May 30, 2009 by Patrice Ayme
WHEN NICE DOES NOT CUT IT, NEITHER EMPATHY, NOR KNOWLEDGE ARE ENOUGH. ANGELS HAVE TO TURN INTO DEMONS.
Bob Herbert in the New York Times, following Elie Wiesel, courageously points out that: "The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it's a tendency that must be fought." (May 30, 2009).
It is so much easier to look away from victims," said Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor, at the White House in 1999. "It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.... But indifference to the suffering of others "is what makes the human being inhuman... The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees -- not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own."
All very true. Feeling the pain of others helps to get going.
Still, seeing the humanity of others is not enough to address horror in full. The torturers can easily pose as victims. They whine that they have to torture, or they will not be safe. They have to bomb the world, because there, somewhere, there is that man, those terrorists, the bad ones who did such and such...
Hence, even if we see the victim, and feel the pain, we have to see the torturer, and the executioner, for what they are, and then find the courage to ask the torturer, and the executioner, and the bomber, and those serious ones who send the flying robots, to cease and desist. And then if the torturer and the executioner do not stop, then what?
Some bring on even more empathy, and end up helping the executioners, as Hannah Arendt showed (enraging masses of treacherous, uncomprehending sheep). The passivity of Jewish organizations faced with Nazism, was indeed amazing: it often turned to collaboration. Mercifully, the oldest and strongest democracies had a better wisdom of history.
On September 1, 1939, France and Britain, the democracies, sent an ultimatum to Adolf Hitler: cease and desist within 48 hours, or we declare war. On September 3, 1939, around 11 am, the democracies, France and Britain, declared war to the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Within a few days several nations of the British empire followed: Canada, Australia, India... Within days 45 divisions of the French army attacked, while the Poles were fighting for their lives.
What did the USA do in all this? Good question: an impenetrable psychic curtain had come down across the worst of the American soul. Indeed, American corporations went in overdrive in their collaboration with Hitler.
For example, the Ethyl Corporation of America rushed air fuel additive supplies to Hitler's Air Force, which had run out, and would have stayed on the ground, otherwise. That would have been disastrous for Hitler's army, which depended upon air power (Hitler's Air Force would lose about 5,000 planes in the next year of war against France and Britain!).
Soon, Hitler's ally, Stalin, attacked Poland from the east, and invaded. Meanwhile the Nazis air bombed flour mills, so that the Poles would starve during winter, which is rough under those continental latitudes. Just to make sure, the Nazis opened a huge concentration camp in the most insalubrious part of Poland, a swamp at Auschwitz. They stuffed it with Poles, and made it so that they would die in great numbers. The Nazis would kill six million Poles in the next 6 years.
A few months later, full of American technology and direct investment, fueled by the Soviets, Hitler got lucky, and, after a battle that killed a few hundred thousands people, invaded France.
And the USA waited... It was not clear whether the USA was waiting for the success of murderous racism, or the fall of Great Britain. The suspense lasted more than 2 years. Finally, dictatorial Japan attacked and then declared war to the USA on December 7, 1941. And what did the USA do? The USA waited some more. On December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war to the USA.
But what if Hitler and the Japanese military leaders had not been so stupid? Well, the USA did not intent to go to war in 1942. It was firmly intent to wait some more. Good things happen to those who wait. Let's not forget that Hitler's regime was racist (among other things, it sterilized Germans of partial African descent), and the USA was racist too. No doubt millions in the USA would have preferred a world racial order, and an alliance with those that tried to make it so.
In the same vein, although the holocaust of the Jews (and others) was known since the French government denounced it in fall of 1940, the Western Allies did not bother to threaten the Nazis about it (although the Nazis had made a big noise about the massacre of 23,000 Polish officers by the Soviets).
Morality of all this history? Arendt pointed out that: "Death begins its reign of terror when life becomes the highest good."
Conscience without the will to use force is only devastation of a beautiful soul. To fight Satan, cognition is not enough. To fight Satan, empathy is not enough. To fight Satan, demonic minds is what it takes. Otherwise it's all just about the pathetic whining of the weasel in the night.
Such is the paradox of ultimate goodness. To be truly good, it's not enough to be good.
The wrath of good cannot be foiled by death. Goodness is what gives meaning to death, and death is its ultimate instrument. The devil is in the details of the goodness, and the goodness rests in detailing evil as needed. Too much whining about the victims is just self serving fluff, it is not what righteous warriors do. Right and might is what goodness makes.