Fandango has posted another provocative question, in which he asks us to opine on the most significant event in human history.
Human history? Okay, so straight away, things like the Big Bang and dinosaur extinctions are out. I’m also going to leave to one side disease, which has played a very significant part in our proliferation.
Actually, in human history, I would go for an event in just about living memory, the rise and fall of the Nazis.
There are all sorts of lessons there. Even beforehand, we had an American government which was isolationist, which deliberately looked the other way. And we had European governments who were only too willing to appease, to look the other way as well. We know from history that the signs were there, even pre-war. But communications weren’t then what they are today, so perhaps leader might argue that there was reasonable doubt? Even Hitler himself looked inwards – it was the National Socialist Party, after all, and one of its slogans was Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer. Indeed, I think that one of the undeniably good things about the EU, which itself came out of the war, is that it fosters a spirit of looking beyond national boundaries – and in that respect, Brexit worries me.
So I think there are lessons there for us all. Firstly, about looking the other way, and secondly about the dangers of allowing a weak man to become sufficiently powerful that he may destroy us.
That last point makes me uncomfortable. I can quite happily be anti- the UK’s recent wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, even Libya, but can’t they be justified as trying to prevent a weak regime from becoming stronger? So I think there are deeper questions to be answered – it’s no good bombing villagers in Syria, for example, then claiming we’ve hurt Assad.
Overshadowing the whole of the Nazi regime was the Holocaust, I could quite justifiably have claimed this as my subject, but I think the wider subject contains more overall lessons.
An attempt to eradicate a whole race of people – which very nearly succeeded. As if they’d never even existed.
At this point I justify why my “most significant” event had to be quite a recent event. Many times in history, one race has tried to eradicate another, so just the intention is nothing new. But the Nazis had the means to do it – the organisation, the transport infrastructure, and not least the death camps. So, I think whenever we’re talking about the most, or the -est of anything, we’re pretty much confining ourselves to the age of mass transit.
I must admit to a personal connection with the Holocaust, for my wife’s mother, Belgian by birth and now just celebrated her eightieth birthday, was one of the last batches of children to come to the UK as part of the Kindertransport programme, in 1939. On her mother’s side, my wife has no family. A real effect, still felt more than 75 years on – they might have been good people, they might have been assholes, but we never knew. My daughter has a couple of aunties and a grandma, but there it stops.
I’ve written enough for today – this subject upsets me. How best to conclude? Perhaps just a few numbers? I’ve seen estimates that up to 6,000,000 Jews were killed – approximately two out of every three in Europe. A continent. Imagine that you have three friends, and two of them are just disappeared! Then mutiply it by a continent. And that number doesn’t include any other people the Nazis happened not to like – Russians, Poles, Serbs, etc.
Actually, I do want to end this with a message. That when somebody stands up and tells you to vote for them, because they know who is responsible for all your ills, think twice!
Well said. I heard a while ago that the appeasers, not wanting war with Hitler, were those like Chamberlain who had actually met with Hitler in person and were influenced by his charisma. Those who had no contact with Hitler, like Churchill, were more willing to oppose him. Show’s how we are influenced by charismatic politicians and listen to their lies, ignoring the policies.
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I’m still unsure of a lot of it. For example, a lot of the history was written by Churchill, so it may have been to his advantage to cast doubt on Chamberlain. I suppose Chamberlain’s idea was to avoid war at all costs, although I think he was naive in his reading of some of the early signs. But at the same time as we see Churchill as this great hero, but I can’t help noting that he was voted out of power quickly enough in 1945. So obviously something was wrong.
I guess that Hitler must have been charismatic to take the Nazis from nowhere to electoral success, though I have no idea what their electoral system was back then. People can quite easily “win” elections in both the UK and the USA, without winning the popular vote. I’m not sure of your system, but it’s probably better than both! But presumably, the Nazis became popular over time.
“…the dangers of allowing a weak man to become sufficiently powerful that he may destroy us.” You got that right!
Great, well articulated response to the question.
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It’s a question where I struggle – because fundamentally, shouldn’t we be helping other people where we can?
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Just on this “beyond reasonable doubt” theme, I saw a very good documentary recently, unusually for me, it was from an angle I’d never seen before. Probably from 1943 onwards, the Allied forces had sufficient aerial superiority and had seen reports from escapees, so they had a fair idea of what Auschwitz was. So there was the important question of whether to bomb it or not. The documentary explored both sides, and the choice was not clearcut – on the Allied side there was certainly an element of disbelief – this couldn’t really be happening.