An Honest Assessment of Evil

Some years ago, I raised questions about the place of the Holocaust, and Auschwitz in particular, in debate regarding the problem of evil. It was my contention then–one which I continue to stand by–that the Holocaust did not represent any special evil, any new sort of paradigm shattering expression of the depravity of human behavior. In fact, the truly shocking nature of the Holocaust was precisely in that it was consistent with the overarching history of humanity’s gross inhumanity.

In reading Vernard Eller’s Christian Anarchy in conjunction with the Anarchy in May series, I came across similar arguments he was making with regard to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though I thought it best to delay sharing them so as not to overwhelm readers, the arguments bare reiterating and Eller argues them well:

With zealotism, things get worse rather than better. It turns out that the black heart of the black West is the United States of America. “More than any other event in history the worldwide human experience of those August days in 1945 (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was a recapitulation of the primeval Fall.”

…Why would it not be nearer to speaking the truth in love to say some things such as these: “In World War II, every combatant that possessed atomic capability used it. That some did not possess it is of no moral credit to them. T he evidence is that all would have liked to have it and would have used it if they had had it—as would the Romans (or the Zealots) if it could have been theirs in the first century. So where is this quantum jump in moral evil?

“Whereas Hiroshima was destroyed with a single bomb, other cities in other nations and other wars have suffered similar devastation from conventional (if not primitive) weapons—it just took a bit longer to do it. So where is the quantum jump in moral evil?

“Although we are not obligated to agree, we are obligated seriously to consider and thoughtfully to respond to President Truman’s rationale for using the bomb. His explanation cannot simply be waved aside as disingenuous.”

…”That the Hiroshima bomb was not ‘history’s most evil event’ as the zealots make it out to be is shown clearly by its context. The bomb was not used as a first strike but as one blow in a raging war in which every combatant already was throwing everything he had. And the U.S. had not started but had entered only under the provocation of what was indeed a dastardly first strike. The U.S. purpose in using the bomb clearly was to achieve a surrender and a cessation of hostilities, and was in no way a genocide of the Japanese people…”

Now I am opposed to war—all war, including the U.S. involvement in World War II. But in my anti-war manual of the Bible I find not one little bit of this business of playing fast and loose with the facts in order to single out one nation’s “war demon” as the special recipient of true Christianity’s righteous rage. If find it suggesting, rather, that from Cain on, all war has been very much the same, a manifestation of the same spirit of sin no matter who’s doing it how—even if it should be the “peace people’s” war against the U.S. Government.

The same, of course, should be said for the Holocaust, and Eller’s argument should give Christian’s pause as they attempt to single out Nazi Germany’s “war demon” as somehow more atrocious than their own. After all, the same war which saw the internment of Jews in Germany saw the internment of the Japanese in America. The same war that saw Hitler exterminate six million Jews over the course of twelve years saw the Americans exterminate seventy thousand Japanese civilians in a single day. You do the math: which nation was the more efficient executioner of non-combatants?

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One thought on “An Honest Assessment of Evil

  1. […] by the kind of special pleading that surrounds the Holocaust. There is no villain like Hitler, no enormity like the Holocaust, and no racism like antisemitism. That, in the end, is the kind of lesson we were taught by the […]

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