From an article in Arts & Letters today:
Whitney Harris: I am totally convinced that Adolf Hitler was only a name that symbolized the absolute and worldwide breakdown of morality in the 20th century. It started in 1914 with World War I when everyone killed everyone and no moral standards remained. Revenge was the order of the day and any excuse was permissible. And afterwards? What did the communists do in Russia? And the Japanese in China?
Sixty years ago on Sunday, the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial got under way to bring leading Nazis to justice. Whitney Harris was one of the principle figures for the prosecution.
Read the interview, "I Hadn't the Slightest Idea of the Scale of Genocide."
The other day I met an old aquantaince in the park. We were both walking our dogs; there was a light dusting of snow; I recognized her, even in her ankle length wool coat, by her handmade felt hat. Her son had taken a year off between high school and university and with some money he inherited travelled in Europe where he had many wonderful adventures. In Italy, however, he met a man at a train station who offered to buy him a coffee. When he came to, he realized he'd been raped. The man had put drugs into the coffee and taken him back to his apartment. The woman and her son met in Switzerland later that day, as they had planned, and when his mother found out what happened she went berserk, took him to the hospital for tests, and has helped him in every way she could to cope with this violation. She attributes the degree of callousness and usury of those who victimize others to the general breakdown of morality world-wide. Who can disagree?
Here is a riveting first-hand account of a survivor of the London Tube Bombings earlier this year: Rachael from North London, in a post entitled, Well, I watched the documentary. She writes extraordinarily well and with a poet's sensibility. To read an account like hers is unforgettable; it changes you, your understanding.
Is a lack of morality the main, fundamental, biggest underlying problem in the world today? Is that what causes such widescale violence and terrorism? Has there in fact been a breakdown of morality this century?
Widespread atrocities are not a unique phenonema to the 20th c at all; they go back to earliest recorded history with the invasions of the Indo-Europeans in the Ancient Middle East up to genocides like Rwanda. The only difference in this century is the deadliness of the weaponry and the scale of devastation made possible by our technology. The idea of imposing a morality could potentially become another type of "oppression." It's perhaps impossible to fathom a solution to the irrationality of violence other than to keep working at understanding it, and trying to prevent it.
I don't believe in absolute forces of good and evil; but I do think that there is a malaise, a death-wish, a despair underlying violence that musn't be succumbed to - that it's important to keep fighting that dissolution in our own lives, our little plots, in our own ways, through understanding, and through wanting other, safer alternatives in ours and everyone's lives.
Aggression is part of the human spirit. It's not going to go away. But there can be refusal to do things that are deliberately harmful to others, to be conscientious objectors.
This really is a huge topic...