My apologies for this totally off-topic rant, but…

Cidu Bill on May 12th 2017

I just read a 1938 article by H.G. Wells about “The Future of the Jews” and… I had no idea of the level of this man’s anti-Semitism. Was this common knowledge, either then or now?

You can’t even attribute it to ignorance or “the times,” because he was both a historian and a futurist, so you would expect a degree of enlightenment.

I am tempted right now to find Malcolm McDowell and punch him in the face, just because I think of H.G. Wells as looking like him.

Filed in Bill Bickel, H.G. Wells | 31 responses so far

31 Responses to “My apologies for this totally off-topic rant, but…”

  1. London traveler May 12th 2017 at 05:59 pm 1

    Read Gleick’s Genius (the Feynman biography) and you’ll be surprised/disappointed by the systemic anti-Semitism of the 30’s and 40’s. I would think it continues today in many quarters.

  2. doug May 12th 2017 at 06:16 pm 2

    Watched it happen on a basket ball court in south central KY in the 80’s. Our company had a tournament between the different divisions in the plant. Some guys decided to “punish” the CFO, (last name Katz), because they had heard he might be Jewish. So they threw an elbow to his mouth. He had just got braces as as an adult, so now he’s bleeding. A couple of us had reps as a no blood no foul player, and it was a pleasure to exact retribution. Fully within the bounds of the court and rules. Nobody does that to a teammate. We’d never talked before that day and I don’t know that we ever did again.

    I say this only to say that I agree with London Traveler. It could easily happen again. On the same court. But not by those two rednecks. Not just because they’re old and fat now.

  3. Cidu Bill May 12th 2017 at 06:42 pm 3

    Oh, we had Henry Ford and Lindy, of course, and they were far worse: but I never expected something like this (”the Jews bring it upon themselves because they’re always complaining” - this coming more than 3 years after the Nuremberg Laws) from somebody of his intellectual stature, and a historian who wrote with a degree of empathy.

    And it’s not even a well thought-out article, just an anti-Semitic attack.

  4. Winter Wallaby May 12th 2017 at 06:49 pm 4

    “And it’s not even a well thought-out article, just an anti-Semitic attack.”

    Yeah, if you’re going to be anti-Semitic, at least put some thought into it! Some statistics, maybe a few diagrams. . .

  5. Cristiane Young May 12th 2017 at 07:37 pm 5

    I just about sobbed when i found out that Edgar Degas, until then one of my all-time favorite artists, was an anti-Dreyfus anti-Semite. Broke my heart.

  6. Cidu Bill May 12th 2017 at 08:48 pm 6

    I know, Winter: he was a world-renowned historian. Have a little pride in your work, Herbert!

  7. Mr. Grumpy May 12th 2017 at 09:10 pm 7

    Bill, you meant:

    “I know, Winter: he was a world-renowned historian.”

    That missing comma is very important

  8. That's Me May 12th 2017 at 11:36 pm 8

    In college in the late 80s/early 90s we were required to take a “western civilization” class, which covered the seminal philosophers of western civilization. Entirely white dudes, with the exception of what we dubbed “woman week”, “black week” and “Jew week”. One of the required texts was Voltaire’s Candide. There was a footnote in the book noting Voltaire’s anti-semitism, but condoning it because he had once had a bad experience with a Jewish person (banker/jeweler/something or other). Voltaire’s anti-semitism notwithstanding, it blew my mind that the author of the footnote thought that this was a perfectly understandable and reasonable excuse for the attitude.

  9. Cidu Bill May 13th 2017 at 12:08 am 9

    Interesting exercise in perspective: with no foreknowledge that Voltaire was anti-Semitic, I thought nothing of his use of the Jewish character, other than as just another example of his sense of humor: certainly no group is treated kindly in this novel.

  10. woozy May 13th 2017 at 12:25 am 10

    Um, I guess I did know. I chose not to think very much about it. H.G. Wells has an imagination as a situational writer but I don’t believe he was a visionary so I guess I chose to never put him on a pedestal so I wouldn’t have to knock him down.

    Voltaire on the other hand… That’s … disappointing.

  11. mitch4 May 13th 2017 at 07:57 am 11

    Somewhere in there is a pattern of usage of the word “gentleman” that makes me listen with some serious respect to people in various groups today who point out what they call “micro-aggressions”.

    It was some British dialogue from the between-the-wars era, and was posed as a question “What do you call a Hebrew gentleman who has just left the room?” with answer “That Jew” or more taboo word. There was also the same idea formulated with “Negro gentleman” or “colored gentleman”, mutatis mutandis.

    And nowadays I always think of that when hearing “gentleman” in reality of official incident reports, or scripted TV or movies. When a police officer, or official statement, or judge-and-social-worker dialogue, etc., use “gentleman” to refer to a suspect, or down-and-outer, or just an average guy from a racially identified group, I do cringe a little and think of that old British usage.

    “When I approached the automobile, the gentleman in the passenger seat was raising a fuss and I advised him to be quiet and let me deal with the driver.” “Did this gentleman persist in fussing at you?” … It’s disturbing. Especially when they think they are being polite and miss the edge or irony that many will hear.

    I won’t go into the not-totally-parallel case of “lady” which has perhaps even more historical layers of irony or misdirection. “That was no lady, that was my wife!”

  12. BBBB May 13th 2017 at 08:46 am 12

    I’m about 3/4 of the way through listening to the audio book of Michener’s “The Source”, much of which is presumably historically accurate. While the atrocities he depicts aren’t all aimed at Jews, most of them are. Beheadings and burnings are the least of it. None of this–i.e., Wells–surprises me, and I don’t think any of man’s inhumanity to man will again. And…I’ve still got about a dozen CDs and 400 years to go.

  13. Ian D Osmond May 13th 2017 at 09:21 am 13

    I was more-or-less aware of it. Generally, I just assume that anybody pre-WWII was anti-Semitic until I’m am told otherwise. I assume that anybody post-WWII hides it better.

  14. B.A. May 13th 2017 at 02:05 pm 14

    BBBB, how is The Source? I’m about a third of the way through the audiobook of The Covrnant.

  15. Robert V Walker-Smith May 13th 2017 at 04:07 pm 15

    I’ve noticed this in a number of places, some unexpected. G.K. Chesterton had some unsettling things to say, and was an anti-Dreyfusard long after Dreyfus had been cleared.

    The common element in ‘genteel anti-Semitism’ seems to have been the unexamined conviction that Jews were fundamentally alien to Europe and could not be assimilated. So Dreyfus could be a Jew in France, but never be French, just as Disraeli could never really be an Englishman.

    I believe that one of the motives for Holocaust denialism is that the reality of the Shoah makes genteel anti-Semitism socially untenable.

  16. Ignatz May 13th 2017 at 04:16 pm 16

    I wasn’t aware of it. I have him “Outline of History” on my shelf, and now I’m curious to leaf through and see if it’s in there.

  17. chuckers May 13th 2017 at 05:30 pm 17

    No link to the article in question?

  18. Chakolate May 13th 2017 at 05:33 pm 18

    I had a nun in Catholic school in 1962 who was very enlightened - she said that Jews are just like us now, they know that Jesus is the Son of God, and they worship him. In a small town in Michigan, I never ran into any Jews, so I believed it for an embarrassingly long time.

    She was a kind and generous person, but the lack of respect inherent in her comments still makes me blush.

  19. Christine May 13th 2017 at 05:39 pm 19

    @Chakolate - I wonder how that nun handled the new Good Friday service text (probably by denial). It explicitly mentions Catholics, other Christians, Jews, Muslims, other theists, the rest of the world’s population in a progression for the intercessions. I guess that the import of that might not be understandable if you already have that kind of blind spot though.

  20. Ian D Osmond May 13th 2017 at 07:16 pm 20

    Chakolate — my father was raised Catholic before he became an atheist, and then, eventually, converted to Judaism. When he was a child, Sister Caruso wasn’t happy with his answer to the question about who killed Jesus — she was probably expecting either “the Jews” or “the Romans”; he said “the Italians.”

    I’m not clear on whether he was being a smart aleck or if he was just figuring, “Rome is in Italy; they’re Italian.”

  21. Mark in Boston May 13th 2017 at 07:30 pm 21

    Funny think about “who killed Jesus” is that in Christian theology, Jesus had to die in order to fulfill the law and save mankind. The one confession of faith that all Christians believe is “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
    It was a dirty job but SOMEONE had to do it.

  22. Cidu Bill May 13th 2017 at 09:13 pm 22

    Chuckers (17), I should have been clearer: I read it in an actual 1938 magazine.

    (Yesterday, not in 1938)

  23. Boise Ed May 14th 2017 at 01:55 am 23

    Well put, Ian [13]. The same thing sort of holds with blacks, pre- and post-1960s. Before, it was socially acceptable to say things that one cannot say today, but not after; nevertheless, many people continue to think such things quietly. And not so quietly, in this past year or so.

  24. BBBB May 14th 2017 at 07:03 am 24

    BA (14): The Covenant is good but three or four times as long as it needs to be (e.g., several hours of debate of the whether it’s vain to wear a false tooth to temple and whether there’s a difference between a regular false tooth or a gold one). It has become a matter of principle that I’m going to finish it.
    While I haven’t read all of Michener’s books, I’ve found them spotty. I thought Hawaii and Chesapeake were wonderful. Caribbean and Alaska weren’t far behind. Mexico was awful, and I gave up on it.

  25. B.A. May 14th 2017 at 03:38 pm 25

    BBBB, Mexico was basically a 1000-page novel about the cult of bullfighting.

    I did finish it, but probably only because it was an audiobook and I was on a long car trip.

  26. narmitaj May 15th 2017 at 07:57 pm 26

    Cidu Bill, you might be interested to read Adam Roberts’ blog Wells At The World’s End, where he is reading through and blogging about Wells’ works in chronological order in preparation for writing a literary biography of him. (Roberts is a prolific science fiction novelist and also a university academic specialising in 19thC English literature & creative writing). is a long post about Wells’ 1901 book Anticipations, which has problematic aspects tantamount to fascism: “the politically authoritarian, eugenicist and racist elements here can’t simply be wished-away.” Including a fair amount of anti-semitism too. Roberts discusses the book partly in the context of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

    Wells changed his mind and approach about many things along the way and was later, I gather, not as enthusiastic about eugenics and as relaxed about the mass disappearance of “inferior peoples” as seems to be the case in Anticipations. in 1940 he published The Rights of Man and later he was a core contributor to the Sankey Declaration of the Rights of Man, which influenced the wording for the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights.

  27. Meryl A May 16th 2017 at 02:37 am 27

    In reading articles about Martin Luther in reference to the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation I was surprise to read about how anti-Semitic his writings were.

    Growing up (not as a small child, but say junior high and up) antisemitism was explained to me as something that one still needed to be careful about. To this day when I join a new club or online group I do not mention being Jewish until I get a feel of the group’s members. When we joined our reenactment group I was very careful until I found out that it was not a problem (although we have a relatively new member now who I think does not like that several of us are Jewish). In my embroidery chapter I did not mention it - until a member brought in a tallis she had made her grandson. This group is very comfortable for me that way.

    There was a movie in the 1960s (recently on Turner Classic movies) in which a young Jewish girl and Catholic boy become friends. They each in turn attend services at the other’s synagogue/church with the other - without telling their parents. I remember how the little girl looks around the church as she enters - afraid, but interested, and then feels comfortable. I sort of felt the same way the first time I went to church with Robert (he had been to bar mitzvahs as a kid).

  28. Brian in STL May 17th 2017 at 01:35 pm 28

    I attended Catholic elementary for two years in the small city of Pawhuska OK (known these days for Pioneer Woman) in the mid 1960s. At one point we took a field trip to a Synagogue, probably in Oklahoma City. It was an interesting trip, the Rabbi talked to us for a bit about the history of the two religions. I recall that there was a decorative panel that included hands in the blessing sign:

    At the time, some of us were watching Star Trek and found it quite amazing as it was similar to the Vulcan “Live long and prosper” sign. Apparently this is not a coincidence. Supposedly Leonard Nimoy was the source for that.

  29. Cidu Bill May 17th 2017 at 01:38 pm 29

  30. Boise Ed May 18th 2017 at 12:20 am 30

    Brian [28]: Just recently, I saw a TV bit about Pawhuska. I know a bit about the area, as my mother was raised in Sapulpa, but I had no idea that Pawhuska was founded as an Osage town. But back on topic, you got me to remember training my fingers to make that sign. It took a while.

  31. Meryl A May 23rd 2017 at 02:38 am 31

    Among the assorted time travel shows this past season on TV was a version of “Time after Time” - it has been canceled - it was fair.

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply