President Barack Obama’s mistaken reference to Nazi German death camps as “Polish death camps” is being ridiculed by critics as an example of incompetence. That misses the point. His defense is that he was just reading his teleprompter. That misses the point, too.
After all, you don’t need to be a historical genius to have caught that error even if it was on the teleprompter. I am not suggesting that Obama doesn’t know that the Nazi Germans operated the death camps, though, to recall another gaffe of his, he might think that those among them hailing from the country whose capital had been Vienna spoke “Austrian.”
Nevertheless, what this is really about is that Obama does not see himself as emerging from European history and, truth be told and despite his university degrees, doesn’t know much about it. He has no idea, for example, about how the Poles and other Central European people, or Europe itself, think or what they have gone through. And frankly he doesn’t care.
On one level, that is rather obvious. His father was Kenyan. But, of course, his mother was an American of European descent. Still, Obama has not chosen to focus on his simultaneously half-African/half-European parentage. He has identified himself as an African-American, and the word African here has to be taken literally, not just as a matter of ancestry from three centuries ago. The only exception to this stance, I believe, was a reference to Irish ancestry during a visit to that country and a feeble, rather insultingly stereotyped, attempt at an Irish accent.
Forget about this as a matter of race or skin color. Think of it as a matter of geographical choice. Obama draws heavily from Third World standpoints, something quite evident in his choice of church, for example. I cannot recall his ever quoting a European political philosopher. He has never to my knowledge made any reference publicly to Communism at all. In his books, the emphasis is on feelings, personal experiences, and ideas that come out of his head. But isn’t it also important to have someone who knows about how Africans think? Sure, and I don’t think Obama understands them either, but that’s not the subject of this article.
Obama has claimed that his grandfather was punished as an anti-British activist during the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya. The prime minister at the time was Winston Churchill, and it is no coincidence that one of Obama’s first acts was to return a Churchill bust to Britain in a rude manner. Basically, Obama views himself as an anti-imperialist and sees America, along with Britain, as imperialist. But that, too, is a subject for another time.
It’s fine to have a president who doesn’t come from a European background personally or physically but not so good to have a president who doesn’t grasp the meaning of modern European history. That’s why they used to have those Western civilization courses required of every college student, a standard whose loss has been devastating in the production of credentialed ignoramuses.