SHIRKING RESPONSIBILITY BRINGS HOLOCAUSTS, SAYS THE FRENCH COUNCIL OF STATE. HISTORY CONFIRMS IT.
Motivation: It may seem strange to worry about the concept of responsibility in an historical context as the world economic system is imploding. But the relationships are direct, philosophically and historically. The present catastrophe has been pervasively caused by a lack of responsibility. Just like the Holocaust of the Jews, and many other holocausts before or since. Responsibility is about responding. Without a mental response, no law can be enacted, let alone made appropriate to the world we live in.
Abstract: The Romans, or more exactly a Roman empress (“Augusta”), proclaimed the notion of “State of Law”. That meant a State where no one was above the law, neither the sovereign nor the most humble subject, as she pointed out. And ever since that notion has held up in Western Europe, most of the time. An extension of it is to avoid plutocracy, and any society where the elite’s fate is disjoint from that of the common person. Nevertheless, this is not enough.
Bouts with irresponsible fascism in the twentieth century have shown that having a State of Law is not enough. Nor is it enough to have the elite share the fate of the commons. The Nazis respected the appearance of the law, but they navigated around it. In the end. They came down with their ship of state. What was absent in their universe was RESPONSIBILITY. Under Nazism, people became mentally inert. Without responsibility, intelligence itself is compromised. Absent enough intelligence, war is the only outcome.
To fully support civilization, in these increasingly delicate times, one needs a STATE OF RESPONSIBILITY. Although responsibility looks backwards, there are huge consequences, looking forward.
This essay logically hyperlinks wildly different concepts. It also uses very important true facts of history that are generally ignored. Such an ignorance of major facts falsifies historical analysis. Thus, the following essay may be found shocking, mystifying, and impenetrable. All the more since American plutocracy, the master mind of the present economic crisis, comes out of the following analysis, looking worse than ever. But this essay was meant to serve the truth, not the plutocracy.
Overview: How does one get a holocaust? There are two views on the subject, and they are both valid, and complement each other. One view, the deep view, first loudly proclaimed by the Romans, the Christians, and Sade (and to some extent Hugo and Nietzsche, among others), is that the nature of man is (in part) evil.
The other view is not as fundamental, but it is of great practical importance. It explains how otherwise apparently decent people enact evil. Hannah Arendt, an upper class Prussian Jew, had to explain to herself why so many people she respected and loved, many of them Jews, and Jewish organizations, made the Nazi terror and holocaust possible, by collaborating with it (instead of vociferously opposing it). Arendt came out with the theory of the “banality of evil” (naturally, she was hated for it).
The way “banality of evil” works is this: by taking no responsibility, by acting real cool, by being very careful to not confront anybody, and being really very “bipartisan”, and very much beyond partisanship, one is able to take no moral stance whatsoever. Under the Nazis, most Germans acted cool, uncontroversial, apolitical, and did what they were told to do, and thought what they were told to think, all of it, low key. It was the exact opposite of etymological responsibility.
Eichmann, the well known mass murderer, indeed insisted, unbelievably, that he was so cool about everything that he was bipartisan, both Nazi and Zionist (!). His guiding light was the infinitely boring and robotic Prussian philosopher, Kant. When he took Yiddish lessons from a Jewish girl, Eichmann paid her handsomely, and he intervened many times to save Jewish friends (OK, some of them were SS).
In 2009, the French Council of State decided to do something about all this moral murkiness by proclaiming the responsibility of the State, down to its smallest action. The Council basically said that there was nothing banal about collaborating with evil. Collaborating with evil is evil, down to the last spark of irresponsibility. There is no navigation around evil. One can proclaim a new notion, that of the STATE OF RESPONSIBILITY. Whereas the Qur’an, or Kant, or Hitler, have it that superiors of apparent moral standards should be obeyed strictly, responsibility pays attention to the issues themselves.
“Responsibility” etymologically comes from offering chants and libations, in reply to something. Something happens, and one makes a show of noticing it, one addresses it in loud voice, even with chants, and by raising glasses and drinking in its honor. Thus RESPONSIBILITY IS THE OPPOSITE OF COOL, it’s about loudly reacting with great demonstrations. Responsibility mobilizes the mind. Irresponsibility puts it to sleep. Sleep is easy, mobilization is hard.
In the first month of the Obama administration, the question of unlawfulness in the Bush administration came up. Obama replied that nobody was above the law. Good. That was cool. Meanwhile, American flying robots kept on swooping over Pakistan, and bombed, and killed innocent people in Pakistan. Nothing to celebrate, nothing to make chants and libations about. In other words, it is irresponsible to rain death on Pakistan. (And it is morally indefensible, and thus a strategic contradiction, since the USA came to be fighting in the name of morality, but that is another story. In this essay I do not address morality, but the mental alertness that makes it possible to start with, be it as a theory, or as a practice.)
Should one accept the PRINCIPLE OF RESPONSIBILITY to guide civilization –the principle that issues should be loudly reacted to with great demonstrations– immediate practical consequences will unfold. Even in the present financial crisis. Should one elude the severity and the imminence of the crisis’ possible socioeconomic and diplomatic consequences, the US administration would be shirking its responsibility
THE HOLOCAUST HAPPENED BECAUSE NOBODY TOOK RESPONSIBILITY.
The Council of State, the ultimate recourse of French citizens against the French administration, was asked by a superior court about the responsibility of the French State during the Holocaust. The Council established that the “responsibility” of the “French State” is “engaged because of actions that, not resulting from a direct pressure of the occupying power, have allowed or facilitated the deportation from France of persons victim of anti-Semitic persecutions”. The Council used the present tense. (See addendum for mistranslation and anti-French sentiment from Associated Press.)
This is remarkable, be it only because there was no constitutional French State during the occupation of France. Moreover, a lot of the victims were not French. So what is the French Council of State trying to teach? Well, a very important point about responsibility and civilization. The Council of State stood up and proclaimed that whatever the excuses, the French State was responsible for anti-Semitism in World War Two France “not resulting from a DIRECT pressure of the occupying power”. The Council embraced a notion of collective responsibility, throughout the structure of the State, and throughout its history. It does not matter that it happened more than 56 years before. It does not matter that the French State was Hitler’s one and foremost deliberate, determined enemy. It does not matter that France protected hundreds of thousand of foreign Jews. It does not matter if it happened under another administration. There was still the administrative structure of the defunct Third French republic that the Nazis had just destroyed. The State is responsible as an institution, forever, and has to recognize it, whenever and wherever.
The affirmation of responsibility of the State has philosophical and political consequences. But let’s go back to history. France confronted Hitler in August 1939 about Poland. Hitler, in his cowardice, allied himself with… Stalin. The USSR promised oil to Hitler. But France was undeterred and dragged Britain into it. Hitler attacked Poland, and France and Britain declared war. The Nazis were not ready for war, and their rage was astronomical.
Meanwhile the good old USA was trying to get out of its Great Depression II by making an economic, plutocratic and de facto military alliance with Hitler. Cool, and irresponsible.
A QUICK RECAPITULATION OF HOW THE FALL OF FRANCE ALLOWED THE NAZIS TO MASSACRE JEWS:
So let me be blunt. In 1940, France had only one ally, unprepared Britain. The USA, the USSR, and the Nazis were all actively collaborating, against the French republic. Many American plutocrats positively hated France whose Popular Front led by the Jewish PM Blum, had introduced a lot socialist legislation (the 40-hour week, paid holidays for the workers, collective bargaining on wage claims and some nationalizations). France was a terrible example, that the American plutocrats did not want American workers to follow. Nothing would be nicer if their friends the fascists would invade France. And it is just what happened, thanks to huge technology and industrial transfers made by American plutocrats to the Nazis.
France held ten months, and then fell, well before Britain was ready. The Jews, among dozens of millions of others, died from that. Let me explain.
After Hitler came to power in 1933, the French republic prepared for war. The “minister of war” Maginot built at enormous cost his famous line of impregnable fortresses (unfortunately Belgium reneged on building its part in 1937, under USA influence, and that is where the Nazi army broke through). France also built three times as many tanks as the Nazis. France also launched a nuclear weapon program. And But at Munich, France lost her one and only prepared ally, Czechoslovakia, without firing a shot. (That was irresponsible.)
As the persecutions against Jews increased in central Europe, hundreds of thousands of Jews took refuge in France. Finally Hitler, buttressed by Wall Street, numerous US corporations and US plutocrats, plus Stalin and its Soviet Union, attacked Poland for oil. France (with an unprepared Great Britain in tow) declared war, and attacked with 45 divisions on a narrow front squeezed between Luxembourg and the Rhine, in the mountains, smacked in an impassable part of the fortified “Westwall”, the Siegfried line.
The Nazis found the going hard: the obsolete Polish army resisted fiercely. US plutocrats sent crucial technical supplies so that Hitler’s Air Force could keep on flying. Ten months later, during a very successful Franco-British offensive against the Nazis in Norway, a succession of astounding circumstances led to the unbelievable, sudden and very brutal fall of France. In 5 weeks of hard fighting, 185,000 soldiers died (and a great number of civilians, many strafed on the jammed roads). It was the hardest battle of the Western front in W.W.II.
THE CEASE FIRE OF JUNE 1940 BETWEEN FRANCE AND THE NAZIS:
In June 1940, the Nazi tanks were all the way down to Bordeaux. In an elaborated deception, the French nuclear program, its team and materials had escaped to Britain (the Nazis were led to believe that they had sunk it all, but the boats had been substituted). More than half of France had been overrun by the Nazi army, most of the French army in France had been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people had been killed in a few weeks. Nevertheless, France had an empire spanning the planet, and quite a few forces in it. The French government could have fled to North Africa, then either French territory (Algeria) or under French protectorate (Morocco, Tunisia), and fight from there. It was feasible: the French and British navies could lock the Mediterranean. Although the French and British air forces had suffered enormous losses, France still had hundreds of modern planes, and Hitler’s Air Force had lost 2,000 planes. Churchill had an even better idea: joint nationality with Britain.
The idiotic French Prime Minister, influenced by his anti-English mistress, instead agreed to a ceasefire with the Nazis. It was not peace: Germany was still the enemy, and millions of French soldiers were kept in captivity. But the armed forces stayed where they were, so half of metropolitan France was not occupied by the Nazis (it would be two years later).
The cease fire of France with Hitler would have been a grievous mistake if the USA had been on the side of Britain and France: then France could have easily held North Africa. But as it was, and quite to the contrary, the “USA”, in its globality as a country and a plutocracy, was busy supporting Hitler’s war effort.
But the French were dispirited from having to fight the USA, the USSR, and the Nazis. They had had enough. They did not feel like doing most of the fighting and dying once again as they had done in W.W.I, while others got all the fruits, and interfered with the peace process. So many Frenchmen were killed in W.W.I, that fewer soldiers were drafted than in 1914, the population being smaller. Moreover the USA, as a State and plutocracy, had played an ambiguous role after WWI. The USA seized German property in 1919, only to redistribute it to US plutocrats supporting the Nazis. Then, starting in 1934, the US government had been deliberately hostile to France. With gigantic direct investment in Hitler’s Reich, the more extreme it got, the USA incited many nations (such as Mussolini’s Italy) to turn hostile to France. The USA refused to accept Jewish refugees. At some point a trans oceanic liner full of German Jews was sent back directly to Hitler, after the USA connived to have it not accepted in Cuba or the Americas. So many foreign Jews were trapped in France.
THE DOUBLE FACED, UNCONSTITUTIONAL PSEUDO STATE OF VICHY:
In the city of Vichy, a few French officials formed what came to be known as the Vichy government, to give orders from above to the French administration (a Geneva convention obliged the occupying power, Nazi Germany, to preserve a French administration; the USA violated that Geneva convention during the early years of its occupation of Iraq, with catastrophic consequences). Vichy was unconstitutional. Other French officials constituted the “France Libre”. Roosevelt and the USA, still unfriendly to France, recognized Vichy. Britain recognized Free France (June 1940).
The Nazis wanted to exterminate the Jews. France, however, did not discriminate on the basis of religion, and no religious census had been held since 1874. So the Nazis did not know where the Jews were. Craftily, the Nazis asked the Jews to come and make themselves known (German ordinance of 21 September 1940). 150,000 Jews did so in Paris alone. It was a case of asking the sheep to come register at the slaughterhouse, and 150,000 sheep volunteered.
The Nazis arrested 4,000 Jewish men here, a few thousands there. But they requested more. With hundreds of thousands of Nazi troops in France, the Parisian police was in no position to say no. The roundup was aimed at Jews from Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia and those whose origins couldn’t be determined, aged from 16 to 50. There were to be exceptions for women “in advanced state of pregnancy or who were breast-feeding”, but “to save time, the sorting will be made not at home but at the first assembly center”. The age of 16 supported the fiction that the Jews were rounded up because they were needed for work in the East. Children were supposed to be sent to Jewish foundations in France.
The Nazis expected to arrest at least 22,000 foreign Jews in Paris. At 4 am on 16 July 1942, 12,884 Jews were arrested: 4,051 children, 5,802 women and 3,031 men. Many thousands had been warned by the resistance, or the police let them go. (In July 1942, a study by the French resistance evaluated that no more than 5% of the French police supported fascism. Two-thirds supported the British, although Britain was conducting bombing raids over France.)
In the end, out of 76,000 Jews deported from France who died, 26,000 were French citizens, and the rest were foreigners (they should have been in the USA, not stuck in France!). According to Karsfeld, a Nazi hunter, 40% of those Jews were arrested by French police.
Many Vichy officials (including Bousquet and Mitterand) were both collaborating and resisting, and it was often not clear what they were mostly doing. For example, the top IBM official in France was ordered by the Nazis to find all the Jews in France, but in truth he was finding out all young men that could be drafted in a new French army, in metropolitan France and North Africa. When a new French army of a million men appeared out of Africa, while Jews had proven elusive, the Nazis finally understood. The double agent was arrested, tortured and executed.
One has to understand that throughout the war, millions of French people were prisoner or deported to Germany. POWs, STO (Service du Travail Obligatoire, Obligatory Work Service). Hundreds of thousands suspected of resistance, or just grabbed in the streets were sent directly to concentration camps. The last train convoy of deported French left Paris on August 15, 1944. 2,200 men and 400 women, directly for the Buchenwald extermination camp. These were not happy times for France. Overall, the world spanning French empire lost nearly two million killed, most of them civilians.
In August 1944, the Paris police, Gendarmerie and resistance revolted. There was heavy fighting. Worried by the massacre going on in Warsaw (where the Nazis were systematically destroying the city with the Soviet army watching at a safe distance), the French Second Armored division of general Leclerc charged through Nazi defenses in a spectacular advance, suffering heavy losses. Officially 3,200 German soldiers were killed in action during this Parisian battle of the French against the Nazis.
So what to think of this pseudo-state of Vichy? One can compare with the Netherlands. There was no Dutch government in charge. The Netherlands was under direct occupation by the Nazis. The local IBM guys collaborated with the Nazis, and it was easy anyway, because all the Jews were registered in the Netherlands. Nearly 100% of the Dutch Jews living in the Netherlands were assassinated. Whereas most of the Jews in France survived, because they were able to hide.
The most amazing part of it all is that although French officials went to the USA to reveal the Holocaust of the Jews, and a few US newspaper talked about it (New York Times, Boston Globe). The Holocaust was mostly hidden by the Allies themselves. Secrecy, or rather, not talking about it, was the most important enabler of the Holocaust though. Put in front of its responsibility, the German people would have stopped supporting the Nazis.
WHO WAS ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE OF THE MASSACRE OF THE JEWS?
After Germany and Austria, the USA is probably the State that was the most responsible of the holocaust of the Jews. For example, although nearly all Jews died in the Netherlands, and the USA looked very far removed from that massacre, it was not so. Research using IBM electro-mechanical computers allowed the Nazis to find the Jews throughout Europe. Those machines needed continual delicate servicing managed from New York. So it was all over Europe, in all what the Nazis did, since Hitler had given IBM the monopoly of organizing and computing.
The USA, as a State, kept allowing many US plutocrats and corporations to collaborate with the Nazis, as a country, throughout 1940 and 1941 (courageously Roosevelt was fighting Hitler as much as he could, but he did not control Congress and Wall Street, which were stridently pro-Nazi). Many US corporations collaborated throughout the war, such as IBM. When Nazism fell, they stayed where the Nazis had installed them. Heads we send you to Auschwitz work for P. Bush, tails we liberate you, and you work for us.
Although the USA knew very well that France harbored hundreds of thousands of foreign, often illegal Jews, who were in extreme danger if France fell, it refused to help the French republic, which was in total war with the Nazis. Even after having being told in detail by the French, as early as December 1940, that the Nazis had already deliberately assassinated at least 700,000 Jews, the USA, as a State, refused to advertise this holocaust, and deliberately ignored it all the way through the war.
WHY WAS THE HOLOCAUST KEPT SECRET BY THE ALLIES?
Let’s stop here for a moment. The USA and Britain should have joined in with the French, and loudly make it known that any person collaborating with the holocaust of the Jews would see the full power of the law bearing down on them upon liberation from the Nazi scourge. Why did this not happen?
It is strange that it did not happen. If the world had been told that the Nazis were deliberately killing entire populations, it would have helped the war effort tremendously. The German population would have been confronted to what the Nazis were really doing, it would have been confronted to its responsibilities. The Third Reich was a totalitarian, fascist state, but it was mostly policed willingly by the Germans themselves, by the fact the Germans were so cool, and so legally minded (typically people who engaged in civil disobedience. were not brought to trial, because the Nazis were afraid of the law). The Gestapo was very small in Germany itself, a few thousand men, all the more small since it was spread all over occupied Europe. As the war proceeded a lot of the German police found itself exerting terror in foreign countries. If the Germans, who worried about their own morality, had been told they were all complicit in massive mass murder, they would have reconsidered their enthusiasm for Nazism. Since Germany was mostly self policed, the Nazis would have been unable to keep on ruling. The coup against Hitler, “Valkyrie”, would certainly have worked.
Well, nobody thought of accusing Germany of mass murder in a timely manner. Perhaps, the Jews were not as popular in the USA as they have become since. It advantaged a lot of the plutocrats, who had been pulling the strings of fascism all along, to see the war to its bitter end. As it was they were able to establish a better control for their own capitalist system after the war (they did not have to share with the diminished Europeans, that is).
The American and British governments decided to stay silent about the Holocaust of the Jews. They did nothing positive to prevent the extermination. They were busted by their own generals, who were disgusted by what they saw, when they liberated the concentration camps. Some American generals stood up, and, with great demonstrations, loudly exhibited the holocaust for all to see: that is the very definition of being responsible.
RESPONSIBILITY ACCEPTED: THE CASE OF GENERAL EDWIN ROMMEL:
W.W.II was a complicated mess. And a learning process. An example is the career of general Rommel. Although a general in the regular German army, the Wehrmacht, Rommel started as a dedicated Nazi and an admirer of Hitler. In May 1940, he and his superior, Guderian, played a crucial role in the defeat of France. Guderian lied to the German High Command: although he had been ordered to stay where he was, he threw all the ten tank divisions of the German army in a deep, concentrated and fast, crazy stab inside France. It came close to disaster when heavy French tanks, that the Germans could not destroy, came within a kilometer of Guderian’s headquarters. But in six days of no sleep and continual attack, the German tank army cut France in two, and reached the sea. After 360,000 British and French troops escaped at Dunkirk, it was time to finish the job. The German army veered south. French resistance was fierce. The French army invented what has come to be known as the hedgehog defense, fortifying villages, and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. That was clearly the last moment when the USA could have done the right thing —declare war to Hitler— but it did not.
The Nazis got seriously exasperated, because the French would not quit. On the river Somme, Franco-Senegalese troops stopped Rommel’s own Seventh Panzer division for three days, inflicting serious losses. The Franco-Senegalese surrendered when they were out of ammunitions. The Nazis executed them all, soldiers and officers, European and African, black and white alike. The first blatant criminal violation of the rules of war in W.W.II.
Two years later exactly, Rommel, now heading the Afrika Korps and the Italian army, had the British 8th army in a desperate retreat, in disarray after the fall of Tobruk. To kill it, Rommel devised a plan to sweep in the desert really fast, and cut it from behind. As the Afrika Korps executed that move, the leading Italian armored division, soon followed by the entire Afrika Korps, crashed in the desert into the Free French troops of general Koenig. Amazingly, the French brigade held two weeks, before getting the order of retreat from the Brits. That gave time to prepare the victory of El Alamein (had this not happened, the Afrika Korps was supposed to go all the way to Iraq). Hitler was very impressed, and told his cabinet: “See, gentlemen, the French are the best soldiers in the world after us, and that is why France needs to be completely eradicated.” The ultimate backhanded compliment: you are very cute, so you need to be destroyed absolutely.
Later Rommel commanded all Nazi forces in France. By then his heart had changed. Too much France will do that, even to hard core Nazis. The SS Panzer division, Das Reich, rushed towards Normandy from southern France after the Allied landings. But it was slowed and suffered losses from French resistance attacks. Enraged, an officer of Das Reich ordered that all the inhabitants of a French village to be burned alive. More than 600 died. Rommel, though, found this intolerable, and ordered the arrest of the SS officer for war crimes (he died before his arrest). At the same time, Rommel ordered the Wehrmacht to lock up the SS throughout France, as part of the coup against Hitler. At that point Rommel stood up, and expressed his stand as loudly as possible, against Hitler. He had accepted his responsibility for the crimes of Nazism.
IF THERE IS NO RESPONSIBILITY, THERE IS NO CIVILIZATION:
Most European countries recognized the grave violations of civilization engineered by the Nazis and their collaborators. The Nazis tried to enact the worst of what they read in the Bible, with greater technological efficiency. If it was not going to be an ongoing temptation, it had to be struck down. The Waffen SS had been highly successful recruiting young Europeans all over Europe, hundreds of thousands of them (mimicking the method of transnational recruitment inaugurated by Napoleon). It was important to show to the youth that Nazism was not a happy outcome. The Netherlands’ attitude was typical: the death penalty, which had been outlawed for 140 years, was reestablished.
France was the original and fundamental enemy of Hitler. Hitler personally wanted to annihilate France, a passion many of his closest colleagues did not share. The ultimate irony is that as he groveled inside his burrow in Berlin, the Nazi dictator was defended by Waffen SS from the LVF (Legion des Volontaires Francais, the Legion of French Volunteers), helped by Scandinavians SS and the Hitler Jugend. Adult Germans had deserted him, in his hour of need and pain. Tellingly, a few months earlier, some of the fighting of the French LVF had been against German volunteers fighting the Nazis. So some French volunteers fighting for the Nazis fought some German troops fighting against the Nazis; this shows that here was a dimension to fascism that transcended nationalities (the German State would pay for the retirement of many Europeans foreigners that served the Nazis for 50 years)… If anything, all these intrinsic contradictions of fascism taught most Germans the futility to be on the wrong side of civilization. If anything the close call that France suffered in W.W.II, taught the reconstructed French republic that even greater zeal in the defense of civilization was called for. Two percent (2%) of the population had collaborated with the Nazis, but that was 2% too many.
There had been many thousands of rabid collaborators of the Nazis and French fascists during the war. France executed up to 40,000 French fascists, Nazis, or collaborators after the war, more than all other countries together (although Russia exterminated millions of Nazis and Germans, by using against the German population the Nazi method of deliberately massive collateral damage, these were not legal executions).
TO AVOID HOLOCAUSTS, NO RESPONSIBILITY IS SMALL ENOUGH. A STATE OF LAW IS NOT ENOUGH, A STATE OF RESPONSIBILITY IS NECESSARY:
Given that the Nazis existed, controlled Germany and Austria, and were persecuting the Jews, the ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust of the Jews fell on the United States of America. The French did what they could. But it backfired, to some extent. The USA has never admitted any responsibility in the Holocaust, or the Third Reich. But the bloody paws of American plutocrats were all over Nazified Europe, from the use of Texas oil by the fascists during their conquest of Spain (that used to make Hitler laugh), to IBM computers organizing all the details of the extermination machine, and roughly anything in between, thanks to massive technological transfers from US corporations to the Nazis (Ford and Watson (IBM) got the highest Nazi decorations, P. Bush was the most trusted collaborator and manager, etc…).
When holocausts happen, it is not just because of one man. For example King Saint Louis IX of France hated the Jews and wanted them and unbelievers killed, but he could not change either the law nor the national mood, and this desire of him stayed a holly wish (circa 1250 CE). The same happened again with Luther: Luther loathed the Jews, wrote about the pleasure it would give him to see them suffer, but he could not do anything about it, being just one hate monger. One had to wait for Hitler, a popular elected politician, carried by substantial national will, who was able to radically change the laws (those laws Hitler overturned, going back to the Carolingian empire of the Franks, were twelve centuries old). So holocausts happen because of a tribal, or national will and mindset. Even when emperor Justinian went out and killed millions of Christians so that he could better rule by dividing everybody against everybody, in the end it’s the general abysmal state in which the Roman empire had fallen, its general state of irresponsibility and immorality, that made it possible (circa 650 CE).
The republican State is an immensely powerful structure, and its laws can be applied ferociously. That is why the symbol of the Roman and French republic is the fasces, and the motto of the USA, “E Pluribus Unum”, which puts in words part of what the fasces depict (OK, it is not exactly the US motto, but we won’t get into this arcane subject). This enormous power of the State needs to be applied very carefully. Now, more than ever. It is said that one Soviet captain prevented his superior, exasperated and rendered half mad by small American depth charges shaking his submarine, to answer with a nuclear torpedo to blow up the US fleet, during the Cuban missile crisis. (That would have launched W.W.III.)
There is a whole calculus of responsibility. So far it has been hidden in the shadows. It needs to be brought up in the open, to be taught, and so that everybody can learn it. If all officers, in any State, know that their State, and thus they themselves, will not be able to escape prosecution in the future, as long as a future there is, people are going to be much careful in what they do.
Should one accept this more demanding principle to guide civilization, it has immediate practical consequences. For example the Obama administration has not been responding swiftly to the catastrophic freezing of credit in the USA. Moreover, not only is the US State responsible of this, but of the preceding work of the Paulson-Geithner-Bush team. To be a ruling politician is to be responsible of what the State did before. Whatever happened before, the responsibility of the State is engaged. Instead of acting cool, to insist that it is business as usual, that our friends the plutocrats are outstanding geniuses that should stay in power for ever, the State should stand up and loudly address the monster in the room, and chant the battle cry.
NO RESPONSIBILITY, NO MIND:
The truth will always be more complicated than what is behind Quantum Mechanics, and that is everywhere, and nobody knows what it is. The law, like all behaviors of society, is about the truth. Looking for the law, either to make it or abide by it, cannot happen without responsibility. Without responsibility the truth, and the law, could never be addressed, they may as well be in another universe. (That is how the Nazis operated: not enough people call them on respecting the law; when people did, they were often successful, and if enough people had, Nazism would have grinded to a halt.)
The truth is that the situation of the planet, and humankind, has never been more fragile. The present financial and economic crisis is really nothing relative to what is brewing. The economy is of course the prime agent of that catastrophic brew. Not taking measures against the major threats is irresponsible. That ought to impose a change of the modus operandi, considering the alternatives.
Addenda: 1) The Associated Press, with a not so subtle anti-French slant reported, February 17, 2009, that: “France’s role in Holocaust legally recognized: France’s top judicial body formally recognized the nation’s role in deporting Jews to Nazi death camps during the Holocaust… Jewish groups welcomed the ruling by the Council of State, the clearest legal acknowledgment to date of France’s role in the Holocaust. Nearly 70 years ago, the Vichy government helped deport some 76,000 people – including 11,000 children – from Nazi-occupied France to concentration camps during the war. Fewer than 3,000 returned alive. The Council said that the French government of the time “allowed or facilitated the deportation from France of victims of anti-Semitic persecution… In an absolute rupture with the values and principles notably of the dignity of the human person … these anti-Semitic persecutions provoked exceptional damage of extreme gravity,” it said.
The statement legally formalized a historic gesture by then-President Jacques Chirac in 1995, when he became the first French leader to say the nation bore responsibility for the deportation of Jews in wartime France. Chirac broke with the official position that France’s Vichy regime was not synonymous with the French state. Since Chirac’s speech, deportees and their families have won special state pensions and other compensation for their suffering. Some $639 million has been paid out by a state commission established in 2000.”
Actually the translation is very incorrect in several ways, but will be helpful to anti-French plutocrats in the USA, who are legions. Indeed, they are afraid that the model of exploitation that they have imposed in the USA would be replaced by the more social, more equitable society in France.
So the Conseil d’Etat did not recognize the “nation” as responsible, but that the “responsibility” of the “French state” is “engaged”. By doing this, it made the French State into something that still should be viewed as existing even when it is just an unconstitutional decapitated administration. This atemporal view means that responsibility cannot be escaped inside an administrative structure .
2) Adolf Eichmann identified himself as a Zionist in 1939 in a conversation with Anny Stern. “‘Are you a Zionist?’ Adolph Eichmann, Hitler’s specialist on Jewish affairs, asked her. ‘Jawohl,’ she replied. ‘Good,’ he said, ‘I am a Zionist, too. I want every Jew to leave for Palestine.’” (L. Dickstein, “Hell’s Own Cookbook”, The New York Times, Book Review Section, (17 November 1996), p. 7).
3) It is amazing how much people, organizations, and even victims, erred in their answer to Nazism. They did not respond well. Mostly their response was too quiet, too accommodative. There was a response, but there was no responsibility (i.e., no great demonstrations, no great chants, and libations to the inchoating horror).
Hannah Arendt herself reflected the mental crosscurrents. She was the lover of a big time Nazi. But she was also an anti-Nazi heroine. She actively resisted, spied on the Nazis, was arrested by the Gestapo for it, and expulses to France.
As she pointed out in details the unfortunate complicity of many Jews and Jewish organizations in the Holocaust, she was dragged into the dirt by people who had never done anything against the Nazis. Arendt attacked mostly the Jewish Councils’ tractations with the Nazis, but there was much more.
She went to Jerusalem, and she listened to Eichmann. That is when she forged her sentence “the banality of evil”. Arendt was a top philosopher, and she was taken aback by how much Eichmann claimed to have been guided by Kant. Kant, indeed, at the bottom, is the philosopher of irresponsibility. Kant just ask people to obey the boss, and do it calmly, cooly, without fuss. Of course the boss is perfect (that’s implicit).
4) THE FACILITY OF IRRESPONSIBILITY: So Arendt discovered the banality of (some forms) of evil. Did we discover something new above? Well, aside from the necessity of the State of Responsibility, maybe we discovered the facility of irresponsibility. Those Jewish organizations Arendt criticized chose the easy way out in the moment. With Hitler everybody tended to do so. Even the French did in 1936 (when Hitler invaded the Rhineland, a German territory that was supposed to be left demilitarized). Each time, the alternatives were too grim. When people are in danger of losing everything, they are often facing situations in which their own actions would have adverse, maybe irremediable consequences. Then it’s often unbearable to them that their own conditions would worsen at their own hand, so they tend to freeze, and do nothing. Examples: when people have to fight back, and risk the consequences of this counter-hostility, or when they have to flee, and leave everything behind, and risk starting with little if anything at all.