Nearly all modern genocides “begin on the campus,” the author of notable books on the Holocaust and U.S. indirect financing of terrorists told an audience at the University of Michigan-Flint. Edwin Black, an investigative journalist and human-rights activist, assailed academics who fail to adequately teach students the historical facts they should know. Black is touring in support of his latest book, Financing the Flames, which documents that American taxpayers are effectively subsidizing terror and instability in the Middle East through public support of nongovernmental organizations.
Black outlined the specific elements of international law in the Middle East, treaty by treaty, chapter and verse. Black then asked rhetorically, “How come you now know more than all the teachers in this city about the history of international law in the Middle East?,” referring to professors in general during a Q&A session.
Black argued that academics are afraid to admit to mistakes or omissions in their work and that people in general are fearful of investigating the “uncomfortable truths” that he has devoted his life to uncovering.
“They don’t know because it’s easier not to know,” said Black of many academics.
Black said that his previous work, the New York Times bestseller IBM and the Holocaust, was revelatory because no one had investigated nor had the courage to write about IBM’s involvement in organizing the Holocaust. His book has been optioned by Brad Bitt for a Hollywood movie. Black encouraged audience members to “learn about the stuff they don’t want you to know.”
A bestselling book by Black, War Against the Weak, chronicled how the ideology of eugenics was developed by U.S. intelligentsia and nonprofits and used to justify forced sterilization of minorities and the planned extermination of “unfit” people by law in the United States. According to Black, the ideology influenced Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
“It’s not a secret, it’s not a secret history, it is open history if only we can see it in front of us,” said Black, the son of Polish Holocaust survivors.
“Remember all this eugenics stuff that I wrote about was not proliferated in the back of a Ford truck in Mississippi,” Black said. “It was invented, cultured and proliferated at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.”
The University of Michigan itself was an important part of the eugenics movement, according to the Michigan Daily. Its University Hospital in Ann Arbor performed “a large portion” of the estimated 3,800 sterilizations in Michigan. The former chief of the medical school, Clarence Cook Little, was a leading advocate for the forced sterilization law; and after his resignation from the school presidency in 1929, he went on to preside over the American Eugenics Society during his retirement, the Daily said in 2009.
The noted, award-winning author spent nearly an hour before his planned discussion reaching out to local African-American students, responding to issues that they cared to voice including the history of racism in the United States. Black is the recipient of the “Drum Major for Justice Award” granted by the historically black college North Carolina Central University, and designated “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Great Lakes World Affairs Council in Lansing, Michigan.
Black's visit to campus was sponsored by the Flint Jewish Federation in association with StandWithUs-Michigan.
Black focused on the need for people to be informed students and voters, so that tolerance and understanding can be restored. He informed students of his extensive research on the victimization of people of African descent.
“Most people don’t know, because of a lack of scholarship, that African, Afro-Germans, Afro-Caribbeans, and African-Americans were also key victims of Nazi policies,” said Black.
Marquetta Hall, 17, of Flint Township, was invited to attend the informal pre-discussion by the Committed to Excellence and Opportunity program, a pre-college program administered by UM-Flint’s Educational Opportunities Initiative. The Hamady High School student, who is an African-American, said that she was unaware that “we were targeted as well” and took down many notes because she felt so “clueless” despite her studies. “It was really informative. I learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t know,” said Hall of the overall event.
Black said that although the current “age of misinformation” has made it more difficult for people to find reliable data, he hopes that his research will help them discover the truth for themselves.
“Everybody in our society is walking into a mirror. Are you going see what’s behind you and bash into [the mirror] or are you going walk around it and avoid repeating your own past?” said Black.
Mariana Barillas is a student at the University of Michigan-Flint.