Regarding the holocaust, in the foreword to this book by Zygmunt Bauman, he reminds us that we have a duty to remember. But then, almost as an afterthought, he asks his readers the rhetorical question, to remember what?
In what elsewhere has been described as a stunning set of original reflections, Bauman has shaken us out of our moral comfort zones. With a kind of detached brilliance rarely seen today, he disturbs the very moral ground that our perceptions of the holocaust rests on, opening our eyes up to new more provocative and disturbing ways of seeing that part of modern Western history. It is a book that every American, as well as everyone else in the rest of the world, must read, study and understand.
Decent societies are correct to express self-righteous indignation at those who deny that the holocaust ever occurred, or who deny that even if it did happen, something less than six million Jews were murdered. The poster child for this kind of mindless, intentionally evil denial, include the skin-heads that now populate many Western countries, including the U.S.. And not insignificantly, they include at least one prominent recent head of state from the Middle East, ex-President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A key theme of this book is the author's not so subtle suggestion that "crazies" such as the "skinheads" or Ahmadinejad, are not the only holocaust deniers. The window that this analysis has cracked open, and then pried completely off its hinges, is that there is yet another much larger group of holocaust deniers, ones that just happen to include nearly all the rest of us?
This group includes all of those of us who continue to deny that the holocaust was an organic product of the most sophisticated, technologically advanced, rational and respected representative of Western culture at the time, Germany. And thus, this author argues that as the flagship of modern Western cultural values, morality and humanity, far from being the aberration of "a lone nut anti-Semite," more than anything else, Hitler's Germany has turned out to be little more than a "proxy" for the emerging morality of the modern world.
The author can say this without it being considered scandalous, or fear of contradiction because since World War II, a dozen or so "other holocausts" have occurred but have gone mostly under the radar of our dullened post-modern sensibilities, virtually unnoticed in the wake of the carnage of World War II.
Thus clearly, even in retrospect, the European Holocaust can no longer be considered just an isolated Jewish tragedy -- just a private matter between Hitler and the Jews -- but arguably, represents a more generalized process of moral decay and failure of the very basis of the morality of the modern and post-modern world.
By pretending that Hitler's "final solution" of insulated bureaucratized and mechanized, technocratic mass murder, was a one time act of a lone nut and his henchmen, and thus pretending further that it had nothing at all to do with the rest of us, almost reduces our unconscious collective denial to being about as ludicrous as the conscious denials of Ahmadinejad and his skin head friends?
By portraying Nazi genocide as the mere isolated act of "a lone nut psychopathic mass murderer," rather than what it really was: part of the organic progression of 1200 years of anti-Semitism and racism that even today remains deeply entrenched, embedded in and endemic to Western culture, we do not so much insulate ourselves from guilt and complicity as we reveal a deep ignorance about the true meaning of the European holocaust.
And equally, we reveal our deep-structure need to avoid facing the truth about the shared moral responsibility for the European Holocaust as well as for other inhuman conditions that still exist in our modern world -- but from which we conveniently have turned our heads away.
What the author drives home forcefully here is that there is a dark side to our Judeo-Christian civilization that we best start owning up to, a side that leads directly and inexorably from Native American genocide, to slavery, right through the Crusades, the scattering Jews across the world, the inquisition and burning of people at the stake, five centuries of religious intolerance, pirating on the high seas, Jim Crow and instigating wars of aggression, mindless exploitation, greed, directly to Hitler and Auschwitz.
And as much as we pretend not to know it, Hitler's "technocratic industrialized production of death" that ended in the ovens of Poland, was not at all the case of a lone nut and his henchmen, but was indeed a normal progression of the Judeo-Christian tendency to be openly and publicly self-righteous about our moral failings on the one hand; but then turn just beneath our breaths and engage in actions that systematically regulate our collective moral culture downwards, on the other. And as we do so, we "condition" and "desensitize" ourselves to, and cultivate a habit of, turning our heads away from the moral ugliness that goes on within our midst across the globe everyday.
In the international system for instance, including within the United Nations, it is almost an article of faith that no matter how morally depraved are acts of genocide that go on. So long as they stay within the sacred boundaries of the nation state, we try as much as our diminished morale sensibilities will allow us, to ignore them. For we know that no matter how much they violate international law, there will be leaders waiting in the dock of the General Assembly with weak rationalizations to defend their own state-sanctioned depravity. The nation-state system is an Old Boys club that protects its own moral ingrates. To the most outrageous acts of moral depravity, the most international law can do as presently constituted, is to issue a stern public rebuke in the form of a "finger wagging" UN Resolution.
It is curious that in terms of why we continue to tolerate genocides that go on in our own times, both Albert Speer (Hitler's second in command) and the international psychologists Herbert C. Kelman agree on what the preconditions are for the erosion of cultural norms and moral inhibitions that lead directly to genocide and racial holocausts. They are that: (1) people must be operating under the rules of "authorized violence;" (2) such violence must become numbingly routine; and (3) the targeted victims must be dehumanized.
It seems to me that throughout its history, including today, the U.S. qualifies on all three accounts: It has participated in more wars than any other nation in the history of the world, and domestically remains one of the most violent nations on earth, with 327 million guns, 2.3 million of its own citizens in jails, and 20 to 35,000 gun deaths per year.
What could be more numbing than that? And due to 300 years of sanctioned racist practices, it holds in its wings a ready made scapegoat: its black population -- which, remains in a permanent inferior caste system that is constantly primed and targeted for justification of further dehumanization. And do we need to add that it was the U.S. Eugenics Program, with the assistance of American Archaeologists, Psychologists and Sociologists, that gave Hitler his first racist ideas about ridding the world of the genetic "weeds" (Jews) of Western civilization through a "final solution?"