Why do American leaders who vow “never again” repeatedly fail to stop genocide? ~Samantha Powers, 2002, A Problem from Hell, America and the Age of Genocide~
The Problem of Evil will be the fundamental problem of postwar intellectual life in Europe…as death became the fundamental problem after the last war. ~Hannah Arendt, 1945~
I’ve been thinking about evil again lately. Sometimes it wakes me up at 3:00 AM when my kindly husband gets up and fetches a glass of milk for me from the kitchen. I tell him I’m in my second childhood, having nightmares and need my middle-of-the night-milk. I’d blame the pain killers if I hadn’t stopped taking them two weeks ago. No, its me.
In 1965 after my sixth pregnancy in four years and third childbirth, I fell apart with what I know now was a severe postpartum depression. I awakened my then husband who did not know what to do. So, he a non-believer, called my priest whose response to the priest’s question, “Is she always like this?” was “I don’t know.”
I was a rock in those days. The rock is still there, worn away and flaked by time but stronger, if a bit weathered and containing a few replacement parts.
Once in a while, however, something breaks through and disturbs me mightily. Lately, its been the genocidal atrocities in Kurdistan, i.e. Iraq.
There are those here in America and other parts of the world who will believe fellow humans, especially “religious” ones could never do what some news reports suggest. Crucifying fathers, raping and killing mothers and young girls, beheading children. No one could be so evil.
When WWII ended, General Eisenhower personally visited the concentration camps the Allies uncovered. He said he wanted to be a witness to that which some would later deny. Today there are those who deny these camps existed, let alone that fellow humans carried out the atrocities of which they are accused.
How do people convince themselves that evil is not a problem. How do they seeing evil, look the other way, close their eyes and say we can do nothing? How did Americans develop a “fortress America” mentality?
In The Long Shadow: Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century historian and critic David Reynolds explores the process by which Americans from the US Civil War to the Cold War and beyond, became isolationists, believing America had no role in world affairs.
From the first days of the Republic, isolationists and war protestors have lived among us. It is so easy to turn away and pretend atrocities have nothing to do with us. It is so easy to protest war.
Excepting George Patton, almost nobody likes war. Many think the solution to handling bullies is to withdraw and do nothing. Just ignore them, mom said when I complained about the boys who dogged my sister and me after school every day, throwing rocks with remarkable aim. We were Catholic and Yankees, and in their eyes the devils, or so they had been told.
In 1861, Americans were so opposed to war, if South Carolina hadn’t fired on Fort Sumter, the Civil War might never have happened. Some revisionist historians claim the Civil War was about slavery, but it wasn’t. Slavery became a cause about half-way through the war.
Ditto WWI where Americans elected peacenik Woodrow Wilson president, and found themselves embroiled in a conflict they had sought to avoid. Reynolds suggests the resulting Versailles Treaty to end the conflict was timid beyond belief in the assignment of war guilt. Thank goodness FDR (who disagreed with Wilson on many issues) was president when WWII began. FDR was a man of great courage and probably our finest president. He stood up to his critics and did the right thing.
Over the years, my respect for FDR has increased exponentially. He hated war, but he had the courage to stand up to the pollsters and go to war when it was necessary for America and the world.
You may not like it but evil is real and ignoring it will not make it go away.