I know a lot about the Holocaust. I am no expert, I will admit that, but I do know a lot. I have read thousands of pages on the subject, watched hours of film and footage, and even spent some time visiting a concentration camp. Schindler’s List, Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel… and that doesn’t take into consideration the numerous novels written on the subject, including the works of Leon Uris and Herman Wouk.
Well, add another book to the list, the one I just finished, entitled “The Envoy” about Raoul Wallenberg, the Guinness Book World Record Holder for most Jews saved from execution. Since the time I began learning about the Holocaust, I knew of Wallenberg, but unfortunately all I knew was that he saved Jews and Richard Chamberlain played him in a TV movie.
In reading and learning as much as I have on the subject, there is no escaping the disturbing and horrifying elements of the Holocaust, the methods of torture, murder, humiliation, and depravity employed by the SS. The cruelty was monstrous: tearing children from mothers’ arms, slamming babies against brick walls, tearing babies by yanking their legs apart, separating wives from husbands, the mass executions, the gas chambers, the ovens… it seemed that there was no limit to the brutality. And don’t get me started on the testing and experiments inflicted on twins, a subject which is very close to my heart, as you can well understand.
But just when I think I have seen and heard it all, that the limits of the atrocities have been exhausted, I learn more and am astounded. Not at the harshness of the acts (which is practically a given at this point), but at the creativity. Taken on its base level, those SOB’s were pretty damn creative in their methods of execution, degradation, and torture. We look at these beasts as uncivilized, monsters who ran amok with no law or order, the freedom to do what they wished, with no worries about consequences.
We as Americans look at our enemies, those who practice terrorism and fly airplanes into buildings, as monsters and beasts. Do we see them this way because we are, in some ways, jealous of them? They get to do whatever they want. They don’t have to worry about rules or restrictions, about playing fairly and letting the best man win. No, they could care less about those things. And I am sure it irritates you as it does me. As Americans we have to abide by the rules, we have to be conscious of the Geneva Convention or the 5th Amendment or some crap like that, right? They get to fight dirty; we have to fight clean.
Just this morning I was watching a movie on cable (does anyone call it that anymore?) and it addressed just this subject; an Arab terrorist who knew the locations of three nuclear bombs planted around the U.S. and the interrogation techniques employed by agents of America to learn the locations of these bombs. The main character tortures and kills to get the answers… and the reaction of the other characters and of the audience is one of disgust. It attacks our sensibilities when an American tortures or kills and ignores the 5th Amendment. Why? Because Americans are not animals; we don’t do those things; we play by the rules.
Which got me to thinking. What would I do if there were no law and order, no rules and no punishments for my actions? Would I turn into a monster, an animal, a creature only conjured in B-Movies?
I would like to think that whether or not there were laws and rules, that my moral compass would continue to guide me on a straight path, avoiding temptation and vice. Sure, that flat-screen television in the store would look good hanging on my wall. And that guy who cut me off on the freeway should be bumped from behind to give him a little bit of my irritation. Or maybe I drive 100 miles per hour because I feel like it, want to have the wind whip my hair…
You see, we need laws and rules and order and justice. It IS what separates us from the animals in the jungle or the animals that threaten our well-being. Whether it is 5-year old T-Ball or international terrorism, we have to be conscious and mindful of the rules. Because if we sink to the level of our enemies, if we take a page out of their book and forego law and order and, more importantly, our moral selves, we unwrite our history and bring us closer to what can only be described as H E double hockey-sticks on earth.
And, as a side note, and something I have touched on before—history is written by the victors. If we employ dastardly and morally disgraceful tactics and act like brutes, how will we be portrayed, in the unfortunate instance in which we lose? How do we want history to remember us? How do you want to be remembered? The Nazis didn’t seem to care too much about that. Do you?