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Genocide has become benign

By Nancy Salvato
web posted March 13, 2006

The 8th grade students at my school are studying WWII; correspondingly, they are writing papers about a variety of people, places, and ideas that occurred in Germany during the prelude to the war up until the very end. Similar to my own experience, when I first learned about the travesties that were allowed to occur under Hitler's rule, they are shocked and awed by what they read and hear regarding the Holocaust and the "final solution". I have to wonder if they can truly comprehend the utter horror that the populace was forced to endure during his reign of terror. Certainly, they are trying to understand the material presented to them and assimilate the information. However, even as an adult, I have no personal experience with which to compare –and I am of partial Jewish origin.

Recently, at Overland High School in Colorado, teacher Jay Bennish,

"described capitalism as a system ‘at odds with human rights.' He also said there were ‘eerie similarities" between what Bush said during his Jan. 28 State of the Union address and "things that Adolf Hitler used to say.' The United States was ‘probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth,' Bennish also said on the tape." (Teacher caught in Bush "rant")

Although the teacher defended his comments as delivered to stimulate higher level thinking skills and explained his teaching style as one that is fair and balanced, anyone listening to the tape could make the argument that there was no room for Socratic dialogue and that all the questions posed by Bennish were rhetorical; that he was proselytizing in the classroom.

I'm willing to wager that most of the population born and raised in the United States, under age 45, have no personal experience with mass genocide, yet it still occurs in other parts of the world. There are plenty of examples to choose from when explaining the atrocities allowed to occur as a result of isolationist or appeasement policies. Furthermore, if there was a lesson to be learned from WWII and Hitler, it was that had the United States entered the war earlier, many more lives might have been saved.

Had Bennish not been trying to steer the general opinion of the students toward a specific direction, his "lecture" would have incorporated some of the ideas recently written about in a column entitled, Saddam's Lidice: The dictator's trial reveals a telling historical parallel.

In retaliation for the Czech resistance assassinating deputy SS chief Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler determined to find the killers. Two thousand innocent civilians were murdered. Because two men from Lidice were serving in Britain's air force, it was then decided to make an example of a Czech mining village by gunning down the men, shipping the women to a concentration camp and deporting the remaining children to Germany. Finally, the village was razed. All of the details were broadcast for the world to hear.

In Dujail, Iraq, there was an attempted assassination of Saddam Hussein. He retaliated by arresting 350 villagers. Ahmad Hassan Mohammad testified at Hussein's trial, that a machine like a meat grinder was used to murder the villagers. Dujail also was razed –for an example.

Bennish could have pointed out that there have been eight attempted assassinations of presidents in this country, since 1865, yet there are no records of mass genocides in retaliation for these crimes. (Assassinations and Attempts in U.S. Since 1865)

In Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, written by a high school student, Marci Nafziger and published in the Concord Review, she talks about how under Pol Pot's rule, the suffering endured by the Cambodians was horrific; 1.7 million people died during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. She recommends the movie, The Killing Fields, for anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of what was allowed to occur. I remember saying out loud, after watching that movie; I will never again watch another film of that genre. I couldn't sleep for many nights.

Perhaps Bennish could have shown the movie, Hotel Rwanda, about the United Nation's failure to avert genocide in third world Africa, or Lost Boys of Sudan, about displaced refugees resulting from a conflict between Sudanese Christians and insurgent radical Islamists. Surely, by presenting any or all of the above examples, students would have been less likely to characterize the United States or President Bush as being the most violent nation on earth.

Regardless of whether a person believes in pacifism or just war, the truth is that the United States does not have a monopoly on freedom. People who argue that going into Iraq and Afghanistan and fighting a war against radical Islamists understand this idea. Our freedom will be compromised as long as there are people whose belief system is such that anyone not going along with it must be eliminated. Given the choice, I'd rather fight to maintain freedom than live under the kind of regimes Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad forced on their populace. Ask those lined up to immigrate to this country why they continue to come here.

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2006


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