Paying Tribute to Will Eisner We offer an appreciation of Will Eisner, creator of The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York's Museum of Comic Art is opening an Eisner retrospective.
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Paying Tribute to Will Eisner

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Paying Tribute to Will Eisner

Paying Tribute to Will Eisner

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. President Bush says American troops in Afghanistan will stay under US control despite a request from Afghan President Hamid Karzai for more authority over them. The two leaders met today at the White House.

And the Supreme Court has declined to rule in the case of a Mexican citizen on death row in Texas. Attorneys for the man argue authorities violated international law by failing to inform the Mexican Consulate about his arrest. The Supreme Court says it will not intervene for now because President Bush has ordered state courts to take a second look at such cases. You can hear details on those stories and much more, of course, later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, it's not just the Senate that's involved in deep politics. Join us for a discussion of the politics of stem cell research on the battlefield of the House of Representatives. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Five months after his death, comic book legend Will Eisner's final book came out late last week. Eisner shaped the early days of the American comic book industry and created the graphic novel. His last project was something he described a graphic history. It's titled, "The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion." The book explores the tortured history of a fraud that will not die. It's long been established that the protocols were a forgery spread by the Russian Secret Service, but this supposed blueprint for Jewish world domination lingers. The Palestinian Authority removed an Arabic translation of the protocols from its Web site just last week.

If you have a question about the history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, give us a call. The number is (800) 989-8255. You can also e-mail us: totn@npr.org.

Stephen Bronner is a professor of political science at Rutgers University. He wrote the afterward for "The Plot." He joins us now from our bureau in New York.

Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Professor STEPHEN BRONNER (Rutgers University): My pleasure.

CONAN: Why did Will Eisner take this project on, do you think?

Prof. BRONNER: Well, I think that Will, before he died, wanted to take on something really grand. And this was the great work of--so speak, the great work of anti-Semitism. It was, during the '20s and the '30s, probably the second-most read piece of literature after the Bible.

CONAN: Well, remind us, the story of the protocols, it didn't even originate with the Russian Secret Service. It starts before that.

Prof. BRONNER: Well, the basis for this book is the fabrication that was put together by the Russian Secret Service.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. BRONNER: And it was put together in a very, very delicate time, during the Dreyfus affair in France, and this was the turn of the century, in the 1890s. This was a time when a Jew as accused of treason, he was on the French general staff, and it--there was a cover-up, he was not guilty, and this tore France apart.

And at the same time, this was the period in which modern Zionism emerged with Theodore Herzl. And there was a meeting in Basel, the Basel Zionist Congress of 1898...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. BRONNER: ...and this served sort of as the--Shall we say?--the basis, the hook, on which the protocols could be launched.

CONAN: Well, what interest did the Russian Secret Service have in all of this?

Prof. BRONNER: Well, it's sort of a complicated story. But basically, these two people who fabricated the story were supporters of a particularly reactionary faction at the Russian court. In fact, this faction opposed Rasputin, the nomination of Rasputin. And the person who was the alternative candidate to Rasputin was the person who brought the protocols into Russia. His name was Sergei Nilus.

CONAN: And Rasputin was not the only mystic in this story. His story...

Prof. BRONNER: No, certainly not.

CONAN: ...is also pretty interesting. But the book was--and part of Will Eisner's book "The Plot," is making it absolutely clear how closely the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was based upon an early work, "The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu."

Prof. BRONNER: Yes, that was the work by Maurice Joly from which it was fabricated or forged. The irony is that Joly was a democrat and a republican, and his work was sort of perverted to exactly counter the aims that he had.

CONAN: Why did this forgery, exposed as a forgery by The Times of London in the 1920s, why has it had such, you know, credence? Why have people chosen to believe it?

Prof. BRONNER: This is, of course, the $24 million question, because this thing keeps living and keeps arising from the dead, supposedly. And I think the reason is very simple in a basic way. It serves as a type of confirmation bias. In other words, what this tract does is appeal to people who already are predisposed towards hating Jews. In other words, it just confirms the bias they originally held. And, therefore, there's no need for argument, there's no need for debate, there's no need for evidence. Since people already have this idea in their minds, here we have the confirmation of what already exists.

CONAN: Let's take some calls; (800) 989-8255. And this is Tom. Tom's calling from Tallahassee.

TOM (Caller): Hey, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

TOM: Interesting topic. I always find history pretty interesting. But it seems like a lot of these controversial issues--people come out with these sweeping statements that it was a fraud and everything, and it probably was. But I don't see how anyone could possibly really prove it. They just seem to have this anti-conspiracy conspiracy theory, and they don't...

Prof. BRONNER: No, no, Tom, there's actually proof of this. There's proof, A, if you look at Joly's original book, which Neal mentioned, and you just compare what's in it with what's in the protocols. The second thing is this was done in a notebook which was found, and the writing has been compared. And recently in Russia, in fact, the actual forger was discovered, and his name was Golovinsky. No, there's no doubt about that. In fact, not even the supporters of the protocols any longer argue that it was an actual work. What they argue is, in what you can consider as a typical racist fashion, that the work may not be true, but Jews do this anyway--that is to say, try and conquer the world--and, therefore, it doesn't matter whether it's true or not.

TOM: My point is simply, though, that if it's possible to concoct the original documents of the Protocols of Zion, is it not also possible to, you know, concoct opposite forged documents proving that it's a forgery? I mean, these are people who've got a vested interest in these types of things.

Prof. BRONNER: No, no, not the people who originally found it, Tom. This actually came out through the London Times. And originally, in fact, many people in the highest circles of London, including Winston Churchill, wound up supporting the protocols. And once they learned from the given sources, the reporters and so on involved, they changed their mind.

TOM: Well, I'd be very interested to see, you know, the source information in Eisner's novel and follow it there.

CONAN: Not a novel, it's a graphic history. But go ahead.

Prof. BRONNER: You may also--in fact, and throw in a plug for my own book--you may want to my little book on the protocols. It's called "A Rumor About the Jews."

CONAN: Tom, thanks very much for the call.

TOM: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Let's talk with Rich. Rich is with us from Cleveland.

RICH (Caller): Good afternoon, everybody.

CONAN: Hi.

RICH: I was wondering if your guest would comment on the role that Henry Ford played in the dissemination of the protocols and his publication of them, section by section, in his newspaper.

Prof. BRONNER: Yeah. The protocols came out in The Dearborn Independent, which was Henry Ford's paper; I think it was in 1922. Interestingly enough, Ford was the only non-German, to my knowledge, that Hitler ever praised in "Mein Kampf" directly. And Ford, as was the case with many genuine reactionaries and anti-Semites, he basically bought the idea. He was then pressured later to retract his support when a number of his own employees and people in the press started to really make a stink about it.

One of the things that's very cute is that the protocols--which are seen as an authentic document--are constantly doctored depending upon which nation they appear in. So when they first appeared in America, one of the things that the Jews were supposed to have done was fix the World Series of 1919 and the Black Sox scandal. And, of course, the...

CONAN: It was Arnold Rothstein. I mean, he was Jewish. But...

Prof. BRONNER: It was Arnold. That's right.

CONAN: ...it had nothing to do with the Elders of Zion.

Prof. BRONNER: Of course not, since they supposedly came from time immemorial. But I think it's a cute story.

RICH: Would the protocols have any impact on his business as a manufacturer of cars?

Prof. BRONNER: I don't think so.

RICH: All right. Thank you very much. This is a very interesting show.

CONAN: Thanks, Rich.

Prof. BRONNER: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one more call in, and this is Jim. Jim's with us from Cherry Hill in New Jersey.

JIM (Caller): Yes. I just wanted to get your opinion on how this protocol affects Jewish (technical difficulties) today.

Prof. BRONNER: I'm sorry?

CONAN: I think he said how it affects Jewish-Americans today. Is that right, Jim?

JIM: Yes.

CONAN: OK.

Prof. BRONNER: JIM: Well, it seems clear that there's a new context in which the protocols have emerged, and that's the Middle East. And it is a new context. We have today--of course, there is the Israeli state, which is a superpower, a military superpower. There are Jewish lobbies in most Western--in all Western democracies. And given the conflict in the Middle East, there has been a carryover to Europe; there's been a rise, a spike, in anti-Semitism. And part of this can be attributed, I think, to the rise in popularity of the protocols in the Middle East, which are done, I should say, by the state.

One of the most famous new editions has been put out in Syria, and this was done with state sponsorship. When I was in Iraq before the war--I was with a peace delegation--it was amazing the popularity of the protocols, which were supported...

CONAN: Wasn't there just a TV series in Egypt that was based in part on the protocols?

Prof. BRONNER: Yes. I was just going to say in Iraq, this was supported by Saddam, the publication of these things. And it's the case that every dictator can use these protocols about a Jewish conspiracy to deflect criticism of his own failings.

In Egypt, there was a 47-part or 48-part series called "Rider Without a Horse," or "Horseman Without a Horse," that came out depicting Jewish-Arab relations over time. And one episode was devoted to the protocols, which was explicitly anti-Semitic.

JIM: OK. Because how does that...

Prof. BRONNER: But I should say one thing, that afterwards there was a great debate within Egypt carried on by some rather brave liberal intellectuals who criticized this.

JIM: How do Jews today think Howard Stern's polls...

CONAN: I'm sorry. Goodbye on that.

Anyway, we'd like to thank you, Stephen Bronner, for being with us today. We appreciate it.

Prof. BRONNER: Thank you. My pleasure.

CONAN: Stephen Bronner wrote the afterward to Will Eisner's graphic history, "The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion," and he is also, as he mentioned, the author of "A Rumor About the Jews: Anti-Semitism Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion." And he joined us from our bureau in New York.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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