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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

'Never Again' Was Never Learned

The movie The Book Thief brings back thoughts of WW II whether they come from personal experience or from reading. All sane people who have even a minimal knowledge of WWII react to that time in history by muttering the phrase, 'Never Again.' But the problem here is that the phrase is ambiguous. Is a person who says, 'Never Again,' referring only to the suffering of the Jews or are they only referring to the suffering of all victims of the Holocaust? Are they referring to the suffering of all of the war's victims or are they just referring to the dehumanization of  groups of people (a.k.a., calling people from specific nationalities, 'untermenschen') in the name of nationalism? Are they referring only to the domination of other people or do they include the wars of aggression, emerging empires, or to something else?

For example, when the Israeli government treats Palestinians the way it does, does the phrase, 'Never Again,' enter the consciousness of those in the government? Or perhaps we should ask what our fellow Americans or government is referring to when they say, 'Never Again'? Are we only referring to the victims of the Holocaust as we spread our economic and political empires? And what about Europe? When its people and governments say, 'Never Again,' are they referring to the persecution of specific groups of people while it seeks joint control over resources and as they experience a rejuvenation of nationalism? The list of countries or groups who should be asked what they mean by 'Never Again' can go on and on.

It's important to be precise here because what we don't mean is just as important. For if we only are referring to preventing the Jews from suffering from atrocities when we say, 'Never Again,' does that mean we don't care if other groups suffer greatly? Does it mean that we don't care whether there are continued attempts to dominate different people or countries or that we don't care if there are empires or wars of aggression?

All of this brings us to where we are today. We currently have a global, economic class war that is being fought on some fronts in a blitzkrieg manner. The victims of the war, whether they be foreign or fellow Americans receive little sympathy by the guardians of our economic system. Such victims are said to be responsible for their own individual fate because of their past decisions and a failure to be responsible. Little do these guardians know that they are guarding a machine, just as the Germans once defended the Nazi machine, by trying to assert that people only have extrinsic value. Those who have learned how to contribute to the machine are the ones who are doing well while the rest eventually become relegated to the rank of untermenschen. 

So do we care what will happen to those who have lost their jobs and/or homes because of the financial shenanigans of our financial institutions and to those live lives of financial hopelessness? And do we care about those who are being forced into the slavery of sweatshop, migrant labor, or are being trafficked as long as we are doing well? Aren't all these people regarded as untermenschen by the powers that be and, perhaps, by us too?

When we say 'Never Again,' we could be referring to actions that produced the most immediate and telling results, the unspeakable atrocities of the holocaust. And certainly we can say that we are not conducting another holocaust against the Jews. But what about the millions of Vietnamese who were killed in the Vietnam War? And what about the tens of thousands we had killed in our interventions in Latin America? And how many Iraqis died from the combination of our sanctions and invasion of Iraq? And how much suffering have Afghanis experienced beginning with our proxy war against the Russians there during the 1980s? Have we really learned the meaning of the phrase, 'Never Again.' 


Do we understand what the striving for empire and dominance brings to those who are on the wrong side of the struggle? For such endeavors may not be the resulting actions associated with the Holocaust but they were actions that contributed to the Holocaust. So even if we were to say 'Never Again,' it just cannot be to the Holocaust itself, we must say it to those actions that made the Holocaust a realistic possibility. For we cannot excuse ourselves from violating 'Never Again' if we continue to look to conquer, whether economically or militarily, and we look to dominate to build our own empires and living spaces. Not only have we caused enough suffering already, we have made the worst atrocities more possible and even acceptable by what we become more willing to do or by inciting others to seek revenge.


But before closing, we should note that besides contributing actions to the Holocaust, we also have supporting actions the atrocities of Nazi Germany. The supporting actions were performed by everyday people and society's institutions, especially the Church. Those citizens who did not resist the Nazis in some way were complicit with what they did. For the citizens had the resources available to them to learn what was happening. But instead, they preferred being a kept people when times were good and obedient citizens the whole time. As for institutions like the Church, they had given up their prophetic role in order to be protected from scrutiny and persecution.

Certainly we are not as bad as the Nazis and whatever faults we can find with ourselves pale in comparison with that of the Nazis. So some will claim that, at least in part, we have learned 'Never Again.' But we have already caused a great deal of suffering since WWII and our most important crises of environmental destruction, possible war with WMDs, and a growing poverty from wealth disparity do threaten the lives of more people than we care to admit. And our past sins and current crises are the result of some of the same factors that contributed to the Holocaust: holding to a sense of entitlement based on the belief in one's superiority and the relegation of others to being less than ourselves. Can we claim that we have learned 'Never Again' simply because, so far, we have produced fewer victims? 

In addition, it isn't just America that hasn't learned 'Never Again,' it is every group and nation that looks to expand its dominance and shuts its eyes to the suffering of others. Here, Russia and China, just like America, in the name of nationalism,  have clearly demonstrated that they have failed to learn 'Never Again.' 

At some time, the dam containing our crises and dangers will break and who knows the number of future victims. But regardless of that number, we will know who will be responsible for the suffering. We who were quiet and compliant will be. For in our passivity we have demonstrated that we have failed to learn 'Never Again.'




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