News broke this week about Liam Neeson, the actor and sometimes horse-drawn buggy teamster, having dark homicidal fantasies about murdering Black people. Apparently because of finding out that an unnamed female friend had survived a sexual assault, Neeson claimed in an interview that he spent time ruminating upon the idea of wandering the streets and basically going Death Wish on a random Black man should he happen to cross his path.
The first thing that came to mind for me when the word came over the wire was “Well, that certainly is one way to promote the 25th anniversary of Schindler’s List…”
Now that a quarter century separates mankind from the multimedia extravaganza of 1993 and the release of both Jurassic List and Schindler’s Park (yes the two premiered in the same year…), perhaps we can objectively understand how deeply reactionary director Steven Spielberg’s movie actually was.
First is the geopolitical landscape it emerged into as a propaganda film. Spielberg is a longtime big-dollar donor to the Democratic Party. In 1993, America and Western Europe, most prominently a recently-reunified Germany, were in the middle of pillaging the independent socialist federation of Yugoslavia. Over the two decades prior, Washington and its proxies in the World Bank had created a situation that was fostering an implosion within one of the few states that had refused to get swept up in the Eastern Bloc’s late 1980s revolts against the jaundiced, arthritic Communist governments. By creating a narrative about the enlightened German capitalist who rescued more Jews (onscreen that is) than the Communist-led Partisan movement (which had Yugoslavian Marshal Tito as its leader) or the Soviet Union’s Red Army (which in reality liberated Auschwitz), complete with a climactic scene of said German blubbering uncontrollably about not having “done enough,” Washington had a perfect narrative to invoke as justification for sending NATO into the breach. Obviously Slobodan Milosevic, a former Wall Street-aligned banker-turned-political opportunist par excellence was a bit of a monster. But that does not by default provide either an argument or justification for dropping partially-irradiated bombs onto innocent civilians, particularly because the alternative, removing Western-mandated austerity measures and American sanctions, would have probably led to a peaceful settlement that included voting Milosevic out.
Second is the intentional presentation of the Nazi holocaust as a Euro-centric (specifically Western European) slaughter. Spielberg takes a distinct position within the historiography of scholarship on the genocide of the Third Reich that is extraordinarily limited and conservative. In his formulation, the Nazi holocaust arose from a context divorced from the First World War and its aftermath, had absolutely nothing to do with the reaction to the Russian revolution, and exclusively happened to Western European Jewry because of a longstanding trans-historical anti-Semitic impulse within the goyim.
This is the complete opposite of reality.
Hitler rose to power because of a coalition of the landed capitalist class that was feeling genuinely threatened by the rise of Communism and the petit bourgeoisie that had been driven to the absolute worst reactionary politics by the austerity regime mandated upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. As a result, the Nazis created in their propaganda a fictional notion, Judeo-Bolshevism, that equated religious affiliation with political inclination, regardless of the reality of Weimar-era Jewish political alignments. The Nuremberg race laws not only targeted Jews, they also were targeted against Poles, Slavs, Romani, the differently-abled, sexual and gender minorities, and Africans.
Yes, you read correctly, there actually were Africans living in Germany, many the children of Black soldiers from the German colonies (the location where death camps were first experimented with was actually during the gruesome Herero Wars of 1904-08) and women left at home during the First World War. These multiracial Germans were deeply loathed by a broad swathe of the German public and it was easy for Hitler to implement a forced sterilization program targeting them which eerily bore resemblance to similar American programs. Such a dynamic vision of the Nazi genocide, of course, would dictate a vastly different political conclusion, leading into my third point.
The film famously ends with the Jews walking across a field into the present day, where they lay memorials at Schindler’s grave in Israel. The logic is that the salvation of the Jews is to be found in Zionism. To hammer the point home, Spielberg lays on the soundtrack the hawkish Israeli pop tune Jerusalem of Gold, an anthem that became the victory theme of the June 1967 Six Day War where Moshe Dayan led the IDF to conquest of the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and Gaza, coordinates that continue to underwrite the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe of the Palestinian struggle.
Coming just over five years after the start of the First Intifada, the nonviolent civil disobedience campaign that the Palestinians launched as a response to Israeli brutality, this is a deeply reactionary and politically-motivated conclusion with a clear endorsement of Western liberal colonial politics.
Rather interestingly, several minutes prior to this, a Soviet trooper riding on horseback liberates the Jews Schindler has rescued. Cryptically, he warns them not to go east, towards the USSR and Soviet zone of occupation. This very obviously is a reference to the Soviet Jewry campaigns of the ’70s and ’80s. After the collapse of the Communist bloc, of course, Israel began to import Russian Jews en masse to populate the expanding illegal settlements in Occupied Palestine.
Spielberg brings an agenda into a narrative that by all metrics of morality (at least in legitimate humanist terms as opposed to the abominable Euro-American ones) should repudiate colonialism and indicate what poet Aíme Césaire elaborated upon in his classic polemic Discourse on Colonialism. With an acuity that few of his contemporaries were capable of, the Martiniquean thinker emphasized that fascism was not unique or disconnected from the European legacy of violence.
Instead, he understood that it was a form of colonialism that had boomeranged back upon the home continent, that Nazism merely did to European minorities what colonial gendarmes had done for centuries to the people of the Global South. As a further buttress, it seems worthwhile to recall the German notion of lebensraum, the expansion eastward to colonize Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the countries within the Soviet Union, at one point was even articulated as a new version of the Monroe Doctrine created for the Reich. If there is one moral lesson that can be derived from the Nazi genocide, it should be one emphasizing opposition to colonialism and imperialism.
That Spielberg did the complete opposite is a moral abomination. Whether one can create a tautology linking this film’s aforementioned issues to Liam Neeson’s perverted comments is difficult for me to judge.
But I also don’t think it would be impossible…