At World War Two’s end, the world was still reeling from the shock of a global conflict that resulted in the loss of millions of lives, both military and civilian. However, it was then sent into a deeper shock with the discovery of the Nazi concentration camps in Germany, Poland, and several other locations throughout Eastern Europe.
Slaughter and ill-treatment of non-combatants was always seen as a natural consequence of the social interaction we call ‘war’. Yet the Holocaust seemed to introduce something entirely new to the human psyche, or perhaps I should say the modern human psyche: the deliberate attempt to wipe out an entire group of people from the face of the earth. We now refer to this as genocide. For next fifty years after the war, there was an often repeated phrase that came to symbolize our resolve not to repeat such madness.
Even I remember hearing this many times as a child during the 1980’s. Noted Holocaust historian, Raul Hillberg, attributes the phrase’ origins to signs made by inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp that was liberated in April 1945. What exactly it’s referencing is in debate, but nevertheless was still adopted as the popular slogan for resisting all such similar tragedies.
The last fifteen years has caused this well meaning intention to become at best, questionable: Rwanda in 1994, Kosovo in 1998-99, and now the recent Syrian civil war. The resolve the world community had to prevent similar tragedies seventy -six years ago, has since greatly diminished.
What seems to have taken its place is type of grim-but-practical application, one that is more localized to our own nations or national and global interests. Rwanda had no such global importance or influence. Serbia was largely notable because it occurred within Europe itself and had been a relatively modern society until its war started.
There are those who argue that even though we may feel awful about the Syrian humanitarian crisis, that the western powers are ill-equipped to get involved because of the economic problems many of them are facing, not to mention a decade of international conflict within the region. This has been particularly applied to America.
Without judgment, one wonders if these same factors had applied seventy-two years ago, while there had been confirmed, undeniable proof that whole people groups were being industrially slaughtered, if the world would still say,