Calm Voice of Reason?

Ben Carson, one of the many candidates for the Republican nomination for president, speaks calmly and with supreme confidence. He appears to be every bit the medical doctor dispensing a prescription to a sick nation. In an atmosphere charged with the electricity generated by such clowns as Donald the Trumpet, Dr. Carson strikes many as the sensible alternative. His popularity is increasing daily. But when one gets past the calm exterior one worries about the substance of his positions. He claims, for example, that women are primarily responsible for rape and that Obamacare is a form of slavery. Moreover, in a personal letter addressing me by my first name, Ben asked my support for his candidacy and noted that he opposes such things as Planned Parenthood, and

“believes in peace through strength. We must defeat our enemies before they become strong enough to destroy us. We must seal our borders right away.”

Now there’s a bit of paranoia for you and the typical Republican appeal to fear.  He believes the country needs a “spiritual awakening,” which (apparently) only he can bring about. Indeed, he has a number of strange views that worry those who seek to know where the candidates stand on critical issues.

In an interview on CNN following the publication of a recent book, for example, he advanced the notion that if the Jews had been armed in Nazi Germany Hitler would never have been successful in carrying out the “final solution.” As Yahoo News reports, in part:

“I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” Carson said. “I’m telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first.”

The comments drew a swift response from the Anti-Defamation League.

“Ben Carson has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director of the organization. “The small number of personal firearms available to Germany’s Jews in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state.”

What we are dealing with here is what logicians call “counterfactuals.” It’s impossible to prove or disprove counter-to-fact statements of the type “If the Jews had been armed the Holocaust very likely would not have happened” We can have fun with such statements, as many historians do in speculating about the past, but we must bear in mind that it is just that: speculation. Whether or not the Anti-Defamation League had responded as they did to Carson’s remarks, it is clear that those remarks are on the weakest possible historical grounds. They cannot be proved or disproved. The man seems to be enamored of unverifiable historical claims, however, since he said in the same interview that

 “passengers on Flight 93, which crashed on 9/11, helped avoid further tragedy by rushing the gunman.”

There is simply no way of knowing whether this claim is true or false. We might like to think it is true, but that is neither here nor there.

Thus, in the case of his claim about the Holocaust, the notion that IF the Jews had guns THEN Hitler would not have been so successful in carrying out his Final Solution is totally unfounded, mere speculation. One might be tempted to say it is irresponsible in the climate of the discussion (can we call it that?) of gun control in America in 2015. When the issue is raised, as it invariably is, in an atmosphere of heat and very little light, it is irresponsible to seek analogies with situations that never occurred —  suggesting what would have been the case if events had not turned out as they did in the last century.

Dr. Carson’s demeanor is reassuring and it is a pleasant change to hear at least one candidate speak calmly and assuredly about issues that confront us all. It is, in its way, a breath of fresh air. But when one reflects on what is said and not the manner in which it is said, one realizes that this man is not all that far from folks like Donald Trump at the far right of the political spectrum. Beneath the calm exterior one can sense an element of hysteria. We need to listen to what these people say and not be taken in by the fact that they seem self-assured and confident in the claims they make. Facts do not speak for themselves; they must be supported. Speculation is just that: it is not fact and it is ultimately groundless.

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12 thoughts on “Calm Voice of Reason?

  1. It is true that Dr. Carson’s comments on how a change in circumstances in the past would have changed the past are just speculations, but they are still fair speculations that have merit. History has shown an unarmed populace is more susceptible to mass atrocities than an armed one. When they are unarmed, they are often systematically rounded up and killed. When they are armed it normally results in a civil war or other armed conflict. This may not have prevented all the Jews being killed in Nazi Germany, but it would have had profound effects on the the Nazi war effort.

    Also, there is ample evidence the passengers on Flight 93 fought back.

    • Thank you for your comments, whoever you are. Given what came out during the Eichmann trial it is not clear that arming the Jews would have made much difference. But in any case any such talk is, as I say, mere speculation.

    • And you believe that untrained, individuals armed with perhaps a few pistols, shotguns, and rifles, would successfully stand up against a trained, well armed army? This is just more gun-loving clap trap, like we need to remain armed here in the US in the face of Obama’s efforts to overthrow the country. Really? Your militia’s running around in the woods playing soldier, are going to hold up against real soldiers? These kinds on nonsensical positions, by Carson and G, have to be among the dumbest things ever.
      What’s in the craniums of these people in the space where the brain is supposed to be? mush?

      • Good afternoon Barneysday. You seem to make some leaps of speculation on an extended meaning of my comments. Your attempt at personal insults completely undermine the credibility of your position. I made no mention of Obama and your attempt to create a straw man won’t succeed. If you wish to speculate that millions of armed citizens defending themselves in an area the size of Texas wouldn’t have made an impact, that is your right. Who knows, perhaps the Jews wouldn’t have utilized the weapons in an attempt to defend themselves anyway. However, if they had, it would have changed everything. First, the fighting would have taken place among the citizenry and production centers of Germany. Second, it would have forced every day Germans to take sides. Third, it would have made it known to the entire world what was actually taking place way earlier than otherwise. That is significant since many wars are won in the media and not on the battlefield. Fourth, it would have forced Germany to focus many of their armed forces internally rather than externally. These are interesting things to contemplate.

      • There was a good article regarding this topic by Daniel Payne at thefederalist.com today. He summarized it with a very simple question: “If you could be transported back in time and assume the role of a Jew in late-1930s Poland, would you rather be disarmed—or would you rather have a gun?”

  2. Good post, Hugh. Ben Carson, who appears more reasonable given his soft spoken nature and being a surgeon, has offended about as many groups as Trump with some inane comments. He has joined Trump in offending Muslim Americans. He has offended gays saying they learn to be gay in prison. As you note, he has offended Jews for his attempted simplification of history about the holocaust. He has offended the parents of the mass shooting victims saying they should have rushed the shooter. And, since he is a doctor, he has offended me for prioritizing gun rights over the right to live. To me that is shameful, plus when I shared this comment with a surgeon, he concurred that it flies in the face of their oath.

  3. It is probable that the Flight 93 passengers fought back. It is certain they did not use firearms to do so. The veteran who slowed the Oregon school shooter tried to tackle him with his hands; he had no firearm himself. In Harrisburg SD the day before the Oregon shooting, a student with a gun wounded the principal but was.tackled by an unarmed assistant principal and fired no more shots. Courage — and not only like these examples but to do what is hard but right on the larger scope of gun violence — is needed more than more guns and bullets.

    • It is probable that the passengers on Flight 93 fought back. But it is not certain. Ben Carson in the interview states it as a certainty. That’s the problem. I think your larger point is well taken. Thanks, Dana.

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