We’re doing it wrong, this whole ‘never forget’ thing. We are forgetting, as the growing enthusiasm for euthanasia and genetic engineering testify.(1) You start with the idea that some people are better off dead, and kill them, at first only those who we can pretend to plausibly have chosen to die. But come on, that old guy in a vegetative state (2) over there – he’d *want* to die if he were only able to think clearly. And grandma, who’s burning through
my inheritance a lot of health care that could go to someone with a higher quality of life – she may think she doesn’t want to die, but she really does. And those morons over there on the Wrong Side of History, who refuse to get with the program and are causing trouble for the good and enlightened people over here – well, it goes without saying they’re better off dead…
When you set up a template to manufacture something, it’s a given you’ll knock off at least a few rejects until you get it right. The lower the experience level and the harder the engineering, the higher the likelihood of lots of rejects. Genetic engineering is really hard, and we don’t know much about it compared to what we don’t. Those rejects will be what would have been considered people in more primitive times. Letting them live would be contrary to spirit of the whole experiment.
We’re having trouble cultivating even the low threshold of memory required to never forget that Germans – good, solid, dependable, logical Germans, makers of excellent beer, cars and poppy seed strudel, people who loved their children and pets – people remarkably like us! – somehow came to kill about 6 million Jews for the crime of being Jews, and around 6 million others for the crimes of being disabled, gay, or otherwise On The Wrong Side of History. In the name of Progress.
We should never forget that, especially the part about them being mostly likeable people remarkably like us. Germans hold Oktoberfest every year – they only killed 6 million Jews one time! We might add never forgetting that they elected a demagogue who promised to fix things and didn’t let little things like laws and rights get in his way, a fate likely to soon befall us regardless of which of the 3 leading candidates we end up electing.
But these are not the points of this essay. What we really need to never forget is that the Holocaust, for all its horror, is hardly unique. Not only have horrible slaughters been visited on people throughout history for the crime of not being or not doing what their betters wanted, but, even in the 20th century, the Holocaust only ranks as the third most horrible slaughter of innocents in the name of Progress.
Number 1 goes to Maoist China, where at least several 10s of millions died in the Cultural Revolution. We don’t have a better guess, because it happened in China, and they aren’t telling. It seems many Chinese wound up on the Wrong Side of History, and so wound up in the ground.
Number 2 goes to Stalin, or maybe, to expand the timeframe to encompass the whole Russian Revolution project, to the whole Bolshevik Menshevik etc. gang. Stalin slaughtered about 20 million Ukrainians; the Revolution did in a few million more. Again, the capital crimes these victims committed were being on the Wrong Side of History and hindering Progress.
Surely, that many eggs should have resulted in bigger and better omelettes than places people were willing to risk death to leave. Let alone Cuba and Venezuela.
Hitler also believed in History and Progress. His differences with the Russian and Chinese Communists were for the most part what might best be called arcane theological squabbles – on the root ideas that History dictated a new world order, and that they were the chosen leaders of Progress toward that order, and that the people who stood in the way needed to die, they completely agreed.(3)
So we need to expand our memories to encompass the reality that nice Chinese and Russian people can be brought to slaughter millions of their helpless fellow citizens/subjects without feeling all that bad about it. That’s the world we live in. That’s the world we’re trying to save.
Here is the idea: It is a good thing that Holocaust museums have sprung up around the world, and that Auschwitz and other death camps have been preserved, so that we Never Forget. What would kick the whole memory thing up a few notches, and make these more general ideas as outlined above more sticky, is the creation of a set of genocide museums for each of the modern genocides, where each building is built to represent the relative scale of the slaughter. Each museum, furthermore, would be split between one wing which shows all the charming and delightful characteristics of the people doing the slaughtering, while the other half would be dedicated to the victims. The buildings and exhibits should creatively reflect what is known about the murders. They should be arranged largest slaughter first, so the scale of the horrors can be understood at a glance. We should build this in D.C., on or right off the Mall. Thus:
The Museum of Chinese Cultural Revolution: 700,000 square feet, maybe built like a pagoda or chinese temple. On the right as you enter will be a museum of traditional Chinese life circa 1965, with all the respect, honor, learning and refinement that characterizes the best of China. Included should be exhibits on peasant life – rice farming is hard! – and some on the aristocracy and royalty. Include exhibits of children’s toys, feasts and festivals, clothing – you know, the good, human stuff. The restaurant will serve both a basic peasant menu of beans and rice (and, I’m sure, lots of local variations – China’s a big place) and more refined fare. All in all, a great introduction to a great and ancient country.
Then, on the left, will be as detailed an account ot the slaughter of the Cultural Revolution as can be assembled.
The Museum of the Russian Revolution: 250,000 square feet, perhaps a brightly colored onion-domed palace. Same drill: on the right, exhibits of everyday and noble life from the turn of the 20th century. Nested dolls, faberge eggs, colorful clothing. Special emphasis on the life of the kulaks. The restaurant again serves both peasant and high cuisine, again from representative parts of the areas affected.
On the left, we have photos and 1st person accounts of the Ukrainian massacre and the Gulags, with special emphasis on the complicity of the American press in keeping all this out of the news and singing the praises of Stalin – that’s one thing we should Never. Forget.
New Holocaust Museum: 100,000 square feet. Same as above – on the right, emphasize the truth, that the Germans under the Third Reich were not really very different from us, just nice normal people doing their jobs and living their lives. The early supporters of the National Socialists tended to be from the professional classes – your lawyer and dentist were more likely to be members than the dairy farmer or working stiff that lived next door. We could include fun educational activities. (I’d include a section of quotations, where the reader would be asked to guess whether it was said by a Nazi or a contemporary American politician. Hilarity ensues. Dark, bitter hilarity – the best kind!)
Obviously, the buildings – I’m thinking split-timber waddle and daub just maxing out the cute, but I could be convinced to go fairytale castle – should enclose a beer garden! Tutonic beauties with fistfulls of steins! Strudel!
Annnd – on the left side are your standard Holocaust displays.
Maybe we need a refinement: one must go through the section celebrating German (or Russian or Chinese) life *first*, then the restaurant, THEN the slaughter part. The messaging – what to Never Forget – is better that way, and the restaurants are likely to do better business.
And so on. The Armenian Genocide might get a 15,000 square foot display; Pol Pot would get around 30,000 square feet – research would need to be done, the whole exercise might need to be scaled up so that these smaller genocides – the ones around a million or so – would get enough space. Then maybe, at the end, a single large museum with rooms for the yet smaller slaughters.
We could expand the time frame – that would be entertaining! The indians slaughtered by the Conquistadores (as opposed to those killed inadvertently by disease) would get a largish room; the Spanish Inquisition would get a file drawer. The American Indian genocide would, again, get a largish room, even if we rolled the entire 4 centuries into one event. The European witch hunts get a file in a drawer. Again, research needs to be done.
Heck, we could even apply the same principles to other historical horrors. We could build, for example, a Europeans Enslaving Africans museum – which would be dwarfed by the Muslims Enslaving Africans museum next door. (And that last museum would remain under construction to this day.) The Africans Enslaving Africans museum would surely start many an earnest discussion. The possibilities are many!
So, yes, as the Pope visits Armenia last week and Auschwitz later in July, let us Never Forget. But let us up our game, and learn more about what we ought not ever forget.
- What is the point of genetic engineering if some people aren’t genetically better than others?
- Whatever that means – we should also never forget that definitions that are used as lines that may not be crossed tend to get flexible over time. People want stuff that’s off limits, which creates pressures to evolve the definitions. As Rocket and Drax so amply illustrate in Guardians of the Galaxy:
Rocket: Question. What if I see something that I want to take, and it belongs to someone else?
Corpsman Dey: Well you will be arrested.
Rocket: But what if I want it more than the person who has it?
Corpsman Dey: Still illegal.
Rocket: That doesn’t follow. No, I want it more, sir. Do you understand?
[to Gamora who’s laughing]
Rocket: What are you laughing at? Why? I can’t have a discussion with this gentleman?
[he starts following Gamora towards the Milano]
Drax: What if someone does something irksome and I decide to remove his spine?
Corpsman Dey: That’s…that’s actually murder. It’s one of the worst crimes of all, so also illegal.
3. The other material differences, as far as I can tell, are that National Socialists were overt Nationalist, while the Russians lied about being nationalists (the Chinese are about as unrepentant a bunch of nationalists under any scenario as one can find); that the Russians and Chinese accepted the idea that there’s nothing special about industrialists or bankers or generals – any party hack can do that job! – and so slaughtered them all, while Hitler thought maybe those guys knew something, and instead bent them to his will. I assume he’d have eventually gotten around to slaughtering them all, too, once he’d conquered the world, on the well-established principle that all excellence is a threat to the tyrant, but who knows? Other points of disagreement between the National Socialists and International (sic) Communists seem like so much smoke in practice.