Friday, July 30, 2010

Hitler's Willing Executioners

"In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate....and if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk

In 1996 a Harvard professor named Daniel Goldhagen published a ground breaking book that shocked the national conscience of Germany. Hitler's Willing Executioners exploded many existing myths about the holocaust; e.g., that it was primarily Hitler's doing, that only SS soldiers were involved in executions, that ordinary Germans were oblivious to the holocaust, etc. Goldhagen provided conclusive evidence that at least tens of thousands, and perhaps more, "ordinary Germans" who were not even Nazis were actively involved in the extermination of Jews. The offensive against Jews in Germany arose from deep economic duress, and the herd-like instinct of "ordinary Germans" to first identify, and then gradually eliminate, its source.

I won't republish the whole book, but click this link to order it at Amazon for $12.

My first exposure to the book was during graduate studies in history at Wright State University. It shocked me. It changed my perception about the world around me, about the consequences of seemingly harmless political behavior, about the consequences of my own acts and decisions. It caused me to understand that one can not haphazardly toss a pebble onto a snowy mountain and expect to avoid the avalanche.

The first question that springs to one's attention upon reading this is, was Germany so different? Were Germans so different? Of course, the frightening answer to these questions is "no." Germany was a civilized, technological, Christian society --- just as we are. Germany was also a democracy, as we are.

The Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers. The Holocaust began, first, with
government-sponsored identification of a minority group as the root cause of economic duress. The next stage was legislation ---- first, legislation designed to marginalize the minority; second, legislation to deport the minority; third, legislation to criminalize the minority; fourth, legislation to imprison the minority.

And came, finally, extermination.

The second question that logically follows is, are there parallels in American society to German society in the 20s and 30s? And the answer, as frightening and incomprehensible as it may be, is "yes."

Is the United States under economic duress?

Has the government sponsored the identification of a certain minority as the root cause of the duress?

Has the government legislated to marginalize the minority?

Has the government legislated to deport the minority?

Has the government legislated to criminalize the minority?

Has the government legislated to imprison the minority?

As I ponder the right and wrong of these questions, I'm left with one solitary pillar of hope for the United States, and that is ---- Arizona is not the federal government. But for my money, Arizona voters ---- left to their own devices ---- are no different than "ordinary Germans."

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