Sensible horror

Eliana Johnson at National Review takes issue with a line from President Obama’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, in which he said that Holocaust survivors “witnessed humanity at its very worst, and know too well the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence”:

The idea that all violence is ???senseless??? violence is one that has taken deep root on the left; it???s also, unfortunately, one that poses a major impediment to understanding the world.

Nazism may have been an ideology to which the United States was ??? and to which the president is ??? implacably opposed, but it is hardly ???senseless.??? By the early 1930s, the Nazi party had hundreds of thousands of devoted members and repeatedly attracted a third of the votes in German elections; its political leaders campaigned on a platformcomprising 25 non-senseless points, including the ???unification of all Germans,??? a demand for ???land and territory for the sustenance of our people,??? and an assertion that ???no Jew can be a member of the race.??? Suffice it to say, many sensible Germans were persuaded.

On September 12, 2012, President Obama also lamented the ???the kind of senseless violence that took the lives??? of four Americans in Benghazi. That, you may recall, is the day the president supposedly said the murders occurred as a result of a non-senseless terrorist attack carried out by jihadists.

This sanitized version of events, both past and present, is surely more comforting. It???s also truly senseless.

This is my great peeve about the modern treatment of “fascism,” which is primarily used as a devil word against people the Left doesn’t like… without any signs that the witch doctors invoking this curse have a clue about what fascism was, how it took root in different countries, and most importantly, why it was bad.

The Holocaust and World War II are not sufficient answers to the latter question.  They were ghastly symptoms of fascism (and its intersection with other dark historical forces,) but fascism itself was well under way before the large-scale bloodshed began.  As with many other diseases, the symptoms of fascism are what kills you… but it’s difficult to fight the disease without understanding its true nature and causes.  As Johnson notes, calling it “senseless” is pretty much the opposite of making a serious effort to understand and combat it.  Nazi Germany becomes a hurricane with jackboots, not a horror story that began with a lot of sharp people following an economic and social agenda they found intellectually compelling.

Not all of those people lived in Germany, or in any of the other Axis powers.  With a bit of artful repackaging, the ideas of the Twentieth Century fascists retain disturbing appeal today, especially if Nazi Germany is kept out of the discussion.  And most of the other ideological horrors afflicting mankind make a certain degree of sense to their practitioners.  

In the early Eighties there was a chilling novel and afterschool special called The Wave, based on a real-life teacher’s attempt to answer a question young people often ask about the Nazis: “How could people willingly participate in such a senseless horror?”  The kids are encouraged to see for themselves by setting up their own little fascist experiment.  It all seems so… sensible at first, but it doesn’t end well.  It never does.