Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

My Mom and Helen Thomas

My mother died eight years ago at the ripe old age of 92. She had a vibrant and exciting life. Over her lifetime she mingled with both the rich and powerful. She knew a wide range of people from Bing Crosby to D. K. Ludwig. She had met Presidents and Prime Ministers. She personally knew both poverty and wealth. She had lived through both war and peace. She was well educated and well read.

Yet, for all her worldliness, for all the people she knew and counted as friends both black, white, Christian and Jew she was a both a racist and a anti-Semite. When she was young and raising us she kept these beliefs very much to herself. I think down deep inside somewhere she knew she was wrong and made a very conscious not to pass these ideas onto her children.

Given the above where did the racism and anti-Semitism come from? I think they came from being born in 191O, raised by her German immigrant grandparents in the Kentucky and Missouri. These beliefs were set in her mind from a very early age and she was never able to exorcise them as the world changed dramatically around her. So she erected a firewall, she kept these thoughts to herself in public and treated everyone with respect. This is what I saw and how I was raised, thankfully.

However as she got older the firewall would occasionally get breached when speaking with people with whom she felt comfortable. And the older she got the more frequently these breaches would occur. I even heard her defend Hitler once in her late eighties – to say I was stunned would be an understatement. So stunned that I could not even get passed the declarative WTF?!

What does all this have to do with Helen Thomas?

I look at Helen Thomas the same way I look at my Mom. As the daughter of Lebanese immigrants I think certain ideas about Israel and Israeli Jews where set in Helen’s mind long, long ago. I think she knew it was wrong and kept those feeling very much to herself and in check behind a firewall. Her career would have been short lived had she not. However at 89 the firewall she erected got breached.

A sad end to a brilliant career, but it was time.

(One man’s opinion for what it’s worth.)


  1. Kysen

    My grandparents were like that. I don’t think that it justifies or validates the beliefs….but, I do think it explains them and renders them, at least on some level, understandable.

    My grandparents were born turn of the century….one set in the Midwest, one set on the East Coast. One set in a rural farming area, the other in what was, for the time, a bustling city. VERY different lifestyles for each set…..however, when it came to different races (especially African Americans), Jews, AND Catholics (actually, one g’ma had WAY more of an issue with Catholics than with Jews)….they all had very similar ingrained prejudices. Now, that having been said…TO A ONE…they NEVER showed such views in public. They were kind, generous folk…and it was not until age (and in one case, stroke) had addled their minds (and removed some impulse control) that I EVER heard anything remotely ‘off’ from any of them.  

    They were good people…the finest, imo…but they were from a different time. Born and raised in another era. Again, I am not justifying or validating the beliefs they held hidden away from public eye….but, I can understand why they held them…and I can be proud of them for HIDING them until their minds were no longer able to do so.  

  2. fogiv

    …that a lot of this latent stuff is generational. I think things are improving overall, as more and more people become exposed to diversity — especially young people. Schools letting out here in Sacramento (one of the most culturally and enthically diverse cities in the country; interesting article on this here), and I’ve just been noticing the ethnic/cultural mosaic in the class photos the oldest boys brought home.  Such a hodgepodge, everyone is a minority. That said, there’s no cure for hate. It’s the herpes of the human condition. Outbreaks are nasty, it’s contagious, and it’s never really gone entirely.

    I don’t know much about Helen Thomas (outside the bio and trivia), but I doubt she’s a flaming anti-semite. She said something pretty stupid and insensitive, but jeez, I do that all the time.

  3. fogiv i didn’t know much about thomas until this whole thing exploded.

    i also  i think that thomas got caught in a youtube gotcha moment while making a casual statement on the street to some buy holding a camera. considering her age and career – i am not necessarily confident that she is anti-semitic or bigoted, but rather in artfully made a point with extremely wrong wording. but i guess this is more evidence that the world, because of the internet, has changed everything.

    that aside – for those that don’t understand why thomas’ comments were so offensive (though most do), here’s one reason why:

    jewish population poland – pre WWII – 3,000,000

    jewish population poland – post WWII – 45,000

    german population poland – pre WWII – 585,000

    german population poland – post WWII – 37,000


  4. creamer

    writes about jewish refugees being murdered when they returned from the camps to reclaim their property and bussiness’s, AFTER the war.

    In the Polish city of Kielce, on July 4, 1946 — more than a year after the end of the war — rumors of a Jewish ritual murder triggered a pogrom in which 42 Jewish Holocaust survivors were killed. The Kielce murders were not, by any means, the sole example of why Jews could not “go home.” When I visited the Polish city where my mother had been born, Ostroleka, I was told of a Jew who survived Auschwitz only to be murdered when he tried to reclaim his business. In much of Eastern Europe, Jews feared for their lives.

    That opened my mind a little and also reminded me that Jews have always been the “other” in Europe.

  5. sricki

    can help their prejudices sometimes. The more conscientious ones keep it to themselves and realize that it’s not socially acceptable — some even recognize that it’s wrong but can’t get certain preconceived notions out of their heads. With age, the filter that keeps certain thoughts from being expressed eventually just… putters out.

    My paternal grandfather was a “Southern gentleman,” and he was usually careful with what he said… but I know there was some bigotry there, especially toward African Americans. He rarely expressed it to me, but toward the end of his life, he slipped up now and then.

    It’s getting better, though, I think… Old people in 100 years won’t have as many bigoted things to say. But I’m sure they’ll still be talking about the “good old days” before cars could fly. ; )

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