Even Elie Wiesel Doesn’t Get It

December 17, 2008

[First published January 27, 2005] From Colleague: Elie Wiesel is a thoughtful and admirable person — whose witness to the horrors of democide is powerful and compelling. His recent (January 26, 2005) LATimes op-ed (link here) is moving and provocative . . . but even he doesn’t get it!

He asks “what made Auschwitz possible?” An important question, whose answers can be complex, theologically provocative, inspiring of despair or hope or both. Or the answer can be brutally simple and practical. We can decide that we don’t care “why” Auschwitz happened. We can say that we really don’t care about the political fanaticism or ideological hatred that motivated the holocaust. We can decide not to castigate God, or the lack of God. We simply acknowledge that humans all have the potential to be incredibly evil. Wiesel should not think this is an “abdication of mankind” — rather an acknowledgement that evil is one thing that is mankind: Jeremiah in the Torah reminds us that the heart is deceitful above all things, and Matthew in the New Testament quotes Jesus that out of the heart come evil thoughts. Evil simply is, and evil does terrible things. Enough said.

But this is not abdication or abandonment of hope. For the evil that lurks in the hearts of men needs something to translate into mass death, and that something is Power. And we do know how to take care of Power and deny it. A very effective way is simply democratic politics, where people — not tyrants — decide things; where government is chosen by the consent of the vote-holders, not the coercion of the gun-holder, where rights are protected by laws, not the whims of man. Democracy is, after all, a potent method of nonviolence. Hitler may have lost two elections, but he was able to maneuver into an appointment as chancellor and then to seize the power to rule by bullets — the structural and cultural weaknesses of the Weimar institutions of government failed to preserve and protect democracy, and so emerged a man with a horrible dream — and the Power to awaken the dream to reality.

While the resulting Holocaust holds a unique and special place in our consciousness, it is of the same category of mass murder and genocide as Stalin’s gulag, Mao’s ant-hill, Pol Pot’s killing fields, Rwanda’s nightmare of a decade ago, and today’s Darfur. In each case someone — for whatever reason — with a dream and the Power to put it in place over anyone’s objections, caused death and death and death.

We can ponder, as does Wiesel, whether the killers were human, but the process only perplexes us, and deceives us into thinking only “evil” people can do such things — answers that do nothing to solve the problem. Wiesel despairs over the guilty, and hopes about the survivors. Fine. But working to achieve democracy actually does something to solve the problem, by separating evil dreams from the capability to make them real. And promoting democracy, and protecting it, is the best solution to No More Auschwitzes.

Links of Note

\”20th” http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DBG.CHAP1.HTM”>”20th Century Democide” Chapter 1 to Death By Government (1994) By R.J. Rumme

“Power kills, absolute Power kills absolutely. This new Power Principle is the message emerging from my previous work on the causes of warHYPERLINK “http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DBG.CHAP1.HTM#1″1 and this book on genocide and government mass murder–what I call HYPERLINK “http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DBG.CHAP2.HTM”democide (link here))–in this century. The more power a government has, the more it can act arbitrarily according to the whims and desires of the elite, the more it will make war on others and murder its foreign and domestic subjects. The more constrained the power of governments, the more it is diffused, checked and balanced, the less it will aggress on others and commit democide. At the extremes of Power, totalitarian communist governments slaughter their people by the tens of millions, while many democracies can barely bring themselves to execute even serial murderers.”

”Kofi Annan and the genocide in Rwanda 1994 (1/27/05) By Linda Lelvern

Mervern writes to correct Reeves’ (who I linked to in my last blog) charaterization of Kofi Annan’s role in the Rwanda genocide:

“I am writing in response to the message posted by Eric Reeves today in which he apportions blame for the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and singles out Kofi Annan as being particularly deserving of blame.

As some list members will know I have spent ten years investigating and writing about the circumstances of the genocide in Rwanda. In my two books on the genocide I look closely at the role of the decision-making within the UN, and most particularly at “UN policy” towards Rwanda 1993-1994 formulated during secret and informal meetings of the Security Council . . . .

“To blame international civil servants at the UN for the failure over Rwanda is rather ridiculous . . . .

“In both London, Washington and in Paris there are politicians and civil servants who took decisions that cost the lives of an incalculable number of people. They should bear full responsibility for those
decisions, though it is unlikely they ever will.

“The failure over Rwanda is one of the greatest scandals of the last century.”

Yes, Linda, and now we have Darfur, Sudan, and North Korea.