Years ago, a friend of mine, when we were discussing goodness and malevolence, casually mentioned that even the worst criminals nearly always thought that whatever they were doing was constructive and the problem, then, became one in which different people hold radically different outlooks concerning whatever stands for benefits. In this sense, Josef Mengele (a human representing the epitome of moral depravity) probably thought that he was advancing scientific knowledge and ultimately helping humankind by his unconscionable medical experiments carried out on Jews and gypsies during the Nazi regime. At the same time, he was being an exemplary patriotic citizen by unquestioningly supporting the atrocious aims of his government for which he was commended many times. (Oh, how the leadership loves to dole out accolades, medals, praise and certificates during grand speeches when its nefarious objectives are backed by their lackeys and cohorts.)
In a similar vein, I am sure that many European immigrants, who came to America during the last three hundred years, thought that they, too,, were carrying out positive actions when they eradicated indigenous tribes at the behest of their community leaders. I am also convinced that many of those conducting the killings felt relieved that such a strange scourge (as the "dirty savages" seemed to be) was systematically obliterated. Indeed, there probably was little remorse on the part of the majority of the butchers, as the so-called Indians were viewed as subhuman, just as were Blacks, Jews, Asians and many other persecuted peoples in this country. Indeed, the killers' sense of identity, doubtlessly was strengthened individually and as members of a culturally cohesive unit (i.e., an exclusive social assemblage) in the process of carrying out their communally sanctioned, xenophobic brutality.
In this manner, the murderers managed to avoid acknowledging any sense of shared and universal humanity in the maligned others with whom they refused to identify. As such, they recognized few, if any, commonalities. Instead they called the natives alienating terms (such as "blood thirsty vermin," "Indian giver," and "scalpers") that further strengthened a feeling of estrangement, made it easier to destroy them and assigned them to the position of "The Other," an unfortunate and dangerous category in which to be placed.
"Lawrence Cahoone (1996) explains it thus:
'What appear to be cultural units--human beings, words, meanings, ideas, philosophical systems, social organizations--are maintained in their apparent unity only through an active process of exclusion, opposition, and hierarchization. Other phenomena or units must be represented as foreign or 'other' through representing a hierarchical dualism in which the unit is 'privileged' or favored, and the other is devalued in some way.'
"It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude 'Others' whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. For example, Edward Said's book Orientalism demonstrates how this was done by western societies--particularly England and France--to 'other' those people in the 'Orient' whom they wanted to control. The concept of 'otherness' is also integral to the understanding of identities, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an 'other' as part of a fluid process of action-reaction that is not necessarily related with subjugation or stigmatization ."
In any case, we are all quite capable of too readily seeing negative traits that we personally abhor in "The Other" rather than accepting and supporting whomever or whatever we imagine exemplifies these qualities. In this manner, some Catholics hate and fear Protestants, some Jews hate and fear Arabs, some Moslems hate and fear Americans, some Whites hate and fear darker skinned peoples and so it goes like a merry-go-round with each person and social group denigrating and abhorring the next, rather than being inclusive.
In such a fashion, the mind set of us VS. them keeps circling around and around to create an inordinate amount of deep lasting misery. All the while, hatred and rejection are being taught in the process to each successive generation of perpetrators and victims alike.
Meanwhile, one can wonder whether reparation is due to Native Americans, Blacks, Latinos and others whose ancestors were viciously exploited and killed. Should they have recompense, since many have, indirectly, become impoverished as a result? Should they be given funds and/or land because they, on account of prior events, now live in dreadful slums and have pathetically poor public schools for their children, as well as low paying jobs for themselves? If so, who should provide compensation and in what amount to whom? Who is culpable -- the offspring of the originally predatory groups, i.e., those of European stock and our current government whose prior members had ratified Indian Wars, theft of land from natives, slavery and other wrongs? Is someone else accountable for remuneration?
All the same, I do know that societal and environmental problems (including inequitable distribution of resources, as well as lack of sufficient agricultural know-how and capability to feed the ever burgeoning population) in Europe certainly did cause a large throng of desperately poor people to want to flee their lands to other ones with better opportunities. As such, they kept coming (and still do) in wave after wave of newcomers to America while, for obvious reasons, many settled inhabitants (whose ancestors also migrated here) unequivocally resented the changing conditions that were the result.
In any case, I refuse to take responsibly for what any of my forebears did or didn't do. It was not my fault. All the same, I am, when I consider the topic, sorry for all who were involved. I feel sorry for natives and the nearly indigent Europeans in the same way that I feel sorry for a Kurd father who stole a loaf of bread from an elderly woman in an attempt, during the Gulf War, to keep his eleven children and wife alive.
(It was thrown from a US military craft and the woman had snatched it from the air a few seconds faster than the father could lay hands on it. He, then, wrestled it from her with the ultimate result that both the old woman and her husband died of malnourishment. So did some of the father's children... Meanwhile, he now has to live with his painful choice for the rest of his life. He has to remember the vision of the aged couple and his children full of suffering, panic and the drawn out process of their dying. He has to continually face his feelings of regret, helplessness and rage over what he could not change.)
While I pity him to the depth of my heart, I am deeply grateful that I do not have to bear the burden of subsuming his role. Likewise, I am utterly thankful that I was not one of the women in a particular broiling hot cattle car parked for days on end on the track leading up to a Nazi concentration camp.
After having run out of food and water and with no one responding to their plea for provisions, the women slowly came to the recognition that they were not going to be given any. They also realized that they were not being brought to a new settlement. So, rather than prolong the agony of water and food deprivation, they quietly murdered their children and each other one by one during the night while the children slept. As such, their only satisfaction was in the thought that the bloody mess that they left behind would render the car unusable ever again to transport other Jews to the camp as the stains could not be able to be removed from the wood .
Most of us are fortunate that we are not forced by circumstances outside of our control to make such difficult decisions as had the Kurd father and these Jewish mothers. We are lucky that we do not have to choose whether to battle others over desperately sought out American land, nor be in a condition to possibly commit other heinous acts.
One individual, who hasn't had to face them, is an old Quaker associate of mine, who carries out a tremendous amount of social service volunteer work. On account of her not having had to make awful decisions, she is in a position in which she could state the opinion that her "sin" (a term that she used for a lack of a better word devoid of religious connotation) was not so much a "sin" of commission (the deeds that she carried out), but concerned omission (the massive number of undertakings that she neglected to accomplish). In other words, she felt that she simply was not doing enough to provide uplift, care and compassion towards others in less fortunate situations than hers.
Perhaps I should decline use of drugs because management at many pharmaceutical firms routinely lie about the dangers of products so as to command a huge fiscal gain from sales ($125,835,595,000 in 1999 alone of which approximately only one fifth went into research, while up to two-fifths was used towards advertisements and marketing costs ) even as they only have to dole out a modicum of that amount in wrongful death suits.