We commemorated the 60th anniversary of a crime against humanity by remembering the German National Socialist Party death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is necessary that the world recalls terrible actions. By recalling, we say, we grow as a human race. By remembering we make certain that these events will not be repeated. At least so we say. But do our actions match our words? The 60th memorial of Auschwitz is an appropriate time to ask this question.
One of the very foundation reasons for formation of the United Nations was to create a safeguard institution that would act as a check, an international prophylaxis, to prevent a reoccurrence of the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. The watchword at the UN was "never again." We were as a world community of nations, as a human race, never again going to stand by idly and watch a dictator oppress his countrymen and others. It is important to remember that the first victims of Hitler’s maniacal killings were fellow German citizens. Primarily Jews but also the infirm, mentally ill, Gypsies, and others considered by the Nazi regime to be untermensch or sub-human, thereby not warranting the concerns or safeguards accorded ‘real’ people.
Hitler was not alone in his beliefs in these terrible World War II days. Many Europeans including a significant number in France and Poland – states and cultures considered refined and enlightened – gladly cooperated in rounding up Jews and packing them in rail cars for the brutal, one-way trip to the death camps. Some countries – Holland is a notable example – risked death themselves to protect their fellow countrymen who happened to be Jewish. But to their everlasting shame a hard core of anti-Semitism continues to permeate the mindset of many Europeans.
Across the world in the Pacific, Hitler’s Axis partner Japan was perpetrating its own version of atrocities against humanity. For more than forty years Japanese colonial masters brutalized the people of Korea and Taiwan. As the Japanese Imperial Army marched to conquest throughout China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaya, and Southeast Asia it brought with it rapacity that rivaled that of the feared SS and Gestapo in Europe. While the Japanese never achieved the level of industrialized, mechanized efficiency of the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau that typified the German ideal killing machine, they made up for it by sheer intensity.
Japanese "scientists" conducted pseudo medical experiments every bit as horrific as those of the infamous Mengele and other Germans. General Ishii and his terrible Unit 731 performed vivisections on live prisoners, removed or intentionally damaged healthy organs, inflicted unbearable pain, subjected prisoners to extremes of cold and heat, deliberately infected them with fatal diseases, and performed every imaginable barbaric act on helpless humans in the name of "science." To the everlasting shame of the Allies these criminals were not prosecuted following the War. But that is a story for another day.
Recoiling from this world-wide horror, the world, through the offices of the UN made its "never again" pledge. But before the words were far out of their mouths they began to forget what happened or to rationalize their reactions to new horrors that erupted. The UN watched with unconscionable silence while horror after horror crossed the globe. Stalin and Mao killed millions and were greeted with stony silence. There were security or trade issues involved and it was necessary, the rationalizers said, to separate the issues and deal with them accordingly. Others found ideological reasons to forgive or overlook the transgressions.
In the Middle East the emerging State of Israel was subject to unrelenting terror and overt military attacks from Arab neighbors. Here one would think of all places, the UN and the world could act. But it was not to be. For decades democratic Israel has been unmercifully criticized while the Arab states inflict the worst acts on their own people and their neighbors. And the world gives them a pass.
The continent of Africa has been the scene of one after another ghastly massacres, each with uncountable numbers of casualties. A Wall Street Journal reporter, himself an African-American, wrote that he could determine the intensity of the carnage occurring upriver in Rwanda by counting the corpses that flowed past him. In Zimbabwe an erratic dictators forbad distribution of US food to his starving countrymen because European Greens told him wild tales about genetically modified foods. In Sudan, Somalia, Western Sahara and other hell-holes innocents die by the tens of thousands because of government depravity. Where is the outraged world? The UN only began to act in Darfur because then Secretary of State Colin Powell shamed Secretary General Kofi Anan to accompany him on a visit.
In Asia "minor" communist states like Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam inflict intense human rights violations upon their own people but the world ignores it. In the Middle East Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia oppress their citizens and deny them fundamental rights. It is a depressing scene, but perhaps change is in the wind. In his Inaugural Speech President Bush sounded a clarion call for universal liberty and freedom. During her Senate confirmation testimony new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that it was no longer acceptable to trade "stability for liberty." To achieve such an objective would require a total cultural change from the Foreign Service Officer community. Powell and his predecessors were unable to make this happen. It is Rice’s challenge.
Meanwhile, despite the almost endless litany of countries participating in mass murder, few are reminiscent of the worst offenders, Nazi Germany, Fascist Japan, and Soviet Russia. Among an undistinguished list of modern tyrants, Kim Jong Il of North Korea stands apart as one who seeks to recreate the organized, efficient death camps that characterized the culture of death of the mid-20th century. Kim has expanded the gulag system that his father, dictator Kim Il Sung, put in place originally. He has intensified research and development into chemical and biological weapons in addition to nuclear arms.
Within North Korea Japanese war criminal General Ishii is treated like a hero. Credible reports have emerged from former prisoners, camp guards and scientists of experimentation on human prisoners with deadly gasses. Gas chambers have been constructed so that the comparative lethality of various chemical agents can be observed. Entire families have been killed for the sake of pseudo-science in order that Kim Jong Il can threaten his neighbors with mass death. Biological poisons are routinely "field tested" on political prisoners to determine their effectiveness as killing agents.
Until the world reacts to such crimes against humanity with sufficient vigor and strength and removes regimes that commit and perpetuate these horrors, then the words "never again" are a mockery. On this occasion when we remember Auschwitz, the sacrificed lives of millions of innocents demand that we the living hold criminal regimes accountable for their actions and free those held in bondage by them.