For the past week, I’ve encouraged my older children to sit
with me and watch episodes of “Nazis: The Evolution of Evil.” The television series
is fairly graphic, combining historical footage with reenactments. The operating assumption of the series is
that it was clear in 1933 what was going to happen in Germany and Europe if
only the world had cared to look. Most
of us didn’t.
· Violence begins with our words. The first step in perpetrating and perpetuating violence is name calling, blaming, and scapegoating. When we use words and media to create an environment of hostility through rumor and innuendo, we sow the seeds of physical violence. As my kids listen to the propaganda speeches about how the Jews brought all of the violence on themselves, I remind them how the same language has been used recently in relation to homosexuals, Muslims, inner-city residents. And I also point out how words can be used in ways that disguise what people are really talking about. Whether it is “deportation,” “resettlement,” or “enhanced interrogation,” if people lack the stomach “to call a spade a spade” it is probably an indication that there is something morally wrong with it. Our language matters.
· Our society is only as safe as our most vulnerable citizens. I found myself shocked anew when the show reminded me how many disabled children were killed and how many more disabled and mentally ill adults died as the Nazis tested their nation’s tolerance for death. The Roman Catholic Church denounced these actions, questioning whether war heroes were to be targeted, and whether any German was safe. What if, I wonder, the entire Christian population had decided to defend every potential target? How would their world have been different? How would our world be different?
· Finally, we must know the world we live in. It is important that we care enough to really look at the circumstances of our world and not take anyone’s word for what is going on. We live in a global community, and hiding our faces from the unpleasant truth does not serve the cause of justice. Anytime there is a systematic degradation of any group for our benefit, there is the potential for great evil. Anytime we turn a blind eye, whether it is on sweatshops in Bangladesh, the sex trade in South Asia, the forced labor of children in West Africa, or the industrialization of prisons in our own country, we are participating in the dehumanization of our fellow human beings.
The horrors of the Holocaust are many. But the true horror would be if we failed to realize that the same evil lives on in our world. We cannot afford to exist as if such evil is an anomaly, a product of the past. We must make up our mind every day to seek the good.