Mr. Cope's Cave: Ben Carson, or The Stupid Things That Gun Nuts Say 

It was three years ago, I think—maybe four—that the Idaho Shakespeare Festival staged Cabaret, the sweetly bitter musical set in early '30s Berlin. My wife and I went with another couple, close friends of ours nearly a generation younger than us, who happen to live virtually across the street. We knew the show well, my wife and I, having been part of an amateur production back in Ohio. But the other couple had seen neither the movie—it put the LIZA!!! in "Liza Minnelli"—or any other version. They knew nothing about the story but a couple of the more-famous songs.

On the way back to Meridian, the other husband largely stayed out of the post-show autopsy. It is unusual for him to stay out of conversations, so I finally had to ask him directly if he liked it or not. He said, to paraphrase: "Loved it. Loved it! I've heard the music all my life, and I love it! Loved the story, loved the acting, loved the singing... but what kind of man gets to be almost 50-years old and doesn't know Cabaret is about Nazis!?"

He was embarrassed by his ignorance. He could not understand how he could have been so totally unaware of what everyone else in the audience seems to have been prepared for, and he was suddenly wondering what other cultural watermarks he'd missed over a lifetime.

I tried assure him that everyone lives within their own, private Venn circle, comprised of a specific combination of learning, experience, loose data nuggets and veins of awareness peculiar to them and them alone. That we intersect with each other in unique ways so that, even though there is a great deal of common knowledge shared by a great many people, no person will ever know completely what another person knows.

He understood what I was trying to say, agreed in most part, but was still a bit discouraged and dismayed by a background that had, in this instance, failed him... what kind of man gets to be almost 50 years old and doesn't know Cabaret is about Nazis!?

That incident has stayed with me. It is intriguing to think that two people with so much in common as my neighbor and I—Idaho dairy farm boys who both grew up to be musicians—could end up with so much difference between what's in our heads.

Of course, with the greatest share of those differences, it isn't really vital whether one knows what the other knows, or not. My friend knows quite a lot about fishing; I know quite a lot about older Broadway musicals. He knows about managing a warehouse; I know how to write opinions—etc., etc.—and both of us have done just fine without access to the information gathered in the other's mental reference files. The fact that he got to be almost 50 years old without knowing Cabaret is about Nazis is close to being irrelevant.

But then, he isn't running for president of the United States and making claims, in public, on a history about which he obviously knows nothing. Like Ben Carson.

Ben Carson has said a lot of stupid things in the past few months, but nothing more stupid than his suggestion that the Holocaust might not have happened had the Jews been armed. It was a transparent effort to kiss the rump of the stupid gun nut demographic, and it was in line with Carson's general approach to liken everything he doesn't like to either Hitler's politics or slavery. But it was an astoundingly dense claim coming from a man I am increasingly convinced is an astoundingly dense individual. I mean... What kind of man gets to be a 64-year-old presidential candidate, and doesn't know the Holocaust didn't have a damn thing to do with whether or not Jews had guns!?

•••

The process that came to be known as the Holocaust was gradual, starting with the same sort of vilification that European Jews had grown accustomed to over centuries, literally. They had been slurred before, often, without the ensuing genocide. They had been displaced before, often, without the ensuing genocide. They had been legislated against before, often, without the ensuing genocide. Why would they think, as far back as 1933, that genocide was the inevitable outcome of Hitler's rise to power?

And even if they could have foreseen that inevitability, why would they—representing less than 1 percent of Germany's population—think they could stop it if only they all owned a gun?

Throughout the '30s, as more disturbing events began to accumulate—the closing of shops, the disenfranchisement of professionals, the thuggery in the streets, the dismissal of Jewish artists and intellectuals—the horror grew incrementally at different paces in different places. Even while slave labor camps or Jewish ghettos were being created in one country—the newly-conquered Poland, for instance—in other countries, Jews were only being deported or being encouraged to immigrate. It was only after full-scale war had begun—three years after, to be exact, in 1942—that the Reich settled on the Final Solution, the labor camps turned into death camps and the monsters committed fully to the extermination of the Jewish people. And by that time—by the time it became undeniably and abundantly clear that it truly was a matter of life and death—even had every man, woman, and Jewish child from every disparate corner of Europe—never numbering more than 2 percent of Europe's population—had a gun in their hands and had somehow miraculously come together as a cohesive, well-organized defense, they would have been up against the largest, most well armed, well trained, military presence the world had ever seen out of a single nation.

Yet Ben Carson—the stupid gun nut Ben Carson—would have us believe that armed Jews might have accomplished what the Poles, the Soviets, the French, the Dutch, the Danes, the Norse, the Greeks, the Baltic states, the Balkan states and the Slavic states, couldn't. That being, to thwart the Nazi machine's intentions.

Even so, by the time it was known exactly what the Nazis were up to, there were Jews—armed Jews—involved with resistance and partisan groups in every theater in Europe, from France and Belgium to the Ukraine and Soviet Union, and even inside Germany, itself.

We can't expect everyone to know this history, any more than we can expect people who have never seen Cabaret to know the musical is (in part) about Nazis. But when a man is running for the president of the United States—a man who so cravenly lusts after the gun nut vote that he makes the most absurd of arguments about how the greatest crime ever could have realistically been prevented, if not for the gun control laws of an essentially lawless regime—it's not at all unreasonable to expect him to know this history, especially before he opens his mouth about it. And for such a man to not know it—or, what is more likely, to ignore it—puts that man into a league, at least in one rbillespect, with Hitler, himself—believing that with enough lies, repeated enough times, an ambitious demagogue can escape the bounds of history and reshape the world.

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