Randy's Corner Deli Library

21 May 2006

Killer Girl Scouts

I was sent an email today which essentially was a remembrance of those halcyon days of old when expectant mothers could smoke and drink and, heck!, we'd turn out OK, and would do all sorts of now-known-as-stupid-things and get away with them and live anyway. Frankly, I thought whoever wrote it was probably having a bad day and needed some reminder of just how good things were when, heck, his parents would occasionally beat the shit out of him - a good beating was always good for teaching a kid a lesson - and, heck! -- they'd lived to write fond remembrances! My reply was a tad less wistful, since I think, through years of expensive psychoanalysis, I don't have any longings for those days. OK, maybe I DO wish that "Get Smart" was on the air seven days a week. But that's about it. Everything has changed and all not for the better, but certainly just because we lived through the grace of fate and God, if you are into that sort of thing -- doesn't make it all just hunky-dory. Shit, the Girl Scouts have been making their cookies with the same artery clogging gunk for years and years, and nobody until Nic Kristof (at least that I am aware) has raised the spectre of the little angels of death disguised as girl scounts ambling down the street, purveying their killer cookies at an unassuming, past-wistful public.

Where is the government? What is it doing to stop this outrage! I suppose its attention is pointed toward catching terrorists on the phone or by email, or in catching all those terrorists that we see when travelling who are disguised as 5'6" 245 lb. married women from Des Moines named Wojelinski who invariably are squeezed into a pair of brown polyester pants and a matching top - not too tight-- but that same wretched polyester design straight from, well, the sale rack at Kohl's - end of season sale. (Why I divert to the excesses of our government is an interesting question here worthy perhaps - in my own mind anyway - of its own discussion, but I digress from my digression --) In any event, what's the deal? Stop these purveyors of arterial clot and cloggery! Before we are all victims of the bypass-surgeon's knife, thank you very much! I'd like to live as long as I am supposed to without the help of an avoidable risk like Girl Scout Cookies. (Does this mean I can still smoke a cigar once in a while if I continue to lay off the cookies? There has to be some balance in the healthy-living equation, doesn't there?)

Lay off those cookies. Give the little death-dealing petite-she-killers some money, but for God's sake, and that of your arteries to and from your heart, no more Peanut Butter Sandies, please! Just because the Girl Scout cookies, like so few things in our hustlebustle-check-your-email-attend-that-meeting lives, remind us of those idyllic days of our childhoods and youth when killers disguised as Girl Scouts could roam free on our streets and,unknowingly, in our bloodstreams, too, doesnt' mean that we have to keep on doing it wrong. For the repetition of a wrong way of doing something - including eating Girl Scount cookies with trans-fats when there is scientific proof to tell you NOT to eat such stuff -- is the definition of ignorance. Remember? We lived. Despite our ignorance. And so forth.

Have a good week.


May 21, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Killer Girl Scouts

I've been taking my daughter around the block lately, helping her unload Girl Scout cookies on obliging neighbors — and wondering whether we're killing them.

The problem is that most of those Girl Scout cookies have trans fatty acids. Those are the worst kind of fat, killing far more Americans than Al Qaeda manages to.

Trans fats, those nasty partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, clog up your arteries, raising bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol. They are estimated to kill 30,000 Americans annually and maybe more.

One recent study linked trans fats to diabetes and other ailments and suggested that they might cause up to 228,000 heart attacks (including nonfatal ones) each year.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggested in 2002 that "trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible." A tolerable upper intake level, the report said, is zero.

Maybe it's unfair to pick on the Girl Scouts, because trans fats are all around us, from French fries to some brands of ice cream. And at least the Girl Scouts have taken trans fats out of some of their cookies (though of the eight kinds my daughter's Brownie troop sold, only Lemon Coolers and Tagalongs seemed to have none).

But that's the problem we have in risk assessments. There are certain kinds of risks — say, fears of Saddam Hussein — that galvanize us to mobilize an army and devote $1 trillion to confront the challenge. Meanwhile, we do nothing about threats that are much more likely to kill us — like trans fats peddled by cute little girls.

Actually, it's a pity that Girl Scout cookies are being sold by cherubs. If the sellers were Iranians with turbans and menacing frowns, then the authorities might be more alert to the dangers.

The Food and Drug Administration has required food companies to list trans fats in labels of packaged products, so companies are beginning to remove trans fats from their foods. Kraft, for example, has removed trans fats from all of its Oreos and many other foods.

But Americans now get 38 percent of their calories from restaurant food, and the F.D.A. so far has refused to require restaurants to disclose trans fat content. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a petition asking the F.D.A. to require restaurants to disclose the presence of trans fats in their foods, as well as another petition that would in effect come close to banning manufactured trans fats altogether.

Both moves make sense. Denmark, for example, has quite successfully adopted a law stipulating that no more than 2 percent of the fats in foods sold there can be industrially produced trans fats.

The result is that if you walk into a McDonald's in Copenhagen and order a large meal of chicken nuggets and French fries, you'll get just 0.33 grams of trans fatty acids. Walk into a McDonald's in the U.S. and order the same meal, and you get 10.1 grams of trans fats.

That was the finding of a study published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine. It found huge variations: an order of fries and chicken at KFC provided almost 25 grams of trans fats in Hungary, but negligible amounts in Denmark, Russia and Wiesbaden, Germany.

To put those numbers in perspective, just five grams of trans fats per day are associated with a 25 percent greater risk of a heart attack.

Prowl a supermarket, and you see that Pop Secret Butter Microwave Popcorn has 5 grams of trans fats per serving, Keebler Chips Deluxe cookies have 1.5 grams of trans fats per cookie, and Drake's Yodels and Ring Dings have 2 grams. At Denny's, carrot cake has 3 grams.

It's difficult for the food industry to claim that trans fats are unavoidable when the Danes manage to avoid them. And there's no justification for letting restaurants inflict them on us without informing us.

Look, there are a lot of risks that we can't do much about. Brain tumors, for example. Or plane crashes. Or foreign leaders who are absolutely determined to produce nuclear weapons. But trans fats kill more Americans than any of those, and they're very easy to protect against — so I hope the Bush administration will follow the Danish model and curb the use of trans fats.

And in the meantime (now that my daughter has finished selling her cookies), here's a step you can take: Set up a neighborhood watch team to be alert for little girls intent on clogging your arteries and killing you with their sweetness.

03 May 2006

Amnesty and Amnesia

Amnesty and Amnesia
by Jeffrey Herf  
Post date 02.27.03 | Issue date 03.10.03


In this grim account of the formative years of West German democracy, the
German historian Norbert Frei examines legislation affecting the amnesty and
the integration of Germans suspected of, accused of, and in many cases
indicted for crimes committed during the Nazi era. In so doing, he fills a
gap in the existing scholarship and offers much evidence with which to think
about how this democracy faced--or rather avoided facing--the criminal past.
What was the connection between amnesty and integration, on the one hand,
and the legitimation and installation of West German democracy, on the
other? Was a different path to democratization--one filled with extensive
trials and purges and revelations of the extent of Nazi criminality,
conducted by German prosecutors and judges in the 1950s, when memories were
"only" a decade old--not only conceivable but practicable? Frei's purpose is
not to raise such questions, but rather to demonstrate the extent to which a
political consensus in favor of amnesty and integration accompanied the
early years of democracy in West Germany from 1949 to 1954.

His important book presents a detailed examination of the broad consensus
within the postwar West German establishment in favor of amnesty and
integration. In place of cynical cold warriors in Washington and London who
were encouraging the impulse to forget the past, Frei underscores the
persistent pressure that West German leaders, including prominent figures of
the Protestant and Catholic churches, exerted (especially on American
officials) to bring the process of denazification to an end and to grant
amnesty to those already convicted. Since the publication in 1991 of Thomas
Schwartz's excellent America's Germany: John J. McCloy and the Federal
Republic of Germany, a part of the story of West German pressures on
American officials in the early 1950s, seeking amnesty for convicted
criminals and an end to further prosecutions, has been known to historians.
With a minimum of theoretical fanfare, Frei fills in a more detailed picture
of West German pressure in this direction.

The judicial reckoning of the Allies after the war was harsher and more
extensive than is often assumed. Frei's contribution is to show that from
1949 to 1954, when democratically elected German politicians first had a
chance to act, they passed "a series of parliamentary initiatives,
legislative acts, and administrative decisions aimed at its vitiation." This
Vergangenheitspolitik, or "politics for the past," lasted half a decade; and
it rested on "a high degree of societal acceptance--indeed of collective
expectation." At stake was "both an annulment of punishments and integrative
measures on behalf of an army of millions of Nazi Party members," Frei
writes. "Virtually without exception, these people regained their social,
professional, and civic, but not their political status," which they had
lost in the course of denazification and internment after the war. These
millions of hopefully disillusioned but hardly guiltless Nazis were granted
the opportunity offered by amnesty and integration, while an increasingly
small group of ideologically committed Nazis and individuals whose deeds
were especially monstrous and widely known were declared beyond the pale.
Amnesty and integration for most, demarcation for the unreconstructed few:
this was the formula that linked anti-Nazism and amnesia in the crucial
early years.

Frei documents the spirit of the time in many debates in the West German
parliament. There the word "victim" often referred not to people who were
persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, but to people who were considered to
be "victims" of Nazism's overcoming--that is, previously dismissed officials
and fellow travelers. The West Germans invented a new word for such people:
Entnazifizierungsgeschädigten, "those damaged by denazification." The term
included tens of thousands of persons formerly interned in American,
British, and French prisons between 1945 and 1949, when the West German
state was founded. Most of them were war criminals indicted and convicted by
the Western Allies, along with Nazi criminals condemned in German courts.
Judged by their reaction to these measures, other West Germans felt a
general burden of wartime guilt lifted, and so, writes Frei, "those who had
never personally been held accountable could consider themselves
symbolically exonerated." For such persons, breaking with the past meant
breaking not with Nazism but with denazification, and fostering "a
historical myopia unintentionally aggravated by the war crimes trials." The
result was "a triumph of silence," which was broken in waves from the 1960s
to the 1990s.

Frei skillfully details the actions, public and private, of an amnesty lobby
composed of leading religious figures, a network of attorneys (many of whom
served as lawyers for defendants at Nuremberg and other occupation-era
trials), and former soldiers and officials of the Nazi regime, as well as
the response of political parties, government officials, and the media. The
result is a moderate revision of some widespread notions about the
relationships between the Allies and the West Germans in the years after the
war. One of the romantic notions of the New Left in West Germany was its
belief that the United States and its anti-Soviet policy bore primary
responsibility for preventing a timely anti-Nazi reckoning. Frei
acknowledges that the Western Allies gave the West Germans permission to
proceed with amnesty and integration; but in many cases "the Allies rejected
past political measures desired by the Germans as exceeding the reasonable
or acceptable," in particular concerning demands to pardon convicted war
criminals. So while Frei takes into full consideration the leniency that
characterized the reversal of international fronts from World War II to the
Cold War, he gives even more attention to the continuing pressure on the
Allies that was exerted by a depressingly broad spectrum of opinion in
Adenauer's Germany--including the leading officials of the Protestant and
Catholic churches--to reverse or to ameliorate the results of the
Nuremberg-trials period.

As of January 31, 1951, the amnesty legislation had benefited 792,176
people. They included people with six-month sentences, but also about 35,000
people with sentences of up to one year who were released on parole. Frei
specifies that these figures include a bit more than 3,000 functionaries of
the SA, the SS, and the Nazi Party who participated in dragging victims to
jails and camps; 20,000 other Nazi perpetrators sentenced for "deeds against
life" (presumably murder); 30,000 sentenced for causing bodily injury, and
about 5,200 charged with "crimes and misdemeanors in office."

Support for these measures extended across the political spectrum. It
included left-of-center Social Democrats who supported legislation for
amnesty and integration to restore social peace. Frei writes that in these
early years "not a single politician spoke up" to oppose amnesty as an
infringement of the legal structures that the Allies created after the war
in the wake of Nazi lawlessness. He argues that the legislation symbolized
for the new democracy "a progressive delegitimation of prosecution of Nazi
crimes" that encouraged yet more appeals for a "general amnesty" covering
the worst sorts of crimes. Frei remarks upon "an almost universally shared
conviction that the political purge imposed on the Germans by the occupation
authorities had failed monstrously, was unjust in every respect, and needed
to be ended as quickly as possible."

His case is impressive, but phrases such as "almost universally shared
conviction" unfairly scant the minority of dissenters. Some of the Social
Democratic politicians who supported the integration measures, such as Adolf
Arndt and Carlo Schmid, soon emerged as persistent critics of the mentality
of forgiving and forgetting, and as advocates of re-invigorated
prosecutions. Theodor Heuss did indeed urge the American High Commissioner
John J. McCloy to release Ernst von Weizsäcker, formerly the leading
official of the Nazi Foreign Ministry. Yet Heuss also repeatedly took the
unpopular stance in the early 1950s of speaking bluntly about the mass
murder of the Jews, and the need for West Germans never to forget Nazi
criminality and always to honor the leaders of the anti-Nazi resistance in

Frei's study underscores the power of small parties to "place the big
parties in a no-win situation" regarding the politics about the past. On the
one side stood a large group of moderates in the conservative Christian
Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party joined by the Center Party.
They confronted "a phalanx of radicals" in the German Party and in the Free
Democratic Party (FDP). The Free Democrats, associated in the public mind
with liberals such as Heuss and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, suffered a very dark
chapter of their history in these years. Former civil servants from the Nazi
era and even unreconstructed former high-ranking Nazis were able for a while
to make it the leading respectable force supporting the amnesty program. As
the large parties needed the FDP as a coalition partner, and as Adenauer
sought to dry up electoral support for a nationalist party to the right of
the Christian Democratic Union, the advocates of amnesty and integration
found themselves in a potent bargaining position. They made the most of it.

The amnesty advocates from the German Party (a party that was dissolved by
the mid-1950s) expressed uninhibited nationalist sentiments. One
Hans-Joachim von Merkatz, a delegate of the German Party, argued in a
parliamentary meeting that denazification had "sources in foreign law" and
that perhaps those touched by it should be entitled to financial
compensation. August Martin Euler, a member of the FDP, said in 1950 that it
was time to move away from measures taken "under the influence of the
Morgenthau plan" and to "let the past be buried" so that the Germans could
"face the danger from the East." Faced with the prospect of losing elections
or of coalitions collapsing, the large parties appeased the small ones.

One of the most effective and deceptive tactics of the amnesty lobby was to
claim that the Allied occupation trials amounted to an accusation of
collective guilt. The amnesty lobby enjoyed a disturbing degree of success
in obscuring distinctions among those accused of crimes during the Nazi era.
By spreading the presumed guilt so broadly, those calling for amnesty
managed to reduce the number of those "really guilty" to an absolute minimum
in the public mind. Chancellor Adenauer, they charged, would not defend
those "who were really guilty." Yet in February 1951 Adenauer asserted--as
he had been asserting since the first year after the war--that "so long
after the collapse of the National Socialist regime, the distinction between
politically exonerated and nonincriminated persons should be ended." In a
debate in the Bundestag in April 1951, he said that the percentage of the
guilty was "so extraordinarily minimal and so extraordinarily small" that
"there has been no breach in the honor of the former German Wehrmacht.... No
one may reproach the career soldiers on account of their earlier activities
and, so long as they are to be employed in public service, place them behind
other applicants if they have the same personal and professional qualities.
The chapter of collective guilt for militarists alongside activists and
beneficiaries of the National Socialist regime must be ended, once and for

When Adenauer sent such signals, he was seeking to discourage a right-wing
revolt; but Frei demonstrates that the result was to appease these same
radicals and to give them hope that with acceptance of democratic norms
almost all would be forgotten. Whether Adenauer failed to understand this or
was cynically preaching to the converted, the fact was that the Allied
prosecutions had not rested on accusations of collective guilt. They had
focused, rather, on restoring individual responsibility. In making such
assertions, Adenauer obscured the extent to which large numbers of
individuals at various levels of the German military supported and
enthusiastically implemented Nazi criminal policies.

The numbers of former Nazi officials able to return to government positions
in West Germany as a result of the amnesty were daunting. By the summer of
1950, more than one-fourth of the section managers of new federal ministries
were former Nazi Party members. By 1953, 30 percent of the positions in the
national government, amounting to 15,000 jobs, were filled by persons who
benefited from Article 131, which gave pension rights to officials who had
served in the Nazi regime. Specifically, 40 percent of the Foreign Ministry,
42 percent of the Interior (i.e., Justice) Ministry, and 75 percent of the
ministry dealing with Germans who had fled from Eastern Europe during or
after the war were former officials of the Nazi government. Faced with
Social Democratic anger and parliamentary investigations of the prevalence
of former Nazi officials in the Foreign Ministry, Adenauer argued that their
expertise made them essential. "I think we now need to finish with this
sniffing out of Nazis," he said.

In such an atmosphere, not surprisingly, the number of prosecutions of
Nazi-era crimes declined. The Bundestag passed a second amnesty law in 1954,
which benefited those whose possible prison sentence would have been three
years or less. The passage of the law strained the limits of consensus among
the major parties to the breaking point. By 1955, the SPD parliamentarian
Walter Menzel regretfully noted that "through this amnesty, all those who
had so murderously and bestially assaulted helpless and defenseless people
before 1945 were pardoned, so long as no more than three years in prison
were to be expected. This is what most deeply wounds our sense of justice:
that individuals were treated so differently and unequally before the
But no collection of contemporary statements is quite as revolting as the
sanctimonious cynicism that passed for religious leadership in those years.
In May 1948, Protestant leaders wrote to General Lucius Clay, the commander
of American forces in Europe, to say that the occupation-era trials of Nazi
war crimes eroded trust in law and justice. "The love of Christ" urged them
to call for an end to prosecutions and for amnesty for those convicted.
Charles Lafollette, director of the American military government in
Baden-Wurtenberg, rejected their request, observing that "we cannot forget
that the Protestant Church of Germany was always the State Church of
Prussia"; he boldly drew connections between these past links and "this
sudden rushing of the Church to the defense of those with whom it had such
close ties in the past." Clay responded that "it is difficult to understand
how any review of the evidence of those yet to be sentenced could provide a
basis for sentimental sympathy for those who brought suffering and anguish
to untold millions." When church leaders protested against the Allied
executions of men guilty of mass murder, one Social Democratic politician
asked why the churches, which said nothing while the murders were taking
place, now sought to protect "those who committed murder and other crimes."

Veterans organizations made thinly veiled threats that, in the absence of
amnesty, the Federal Republic would find it hard to field an army loyal to
the new state. In 1950, one of the editorialists of the center-right
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung considered it "natural" that professional
soldiers never inwardly accepted the Allies' war-criminal trial judgments.
The political establishment rallied around the idea of the "honor" of the
German soldier, which was said to have survived the Nazi era intact. One
result, which was not to be undone until the historical scholarship of the
1980s and 1990s, was the persistence of the myth that the German military
was not deeply implicated in the regime's crimes, or that it was an
unwilling tool of a small number of Nazi decision-makers. As a result of the
pressures for amnesty, the French and the British had emptied their prisons
of Germans convicted of war crimes, and the United States did the same in
1958. Those released included doctors who were involved in experimentation
on human beings and members of the SS who were active in mobile killing

By the middle of the 1950s, the combined impact of the Cold War, West German
re-armament, and the integration of the FRG into the Western Alliance with
"endogenous processes," together with "determined German resistance to the
legal efforts nigh from the beginning," brought the era of denazification to
an end. Frei, drawing on a consensus of historians of the occupation era,
agrees that denazification was not, as was often bitterly assumed, a
complete failure. Many thousands of Nazi officials had been in prison for a
decade. The trials of the occupation era and the first years of the Federal
Republic made an indispensable contribution to the public confrontation with
the truth about Nazi criminality, and also offered voluminous material for
subsequent historical scholarship. Indeed, the fact that the trials brought
terrible deeds to public attention "also comprised the deeper ground for the
massive collective resistance that faced the Allies." In light of the
breadth of opposition to the trials, Frei writes that the "Volksgemeinschaft
thus received a second confirmation," and "open, self-critical debate" about
the Nazi past "basically evaporated over a long period."

The support for amnesty and integration in the West German establishment
went so far that it failed to recognize and to act against the danger of a
Nazi revival. In January 1953, British security officials arrested Werner
Naumann, formerly a key aide to Joseph Goebbels in the Ministry of
Propaganda, and five other former members of the Nazi Party on charges that
they were aiming at a Nazi "recapture of power in Germany" by means of
infiltration and then domination of the FDP. Even though Thomas Dehler, an
FDP member, was the minister of justice, the West German government had
failed to grasp the full dimensions of the threat that Naumann and his
collaborators posed. It was left to the responsible British official, Ivone
Kirkpatrick, to arrest Naumann and his associates and to put an end to Nazi
intrigue in West German politics. In recalling this episode in detail, Frei
underscores one of his central themes: that from Clay to McCloy and then
Kirkpatrick, American and British officials, faced with continued West
German reluctance to push ahead with denazification, played a crucial role
in preserving the increasingly unpopular accomplishments of the war crimes
trials and in preventing a political comeback of Nazism and right-wing
radicalism. In Frei's words, "Without the permanent intervention of the
Allies the risk of an organizational merging of nationalist and Nazi
political currents would have been far greater."
One might think that after accumulating such an indictment of the consensus
of the West German establishment in the formative years, Frei would take
issue with those who argue that it all turned out for the best because the
repressed eventually returned and West Germany gradually faced its demons
from the 1960s on. Surprisingly, he concludes instead with the irony that
"the emergence in West German society of a serious and open confrontation
with the Nazi past was made possible only by a very different preceding
period--a period of utmost individual leniency, reflecting a policy for the
past whose failing would stamp the new state's spirit over many decades." In
coming to this conclusion, Frei goes beyond the weight of his evidence. Yes,
democracy came to West Germany in a wave of convenient amnesia and premature
amnesty. But this does not mean that democratization had to arrive in
precisely this way. Nor does it mean that early silence was necessary for
eventual memory and renewed judicial reckoning. The Allies could have
decided to give the West Germans less sovereignty over these issues. An
early and full disclosure of the depths of involvement in the crimes of the
Third Reich might have placed a new democracy on even firmer grounds, and
trials with witnesses whose memories were fresh would surely have brought a
far greater number of perpetrators to justice. The temporal correlation of
amnesty and integration with democratization does not establish a causal

As Frei acknowledges, the price of justice delayed was high, for the moral
and political legitimacy of the Federal Republic and for the prospects for a
successful judicial reckoning. Frei has done a great service in documenting
the depth and the breadth of indigenous West German opposition to bringing
the criminals of the Nazi era to justice and to forcing compromised elites
out of positions of responsibility in the crucial early years. A majority in
favor of avoidance trumped a minority seeking truth and justice. Still, a
different path to democracy in West Germany, and a better path, was
conceivable. Politicians found it easy to rationalize the path of least
resistance and to appease minorities who succeeded in convincing a majority
that their own guilt was in fact collectively shared and thus collectively
relieved by premature amnesty.

While the United States and Britain put a brake on the drive to amnesty, the
Cold War and West Germany's enlistment in it shifted American priorities in
ways that gave more opportunities for the forgetting of the past. As this
bold and uncompromising study demonstrates, the early expression of popular
will did indeed frustrate efforts at memory and justice in the early years.
But surely democracy and sovereignty and peace, in West Germany and
elsewhere, need not be enemies of an honest reckoning with the crimes of the

JEFFREY HERF is professor of modern European history at the University of
Maryland in College Park. His book The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During
World War II and the Holocaust is forthcoming this spring from Harvard
University Press.