event which set Chabon’s parallel universe on a different course from our own was when the U.S. Senator who led the opposition to that bill was hit by a taxi circa 1940.

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