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Honor and Error
May 31, 2012 6:14 PM   Subscribe

In a high profile gaffe President Barack Obama has recently caused anger in Poland by referring to a Nazi death camp as a "Polish death camp" during a ceremony honoring World War II hero Jan Karski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “The White House will apologize for this outrageous error,Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tweeted. Sikorski said that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk “will make a statement in the morning. It’s a pity that this important ceremony was upstaged by ignorance and incompetence.”

The White House quickly expressed regret for the incident but Tusk does not feel the anger over the mistake is entirely out of line. We always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history. Sikorski was quick to place the blame on White House staffers who prepared the speech rather than the President himself.

The debate over which words to use to refer to camps located in Poland is an old controversy. "Some 6m Poles died during the war, half of them Jews. The country is sensitive to anything that might imply, wholly incorrectly, any complicity in events that occurred when it was under Nazi occupation."
posted by furiousxgeorge (160 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Forgot about Poland.
posted by box at 6:15 PM on May 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, like the Poles were just innocent bystanders. Please.
posted by spitbull at 6:18 PM on May 31, 2012 [16 favorites]


Ironmouth's comment from the previous thread sums up my reaction.
posted by Edogy at 6:22 PM on May 31, 2012 [29 favorites]


This is ludicrously overblown. It was an obvious mistake, there was clearly no ill intent, and the White House already issued an apology.

Why the Polish Government is making such a big deal about this is beyond me.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:23 PM on May 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


Edogy's link to Ironmouth's comment makes me even more cynical about politics than I already was, and that's an accomplishment.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 6:24 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


In a high profile gaffe...

It's funny I've only heard about this here (twice).
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:24 PM on May 31, 2012 [20 favorites]


Do Ukrainians have a similar thing about people referring to camps located in Ukraine as Ukrainian camps or is this a special Polish oversensitivity?
posted by Artw at 6:24 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for linking to Ironmouth's comment, Edogy--I'd have had no idea. This does make more sense within that context, but how is this going to help Romney? It makes the Polish Foreign Minister sound rather hysterical, if anything.
posted by nonmerci at 6:25 PM on May 31, 2012


We always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history.

I am fairly certain the President is not ignorant of who is responsible for the holocaust.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:26 PM on May 31, 2012 [20 favorites]


furiousxgeorge, the 'old controversy' link is borked.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:26 PM on May 31, 2012


I am fairly certain the President is not ignorant of who is responsible for the holocaust.

From the FPP: "Sikorski was quick to place the blame on White House staffers who prepared the speech rather than the President himself."
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:29 PM on May 31, 2012


If Bush had said this, the Blue comments would be calling for his head on a stick.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:30 PM on May 31, 2012 [15 favorites]


>but how is this going to help Romney?

"How Deeply Does Obama Hate Polish-Americans?": A Special FOX Report.

At any rate, this was a truly foolish misstep.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
posted by darth_tedious at 6:30 PM on May 31, 2012


I think I'm going to pretty firmly place the blame on Sikorski for going out of his way to be a prick.
posted by Artw at 6:31 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


So these death camps, they were in Poland right? Poles died there? Is there some kind of weird language convention difference where in Polish the national adjective in question is not agnostic to whether it is used to denote location or national origin?

Besides, methinks the Poles doth protest to much

Wiki:

Joanna B. Michlic. The Holocaust and Its Aftermath as Perceived in Poland: Voices of Polish Intellectuals, 1945-1947. In: David Bankier, ed. The Jews are Coming Back: The Return of the Jews to Their Countries of Origin After WW II. Berghahn Books, 2005.

Engel, David (1998). "Patterns Of Anti-Jewish Violence In Poland, 1944-1946" (PDF). Yad Vashem Studies Vol. XXVI. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem.

Jan T. Gross. After Auschwitz. The reality and Meaning of Postwar antisemitism in Poland. In: Jonathan Frankel, ed. Studies in Contemporary Jewry. Oxford University Press US, 2005.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:32 PM on May 31, 2012 [23 favorites]


Who or what is Tusk?
posted by facetious at 6:33 PM on May 31, 2012


I am also fairly certain White House staffers are not ignorant of who is responsible for the holocaust.

I am confident that most people who graduated high school or even more minimally watched ten minutes of the History Channel before it was all Alien Vikings is not ignorant of who is responsible.

At worst this is a language issue where the statement was somewhat ambiguous when taken out of context.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:34 PM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, heck, as long as we're sharing examples of the far right wing trying to influence propaganda, here's some fun stuff about how Mitt Romney's campaign sent aides to disrupt an Obama campaign press conference today.

Its worth assuming that there is no "too low."
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:34 PM on May 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the dead, not-there guy was pretty well upstaged by Bob Dylan.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 6:35 PM on May 31, 2012


Yeah, domestically this is a small bite of red meat to Nugent-Americans but just kind of "oops that was slightly unfortunate" to anyone else.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:35 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's a bit silly. 'Polish death camp' could mean 'death camp in Poland' or 'death camp for which the Poles are responsible'. Seems clear that the intended meaning was the first one.

Also, I have just typed 'death camp' more times that I probably have in my entire life.

If Bush had said this, the Blue comments would be calling for his head on a stick.

Possibly true, probably not. Irrelevant either way. It would more likely have been an opportunity to make fun of the poor dumb boob and his English-mangling ways, which I do miss, I must admit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:35 PM on May 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


It's kind of shooting the messanger to point at a biography you don't like for one of the Polish politicians complaining. This is a real sensitivity in Poland, if it is an accurate or justified sensitivty is up to you, but I don't think they are just doing this to mess with Obama. Not everything that happens is about American partisan politics.

President.pl
: Bronisław Komorowski said he had sent a personal letter to Obama and hoped it would produce effects. "I hope we will jointly act to make up for this unfortunate mistake. I believe that every error, every mistake can be corrected if it is given adequate consideration," said the Polish president.

"Every recognised and reconsidered mistake can bring us closer together (..) Together we can do a lot (..) to prevent recurrence of painful phrases that are divorced from the truth but which influence (foreign) opinions about Poland's history and present day," President Komorowski went on.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:36 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've experienced a similar reaction while in Poland after making almost the same comment.

In part, I think some Poles feel that the comparable murder of Poles isn't recognized as much as the death of Jews when the numbers are somewhat close; when you imply they were complicit, you also imply that they killed many of their own. Plus, Auschwitz and other death camps are now permanent landmarks in Poland which I think anyone would want to make clear weren't established by themselves.
posted by PJLandis at 6:36 PM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


If Bush had said this, the Blue comments would be calling for his head on a stick.

Please. Like we need an excuse to call for Bush's head on a stick.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:38 PM on May 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


"Polish" means in Poland, right? What's the issue?
posted by reductiondesign at 6:38 PM on May 31, 2012


If Bush had said this, the Blue comments would be calling for his head on a stick.

Here's a video of Bush saying that he doesn't care about the Poles.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:38 PM on May 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


If Bush had said this, the Blue comments would be calling for his head on a stick.
posted by Ideefixe at 18:30 on May 31 [+] [!]


Really? If anything I think it'd inspire the same eye-rolling all of the other ridiculous, idiotic and grammatically incomprehensible things our former leader was wont to say. I don't think this is offensive or even tactless--the Foreign Minister's reaction is totally disproportionate to what was actually said.

I also think the comments about how Poland has no right to complain about the terminology are a bit off-base: Poland was indeed occupied, and the desire by Poles to reiterate that it was the Nazis rather than a Polish Nationalist movement that orchestrated and operated the death camps in their country doesn't seem hypocritical to me at all.
posted by nonmerci at 6:39 PM on May 31, 2012


If Bush had said this, the Blue comments would be calling for his head on a stick.

Oh FFS, he said stupider things hourly.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:41 PM on May 31, 2012 [29 favorites]


There is a peculiar relationship between Poland and the Holocaust that quickly arrives upon "doth protest too much".

I believe the short version goes : The Nazis were certainly planning on killing off the poles. Also, Poland had fewer official Nazi collaborators than say Czechoslovakia. Yet, the Nazis achieved a higher kill rates in Poland than anywhere else, even Germany I think, presumably due largely to social segregation and reliable low level collaboration by Poles.

There is apparently a "different" perspective of the Holocaust being acknowledged behind the scenes in Poland, certainly you'll encounter vastly more Poles than other Europeans, like Czech, with "not exactly kosher" perspectives on tangentially related Holocaust stuff.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:42 PM on May 31, 2012


Let's pretend the comment was actually made out of ignorance.

It's reactions like this that make it so people don't went to learn. I don't mind being ignorant. That's a condition that can be fixed with the application of knowledge.

Stupidity on the other hand is permanent.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:42 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, heck, as long as we're sharing examples of the far right wing trying to influence propaganda, here's some fun stuff about how Mitt Romney's campaign sent aides to disrupt an Obama campaign press conference today.

Its worth assuming that there is no "too low."


Making noise at your opponent's campaign events is neither new nor especially nefarious, and it seems irrelevant here. I support Obama's campaign and don't see how this is different from some people demonstrating at a Romney event by shouting about his record at Bain Capital (or whatever you think it's appropriate to protest about Romney).
posted by anigbrowl at 6:42 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Making noise at your opponent's campaign events is neither new nor especially nefarious, and it seems irrelevant here. I support Obama's campaign and don't see how this is different from some people demonstrating at a Romney event by shouting about his record at Bain Capital (or whatever you think it's appropriate to protest about Romney).

I want two volunteers. I want them in giant chicken suits.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:44 PM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


facetious: "Who or what is Tusk?"

A Fleetwood Mac album. Why?
posted by notsnot at 6:47 PM on May 31, 2012 [14 favorites]


Is there some kind of secret benefit to this bizarre lashing out at a foreign leader? It just seems very weird and unprofessional for a foreign minister to jump around on nothing like this.

Does he have some political statute to gain in basically just being as big of a public nuisance to the US as possible?

Is he enough of a "wing-nut" that he simply enjoys taking pot shots at Obama even regardless of personal gain.

Does he actually believe the words coming out of his mouth and is just pretty stupid?
posted by Winnemac at 6:50 PM on May 31, 2012


or is this a special Polish oversensitivity?

Or is this a special American undersensitivity?
posted by John Cohen at 6:54 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Polish" means in Poland, right? What's the issue?

Imagine if a foreign leader referred to "the American attack on the World Trade Center." Hey, the terrorists were in America at the time! What's the issue?
posted by John Cohen at 6:59 PM on May 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


The last eleven words of schmod's comment from the previous thread sum up my reaction. In fact, they're my new Internet Motto.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:00 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite bits of Polish revisionist history is how they now pretend that the post war pogroms of Holocaust survivors were somehow the fault of the Soviets. There's an entire cottage industry around whitewashing Polish complicity in the Holocaust, including once it was done and they were slaughtering survivors.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:05 PM on May 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Reading Meta-Mause a month or so ago Spiegelman said (paraphrase) the only nationality that was pretty consistently actually angry over their animal depiction (in Mause) where the Polish.
posted by edgeways at 7:05 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clearly Obama wasn't trying to offend anybody. If he was trying to offend somebody, his speech would have gone like this: "I'm glad to be here to award the Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, from Poland, for everything he did to help us during World War II. You'll recall that Poland was easily defeated by the Nazis. The Germans invaded by walking in backwards, and the Poles just thought they were leaving. The Poles barely had a navy, they lost most of their battleships even before the War, when they tried putting them in water. The Polish army was entirely on horseback; until somebody shut down the carousel. Their air force was grounded after one of their planes crashed in a cemetery and Polish officials retrieved 3000 bodies...."

No. Clearly he wasn't even trying to offend.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:06 PM on May 31, 2012 [30 favorites]


"the American attack on the World Trade Center."

The American site of a terrorist attack.
posted by Artw at 7:06 PM on May 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Imagine if a foreign leader referred to "the American attack on the World Trade Center."

How is that comparable to what Obama said?
posted by brundlefly at 7:08 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


A Cuban prison camp?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:09 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want two volunteers. I want them in giant chicken suits.

What are you doing? Don't engage with a chicken!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:10 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who cares? I guess I can see people in Poland being upset it's not clear why any Americans should care.

And let's be real here, there were plenty of poles who weren't too upset about what the Nazis were doing.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on May 31, 2012


twoleftfeet, that is brilliant. That's from Obama's opening monologue at the International Roast of Poland, of course. We should seriously do this. Think the United Nations mashed up with Eurovision + American comedy roast tradition. What would better promote freedom of speech on a global scale than this?
posted by Edogy at 7:13 PM on May 31, 2012


Imagine if a foreign leader referred to "the American attack on the World Trade Center."

Not even remotely a congruent example at all but go ahead and try to make it so anyway.
posted by blucevalo at 7:14 PM on May 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


Don't engage with a chicken!

The danger of that is generally overestimated.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:14 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


International Roast of Poland sounds like the worst instant coffee ever.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:17 PM on May 31, 2012 [14 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: "Don't engage with a chicken!

The danger of that is generally overestimated
"

Eponysterical!
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:18 PM on May 31, 2012


Yeah, I don't think that's a convincing analogy, John Cohen. Artw's example is closer, and similarly innocuous. The only people I can imagine getting up in arms about that description would be, oddly enough, Fox & Co.--apparently this foreign minister has some things in common with those fine journalists, though I'm having trouble digging up some real dirt on him. I came across this post from 2006 which claims he's a neo-con protégé--anyone have more time or better politigoogle fu to find some more credible sources?
posted by nonmerci at 7:19 PM on May 31, 2012


This guy obviously never went to a Summer camp otherwise he might have learned that the modifier before camp may be unrelated to who actually runs the place. Does he think that a band camp is actually run by the band?
posted by The Violet Cypher at 7:20 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dear Poland, please don't spoil the honors laid upon Jan Karski. This is his time and a time to be proud, not to play nationalist politics by some obvious verbal gaffe. Dwelling on Obama's already apologized for mistake, is just stupid. It is ruining the moment and you're miss the forest for the trees.
posted by humanfont at 7:23 PM on May 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


If there's one thing that makes me sick, it's when someone tries to hide behind politics.
posted by mattdidthat at 7:29 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not really sure what the proper terminology should be. You know that the Nazi's didn't call it a "death camp". If I remember correctly, the Nazi high command would only allude to a "polish remover".
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:33 PM on May 31, 2012


Besides, methinks the Poles doth protest to much

Engel, David (1998). "Patterns Of Anti-Jewish Violence In Poland, 1944-1946" (PDF). Yad Vashem Studies Vol. XXVI. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem.


Also the Pogroms during and before WWII.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:34 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


furiousxgeorge: "A Cuban prison camp?"

Our Cuban prison camp
posted by Blasdelb at 7:35 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a little confused on this. Cortex deleted an identical thread yesterday, and it reappears?
posted by graphnerd at 7:36 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Antisemitism existed and incited violence across European before and around WWII. I don't know if Poland was worse than anyone else, but they did not create death camps and citing other incidents of Polish antisemitism is irrelevant.
posted by PJLandis at 7:38 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not everything that happens is about American partisan politics.

Considering your last iteration of this thread which was basically paragraphs and paragraphs of American partisan politics...LOL
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:39 PM on May 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is this post the equivalent of Metafilter stutter?
posted by incandissonance at 7:40 PM on May 31, 2012


(Ah, on further review, only the first paragraph is identical. Sorry about that.)

Regardless, this is just so obviously a contrived controversy that no further comment is needed.
posted by graphnerd at 7:40 PM on May 31, 2012


Considering your last iteration of this thread which was basically paragraphs and paragraphs of American partisan politics...LOL

I was attempting to make that post about a collection of recent gaffes and added the Washington Post commentary to discuss the conservative perspective on the recent trend of Obama gaffes, the author not address the Polish situation whatsoever. All in all, it was way too much baggage, but I think we should stick to addressing the thread at hand and take any meta complaints about previous versions elsewhere.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:43 PM on May 31, 2012


Or is this a special American undersensitivity?

Or a special goyische idiocy?
posted by stoneandstar at 7:45 PM on May 31, 2012


Nobody in America will give a crap about this on Election Day. Nobody in America will even remember this on Election Day. It's manufatured News Product to fill space on the 24-hour news cycle in an election year, and it'll be ploughed under in less than a week by whatever the next "gaffe" is. Nothing to see here, folks. Just some people trying to sell you outrage and controversy so that you'll put your eyeballs on their advertising for a few minutes.
posted by Scientist at 8:00 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really super hope the election comes down to two groups of people, one taunting the other with 'POLISH DEATH CAMP!!!' and the other likewise with 'AMERCIA!!!' so then I will know that no one actually cares about anything.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:00 PM on May 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


George_Spiggott: "Yeah, domestically this is a small bite of red meat to Nugent-Americans but just kind of "oops that was slightly unfortunate" to anyone else."

SO stealing "Nugent-Americans".
posted by IAmBroom at 8:08 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Spelling Error vs. Mangled Meaning

Oh.. who to vote for?

(There was one of those indeterminable Cracked "lists" awhile back that contained a few nuggets of wisdom "5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds")
posted by edgeways at 8:13 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


My uncle who was in the Battle of the Bulge really appreciates the sensitivity the Foreign Minister shows. Now, I'm not one to trot out 'if it wasn't for us 'Merrcians youse guys would be speaking goiman' saw, but c'mon.
posted by sfts2 at 8:14 PM on May 31, 2012




I like Obama, and I don't think it's that relevant of a gaffe, but I just want to repeat that I'm very convinced that in Poland the vast majority of people reading this story likely agree with their Foreign Minister and aren't thinking about American electoral politics in any way when coming to that conclusion.

Again, I'm basing this on anecdotal evidence, including a conversation I just had with someone on Wroclaw, but that evidence is so homogeneous in it's tone and content that I'm convinced that most Polish people think the difference between "Polish Death Camps" and "Nazi Death Camps" is an important distinction to make and worth correcting.
posted by PJLandis at 8:23 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Question: Has there ever been a gaffe in the history of politics that wasn't a stupid beat-up in one way or another? A meaningful gaffe?
posted by smoke at 8:32 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do Ukrainians have a similar thing about people referring to camps located in Ukraine as Ukrainian camps or is this a special Polish oversensitivity?

Well, their country was invaded by the Nazis and then the Nazis killed a bunch of their civilians on their land. If I were Polish, I would not want my country's name used as an adjective for those atrocities. It might have been grammatically correct, but it was a poor choice.
posted by gjc at 8:36 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Polish" means in Poland, right?

I'd've said "of Poland".

When I flatted with Polish lads in London, they were still Polish.
posted by pompomtom at 8:51 PM on May 31, 2012


cjorgensen: "Let's pretend the comment was actually made out of ignorance."

As opposed to... President Obama intentionally referring to the Nazi concentration camps as "Polish", just to insult them?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:52 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Confess, Fletch: "This is a real sensitivity in Poland, if it is an accurate or justified sensitivty is up to you...

We don't get to decide if they're insulted.
"

We aren't trying to. It's a gaffe; EVERYONE admits it was poorly worded, and the White House has already officially apologized.

The problem is that people are fanning the flames, despite a sincere admission of fault and regret, as if there's something more that should be done. Maybe Obama should wear sackcloth and fast for 40 days?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:55 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Confess, Fletch: " We don't get to decide if they're insulted."

We do get to decide how seriously we take it however.

It is certainly an opportunity to reflect on the horror of the War, like anything brought up in relation to it, but in the English language that the speech was written in, there are absolutely none of the connotations that are being loaded onto it. In the sentence he used, what is Polish about the Death Camps is left to the context of the sentence to determine. When that context is a speech honoring a Polish war hero and ally, who when told about the extent of the Nazi oppression of the Jews in Poland went to see it for himself before leaving on his mission to inform the West of the situation on Poland, to insist on such a non-sequitor meaning is itself absurd and insulting.

This 'gaffe' has nothing to do with Obama, his speech, or us.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:57 PM on May 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


We do get to decide how seriously we take it however.
And the Poles still get to decide Obama's apology is suffecient.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:08 PM on May 31, 2012


One of my favorite bits of Polish revisionist history is how they now pretend that the post war pogroms of Holocaust survivors were somehow the fault of the Soviets. There's an entire cottage industry around whitewashing Polish complicity in the Holocaust, including once it was done and they were slaughtering survivors.

I appreciate your honesty in this thread but what you are saying is simply not true.
posted by michaelh at 9:14 PM on May 31, 2012


Adjectives are hard.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:17 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll say what I said in the last thread. Karski is a rightist who wrote for National Review and is carrying Romney's water.

Also, this flap died in the crib, it turns out.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:32 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


This flap crashed like a Tupalev in Smolensk. Too soon?
posted by humanfont at 9:37 PM on May 31, 2012


This is what happens when your opposition party relentlessly delegitimizes your president.

I hope Hillary has been dispatched to yank the Poles' chain hard.
posted by R. Schlock at 9:50 PM on May 31, 2012


Wow, so this wasn't even a case of somebody being overly-touchy about an admittedly touchy subject? The guy's just flat-out exploiting the holocaust for political gain.

Now, that's something worth getting upset about.
posted by schmod at 9:52 PM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Question: Has there ever been a gaffe in the history of politics that wasn't a stupid beat-up in one way or another? A meaningful gaffe?

JFK's classic 'Ich bin ein berliner!', which was meant to be a message of solidarity (I am a Berliner!), but actually revealed a far different message and power dynamic to the German people due to a slightly different translation (Smile like a donut, I'm coming in!)
posted by FatherDagon at 10:12 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm as liberal as you can be and a huge fan of Obama, but I think Sikorksi and Dusk have a point. Obama did in fact make a dumb and ignorant mistake that was deeply offensive to Polish people. And while I admit that I was not aware of the the campaign to get people to stop using the term "Polish death camps" (because it seems inconceivable that Poles would be blamed for Nazi atrocities), I think that Obama, who likes to tout his foreign affairs knowledge, should have been aware.

Reading through Dusk's statement, I did not find it was a right-wing diatribe. In fact, I thought it was measured and well-reasoned. I think he is right when he states that America should help, not hurt, the Polish effort to set the historical record straight. I also think the term "bad intentions" is possibly taken out of context. Dusk seems to be saying that he lumps ignorance, incompetence, and bad intentions together when it comes to this issue. So, he may not necessarily be calling Obama incompetent or bad-intentioned; it's just that to him, it makes no difference.

sfts2 mentions his uncle who fought in the Second World War. Dusk himself mentions the American soldiers who died in that war:

"This is also important for the United States, since American soldiers, too, died during World War II. If these were “Polish death camps,” then at whose hands did American soldiers die? If these were “Polish death camps,” then from whose hands did the uncle of the President of the United States liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp? When someone says “Polish death camps,” it is as if there were no Nazis, no German responsibility, as if there was no Hitler – that is why our Polish sensitivity in these situations is so much more than just simply a feeling of national pride."

I found his arguments very convincing. I also think it is unfair to bring up the Polish pogroms. The issue at hand is whether the death camps were Polish or not. Since there is no dispute that the death camps were not of Polish origin, why should they be represented as such? Maybe the Poles do have other things to answer for, but then I think that's all the more reason not to conflate those issues with false attributions.

I don't want to lard my post with another quote from Dusk, but please read his last paragraph. He is right. The truth is important. When you have people like Rich Lott, we should be grateful that there remains those who want absolutely nothing to do with the vile legacy of the Nazis.
posted by Bokmakierie at 10:14 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is fucking bullshit.
posted by mike3k at 10:15 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bokmakierie: "Since there is no dispute that the death camps were not of Polish origin, why should they be represented as such?"

The death camps were indisputably geographically in Poland and a place where Poles were sent to die, and to say that they were represented in Obama's speech as anything other than geographically in Poland or a place where Poles were sent to die is disingenuous at best.

The lack of clarity was unfortunate, particularly considering what seems to be an unrelated and perhaps not directly translatable Polish language debate, and I'm glad the White House apologized, but this seems like a particularly crass aggressive misunderstanding to make political hay out of.

When someone says "Polish death camps" it is as if there were death camps in Poland that were part of a systematic effort by the Nazis to murder Poles. An effort that was similar to, though distinct from, efforts by the Nazis to murder people of other nationalities in other nations that Obama was not at that time referring to as he was honoring a Polish hero whose efforts brought light to the death camps that were specifically associated with Poland.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:29 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


No. Clearly he wasn't even trying to offend.

This whole outrage is bullshit, but your comment was gold. Cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:31 PM on May 31, 2012


This whole outrage is bullshit

Indeed.

They doth protest too much, methinks.
posted by eriko at 10:38 PM on May 31, 2012


Countries get deeply offended at a range of things, many of which are both well known and seem somewhat over the top to outsiders; this is particularly true I think of smaller, less powerful countries which tend not to get the care and consideration devoted to more important ones. For example, it might seem crazy to someone not Irish that it really matters whether you talk about Derry vs Londonderry, but it does. I am sure one could dredge something up that would also deeply offend Americans that would have non-Americans rolling their eyes. No, Obama surely didn't plan intend to insult the Poles, but the gaffe hits a well known sore spot in a country that has been a reliable US ally over the past years. That it wasn't caught or considered worthy of being caught can be seen as insulting too. That it does not seem insulting to outsiders doesn't mean the offence is not sincere and deeply felt.

(And if we're going to say the Poles don't get to be insulted because of their track record on antisemitism in the 1930s and 40s, you're going to find rapidly not only are they not alone, but that guilt for this is spread right over most of Europe, some of which weren't even occupied by the Nazis. As for the fact that their country was crushed quickly by the Germans...well, I'll also say they were also not alone in this.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:47 PM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: "This whole outrage is bullshit"

eriko: Indeed.

They doth protest too much, methinks."
The main link in the FPP is now dead, here is a fresh one: Stadiums of Hate
posted by Blasdelb at 10:49 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a much better version of John Cohen's attempt: "the American World Trade Center attacks."

I wouldn't be surprised to discover that I had actually used that phrasing in the past, or seen it in the papers, to be honest.
posted by jacalata at 10:52 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


A Cuban prison camp?

Of the thousand or so Ameriucan military bases on foreign soil, the cuban prison camp is by far the most unusual.

Context. It's all about context.
posted by Artw at 10:53 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


JFK's classic 'Ich bin ein berliner!', which was meant to be a message of solidarity (I am a Berliner!), but actually revealed a far different message and power dynamic to the German people due to a slightly different translation (Smile like a donut, I'm coming in!)

Also a great song by Diana Ross.

Smile Like a Donut! I want the world to know that I won't let you go!
I'm coming in!

The more I think about that Cracked piece that says ignore every single political story that discusses a "gaffe," the more wisdom I see there. Polish complicity in the Holocaust may be worth discussing, but not in the context of a simple misstatement, apologized for, that partisans are attempting to use to throw mud.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:01 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


JFK's classic 'Ich bin ein berliner!', which was meant to be a message of solidarity (I am a Berliner!), but actually revealed a far different message and power dynamic to the German people due to a slightly different translation (Smile like a donut, I'm coming in!)

The correct German is "Ich bin Berliner," as there is no article in front of the title, unlike English; we would say "I am a New Yorker," but in German the "a" (ein) is omitted.

In Berlin, there is a popular pastry called an einberliner, which is essentially a jelly donut. So "Ich bin ein Berliner" sound exactly the same as "Ich bin einberliner." So JFK said "I am a jelly donut."
posted by zardoz at 11:04 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does Poland have an equivalent to "The View" that he can apologize on, or will he have to do it on the US one and have it translated into Polish? Also, in our current apology economy, apologizing on The View is only considered 30% sufficient; in the old days you'd have to go on Oprah, which was a whopping 85% sufficient. You could get away with only apologizing to Jimmy Kimmel or some shit like that in addition and you were done.. But now it's much harder. In addition to The View you'd have to apologize to, say, Leno (15% sufficient), Matt Lauer (30%), Craig Ferguson (8%) and either Hoda Kotb or both Rachel Maddow and Bill O'Reilly. We really need an Oprah successor; in the Apology Receiving Sector her show was too big to fail.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:10 PM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm thinking we need to bundle these apologies into CDOs -- collateralized remorse obligations -- and start selling them on the open market. Pump up the atonement market and cash the hell in by flogging them to pension funds and mom and pop investors.

Best part? When they turn into junk, we can apologize, and prime that CDO pump all over again!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:18 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


CROs. Damn it, stepped on my own joke.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:18 PM on May 31, 2012


And forgot the whole 'eat CRO' part. Man, I need a beer. It's been a long week.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:19 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seems to me like an honest mistake. But the super-cynic in me calls this crafted.

Gaffes draw attention to mistakes, but gaffes don't really stick in the mind. it takes a true "fuck up" for that, but this isn't one. People will hear this and it is very sticky when talking heads turn this into something outrageous. But gives this a few months at the back of your brain and soon it will be noise.

At that point if someone says to you "Remember when Obama said something out of place to Poland, one of the key members of the Coalition of the Willing?" you can respond with something real like "Fuck you, the Chinese control the chips in my pacemaker" or "Fuck you, a Dragon Capsule flawlessly splashed down in my living room and I missed 30 minutes of X-Factor" or "Fuck you, blank just happened and I can barely breathe into this paper bag."

During this crazy time, all legitimate attacks in the media on Obama will be pre-empted for the "Obama hates Poland" attacks. These attacks will fade and be worthless once the actual election starts. Obama is just wasting his attacker's time.

At least, that's what I would think if I were a cynic.
posted by chemoboy at 11:22 PM on May 31, 2012


The "jelly donut" interpretation of JFK's remark is an urban legend. The "ein" article signals that the sentence is meant to be interpreted metaphorically, rather than the literal "Ich bin Berlliner," which means something like to "I'm from Berlin."

"Sie ist Lehrerin" = "she teaches for a living" whereas ""Sie ist eine Lehrerin" = "she''ll correct you if you make a mistake in grammar."
posted by La Cieca at 11:30 PM on May 31, 2012 [19 favorites]


Ain't nobody on the planet who honestly believes Obama and his people actually think the camps were run by Poles or endorsed by Poles or anything even remotely like that. This story is just a shit sandwich with politics on the top and gossip on the bottom.

Any "outrage" in Poland over this is just political posturing magnified by newspaper editors hoping to sell newspapers with manufactured scandal and conflict. Politicians and newspapers are both playing to the sort of people who need a daily Us-against-Them indignation to make them feel alive and important.

Likewise in the US, where Republicans are trying to make Americans feel bad things about Republican political opponent Obama and to forget the latest dumbass Republican statements, and American news editors are also desperate for scandal and conflict to move more newspapers.
posted by pracowity at 11:49 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


If Bush had said this, the Blue comments would be calling for his head on a stick.

That's fine as long we don't mistakenly ask for it on a Pole.
posted by srboisvert at 11:51 PM on May 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Apropos: 2001 Polish film In Darkness, IndyWeek review from April 2012

For better or worse, English speakers tend to view the near-genocide of European Jews through the prism of an us-against-the-Nazis conflict, a view supported by 70 years of fine filmmaking. This perspective has the advantage of putting good guys in the story, along with some indisputably bad guys, from Hitler on down.

That's all fine, but as Yale University professor Timothy Snyder pointed out in his acclaimed 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, much of the violence against Jews and other minorities took place beyond Germany. In Eastern Europe, downtrodden people—Polish or Lithuanian or Ukrainian gentiles, say—were all too happy to vent their fury on another poor population in their midst. From 1933 to 1945, about 14 million noncombatants were murdered in Eastern Europe under the Nazi and Soviet regimes.

It's hard to feel anything but sadness and shame in the face of such facts, but the veteran Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland forges ahead anyway with the aptly titled In Darkness, which was among the Oscar nominees for best foreign film. The movie opens in what seems like hell on earth, the Nazi-occupied Polish city of Lvov; prior to the war, it was a sophisticated, multicultural city (today it's in Ukraine and called Lviv). By now it's 1943, and we're getting hints that the tide is turning against the Nazis, who in turn are "liquidating" the remainder of the city's Jewish population. But the Jews can't look to their fellow Lvov residents for help or sympathy—they're too busy scooping up the Jews' belongings and claiming their apartments.

In desperation, some Jews flee to the city's sewer system, where they're discovered by a Polish bottom-feeder named Socha Leopold. He's a thief and scavenger who nonetheless manages to support his family with his meager gleanings. He's also just as anti-Semitic as everyone else, but his instincts are mostly mercenary. Turning in the Jews would bring him a handsome bounty, but these refugees have enough money to buy his protection—for a limited time. (His anti-Semitism probably leads him to believe they have hidden storehouses of baubles, which they don't.)...

posted by snuffleupagus at 12:21 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry, 2011 film.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:22 AM on June 1, 2012


I really super hope the election comes down to two groups of people, one taunting the other with 'POLISH DEATH CAMP!!!' and the other likewise with 'AMERCIA!!!' so then I will know that no one actually cares about anything.
I complained about the "Americia" thing too!
posted by delmoi at 12:41 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "jelly donut" interpretation of JFK's remark is an urban legend.

Yes, Snopes agrees the story about JFK being a donut is false.
posted by K.P. at 12:43 AM on June 1, 2012


The "jelly donut" interpretation of JFK's remark is an urban legend.

I just have to say that this is a perfect example of why I bother to look at Metafilter. Sometimes this kind of stuff matters, and I want lots of bright minds helping me through the thought process.

I really do care. Did John F. Kennedy say that he was a jelly donut? I want to know.

Other sites dismiss it outright ("Duh. Kennedy was not a donut.") or get lost in tangents ("Jelly roll is slang for vagina, dude!"), but the people who comment at Metafilter have often thought through the question more deeply.

I don't think Kennedy was a jelly donut. Topologically, a donut has a hole in the middle, and Kennedy had a hole, because the entire intestinal system creates a topological hole running through the human body, and Kennedy had an intestinal system. But jelly donuts often don't have a hole, because there is jelly where the hole would normally be. So I think that ultimately the question of whether or not Kennedy was a jelly donut has to hinge on other principles.

If we want to understand the relationship between John F. Kennedy and jelly donuts, we have to look at the politics and personality of Kennedy himself. This was a man who clearly loved donuts. In one famous speech he said "Ask not what your country can donut for you..." He married Jackie O.

So the usual story of Kennedy saying "Ich bin ein Berliner" when he meant to say "Ich muschta ein blintze", which means "I want a donut" makes a lot more sense.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:11 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


In a high profile gaffe...

It's funny I've only heard about this here (twice).


Thirty hours ago I was sitting in a Chinese airport waiting lounge watching a CCTV report involving Obama, angry-looking European politicians, and still photos of Auschwitz. This thread explains a lot.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:14 AM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


I really super hope the election comes down to two groups of people, one taunting the other with 'POLISH DEATH CAMP!!!' and the other likewise with 'AMERCIA!!!' so then I will know that no one actually cares about anything.

I complained about the "Americia" thing too!


Yeah, so did I. They are very similar situations in which staffers did not pay quite as much attention to detail as they should and now the boss has to deal with the reaction. Doesn't tell you anything about their ability to run the country.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:45 AM on June 1, 2012


Hey guys, maybe it would help to consider how this kind of thing is seen in Poland rather than assuming it's some sort of wild oversensitivity? Just because it's not important to you doesn't mean that it's objectively unimportant full stop.
posted by anaximander at 4:54 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


^ I agree with that too.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:56 AM on June 1, 2012


I am not a native speaker, so please bear with me but is "Polish" really used to describe location rather than nationality? It seems to me like it is not.

Dictionary definitions:
: of, relating to, or characteristic of Poland, the Poles, or Polish

1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Poland, its inhabitants, or their language

Would it be accurate to call a military installation of the us army located in Iraq an 'Iraqi military base'.

Would it be accurate to call little boy and fat man 'Japanese nuclear bombs'
posted by Authorized User at 6:14 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


would also deeply offend Americans that would have non-Americans rolling their eyes.

Calling someone from the South a "Yankee." Outside of the US, "Yankee" (or more commonly, "Yank") just means American. Here... you'd best be North of the Mason-Dixon line before you start throwing that one around.
posted by sonika at 6:23 AM on June 1, 2012


Question: Has there ever been a gaffe in the history of politics that wasn't a stupid beat-up in one way or another? A meaningful gaffe?

No, because then it literally wouldn't be a gaffe.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:41 AM on June 1, 2012


> Hey guys, maybe it would help to consider how this kind of thing is seen in Poland rather than assuming it's some sort of wild oversensitivity?

I don't think it's a matter of "assuming it's some sort of wild oversensitivity" so much as a matter of remembering that the Poles as a group (obviously, with many honorable exceptions) were viciously anti-Semitic before, during, and after the War (and some did in fact slaughter survivors, despite what michaelh says), and taking their outrage over this very minor gaffe with the appropriate raised eyebrow. Not saying they shouldn't correct the record or that "Polish death camp" wasn't an unfortunate phrase, just that they might want to tread a little more lightly in this area.
posted by languagehat at 7:23 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


A lot of people pontificating about Berliners that don't seem to have a very clear idea of Berliners, and even one who doesn't even have a good comprehension of donuts (the holes are entirely optional).

They are ubiquitous in Germany as well as the German-speaking part of Switzerland. There is no identifiable difference between a German 'Berliner' and an American jelly donut, except the Berliners are usually of better quality than, say, a Dunkin-Donuts jelly donut (a heavier cake. More like the kind in my home town bakery in Michigan). And I have never ever seen them referred to as "Einberliner", unless it was only one (Ein Berliner).

So, in conclusion, yes, President Kennedy did say he was a jelly donut. That's pretty cool by me. The part I've wondered about was whether there were audible chuckles from Germans. Seems likely enough not, the Germans seldom let humor spoil a good time.
posted by Goofyy at 7:27 AM on June 1, 2012


Yes, I've also lived in Germany and had a Berliner and it was a jelly donut.

Though when I made a joke about JFK saying he was a Berliner/donut... the Germans I was with just stared at me. They hadn't heard the story before and obviously, the dude was TRYING to say that he was a "citizen of Berlin." Why would he say he was a donut? That doesn't even make any SENSE!

The Germans, they are not known for their sense of comedy. Donuts are pretty tasty though.
posted by sonika at 7:39 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


> So, in conclusion, yes, President Kennedy did say he was a jelly donut. That's pretty cool by me. The part I've wondered about was whether there were audible chuckles from Germans.

This is not true; why are people unable to let go of it? Read the fucking Snopes piece, or any of the other zillion refutations. Here's Wikipedia, and here's a nice quote from linguist Jürgen Eichhoff (an actual German): "'Ich bin ein Berliner' is not only correct, but the one and only correct way of expressing in German what the President intended to say." I hold no brief for Kennedy, who was pretty much an asshole, but find some actual facts to complain about.
posted by languagehat at 7:45 AM on June 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's remarkably similar to the incident when Mayor McCheese was on a visit to Hamburg...
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:52 AM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a stupid mistake, but you Americans aren't really getting why the Poles are offended. It's because of a cultural difference in the definition of nationality.

In the New World — United States, but also Brazil etc. — a nation means place. You come to the USA from elsewhere, and by living in this place and sharing its culture you become American.

In the Old World — Poland — a nation means people. It's tribal, you are Polish because your parents are Polish. The territory can change or even not exist for a while.

That's why, when an American hears "Polish death camps", it means just "camps located in Poland" — no big deal. But when a Pole hears it, the meaning is "camps belonging to the Polish people", and it registers as wrong and deeply offensive.
posted by Tom-B at 8:07 AM on June 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


the Poles as a group (obviously, with many honorable exceptions) were viciously anti-Semitic before, during, and after the War (and some did in fact slaughter survivors, despite what michaelh says), and taking their outrage over this very minor gaffe with the appropriate raised eyebrow.

“Poles as a group” is a condemnation that doesn't leave much room for a response that isn't defensive or oversensitive, even if I otherwise agree with the point that there were and are serious problems with anti-Semitism in Poland and that this gaffe is overblown. But you're probably raising an eyebrow at me right now.
posted by romanb at 8:52 AM on June 1, 2012


Just as an aside, I think michaelh's denial of things like the Kielce pogrom in this very thread fascinating. I mean, the wikipedia page itself is a site of contested opinion, but it's clearly written to emphasize that some scholars are looking to shift the blame elsewhere - these scholars of course being Polish nationalists.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:58 AM on June 1, 2012


This is a stupid mistake, but you Americans aren't really getting why the Poles are offended. It's because of a cultural difference in the definition of nationality.

No, it's very clear why the Polish are offended. It's also very clear that this was an obvious, sincere mistake, and that no offense was intended. It's also clear that an apology has been made. Therefore, it is clear that Tusk is being a fucking child.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:08 AM on June 1, 2012 [5 favorites]




I don't think they are just doing this to mess with Obama. Not everything that happens is about American partisan politics.
On the one hand, the Poles themselves have been extremely sensitive over this phrase for years now. They've issued public statements discouraging its use, even going so far as to request that UNESCO change the name of Auschwitz Concentration Camp to former Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. In all fairness, president Obama likely should have been aware of this. The president is diplomat-in-chief, and he's visited Poland in the past (where he received one of the most unique diplomatic gifts of all time). It's not that much to expect the American president to do his homework.

And yet the uproar over these statements seems to imply that the president was being purposefully insulting at worst, and hopelessly ignorant at best. The right is doing its level best to affect the same outrage as the Polish people, using the cultural sensitivities of a European country to attack the president—an irony that I'm still struggling with.

Even the Polish reaction to this strikes me as overwrought. There were death camps set up by the Nazis all across Europe, and these are often referenced as either Nazi death camps, by their individual names such as Treblinka or Auschwitz, or by their geographical location. Yet even if the camp is referred to as a Polish or Hungarian death camp, everyone talking about it knows full well that it was run by the Nazis.

Respecting the sensitivity of the Polish people is one thing—and I think it's absolutely fair to respect Polish wishes and stop using the phrase to as great an extent as possible. They've suffered untold hardships, first at the hands of Nazi Germany, then at the hands of the Soviets. It's not so hard to say "Nazi death camps located in Poland" after all.

But turning honest mistakes into petty feuds is another thing altogether. And either way, this gaffe and the overblown reaction to it are an excellent distraction from actual issues, feeding the American political circus yet another non-troversy to keep the proverbial show rolling.
The Bogus Uproar Over The President's ''Polish Death Camp'' Gaffe

Given that the outrage on the Polish side stems first and foremost from a right wing Polish politician with strong ties to the American Republican party, and is being whomped up on the mighty Wurlitzer of Fox News and other house organs of said Republican Party, I think this is about American partisan politics first and foremost. As, I suspect, is this post.
posted by y2karl at 10:31 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great, now I have a stupid 8mm stop-motion art school recreation of the Zapruder film looping in my imagination, with the JFK puppet's head replaced by a cherry-jelly donut.

I blame Obama. And my parents, who won't pay for me to go to art school.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:32 AM on June 1, 2012


What I'd like to know is, for those being superlatively critical of this and asserting that this misstatement is the product of ignorance, what it would be ignorance of—given that this happened as the people involved were conducting a ceremony honoring a member of the Polish underground resistance to the Nazis who made it his personal mission to inform the world about what was happening in Poland at that time.
posted by XMLicious at 11:20 AM on June 1, 2012


> “Poles as a group” is a condemnation that doesn't leave much room for a response that isn't defensive or oversensitive, even if I otherwise agree with the point that there were and are serious problems with anti-Semitism in Poland and that this gaffe is overblown.

I understand the problem, and I generally try to avoid talking about entire nations that way. But either you think Poles are no different from, say, Canadians when it comes to Jews (and I'm certainly not saying Canada has no problem with anti-Semitism—the sad truth is, there are no countries that have no problem with anti-Semitism) or you have to accept some version of my statement (and I'm certainly willing to see it reformulated, as long as it isn't watered down to meaninglessness). The fact is that (many) Poles have had a longstanding problem with Jews, a problem far worse than occasional mutterings or refusal to admit too many of them to universities or whatever, and therefore Poles should be a little careful how they express their outrage over death camp remarks. I am fully aware of how badly Poles suffered at the hands of both Hitler and Stalin (I recommend reading Timothy Snyder to anyone who needs education on this) and in general what a raw deal they've gotten from history. But still, they need to tread lightly in this area.
posted by languagehat at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2012


The fact is that (many) Poles have had a longstanding problem with Jews, a problem far worse than occasional mutterings or refusal to admit too many of them to universities or whatever, and therefore Poles should be a little careful how they express their outrage over death camp remarks.

True that. As the son of one born a few score miles from Krakow, I know a little something about this.

One of the odder things about contemporary Poland is the fascination shown in some circles for the culture of pre-war Polish Jewry, and just everything Jewish , right down to kosher style cafes with klezmer bands, all eerily absent, for the most part, actual Jews. It brings to mind the creepy chutzpah of those American hippies in the later 1960s who styled themselves as 'spiritual Indians,' as in Native Americans.
posted by y2karl at 12:09 PM on June 1, 2012


Yeah. I try not to cringe too much when I read about that stuff, because the people who play in the bands and patronize the cafes are way too young to have been there for the bad stuff, and their hearts are in the right place, sort of, but... yeah.
posted by languagehat at 12:23 PM on June 1, 2012


This is a stupid mistake, but you Americans aren't really getting why the Poles are offended. It's because of a cultural difference in the definition of nationality.

As long as we're all being oversensitive, you might want to be aware that not everyone commenting here is American.
posted by jacalata at 12:27 PM on June 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: "CROs. Damn it, stepped on my own joke."

I assumed that "CDOs" stood for "Collateralized Dumbass Obligations". And I want in on the IPO.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:04 PM on June 1, 2012


Authorized User:
I am not a native speaker, so please bear with me but is "Polish" really used to describe location rather than nationality? It seems to me like it is not.
...
Would it be accurate to call a military installation of the us army located in Iraq an 'Iraqi military base'.

Would it be accurate to call little boy and fat man 'Japanese nuclear bombs'?
It's perfectly normal in English to use "Polish" to describe location instead of nationality. Your examples, however, suffer from ambiguity, so they wouldn't be used.

An Iraqi military base would most likely be staffed by Iraqis, so for clarity the US base would be called "US base in Iraq".

The nuclear bombs are a bit weirder - they only spent a few minutes in Japan. Again, there's ambiguity.

Suppose I had a job that required I spend time in both the US & Japan. In the US, I drive a Toyota (made in Ohio, USA), and in Japan I drive an imported GM car. A perfectly acceptable sentence would be, "My American car is Japanese and my Japanese car is American!"... and it still wouldn't be clear which half of the sentence referred to the Toyota.

In this case, however, Obama was specifying the concentration camps in Poland, as opposed to those elsewhere. No native English speaker would misunderstand what he meant. There's no ambiguity.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:15 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


"One of the odder things about contemporary Poland is the fascination shown in some circles for the culture of pre-war Polish Jewry, and just everything Jewish , right down to kosher style cafes with klezmer bands, all eerily absent, for the most part, actual Jews. It brings to mind the creepy chutzpah of those American hippies in the later 1960s who styled themselves as 'spiritual Indians,' as in Native Americans."

In Krakow this was very eerie to me as well. I only went there by train for a day trip, but I spent the afternoon in the Jewish Quarter and it was surprisingly non-Jewish. I ate in a restaurant that reminded me of a Hard Rock Cafe, but focused on Judiasm not hard rock. And a surprising number of the Jewish landmarks on the map were basically empty buildings or old lots with ambigous plaques.
posted by PJLandis at 2:42 PM on June 1, 2012


As far as the election is concerned I would think Romney's dithering on Russia would be of more concern as it genuinely seems to be an issue they really don't have a handle on. Romney recently has called Russia the US's biggest geopolitical foe and his spokesman has just said that it is Obama's fault that relations with Russia are not great.. oh and that it is Putin's fault things are so frosty(internal consistency not being a terribly strong suit of the Mitt campaign) and Russia would respond better to a stronger American president.

They are just all over the map
posted by edgeways at 2:58 PM on June 1, 2012


In this case, however, Obama was specifying the concentration camps in Poland, as opposed to those elsewhere. No native English speaker would misunderstand what he meant. There's no ambiguity.

Ah. I am fairly fluent in written English but to me 'Polish death camps' reads unambiguously as death camps run by Poles, Polish being a reference to nationality rather than location.
posted by Authorized User at 3:35 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


An Iraqi military base would most likely be staffed by Iraqis, so for clarity the US base would be called "US base in Iraq".

How is it different from 'Polish death camp' and 'Nazi death camp in Poland'? This is an honest question.
posted by Authorized User at 3:39 PM on June 1, 2012


But either you think Poles are no different from, say, Canadians when it comes to Jews (and I'm certainly not saying Canada has no problem with anti-Semitism—the sad truth is, there are no countries that have no problem with anti-Semitism) or you have to accept some version of my statement (and I'm certainly willing to see it reformulated, as long as it isn't watered down to meaninglessness). The fact is that (many) Poles have had a longstanding problem with Jews, a problem far worse than occasional mutterings or refusal to admit too many of them to universities or whatever, and therefore Poles should be a little careful how they express their outrage over death camp remarks.

Who has the privilege to not be careful when talking about death camps?
posted by romanb at 4:09 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given that the outrage on the Polish side stems first and foremost from a right wing Polish politician with strong ties to the American Republican party, and is being whomped up on the mighty Wurlitzer of Fox News and other house organs of said Republican Party, I think this is about American partisan politics first and foremost.

I think it's just intentionally blinding yourself if you can't see the links to multiple other Polish politicians and the long history of this controversy. The more obvious answer here is they are actually upset and there is not a Fox News anti-Obama conspiracy in the Polish government.

As, I suspect, is this post.


My first comment on this story on MeFi, prior to the FPP, was that it was being wildly blown out of proportion in response to some folks suggesting the Amercia thing called Romney's ability to lead into question. Neither of these stories are relevant to leadership ability. If I was secretly trying to make a partisan point about what a big deal this is, I probably would not start by saying otherwise.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:27 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Who has the privilege to not be careful when talking about death camps?

Fair point. But I think you know what I meant.
posted by languagehat at 4:48 PM on June 1, 2012


From the Economist: "For many years, Polish media, diplomats and politicians have tried to persuade outsiders to stop using the phrase "Polish death camps" as a shorthand description of Auschwitz and other exemplars of Nazi brutality and mass murder"

Also, I believe Polish political parties generally tend toward the Right of the spectrum, especially in social issues, so it's not that informative to note that the Prime Minister holds a majority political opinion and wrote for a publication that supports those views.

Even if Skorski and Tusk are opposed to Obama's re-election, I think it's pretty clear that people of Poland have shown a sincere and repeated concern over comments like this and would be angry if their president didn't demand an apology.

I'm with furiiousx on this, I'm surprised how committed people are to seeing this as totally motivated by US electoral politics.
posted by PJLandis at 4:54 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


one has to remember that unlike in western europe, where schindler list and the like took place, in Poland if you were caught trying to save a Jew your entire family was executed. Even in the face of that Polish people are the most numerous among of gentile people to save Jews (see: http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/index.asp?WT.mc_id=wiki ). That's bravery, thousands of Poles have died trying to save Jews. Very doubtful if Schindler et. al. in the west would do that faced with those risks
posted by 70150 at 4:58 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a whirling clusterfuck of stupid, this.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am fairly fluent in written English but to me 'Polish death camps' reads unambiguously as death camps run by Poles, Polish being a reference to nationality rather than location.

More examples: an international consulting company might refer to "the Canadian office" because it's in Ottawa, even if it's not staffed by Canadians. Or the "Abyssinian Campaign" in British history refers to a military campaign carried out in Abyssinia by the British rather than by Abyssinians. For another one, in the last science fiction book I read the characters refer to a UFO that has landed in the Soviet Union as "the Russian bogey" simply because it's located in Russia.

It's certainly an archaic or informal usage and sloppy because it's ambiguous.

Even when the name refers to a nationality, see for example the ambiguity of "Armenian Genocide", which was an attempted genocide of Armenians, not by Armenians.
posted by XMLicious at 10:52 PM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fair point. But I think you know what I meant.

It helps to be specific. Is there something in this current discussion from the Polish side that was anti-Semitic, say from the foreign minister, or the president? If there was, let's talk about it. If there wasn't, why bring up the point that all Poles should be careful expressing their opinions?

Of course, you already answered the second question: because they share a common passport with some number of people who are or were in fact anti-Semitic. But that's an argument no Pole can take on, because they are presumed guilty from the outset and any debate is closed.
posted by romanb at 12:48 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


> But that's an argument no Pole can take on, because they are presumed guilty from the outset

Poles are guilty. Not in the sense that the particular Poles we're talking about did anything bad to Jews, obviously, but in the sense that they are part of a people/nation that did bad things to Jews. If somebody wants to say "Hey, I have a Polish passport, you have to be born somewhere, but I feel no connection to Poland and don't support the Polish state," then fine, they get a pass, but that's not an option for the foreign minister or the president. If you're going to be a proud Pole and take pride in Polish achievements, you have to take the bad with the good.

Look, this isn't about "Look at the evil Poles!" We are sinners all. I'm an American, a citizen of a country that was born in genocidal massacre of Native Americans, grew rich on the slave labor of Africans stolen from their homes, and has fought endless unnecessary wars for land and profit. I didn't personally take part in any of that, but I am the beneficiary of it; the land I live on was taken from the Abenaki, and some of my family lives on land taken from the Mexicans. When any of that history is brought up, I don't try to deny it or get defensive about it, I say "Yeah, it sucks, and some of us are trying to do better."

Look at the difference between the Germans, who acknowledge their WWII guilt and have tried to make up for it in various ways, and the Japanese, who (collectively, again with honorable exceptions) have closed their eyes to it and allowed revanchist militarism to bubble along just below the surface of public life (like the cult of Yasukuni Shrine) and have been deeply resentful when Chinese and Koreans want to talk about what Japan did to them during the war. Which do you think is the better model to emulate?
posted by languagehat at 6:59 AM on June 2, 2012


An Iraqi military base would most likely be staffed by Iraqis, so for clarity the US base would be called "US base in Iraq".

How is it different from 'Polish death camp' and 'Nazi death camp in Poland'? This is an honest question.


The same way a Polish Sausage does not indicate location. That type of adjective is primarily understood to indicate a quality of the noun. If I say "the Polish consulate", you probably don't think it is in Poland, but you likely will believe that it is owned by the Poles. If I was in China, I probably wouldn't refer to a nearby Buick as a Chinese car. Except, perhaps, if I was trying to imply that it was Chinese owned.

It's the same as referring to the North Koreans as merely Koreans. If I was South Korean, I would take some offense if some was referring to the acts of the North Koreans as simply "Korean".
posted by gjc at 7:21 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which do you think is the better model to emulate?

I don't see the contradiction in dealing with ugly parts of history, and clarifying it at the same time. I am not writing a comic book, so I don't see the need to create a consistant narrative of universal guilt, or unadulterated patriotism.
posted by romanb at 7:37 AM on June 2, 2012


languagehat, You brought up that

the Japanese, who (collectively, again with honorable exceptions) have closed their eyes to it and allowed revanchist militarism to bubble along just below the surface of public life (like the cult of Yasukuni Shrine) and have been deeply resentful when Chinese and Koreans want to talk about what Japan did to them during the war.

The Japanese attitude is wrong here, of course. But isn't addressing Polish concerns about death camps with statements of their anti-semitism similar to as if Japan answered Chinese criticisms with statements of the Great Famine or the Tiananmen Square massacre? Just because China is guilty of heinous human rights abuses doesn't change the fact that the Japanese committed atrocities during the Second World War. I don't think in that case, China needs to "tread carefully".

Perhaps the Polish government should have been more diplomatic about it, but I see their position as just wanting to get the facts straight. Although it is important, it is not just Polish sensitivities that I'm concerned about here. It's that the ambiguity created by the phrase "Polish death camps" can lead one to think that the death camps were Polish. (And the Polish record of anti-semitism just seems to further support that.)

"Polish death camps" may not be ambiguous to anyone with a passing knowledge of the Second World War, but not everybody is as well-informed as we would hope. I mean, look at this article!
posted by Bokmakierie at 8:49 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jedwabne Pogrom

I watched a documentary about this and was amazed by the footage of townsfolk giving survivors the finger when they came to visit their old village in 2000. A lot of them still staunchly deny it ever happened.

I think polish-led pogroms like this are one source of the sensitivity here. Some people don't want it to be suggested, ever, that poles were involved in killing jews, because in cases it really did happen and they don't want to admit complicity.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:51 AM on June 2, 2012


> I don't see the contradiction in dealing with ugly parts of history, and clarifying it at the same time. I am not writing a comic book, so I don't see the need to create a consistant narrative of universal guilt, or unadulterated patriotism.

Of course not, and I don't either. But as dunkadunc says, "Some people don't want it to be suggested, ever, that poles were involved in killing jews, because in cases it really did happen and they don't want to admit complicity." I'm not saying that's true of the foreign minister or the president, I'm just saying that Poles who don't want to be thought complicit with that attitude would do well to frame their complaints accordingly, and perhaps refrain from making a big deal of a slip like this.

Just so it's clear I'm not in any way attacking the current Polish nation, I'll add that I have tremendous admiration for the way they've handled the transition from communism and dealt with the minefield of regional history; to quote Timothy Snyder's excellent The Reconstruction of Nations:
In the years following the revolutions of 1989, every imaginable cause of national conflict could be found among Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine: imperial disintegration; frontiers without historical legitimacy; provocative minorities; revanchist claims; fearful elites; newly democratic politics; memories of ethnic cleansing; and national myths of eternal conflict. From these beginnings, a Polish eastern policy aware of modern nationality fashioned a stable geopolitical order. The collapse of the Soviet Union was anticipated, hastened, and turned to peaceful ends. The simplest evidence of Polish success was Western ignorance of the historical rivalries and wartime cleansing that this book will describe. Where there was armed conflict in the 1990s, as in Yugoslavia, the public learned of wartime precedents and supposedly ancient hatreds. Where peace and prosperity prevailed, as in Poland, the historical narrative of the "return to Europe" took center stage. ... As the world followed conflicts among Serbs and their neighbors, a joint Polish-Ukrainian peacekeeping battalion was dispatched to Kosovo.
Poles and Ukrainians could easily have gone back to killing each other as Serbs and Croats did, and my hat is off to the Poles for making sure that didn't happen. I'm not trying to tar them with their history, just suggesting it's a good idea to be aware of it. I don't mean to offend.
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that I can get the same Swedish meatballs at the American and British IKEA.
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on June 2, 2012


Perhaps the Polish government should have been more diplomatic about it, but I see their position as just wanting to get the facts straight.

If not now, Radik Sikorski once held dual American-Polish citizenship and was a columnist for the National Review and a member of the American Enterprise Institute, in particular, and the American neo-conservative elite, in general. In terms of American electoral politics, he has skin in the game and an ax to grind and in this controversy, he has put quite an edge to that blade. Not by accident, either. I do not see his position as just wanting to get the facts straight.

I'm not trying to tar them with their history, just suggesting it's a good idea to be aware of it.

This is not an uncommon concern:
“As the head of Polish diplomacy, it is my duty to safeguard my country’s image abroad. The racism, aggression and hate spouted in Polish internet chatrooms is beyond belief. People can read these comments anywhere in the world and form their opinion of Poland.”

...“My aim is to induce the owners of the sites to comply with the law and their own regulations. On top of removing the offending entries, this can be achieved by changing registration procedures on internet forums, for example by requiring users to provide a verifiable telephone number or other data that prevent anonymity from the administrator. I’m convinced their sense of anonymity goes a long way to encouraging users’ loutish behaviour on internet chatrooms.” – says Minister Sikorski.
Radosław Sikorski – No more to chatroom smears and slander!
posted by y2karl at 7:45 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


watched ten minutes of the History Channel before it was all Alien Vikings

Whoa, hey ... what?

Last time I watched the History Channel it was all WWII, and mostly about Nazi Germany. I've barely paid attention to what they've been doing with their programming for years. Alien Vikings ... well, it's not really history, but it would be a nice change from the Nazi History Channel.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:23 PM on June 3, 2012


It's all Pawn Stars and American Pickers these days - barely any of what gave them their H.
posted by Artw at 7:12 AM on June 4, 2012


I'm not trying to tar them with their history, just suggesting it's a good idea to be aware of it.

See also:
  • About 50 hooligans punch and kick foreign supporters at a pub in Lodz, Poland
  • Masked thugs targeted fans speaking English and Russian
  • Dutch players complain they were subjected to monkey chants during training in Krakow
  • Holland captain Mark van Bommel warns that players will walk off the pitch if racism continues
  • Abuse came after Holland squad visited former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz
  • Rio Ferdinand tweets: 'Hope this isn't a sign of things to come'
  • Sports Minister Hugh Robertson urges authorities to 'stamp down' on racism at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine, which begins today
  • Polish thugs attack English-speaking fans and hurl racist abuse at Holland stars as trouble flares at start of Euro 2012

    Poland's prime minister traveled on a new highway and dined on African yams and beer with a Nigerian-born lawmaker Thursday, a symbolic visit on the eve of the European Championship aimed at showing that the tournament's co-host has made improvements to roads and on the issue of racial tolerance.

    Donald Tusk traveled 140 kilometers west on a just-finished stretch of a key highway — the A2 — to reach the city of Lodz. There, he and his wife sat down to lunch in the home of Poland's first black parliamentarian, John Godson...

    Tusk's overt public relations moves also come amid fears that the European Championship — being held in Eastern Europe for the first time — could be marred by racism. He wore a pin that said "Welcome" and said he was trying to show that Poland will be a hospitable place.

    The issue of racism has received a lot of attention since the BBC aired a documentary late last month highlighting the problem of racism and anti-Semitism in Ukrainian and Polish stadiums.

    The program showed Ukrainian hooligans violently attacking Asian fans supporting the same team at a domestic league match. Officials in both countries complained that the documentary was unbalanced and have stressed their determination to fight racism. Poland's Foreign Ministry acknowledged that racism and anti-Semitism are problems for the country, but not on the level that the BBC suggested.
    Polish leader tries to ease Euro 2012 racism fears

    ...Less familiar at west European stadiums are the anti-Semitic chanting and displays by far-right groups which organizations like the Warsaw-based East Europe Monitoring Centre say are also common in Poland and which Godson said needed tackling.

    "Anti-Semitism is still a problem," he said. "There are jokes about Jews. It not an institutionalized thing but it is something that is definitely present in our society.

    "We have clearly not done enough in analyzing what we see happening in the stadiums."

    Home to more than three million Jews on the eve of World War Two and the Holocaust largely perpetrated on Polish soil, Poland now has a Jewish community numbering in the thousands. Both its postwar Communist rulers and Roman Catholic clergy who opposed them faced accusations of encouraging anti-Semitic sentiment.

    Today, the word "Jew" is still heard as a term of abuse by non-Jewish Poles against each other, not only in stadiums.

    The U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League, which has praised efforts by democratic Polish leaders, found in a survey this year of European countries that nearly half of Poles still held anti-Semitic views - fewer than in Hungary or Spain, but double or more the level it recorded in Germany, France or Britain....

    Godson, however, points to reasons for hope in his election to parliament last year in Lodz - a city where most people rarely see a non-European face and where the intense rivalry between fans of the two main soccer clubs is famously marked by anti-Semitic taunts, even though few Jews now live there.

    "Race was not an issue in my election," Godson said.

    "People voted for me because I was a good councilor and they could see that I had a strong community conscience and was prepared to help people," he added.
    Bigots, hooligans to test Polish image at Euro 2012
    Not to judge the many by the few but mote, beam, eye and all that.
    posted by y2karl at 9:01 AM on June 8, 2012


    A Polish village's forgotten Jewish dead [BBC News - Magazine, 6/15] -- David Shukman's commentary on returning to his family's former village.
    posted by snuffleupagus at 8:44 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Czech Republic v. Poland  ;)
    posted by jeffburdges at 9:33 AM on June 16, 2012


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