Past Present Podcast: Elie Wiesel, Clinton’s Emails, and Guns N Roses

Barbed Wire

In this week’s episode, Niki, Natalia, and Neil debate Elie Wiesel’s impact on Americans’ memory of the Holocaust, the place of Clinton’s email controversy in presidential scandals, and the legacy of Guns N Roses.

Elie Wiesel

The Holocaust memoirist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel died at the age of 87. Natalia explained how Wiesel’s memoir of his time in Auschwitz, Night, had gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. until the trial of Adolf Eichmann trial in 1960 raised American curiosity about the Holocaust. Niki contrasted Wiesel’s treatment of the Holocaust as a singular horror that transcended history with those of Victor Frankl who saw the Holocaust as a human act rooted in history and of Raphael Lemkin who in trying to come up with a language to make sense of the Holocaust coined the term “genocide.”Natalia recalled Wiesel’s visit to Auschwitz with Oprah Winfrey where he rejected Winfrey’s interpretation of his story as a triumph over adversity. Natalia also pointed to critics of Wiesel, such as Corey Robin, who have accused him of sacralizing the Holocaust while unquestioningly defending Israel. Niki recommended Peter Novick’s The Holocaust in American Life for understanding how the Holocaust banished anti-Semitism from American public life, and Natalia cited Matthew Frye Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color for an explanation of how Jews were “whitened” in American society following the Holocaust.

Clinton’s Emails

The FBI has announced it will not recommend to the Justice Department that Hillary Clinton be indicted over her use of a private server for her emails while Secretary of State. Neil set Clinton’s email scandal in a longer history of Clinton controversies and a pattern of insignificant scandals leading to bigger problems, such as how the Whitewater investigation uncovered the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Niki noted that pattern was relevant here too, as the Benghazi investigation ultimately led to the email scandal. Natalia shared Claire Potter’s Public Seminar essay that lamented Clinton’s deleted emails as a loss for historians. Niki argued Clinton’s email scandal fit in a long history of worries about the State Department that go back to the Cold War years, including Joseph McCarthy’s allegation of Communist infiltration of the State Department, the “Lavender Scare,” and the Alger Hiss spy case.

Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses have launched a reunion tour. Natalia contended the reunion was noteworthy for bringing Axl Rose and Slash back together after their messy breakup, but added the group’s original fame came as much from their scandalous personalities as it did their music. Neil remembered the music had provoked controversy as well, especially the racist and homophobic lyrics of their 1989 song “One In A Million,” that drew strong rebukes, including from Tipper Gore. Niki wondered how subversive Guns N’ Roses should be seen today, especially considering they had launched their reunion tour at the highly-commercialized Coachella Festival.


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