Monday, September 24, 2012

The Holocaust century

kw: politics, genocide, prejudice

How will the Twentieth Century be remembered in the distant future? It was certainly a century of amazing progress. Travel jumped from the rail to the air, such that millions now travel thousands or tens of thousands of miles per year, where a record-breaking traveler of the 1880s could scarcely accumulate 10,000 miles in a lifetime (Recently, Ron Akana retired after 64 years as a flight steward with United. He accumulated 20 million miles on the job). Telecommunications began with the telegraph and early telephones in 1900; it grew to nearly universal cell phone usage by the mid 1990s, plus video calling using Skype just "around the bend" in 2003. Food became more abundant in greater variety than anyone could have imagined. World population grew from 1.6 billion to about 7 billion; now about 1.5 billion are counted among the desperately poor! The other 5.5 billion are better off than nearly all those 1.6 billion of 1900.

While a lot is positive, the centralization of political power that accompanied vast improvements in technology has been primarily a negative factor. The century began with the Great War, now called World War I, was marred in its mid-to-late years by World War II and the Cold War, and closed with the first forays of a new kind of war, that has now morphed into the "War on Terror" (the American term; others call it Global Jihad). If you add up the deaths of all those killed in combat, both "soldiers" and "collateral damage", however, they are dwarfed by a different sum: what I call the Three Holocausts.
  • The first of these began in 1938, when Josef Stalin began a series of "purges" that eventually led to 10-20 million deaths of Soviet citizens by 1954. The cause was primarily political paranoia.
  • The second was the Nazi "final solution", in which about 17 million died. Six million of those were Jews, another about 6 million were Ukrainians, and the rest were various Slavs, Soviet POWs, Gypsies (Romanies), and smaller numbers ("only" thousands to tens of thousands) of leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics, and others considered "unfit", such as the mentally or physically handicapped, homosexuals, and political dissidents. The cause was rabid racism under the guise of Aryan eugenics.
  • The third was a combination of two long disasters in China, the "Great Leap Forward" and the "Cultural Revolution" under Mao Zedong, with a death toll of at least 40 million, and perhaps as many as 100 million. The cause here was the hubris of an incompetent man. By the way, more than sixty years of failed harvests in the Soviet Union are attributed to central planning, a similar kind of incompetence. You can't centrally plan the agriculture of a continent: Mao failed, and the Russian leaders failed.

About 100 million dead, due to the insanity of a handful of improbably powerful men. The crucial social task of Western democracies and republics in the Twenty-First Century is to ensure that nobody gains such power, ever again. How can we accomplish this? Some are even now trying to spread "democracy" in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the "Arab Spring" coups (which aren't quite all over yet). This is misdirected.

It took more than 2,100 years to progress from the raw, imperfect and partial democracy of Greece to the Western constitutional governments of Europe and much of the New World today. The despotic governments of most of Asia and Africa are pre-Greek in outlook. It will take work just to get them to a social level comparable to the Athens of Solon and Cicero (minus the institutionalized slavery), and huge further effort to speed them on the way toward republican institutions that are the "atmosphere" of Western society. It will take decades if it is possible at all.

A core concept of Western civilization is social and religious tolerance. Many of the Eastern despotic governments (Pakistan is a prime example) have severe laws against religious heresy, blasphemy, and "alternative" lifestyles such as homosexuality or unmarried cohabitation. Compare: a misguided preacher in Georgia burns a Koran in public, and the Muslim world is immediately aflame. If an Imam were to burn a Bible in Times Square, most folks would say, "Oh, another Bible burner. Let's walk upwind to keep ashes off my jeans, please." Of course, there is a slight chance that a passerby would deck the guy, but that would be the extent of it.

You know what is crazy? That last scenario is touted by radical Muslims as a sign of our weakness. It actually indicates our strength. We are not threatened by theatrics. The kind of civilized attitude that underlies this tolerance is worth spreading everywhere. If that can be accomplished in this century, we just might approach the year 2100 with a more genuinely civilized human race than ever before.

No comments: