Personally, I think the whole Garlasco affair is starting to make Human Rights Watch look like a character in opera bouffe. Marc Garlasco, the group’s senior military analyst, the guy who visits battlefields to determine what types of atrocious munitions have been used to kill innocent civilians in pointless conflicts, collects World War II memorabilia, including badges of Nazi anti-aircraft units (in which his grandfather served). Apparently this is enough to land you in hot water in this crazy world we live in–that is if your every move is under scrutiny by the pro-Israel smear industry in the form of NGO Monitor (with a little help from Avigdor Lieberman’s Israeli foreign ministry).
The N.Y. Times reports today that HRW has, as I expected, quivered in its boots and suspended Garlasco from his job. I don’t really understand why you would suspend someone from his professional assignment when his only fault is having a hobby that few outsiders can comprehend as meaningful or interesting. Garlasco has made no statement either supporting Nazism or condemning Israel or Jews. In fact, he has harshly criticized the Nazis in the introduction to a book he wrote on collecting such historical artifacts. The main charge, aside from the distortion (continued in the Times’ inaccurate headline, Rights Group Assailed for Analyst’s Nazi Collection) claiming he collects Nazi memorabilia, is that his hobby is somehow weird or ghoulish.
My hope is that HRW is suspending Garlasco with the intent on resolving this matter quickly and reinstating him. The ostensible reason for suspending him is to investigate the matter more fully. I presume someone will want to go over his 8,000 posts contributed to a few collectors discussion forums, to ensure he never said anything that might be further damaging to HRW. Thus far, nothing I have read is in the least incriminating.
Once again I take strong issue with the role Helena Cobban has played in this matter. As I wrote yesterday, normally I find Helena’s instincts to be impeccable on matters political and journalistic. But not this one. For the life of me, I don’t understand how allowing yourself to be interviewed on this matter by the N.Y. Times and speaking harshly against Garlasco sheds anything other heat on the matter, rather than light.
In addition, it seems to me that one of Helena’s main issues with Garlasco is that, as a military man, he comes from an entirely different cultural milieu than she (who is a pacifist Quaker). But think of this–doesn’t HRW need military experts with military backgrounds and yes, perhaps odd (to us) military hobbies? How else can it get the goods when something like the Gaza war occurs? Are we going to send Quaker pacifists to examine shell casings and serial numbers? I have pro-Israel readers of this blog applauding Helena for her stand. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture??
Alex Stein says
“I have pro-Israel readers of this blog applauding Helena for her stand. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture??”
This is a very revealing couple of sentences. In a word not ruled by dogma, there will often be seemingly curious alliances or agreements. That’s what happens when people judge the content of an argument and are able to be flexible about things. This is how genuine dialogue starts, rather than pigeon-holing people into camps like “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine”.
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, when Helena Cobban lies down with Gerald Steinberg she will get up with fleas.
Norman Weinstein says
Although I almost always agree with your positions, Richard, on this one I am quite ambivalent. Although Mr. Garlasco’s collecting of some Nazi memorabilia in and of itself is hardly cause for blanket condemnation and dismissal. I recall that old mantra about Caesar’s wife not just being honest, but appearing so. And collecting some military memorabilia, especially of Nazi provenance, does not strike me as too mentally swift for a person working for HRW, even if one accepts your rather bizarre (in my eyes) translation of that into its being a kind of requisite prologue to Mr. Garlasco’s type of investigatory work.
“…even if one accepts your rather bizarre (in my eyes) translation of that into its being a kind of requisite prologue to Mr. Garlasco’s type of investigatory work.”
I thought something like this, too. That maybe you need people like this to do that kind of job. That stroke me as odd, especially for a human rights organisation. But after a while I thought that it is no requisite, as you call it, but that it’s usefull to have someone like this. As long as this interest does not reflect some kind of admiration or a violent tendency, which does not seem to be the case here, I cannot understand, why the fact, that someone who works as an expert on military collects memorabilia in connection to family members, does hurt his professional reputation.
I found the opposite rather bizarre. This is a headline in the Guardian:
“Human Rights Watch investigator accused of collecting Nazi memorabilia”
To me, this sounded ridiculous. Like: “man accused of collecting stamps!” He’s collecting military stuff – so what? Was his work accurate until now? Did he say anything, that shows he is a Nazi? As long as this is not the case this guy should be allowed to do his job.
Regarding the picture of Cobban being applauded for her spineless behaviour – I don’t see it as her being free of dogma, she acts quite dogmatically here. Which is the reason why she gets standing ovations from dogmatics. If Helena Cobban decided to wilt under such a pressure, she is not the right person anymore for her job, because this kind of pressure will always be brought to human rights organisations. But at least the accusations were not that ridiculous: Being a memorabilia collector…
Human Rights Watch should stop reacting to nonsense like that and just go on doing it’s job.
Richard Silverstein says
I didn’t say it was a “requisite.” I said it followed fr. his military background. So I was in effect saying just the opposite. There are plenty of people in this world doing sensitive jobs in various fields who have slightly off-putting, strange or even obsessive hobbies. I don’t see that the nature of those hobbies disqualifies them for those jobs. Yes, if you or I were military analysts for HRW we might deliberately stay away fr. such a hobby as Garlasco’s. But then again we’re not career military as Garlasco is. I think it’s sometimes really hard to put yrself in the head of someone who has a diff. cultural background that yours. When we try to do so using the yardstick of our own personal experience we sometimes come a-cropper, which is what I think happened to Helena. That’s a shame in a way because Quakers are some of the most empathic human beings I’ve met. It hasn’t worked in this instance though.
Robin Kirk says
This should be a non-issue. If Garlasco collected Hummel figurines, would we be upset? WWII — which, to no one’s surprise involved Nazis — created a lot of collectible crapola that some people trade and buy. It reflects absolutely nothing on their political views, other than that they may oppose higher taxes for extra storage in their homes. HRW should reinstate Mark ASAP and brush these silly critics back with a close-in pitch. I’m a former HR researcher and how the Colombian government could have made hay with my predilection for RED meat (Commie) and RED wine — guerrilla!!!Stand up for your people, HRW!
I own a Miele washing machine – am I in trouble?
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, & pack away that Porsche as well. It’s now treif.
I think it’s hard to escape the fact that being the author of a collector’s book with two swastikas on the cover and being photographed with an iron cross sweatshirt poses political problems for anyone in the public light, much less someone who works for HRW. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and his medal collection may be completely innocuous, but it’s completely politically tone deaf.
I don’t know Garlasco, but as someone who studies genocide and can understand a fascination with the brutal and macabre (I spent a good part of my vacation last year at gacaca courts and genocide sites in Rwanda), even I find the sweatshirt and medal collection kind of creepy. And if I were his boss, I would have put him to work somewhere like El Salvador or Cambodia where a fascination with the German military and in particular the Wehrmacht wouldn’t cause the rest of the organization so many problems.
Garlasco is perfectly free to have whatever hobby he wants, but he shouldn’t act surprised that a fascination with Nazi memorabilia would be used against him. Such a bad call by him and HRW gives credence to the pro-Israel groups like Camera and NGO-Monitor, etc. and makes documenting Israeli war crimes even more politically difficult than it already is.
people – in general – are obsessed with the holocaust. look at how many books publishers put out in a year on the subject. while i personally wouldnt want nazi memorabilia in my home, i think there are many ways to be a collector of nazi history – whether it be through books, news clippings, or clothing. intent must count for something. thanks for posting. you are a trusted voice.
Your link above goes to the Seattle Times, not the NYT article you are referring to.
Is this the one you are citing?
Oh, Garlasco posted a very interesting essay here which pretty much goes hand in hand with what your theory is on what some see as his unacceptable hobby.
Richard Silverstein says
Sorry, a misbehaving Firefox plugin caused that link problem. It’s fixed now.
Yes, I saw Garlasco’s HuffPo piece, thanks.