A recent survey shows that many Americans either never learned or have forgotten much about the Holocaust. Many Americans don’t know the full extent of the government slaughter, or they cannot say what Auschwitz was, or they don’t know that Hitler became Chancellor via democratic elections.
The sheer lack of knowledge regarding the Holocaust (and other historic examples of tyrannical governments and genocide) might explain, partly, why so many of our fellow Americans respond to every problem, real or imaginary, big or small, affecting millions of people or a few, local or national, exaggerated or understated, by demanding more government control over our lives and property, effectively turning us from citizens into subjects.
IT’S NOT ABOUT HATE
For many years, including tours I’ve led of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, I’ve been teaching students, or at least those willing to think, that “hate” is not the important cause of a holocaust.
It cannot be.
Hate, after all, is as old as human nature because hate is part of human nature. Hate is as common as human families, tribes, clans, cities, & countries.
Hate is everywhere one finds human beings. Hate even finds a home where yard signs announce “HATE HAS NO HOME HERE.”
Yet, in the annals of human history, holocausts are not everywhere, not frequent. Individuals can and do hate others. But the scope of destruction and death that a hateful individual can commit, even if well-prepared and well-armed, is a drop in the ocean compared to a holocaust.
CONDITIONS FOR A HOLOCAUST
A holocaust on the scale of what Germans perpetrated during the first half of the 1940s requires two things that have no intrinsic connection to hate:
1) Modern technology, which makes it possible for some to control, confine, destroy, and dispose of large numbers of others, numbers reaching into the millions.
2) The removal of all limits on government power.
Point number 2 is especially important because only governments direct (other people’s) money, time, resources, and energy toward building large-scale factories of death. Only governments specialize in widespread destruction and widespread death.
Add point number 2 with point number 1, and then the natural human tendency toward hate has the potential to become holocaustic.
In what might be best described as tragic irony, very many United States citizens today think that number 2 is a good idea precisely because number 1 is already present. That is, many Americans seem to think it wise and good to remove all limits on government power, including all Constitutional limits, precisely because we are now a nation that enjoys advanced modern technology.
The truth is exactly opposite. Limits on government power become even more important, even more critical, as technology advances because technology means government power becomes even more dangerous.
“Never again” is a slogan used by those who want to teach others about the Holocaust, what it means, what happened, and why, so that we might prevent it from happening again. In order to prevent a holocaust from happening again, however, requires that we identify the conditions that made holocaust possible and vow that we shall never allow our government to possess so much power over our lives, our liberty, our property, and our free pursuit of happiness.