The sight of officials of United Airlines dragging a helpless passenger down the aisle of an airplane as other passengers scream in shock and protest is not one that I will easily forget. Physical violence of any kind is shocking, and any time the TV news shows a violent demonstration anywhere in the world or the violent repression of a peaceful demonstration my horrified attention is drawn once again to man’s inhumanity to man (and woman).
The use of violence against unarmed individuals is something that has been prevalent throughout human history. In addition, the Bible and the annals of ancient peoples are full of accounts of battles waged in order to gain ascendancy over other nations, or to fend it off, and the massacres that ensued. The Ancient Romans were past-masters in the art of war and subjugation. In recent history the atrocities inflicted by Germans and other European nations on innocent victims, with attendant evil and sadistic acts of gratuitous violence, directed particularly at Jews, went ahead unabated until eventually stopped only by the deployment of tremendous force by the Allies. The European Union was establishment primarily to put an end to conflicts between the nations of the region, and by and large it has been successful in this.
In this day and age, mainly because the prevalence of modern media enables us to witness the violence being perpetrated by the indigenous peoples of the Middle East against one another, the existence of barbarous acts is evident for all to see, though not enough is being done to put an end to it. Evidently, no world leader wants to risk his or her position by sending their military into dangerous situations in order to help stop the slaughter or enslavement of innocents in a distant land.
In an interview I saw recently on BBC (‘Hard Talk’), the son of Hans Frank, the Nazi Gauleiter of Poland (the General Government, as the Nazis called it), spoke of his contempt and shame when he thinks of his father, claiming he can never forgive him for destroying millions of lives and bringing tragedy to so many families. Hans Frank was hanged at the Nuremberg Trials for his crimes but his son, Niklas, who still lives in Germany, maintains that to this day he does not trust the German people. “At present they are enjoying economic prosperity, but if the situation were to deteriorate once more, as it did in the 1920s and 1930s, history could repeat itself,” he said.
The fact that the members of a nation that prides itself on being a bastion of culture and civilization could be whipped up into a frenzy of fanatical hatred and be able to inflict untold misery on other human beings is something that continues to mystify me. The psychology and sociology of mass hatred for others can’t be simply explained away as the actions of a group of psychopathic criminals. An entire nation countenanced and participated first in ostracism and persecution and eventually in mass murder. And it is common knowledge that not only Germans were involved in all the atrocities that constituted the Holocaust throughout Europe.
Every now and again there is an isolated incident or statement that can restore my faith in human nature, but over against it there are many more that undermine it. Sometimes I wonder how we can go on living in this world where there is so much misery and inhumanity.
But then I remind myself of the pleasant way in which I live and that every day I, my family, and most of the people around me have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and the ability to go about our daily lives without being oppressed. That is a gift that should never be taken for granted. The dark days of the Holocaust are gone, hopefully never to return, and that should be our solace, constituting the yardstick by which we measure our current lives.