At the end of World War 1 a twice decorated German war hero, Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler, like many Germans despaired. He felt betrayed by his county’s own leaders and struggled to make sense of what had happened. Four long years of bitter conflict had resulted in the destitution of the country he loved and the punishing reparative payments demanded of the German people seemed to be a recipe for perpetual German misery for generations to come. Something had to be done.
The reasons for Hitler’s rise to power are many and complex and I don’t propose to go into them all here. However it is undeniable that the bitterness and austerity that Germany reaped from the Treaty of Versailles was more than a little instrumental. Populations under threat are easy meat for nationalist ideologies and the German people between the wars were as ripe for National Socialism as a modern European state ever could be. Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi) party provided a source of German national pride, a convenient (and entirely fictional) mythology that supported the idea of Aryan supremacy and a governmental mechanism with the infrastructure to bring back prosperity to a newly positive Reich. The Nazis also provided a wealth of convenient scapegoats to explain the tragedy of Versailles – including the Jews.
By 1939 the world returned to war as Hitler sought to reclaim German dominion over the lands lost in Versailles 20 years earlier. An almost inevitable consequence of the terms that officially ended World War 1. The war to end war had in fact kick started World War 2 (albeit on a slow burn).
The Jewish holocaust was a vindictive and ideologically driven persecution of a demographic group, perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the people that Hitler and his fellows held responsible for the German defeat in 1918. It was, they asserted, Jewish conspiracy that undermined German resolve and brought about their destruction in the French trenches. The Jews, aided and abetted by the Communists were to blame and they must be eradicated. The aim was to exterminate all European Jews, an endeavour that the Nazi extermination machine embarked upon with chilling efficiency in the early 1940s.
The horrors of the holocaust inflicted upon Jews, Communists, Non-Aryan’s, Non-heterosexuals, Gypsies and others is well known. It was mass murder and inhuman slavery on a genuinely industrial scale. And it has taken its toll on the population of the world. The vengeance Hitler wrought upon the Jews didn’t only condemn contemporary Jews though – it has affected a quite different population and indeed, continues to do so even today. The ‘war to end wars’ continues to threaten world peace a whole century on.
At the end of World War 2 another knee-jerk reaction took place. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created to consider the question of creating a new home for the Jews within existing Palestine. Just as the treaty of Versailles concerned itself with compensating the French (and others) the UN wanted to compensate the Jews and the creation of a new state seemed appropriate. The propaganda slogan at the time was “A peopleless land for a landless people” a slogan that conveniently ignored the presence of Palestinians who had lived on that land for many generations.
But just as the Versailles treaty had been a knee-jerk reaction to the horrors of WW1, the creation of the state of Israel seems to have been a knee-jerk reaction to the holocaust of WW2. A knee-jerk reaction with far-reaching consequences.
Palestinians have suffered at the hands of Jewish settlers and the Israeli army ever since. The resentments engendered by the Israeli/Palestinian land grab, itself in breach of the UN’s Charter which includes the national right to self-determination (Article 19), are no less significant in 2014. Indeed, as I prepare this blog post prior to publication on August 4th 2014 I can see news reports of a massacre of Palestinian civilians in a public market in Gaza. The massacre seems to have been perpetrated by Israeli soldiers leaving at least 10 dead and more than 50 seriously injured. This is just the latest in a string of media reports regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and the disempowered Palestinians. The history of this conflict has been ongoing since 1947 and represents an ironic persecution no different in intent than the holocaust the Jews themselves endured in WW2.
It’s unfortunate that the sacrifice of so many young lives in the 1914-18 war led directly to the rise of Nazism and World War 2. The end of WW2 led to a land grab that led directly to the current conflict in the Middle East and the religious and geopolitical tensions engendered by that struggle are themselves spreading throughout the world. Those tensions are contributing to the rise of nationalism and racial and religious intolerance in many modern countries. Society is polarising once again and as it does so the risks increase.
The world is standing by and watching the assaults on Palestinians today just as it stood by whilst Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938. The international community, for all its fine words is dithering when it should take action. Political alliances are viewed as more expedient than humanitarian principle in direct contrast to the fine words and hypocritical posturing of nations such as the UK and the USA. We should condemn Israel but we don’t – perhaps because Israel is historically our ally. And yet the atrocities Israel is committing against the Palestinians is little different in principle than the atrocities committed against the Jews by the Nazis during WW2. The scale is different but the suffering remains the same. Death and persecution are death and persecution whatever the political context may be. Appeasement is appeasement and it always comes at a price – a price often paid by the most vulnerable. Just as the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler in 1938 so the international community appeases Israel in 2014. In 1938 the price was paid by the Czechs. In 2014 it is paid by the Palestinians.
The time has come for the world to learn the lessons of the past and to honour the promise made to all those who sacrificed their lives in the Great War. When individuals, not nations decide not to fight any more; when politicians of all nations unite in the belief that integrity and opposition to persecution and apartheid are matters of principle rather than of expediency; when ordinary citizens accept that ‘everybody needs to be somewhere’ then maybe we can fulfil that promise. Maybe, a century on from 1914 we really could end wars.
In another blog series I’m exploring the evolutionary and instinctive traits of human nature including territorialism and group violence. However the fact that we evolved a certain set of traits doesn’t mean we must remain slaves to them. That’s just the naturalistic fallacy. We have the opportunity to fight against our lower natures.