Prague Twin

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Right of Return?

Every once in a while, you see the same theme repeated by extremely diverse sources in a short period of time. If that theme is something you think about often, and there is no particular reason for it to be coming from all sides, as it were, you might feel compelled to post about it. So here we go.

The issue is somewhat complex, and I urge my dear reader to give me some latitude in exploring it. The issue is a two-part question, at least.

The first question is this: if certain people which belong to a religious and/or ethnic group present a threat to the established order, can the whole of that group be collectively punished in the interests of protecting the citizens of the more powerful local ethnic and/or religious group? If you answer yes, then the second part is irrelevant. If you answer no, the you must consider the second question.

The second question is this: if a minority, or less powerful religious and/or ethic group is persecuted and deprived of their property and/or state and/or significant percentage of their living members, do they deserve to be compensated at a later time? If so, to what extent and how long is the statue of limitations valid on such a claim?

Maybe it is clear where I am going with this, but in case it is not, let me explain.

The first post I saw that got me thinking about this recently was this one by my conservative friend Roger Fraley at XDA. He argues that the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII was a "sad necessity to prevent sabotage" that deserved reperations be paid. As usual, I totally disagree with Roger, but he is consistent in his opinions. I have to wonder what he would think about issue of the Sudeten Germans. The Czechs are feeling less and less confident about the Benes decree as time goes on, which you can read about in the link here.

Many of you may be aware that millions of German speaking people living in an area of the Czech Republic called the "Sudetenland" were expelled after WWII for being traders. Now, most of course were not, but many were. Using the typical better-safe-than-sorry logic, millions of Germans were stripped of their rightful property. They were given a couple of days of food and a train ticket and were exiled. It is estimated that at least 250,000 died as a result. Was this necessary? Was it just? Do the Sudeten Germans deserve to be compensated for their losses?

Finally, I saw something at a blog I've been checking out lately called The Dissillusioned kid. He posts here about a radio talk show host who played a prank on his listeners.

When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

What did his listeners have to say? Well, some were rightfully horrified, but what horrified me were these types of comments..

Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us.

Or this comment which, when I read it, really got the synapses firing.

What good is identifying them? You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans.

So I guess Roger is not alone. It should be worth noting before I go on, that Mr. Klein ended the show with this comment....

I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said.

Well Jerry, not only do many agree, but they would take it several steps further. I'm sure plenty of people would just round up all the Muslims, put them against the wall and open fire, you know, just in case.

When I think about these things, I can't help but to think about Osama Bin Laden's stated goal of "transforming America into a shell of it's former self." It is just this kind of reaction that Bin Laden wants so desperately. He wants us to abandon our goals of equality under the law, tolerance, and forgiveness and turn us into savage animals that would kill innocents because they are the same race, or follow the same religion as the guilty. Essentially, he wants us to be more like him.

Well it looks like we are on our way.

Before I leave this post, I just want to present one more piece to the puzzle here. How does this thinking apply to the Israeli/Arab issue? The Israelis were forced from their country some 2000 years ago. No one can say for sure why, and it isn't like there really were countries back then anyway. But it is likely that certain people had wronged others, and the whole lot of them were abolished. Palestinians now find themselves in a similar position. They collectively pay the price for the transgressions of the few and of the past.

Do they have a right of return? Did the Israelis? Do the Sudeten Germans? What about the Kurds? Do they have a right to have their own country after the genocide they suffered? Should the Armenians be compensated (they lost at least a million)? Should all the Muslims in America be rounded up and interned until this whole thing blows over? If so, should they be compensated at a later date? Should native Americans be given at least Oklahoma back? What about 40 acres and a mule for the emancipated slaves?

Honestly, I don't have any answers here. My opinion is that there is no right to return, but then that means that Israel should never have got their state. Having said that, now that they have it and can defend it, I suppose we should just let it be. Compensate those who lost property and move on.

There are no easy answers here, and it is very hard to have a consistent stance that is both fair and plausible in today's world.

I'd love to hear what all you think.


  • Part one, No. Part two, If you have children living in the home and are forced off your land and or have property taken it should be returned to you or your children. Cut it off there or you have what we have in the United States today. People wanting money because their ancestor was a slave in the 1700's.

    God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

    By Blogger David Schantz, at 2:28 AM  

  • I'm with Schantz regarding reparations to living survivors only. There is, I think, a distinction between conquest and state action against it's citizens (perhaps motivated by wars of conquest but separate). Of course Americans have a right not to allow in or to deport non citizens for nearly any reason. Can we do things like internment to citizens because they are a certain hypehnated American? I say yes with reparations. As to collective punishment. Even if we had a policy that we would not punish civilians for what that nation's military or government did, I think (a la Buck Turgidson) that the Gererals in WWII violated that policy. We bombed civilians in Germany and Japan. Nuke weapons are only good against cities. There will be collective punishment in war whether it's wrong or not. Finally, Germany lost the war and the Germans got bad treatment for it. No reparations for the Sudeten Deutche. Just so, the Arabs threw in their lot with the Nazis in WWII and their loss means that bad things (their view) happen to them, like Israel. Actually Israel has been good for the whole reagion and is an Oasis of liberty and tolerance in a very intolerant area. So no right of return for the Palestinians. Had they stayed in 1948, they would be citizens of Israel which is not half bad. Most left on their own. Their mistake. I don't advocate rounding up or identifying the Muslim-Americans. Kurds deserve own country but Turkey won't allow it. Armenians (those handful still alive) deserve reparations but Turkey doesn't even acknowledge doing anything bad to them and makes it a crime to say so. Probably won't happen. It is my dim memory that the Romans destroyed Judea, renamed it Palestine, and caused the Jews to spread out as a punishment for a series of revolts against Rome, but I could be wrong about that. Good questions. Thanks for the link.

    By Blogger Roger Fraley, at 3:20 PM  

  • Part one: No. That we've done it in the past does not justify doing it in the future. In fact, we should have learned better.

    Part two: IMO, that depends. If the people who were ousted are still alive, then there's cause for compensation. If their descendants are calling for compensation, then no; not only is it virtually impossible to determine what "fair compensation" would be, the parties being compensated and the parties doing the compensation had nothing to do with the act that would require compensation for.

    However, that being said, sincere and profuse apologies should be extended. Sometimes there's a long wait for those apologies, but they do help with the necessary social healing process.

    As for how the restoration of Israel, that was a more complicated case that I believe, from what I was told, was decided partially to get Jews out of Europe. It was less a gift of compensation and more a bribe/banishment of sorts. But, that's only what I've heard, as I was not alive at that time and certainly was not in a position of political power.

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 6:43 PM  

  • Roger Fraley,

    "Actually Israel has been good for the whole reagion and is an Oasis of liberty and tolerance in a very intolerant area."

    I don't see how Israel can be called an Oasis of liberty and tolerance considering any non-Jew is a second-class citizen and not entitled to the same legal rights as a Jewish citizen. Israel's legal system is not very comparable with our own when it comes to liberty or tolerance, unless you're comparing it to the Jim Crow era.

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 6:48 PM  

  • It is just this kind of reaction that Bin Laden wants so desperately. He wants us to abandon our goals of equality under the law...

    I've made this point on a number of occasions adding that, in George Bush and his neo-con fellow travellers, bin Laden has gained more than he could possibly have hoped for.

    Bush and his cabal are the unindicted co-conspirators of radical Islam.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:48 PM  

  • There is a sad view among many people that as long as it is happening to someone else it is okay.
    At the same time there is the age old need, by governments, for an enemy. Simplicity is the key to that strategy, which means blanket prejudice as opposed to identifying the real enemies. Don't confuse the people with facts.
    For those who are content when it someone else - another tribe - history is full of lessons.
    Beware that your own self-righteous self-interest doesn't turn around to bite you on the bum!

    By Blogger Cartledge, at 11:54 PM  

  • Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I think David's point is a recurring theme here and holds up to logic.


    I would just ask if the Germans don't deserve reperations, why do the Israelis deserve to be put back? Just to punish the Arabs? It seems a little strange. Basically you are saying that if you lose a war, then whatever happens to you after is justified. Is that accurate?


    I think at least children should be compensated. There is a process of giving back property that was confiscated by the commies after 1948 (if it was confiscated prior to '48, too bad). It has its faults, but generally the people are found and I think it is a good thing.


    I know you have hit on this point on your blog. That was one of the things that really hooked me into your blog... that and the amphibious humor of course.


    There is a sad view among many people that as long as it is happening to someone else it is okay.

    This is true. We should just try and always keep in mind that although it is somebody else, it still is somebody. I guess that is what us bleeding hearts do.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 1:40 PM  

  • PT,

    "I think at least children should be compensated."

    For me, that depends on how far you take it and the circumstances.

    For instance if John and Mary were deprived of home and property, and exiled from Ireland to America, with their son little Johnny in tow. Then, in America, they made their way -- rough going obviously, but still made their way -- and had little Marie, Juanito, and Marty in the process. Then, still exiled in America, John and Mary die, then if reparations were to be made Johnny, Marie, Juanito and Marty would be entitled to split the reparations for their parents. However, if reparations didn't occur until after Johnny, Marie, Juanito and Marty were all dead, then there children have to reason for reparations, even though Johnny's children might have a slight claim. They all got a new start.

    If, however, you're talking about people who never got to settle anywhere, were always driven from place to place because nobody would welcome them, always refugees, never having a home, then Johnny's kids and his siblings' kids would have a more rightful claim. They'd still not each get their own reparations, more of a family deal, but still something.

    That difference is one reason why I have more sympathy for contemporary Palestinians than I do contemporary Israelis. Most Israelis, when they fled their homeland some two thousand years ago, had the means to eke out a new start. The Palestinians have been driven until they came to be where they're now settled, repeatedly kicked out time and again. That's not the exclusive fault of the Israelis, but aside from the religious difference, they should at least be sympathetic to their plight. Some of them are, and those I applaud; some of them see an enemy, whether they see a terrorist with a bomb strapped to his chest or a starving, orphaned child. If you don't want the starving, orphaned child to grow up strapping a bomb to his chest, you give him a better don't mow him down with the rest of his village of innocents with tanks and machine guns.

    There are people who have been in adverse circumstances, moved on to the new venue and given their children the chance to succeed in their new home. These children do not need reparations.

    There are people who have never been given a chance at all, to succeed anywhere. These are the people who need reparations in my mind.

    In the pioneer days of America, before the west was won, the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) were trying to get west. They stopped and settled in Missouri. The other citizens of Missouri didn't like that, so there was a massacre. Religious freedom? We don't know nothin' 'bout religious freedom. People were killed, those who weren't killed lost their property. Missouri had a law on the books (until about fifty years ago) that a Mormon could be shot on sight.

    These pioneers lost a lot, but they recovered when they made it to Salt Lake City and made a new life for themselves. Latter-Day Saints, especially familys who've been at it for generations, tend to be successful and wealthy. They don't need reparations from Missouri, but the apology was very much appreciated.

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 1:23 PM  

  • Sometimes I should really check to see if I rambled before I click the post button. Geesh!

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 1:24 PM  

  • I see what you are saying, but I dont think people should be punished for making their way in the world. Reperations should be made on the basis of right and wrong and the law, not on need.

    Don't punish Jonnny's kids becuase he was resourceful and worked hard. Likewise, don't reward inaction.

    It should simple be a matter of returning one's rightful property despite the current economic state of the wronged party. At least, IMO.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 2:50 PM  

  • Great questions. On the right of return, I would say ideally, yes, but practically, no.

    Having said that, sixty years ago Jews were given the right to "return" to a state of Israel, after thousands of years. At the very least, they should be sensitive to the calls by Palestinians for their right to return to their homes from just 60 years ago.

    And that brings us to question 1. Palestinians are understandably enraged by al nakba - the catastrophe when so many of them were driven from their homes and land. A few of them react with violence. But it is wrong for Israelis to collectively punish all Palestinians they way they have for decades. Why the world allows it I'll never know (actually, the UN has issued a number of resolutions against Israel, which have been generally ignored).

    By Anonymous abi, at 6:30 PM  

  • PT,

    "It should simple be a matter of returning one's rightful property despite the current economic state of the wronged party."

    Rightful property is almost never equitably returned. By returning the same property that was lost, you're most likely taking it away from someone else who had little or nothing to do with the original confiscation...especially a generation later.

    So, Johnny & siblings gets their parent's house and land back...and thus Tom and Leah get kicked off that property when they rightfully (as far as their actions go) bought it from the government (or whoever else stole it) and worked it for twenty years. And that's just?

    "Don't punish Jonnny's kids becuase he was resourceful and worked hard. Likewise, don't reward inaction."

    Ah. That's the capitalist mentality leaking through there, PT. Why assume that because the refugees were unsuccessful they were inaction and unproductive? Refugees are most often kicked about not because they don't contribute and "earn their way," but because they are persecuted and kept down. If refugees are stuck in a camp surrounded by barbed wire fences with guys pointing machine guns at them, is it their fault they didn't get a chance to build a house, start a farm, or make a living?

    "Reperations should be made on the basis of right and wrong and the law, not on need."

    There's no truly just way to make reparations. The only truly just thing is to prevent reparations from ever being necessary. Reparations can never make up for what was lost; they can never undo the damage that was done; they can never give the people the chance they would have had if the need for it had never been. Reparations make for a nice, token gesture, nothing more and nothing less. That doesn't mean they don't have their place, but equating them with justice means you ignore the scope of the original actions and the consequences thereof. The only just thing is to ensure they are never necessary, but as much as we'd like that...neither of us have that power.

    By Blogger Stephanie, at 1:28 PM  

  • Mike, there are good wars and there are bad wars. Germany invading Poland, et al. is a bad war. Poland did nothing to piss off Germany, it was a war of conquest across a pretty ancient border against a peaceful neighbor. When Germany lost that war they had to take whatever they got from the victors--that's what happens you you start and lose a bad war. Our invasion of Kuwait 15 years ago was, on the other hand, a good war. We came to the rescue of an innocent victim of a bad war and we did it as part of a world force with the tiny moral imprimator of the UN. So what you get in fighting a good war is yours to do with as you wish. Other countries should either stop you making a bad war or make you give back what you wrongly took. Also there is a statute of limitations--about 100 years--so no matter how bad our Indian Wars were, we don't have to clear out and sail back to the old country (although you apparently have). Israel was attacked (again and again) but won the wars (wars of self defense are necessarily good wars for the attacked) so they get to keep the land they took during the war, but they have given back lots of land, the Sinai, for example, and seem willing to give back more. How in God's name are they the bad guys?

    Stephanie, where heck are you getting your information? The Arabs living in Israel have full civil rights, can vote and serve in office. In what way are they second class? (And I note that no Arab nation affords the few remaining Jews in them any such rights). If, by chance, you mean the Arabs living in Gaza and on the West Bank, that's not Israel but land conquered, in wars of self defense, from Egypt and Jordan respectively. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.

    By Blogger Roger Fraley, at 11:18 PM  

  • Abi,

    I'm pretty much with you on this point, although I don't know the history well enough to really judge.


    I like your analysis, but I think it is often dificult to determine what the good wars are and the bad wars are. In the case of Nazi Germany, it is pretty clear, but rarely is it so.

    Essentially you are saying that everyone who through their hat in with the Germans deserve to lose their property by virtue of being citizens or subjects of powers aligned with them. By that logic, the Serbians should have been allowed to take over Croatia. I don't mean to try and completely counter you here, but I think it bears some thought.


    I have to admit I can't really follow your logic here completely. Clearly it would be better if there were no need for reperations and we could prevent these occurences, but we can't. The question at hand is, "what do we do in the case...." Again, I'm not a particularly knowledgable historian, so I can't say if most of these situations are as you describe or not.

    I usually use the Czech republic as my example because it is one that I am familiar with. In this example, people were stripped of their property by the state, and now they look for the rightful owners. Often in these situations, the beneficiaries of such action are simply friends of the state, as is the case in the formerly German Sudetenland. They get property (or the use thereof) for nothing or next to nothing. If these people end up loosing the property (or use of it) because its rightful owner gets it back, I'm not shedding any tears.

    Oh, and yes, I am definately a capitalist, but not a typical one by any means.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 11:54 PM  

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