At the same time, increasing numbers of Americans don’t know history or cherry-pick history for political purposes.
The massacre of Israeli civilians by Hamas brought me back to eighth grade in parochial school, where something happened that changed how I saw the world and human nature.
What happened was that the nuns showed a shocking film of a Nazi concentration camp right after American soldiers had liberated it. There were ghastly scenes of emaciated Jews standing about in a daze, half-cremated bodies in ovens, and piles of bodies, spectacles, and gold teeth.
Even at that young age, I wondered how humans could do that to other humans.
Looking for an answer, I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as soon as the 900-page book came out in paperback. That was followed by over a half-century of reading not only history but also philosophy, ethics, economics, and literature.
At the rate of at least one book every two weeks, that comes to over 1,300 books and counting.
That doesn’t make me erudite or particularly intelligent, but at least I know that I don’t know a lot. That’s more than college students know. Over four years, they’ll have read a tiny fraction of that amount, yet they believe that they are well-educated and have all the answers, including about the complexities of Palestine.
Shame on colleges for letting students make fools of themselves by demonstrating how little they’ve learned. And double shame for using naïve students as political pawns to advance sophomoric notions about social justice, race, and economics, with the latest being the inane notion of decolonization—a notion that is used to justify what Hamas did and to vilify not only Israelis but also Americans, Europeans, and White people in general.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but atrocities, slavery, subjugation, and colonization are not unique to Whites of European ancestry. It has to be said, though, because generations of American youth don’t seem to know better.
Nor is it profound to state the truth that human evil is universal. But compared to the selective and simplistic history taught in American schools, it is profound to say so.
The sad fact is that Hamas-like brutality has been common throughout history—albeit without the disgusting celebrations and glee shown by Hamas as they documented their atrocities via modern video technology. Common or not, the atrocities committed by Hamas are not something to excuse and certainly not to applaud.
Not only has slaughtering been common throughout history, but it has also been common across just about all races, ethnic groups, religions, ideologies, and nationalities. Also, contrary to American mythology about diversity, it’s been more common where different ethnocultural groups have mingled, interacted and shared borders.
Take the Baltic and Eastern European countries sandwiched between Russia and Germany. The acclaimed book Bloodlands details the atrocities committed by Soviets and Nazis in those countries before and during the Second World War. This history goes against the conventional ignorance on campus and elsewhere about fascists being worse than communists.
Ukraine was one of the countries caught between the two dictatorships. However, in an example of how history isn’t black and white, and how victims can also be victimizers, Ukrainians were also guilty of atrocities, as detailed in another acclaimed book: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944 – 1956. As the German Army was retreating and the Soviet Army was advancing, Ukrainian partisans saw an opportunity to establish their own sub-state, by cleansing the Polish population from a territory adjoining Poland. They would go on to slaughter 50,000 Poles, most of whom were civilians, including women and children.
No doubt campus racists would use this as an example of the innate evil of Whites. In doing so, they would miss a key point: that if history is peeled back far enough, butchery will be found among every race and nearly every ethnocultural group. Go back far enough, and archaeological evidence can be found of Homo sapiens killing off Neanderthals.
It would take many pages to list the horrors inflicted by non-Whites and non-Europeans on each other. Again, that’s not to excuse or minimize the horrors inflicted by Whites on, let’s say, Africans in the slave trade or on Native Americans in the westward conquest and genocide. Nor is it to deny the need to address the lingering socioeconomic effects of those historic injustices.
Rather, it is to warn against generalizing and demonizing selected groups for the sins of their ancestors, if for no other reason than the fact that nearly all peoples have evil in their ancestry and thus can be generalized and demonized in return, in a never-ending cycle of recrimination.
Take Native Americans, or to use a voguish term, the indigenes who first inhabited what came to be known as the Americas.
Sure, the indigenes were persecuted, oppressed, and brutalized by Whites. Sure, they lost their way of life and were consigned to reservations and to welfare dependency. Sure, the conditions on many reservations are awful.
But it’s also true that before Columbus sailed west, there was a warrior culture among many tribes, a culture in which cruelty was honored and celebrated. Captured enemy males were subjected to gruesome torture, young women were enslaved, elderly women were killed or left to die in the elements, and babies were killed by such methods as swinging them by their feet to bash their heads against a tree.
The contrast between warrior tribes like the Comanche and peaceful tribes like the Navajo was quite stark. But even tribes that had a reputation for relative peacefulness were capable of atrocities. Take the Tohono O’odham tribe, whose community abuts my adopted hometown of Tucson, a city where it is increasingly common for a public meeting to begin with a recognition (virtue-signal) that the meeting is taking place on former Native-American land.
On April 28, 1871, the O’odham took the lead in what became known as the Camp Grant massacre. Ninety-two of them joined six Anglo Americans and 48 Mexican Americans, in an attack on a camp of Aravaipa and Pinal Apache, while most of the Apache men were away on a hunting party. In total, 144 camp residents were slaughtered, and all but eight of the dead were women and children. Nearly all were scalped. Twenty-nine children were sold into slavery in Mexico by the O’odham and the Mexicans.
Keep in mind that the Apache had been driven out of their homeland and into Arizona by the Comanche, who conquered vast amounts of territory and engaged in slavery. Imagine what the Comanche would have done if they had had warships, standing armies with the latest weaponry and tactics, a central government and administrative state, and a mint and treasury to fund it all.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the 1871 massacre resembles the massacre of Israelis by Hamas 152 years later. After all, although many institutions have changed for the better, and although liberal democracy has advanced human rights more than any other political system and is the best hope for mankind, human nature hasn’t changed much.
With that, I’ll return to the question I asked in eighth grade: How can humans do this to other humans?
The answer, of course, is human nature, especially the tribalistic part of human nature. The potential for violence lies dormant in people until awakened by some catalyst. Typically, the catalyst is the stereotyping and demonization of another group for real or perceived injustices, even long-ago ones, coupled with envy or ideological fanaticism.
For example, Hitler probably wouldn’t have come to power if it hadn’t been for the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty after the First World War, especially the demand for onerous reparations and the French occupation of the Rhineland. This in turn enabled him to demonize Jews, although they had little to do with conditions in Germany.
Incidentally, I disagree with much of what author Robert Kagan has written, but he made a valid point in his book, The Ghost at the Feast, that the Second World War probably wouldn’t have happened if the U.S. had left a few thousand peacekeeping troops in the Rhineland, had repealed the excesses of the Versailles Treaty, and had helped to establish a liberal democracy in Germany. In turn, if WWII hadn’t happened, tens of millions of people wouldn’t have been killed, the Holocaust wouldn’t have taken place, cities wouldn’t have been destroyed, and the Soviet Union wouldn’t have occupied Eastern Europe and followed with mass starvation, purges, and gulags.
Let’s return to the USA and conclude with a warning.
A dangerous situation is building within the nation as a result of a number of divisive forces, including the illiberalism of the far right and far left, the demagoguery at the extremes of both parties, the identity politics in which everyone is assigned an invented racial label, the popular contest of victimhood to see which identity group has been oppressed the most and in the most ways, the exclusion and discrimination masquerading as inclusion and diversity, the demonization of Whites (and Jews once again) based on ugly stereotypes and often driven by revenge and envy, and the cherry-picking of history for political purposes.
It is doubtful that these forces will result in mass atrocities, but there is little doubt that if left unchecked, they will lead to an irreparable tearing of the social fabric.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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