To the editors:

In “Woman With a Past” (Hot Type, December 13), Michael Miner told of the charge of anti-Semitism having been leveled against Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German citizen and visiting professor at the University of Chicago, for writings she produced when a young woman in Hitler’s Germany back in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

More interesting, however, are Noelle-Neumann’s accusers, among whom is Professor John Mearsheimer, chairman of the political science department at U. of C. According to a letter written by Mearsheimer and published in the Maroon, the campus newspaper, “I believe Noelle-Neumann was an anti-Semite, and was not forced to write the anti-Semitic words she published,” Miner quotes Mearsheimer as having written. “Moreover, I believe that the anti-Semitic writers and publicists of Germany–to include Noelle-Neumann–jointly share some responsibility for the Holocaust. For this she owes an apology.”

The principle Mearsheimer invoked here is clear: atrocities have no statute of limitations–a principle with which I agree, incidentally.

But it was Mearsheimer’s eagerness to assign “responsibility” which bothers me. Let us assume that Mearsheimer is correct: taking an anti-Semitic position during the Nazi atrocities against Jews makes one partly responsible for those atrocities. More abstractly, then, we might say that a citizen’s failure to oppose his or her government’s commission of atrocities at a time when opposition might help to mitigate their commission is itself to share responsibility for those atrocities.

Call this Mearsheimer’s principle. He believes it applies to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s case. Does the issue of guilt end there?

Consider Mearsheimer himself. During the ongoing U.S.-led atrocity against the Iraqi people, which began in earnest last January 16, John Mearsheimer has openly supported the actions of the U.S. government. For example, he has made himself available to TV (Chicago Tonight on WTTW Channel 11, where viewers could see him pleading for the convention of a war crimes tribunal to try the Iraqi heads of state) and radio (NPR); and on February 8, 1991, he published an op-ed in the New York Times (“Will Iraq Fight or Fold Its Tent?”), which detailed his plan of attack on the Iraqi forces and read like a preview of next Sunday’s football game.

Thus, never has Mearsheimer condemned his government’s policy, a policy perhaps described best by Doug Lummis in the journal Ampo when he wrote that it has been designed to reduce modern Iraq to “the Third World condition: dependency,” adding that the lesson of the U.S.-led destruction of Iraq is that “the countries of the north have the power to drive (any modern Third World nation) back into a state of dependency,” should they dare to start thinking and acting without permission from their masters in the north. And Mearsheimer’s own political position with regard to his government’s Iraqi policy has remained unchanged: that is, he supports it, having at most tactical disagreements over how that policy can be implemented best.

To my knowledge, Mearsheimer has yet to accuse himself of sharing responsibility for the U.S. government’s ongoing atrocities against the Iraqi people. Or against the people of Latin America, Africa, Asia–in short, against any of the victims of U.S. policy the worldwide.

Which only goes to show to everyone whose eyes are open that the position Mearsheimer is currently taking with regard to the allegations of “anti-Semitism” in Noelle-Neumann’s case is hardly the principled one he would have his audience believe (Michael Miner included).

Rather, let us call Mearsheimer’s position what it really is: at best an attempt to opportunistically exploit a 50-year-old charge of “anti-Semitism” for the political capital it gives him in the present day; and, at worst, a complete and utter farce.

Patti Szymarek


Postscript. The Iraqi people are waiting for Mearsheimer’s apology.