Friday, June 19, 2009

A Lesson in the Need for Global Awareness

According to a new book The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses by Stephen H Norwood,many American university academicians were complicit in the Holocaust.

Norwood describes in an interview, university leaders as unconcerned about the Holocaust because of their own anti semitism and policies to exclude Jews from entry into their clubs that they saw as an Anglo Saxon fiefdom, "They just didn't care very deeply about Jews and anti-Semitism because they were themselves involved in maintaining quota barriers against Jewish students. There were very, very few Jews on the faculties of American universities throughout the entire inter-war period. And there are whole fields that were basically off-limits to Jews," he says.

Norwood in the same interview sets out the larger context in which this was all taking place,

"As many working and lower-middle-class Americans marched in the streets and struggled to organize a nationwide boycott of German goods and services, American universities maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich, sending their students to study at Nazified universities while welcoming Nazi exchange students to their own campuses. American’s most distinguished university presidents willingly crossed the Atlantic in ships flying the swastika flag, openly defying the anti-Nazi boycott, to the benefit of the Third Reich’s economy. By warmly receiving Nazi diplomats and propagandists on campus, they helped Nazi Germany present itself to the American public as a civilized nation, unfairly maligned in the press.”

The period that Norwood studied came to an end in 1938 with Kristallnact. With that event , Norwood writes, "American universities become significantly involved in protest against Nazism. Even then, the initiative came largely from students."

This last point reminds us that it was largely student activism that forced many American universities to divest in South Africa during the apartheid regime. For example, according to a source from the Michigan State University education school (a leader in divestment) it appears that the divestment of University of California Berkeley's $3 billion in stock holdings "was particularly important" since in 1986 when this action occured "it was the largest public institution to take a stand." One important person at least remembered the event when Nelson Mandela, during a visit to the area after his release from prison, pointed to this event "as a catalyst that ultimately helped end white-minority rule in South Africa."

It would be nice if today that sense of moral and ethical responsibility for the planet and its people came from university leaders and not just from the students. One road for universities to take inorder to regain some moral high ground in this area would be to require global education and awareness as a core part of their curriculums.

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