‘War Morality, Remembrance’

I have just read V. W. Hughes’ article (Editorial Pages, April 18), “War, Morality and Remembrance.” Given the comment that Gideon Rafael had made the day before (Editorial Pages), “To Dachau--Nobody Out"--"The individual may evade his responsibility, but a nation cannot escape the historic consequences of its actions"--I feel the need to respond to Hughes.

1--The Germans started World War II and initiated the most barbaric atrocities. Let them mourn their soldiers and those who died committing the atrocities. If they wish to condemn and memorialize the fire-bombing of Dresden, let them, even if it distracts them from Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, etc.--though I hope nothing ever does.

2--If Hughes wishes to condemn Hiroshima, let him ponder the possibility that had the world not sorrowfully witnessed the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how much more likely would the use of atomic weapons have been in clashes since 1945? Has not the searing memory of those events held back those who might otherwise have subsequently risked the use of such weapons?

3--He urges us to “draw a line somewhere on pursuing past wrongs.” How can someone draw any line on 13 million helpless, guiltless victims? Their executioners for the most part survived and in fact yet live, but their victims--and all the beautiful children they bore and would have borne--exist not. They were given no chance in the pits and ovens and gas chambers. How can anyone, for one moment, risk a repetition of this by forgetting the full dimensions of that searing nightmare?


4--To compound the problem, our own government was neglectful and, indeed, even guilty of anti-Semitism itself in many quarters. Ought we to hide that shameful part of our history because too many are implicated in the prolongation of that genocide (such as suppressing diplomatic cables about the murders and the refusal to bomb Auschwitz)?

5--"It is time to wipe the slate clean,” said Hughes. Can we, by doing so, wipe away all that pain and blood, all the traumas that survivors and their families still live with? And if we wipe away that slate, do we suppress the killing of the Armenians earlier, for it was the cleansing of that slate that convinced Hitler the world would ignore his Final Solution? And what about the slates here and in Uganda, Guatemala and Cambodia? What about all those killing fields that are repeated because there are many like Hughes who prefer to suppress the past rather than confront it and fight to see that such incredible inhumanity ceases at least?

6--Finally, it is precisely such callousness, insensitivity, indifference and hatred that ensures the repetition of such genocide. Not only is the price of liberty eternal vigilance--the price of tolerance, equality and survival is remembrance, remembrance, everlasting remembrance and, with it, unflagging vigilance. To do otherwise is to ensure that other Hitlers will arise and weasel their way to power and that others will be helpless victims.



San Bernardino

Barkan is professor of history and coordinator of ethnic studies at California State University, San Bernardino.