Truths of the Holocaust more relevant today than ever.
My wife and I just saw the film “In Darkness,” which tells the true story of a Polish man who saved a dozen Jewish men, women and children from the Nazis by hiding them for 14 months in sewers. The heroism of the man is clear, but so is the depressing state of a world that forced human beings to hide in sewers.
Hitler rearmed Germany, thus breaking the treaty that ended World War I. Then he reoccupied the Rhineland. Then he seized part of Czechoslovakia, and then the rest of it. Still the world did nothing, hoping the Nazi regime would be satisfied. But its appetite was merely whetted. Before the Nazis were defeated, at least 40 million people were dead, including one-third of all the Jews in the world, and four out of five European Jews.
At first, Hitler wanted the Jews to leave, “For all I care, on luxury liners.” But with few exceptions, no nation admitted them. In 1938, delegates from 32 nations, including the United States, met in the French resort town of Evian. The result: no one did anything. Whenever I see a bottle of Evian water, I think about apathy in the face of evil, and I remember this quote from Leon Wieseltier:
Obama seems to think that there is some force in the admonition that the world is watching; but history plentifully demonstrates that when the world is watching, all the world does is watch.
During his 2009 trip, President Obama visited the site of the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald. Over 56,000 civilians and prisoners of war were murdered there. The president declared that no one should deny the Holocaust.
But the purpose of remembering the Holocaust is to prevent a recurrence. The leaders of Iran threaten to wipe Israel off the map, and at the same time are developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. What is the “world community” doing about it?
With Holocaust 2 on the horizon, it does no good to remember Holocaust 1, while making the same mistake that allowed it to occur − attempting to appease aggressors. What are we doing about Iran? Economic sanctions are proving useless. Meanwhile, President Obama distances himself from Israel.
The strong make demands of their enemies. The weak make demands of their friends. The strong evoke anxiety in their enemies. The weak evoke anxiety in their friends. As a result, the weak have more enemies and fewer friends.
History tends to repeat itself, because human nature doesn’t change. There are variations on the themes, but the themes recur with depressing regularity:
● When tyrants make promises, we shouldn’t listen.
● When tyrants make threats, we should listen.
● When tyrants threaten mass murder based on myths of racial or religious superiority, we should listen carefully.
● When tyrants build weapons with which to carry out their threats, we are fools if we don’t act before the weapons are operational.
What is the lesson of the Holocaust? To people of good will, it is: Never again. But to people of ill will, the lesson is: It succeeded. Four out of five European Jews were murdered, and the “world community” did nothing. Do you believe that the leaders of Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah haven’t studied that lesson attentively? What reason are we giving them to believe that things will be different this time? None. What reason are we giving them to believe that they can’t murder another six million? None.
I wonder what many people in many nations, including our own, are really thinking. Could it be this? − “Let the crazies in Iran build their nukes. Let them eradicate Israel, which is just a pain in the backside. Then we’ll do something, in case they’re serious when they chant, ‘Death to America.’ We can serve tea and cookies, and collect money for the few survivors, just like last time. That will make us feel really self-righteous. And we can build an annex to the Holocaust Museum. It’s the least we can do. Literally.”
For every Evangelical or Jew who wants Obama to do something before Iran nukes Israel, there is at least one closet anti-Semite who wants Obama to do nothing until after Iran nukes Israel. We hear much about the pro-Israel lobby, but there is also an anti-Israel lobby that is at least as powerful. Which will prevail remains to be seen.
Even if Iran acquires nuclear weapons but doesn’t use them, its neighbors will be terrified and rush to acquire nukes themselves. The Mideast is unstable now − imagine what it will be like with nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States. If Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, who will dare to break the blockade? Regardless of what happens to Israel, this prospect is frightening.
During his trip to Germany, President Obama visited Dresden, the site of a World War II air raid. He signed a memorial book and lit a candle in honor of those who died in the bombing. Obama was making an unspoken apology for the bombing, and also drawing a false moral equivalence between violence done to start a war and violence done to end it.
One can argue that the Dresden raid was militarily unnecessary. One can argue that the resulting firestorm was a tragedy. But one can also argue that Germany surrendered 12 weeks later, so the bombing may well have played a role in the decision.
The concept of proportionality holds for ordinary attacks. If a man punches me, I can punch him back. But if a man breaks down my door and attacks me with a knife, I need not turn my back, rush to the kitchen, and try to select a knife of equal length. I can use any means available to defend myself and my loved ones. I can grab a gun and shoot the man. At least, that is the law in most parts of America.
The same principle applies to nations. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan started an aggressive war. They seized the lands of their neighbors. They committed unspeakable atrocities. They murdered tens of millions of civilians. For years, the outcome hung in the balance.
Those who fought the German Nazis and the Japanese fascists were in the same position as the homeowner faced by the knife-wielding intruder. No rational person would demand that they measure each action precisely, to be sure it matched the actions of the aggressor to the millimeter and was not “disproportional.”
True, we must not sink to the level of the aggressors. We must not practice genocide or commit horrible atrocities. But to go further and demand that we abide by the Marquess of Queensbury rules, while our opponents attack us with the methods of an alley fight, is to doom us to certain defeat − and probable death.
Who but an enemy would make such a demand? Who but a self-destructive fool would comply with it?
The criminal who kicked in the door and attacked the homeowner with a knife was responsible for his own death − not the homeowner, and not the gun. The monsters who ran concentration camps were responsible for the firestorm in Dresden, not the Allied officials who ordered the raid, and not the airmen who carried it out. It was literally a case of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.
The point is not only that if the Nazis had been stopped before they grew strong, the victims of Nazism could have been saved. The point is also that Germany could have been spared from terrible destruction. The same holds for other would-be aggressors, including Iran.
That was the lesson President Obama should have taught the world as he visited Dresden.That was the opportunity he missed. Instead of offering veiled apologies for Dresden, and for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he should have pointed out the obvious cause-and-effect relationship. If he had done so, he would have gone a long way toward securing peace in the world.
Would-be aggressors must be told bluntly that our response may be very far from “proportional.” When we go out of our way to reassure them that we will not “over-react,” we invite further aggression. And in the era of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, that aggression may well be catastrophic.
The president should have said, “If you attack our friends with weapons of mass destruction, we will react as if you attacked us. People who force human beings to hide in sewers may end up hiding in sewers themselves − in Dresden, or in Tehran.”
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