We know better, right?
In this new day and age, the second decade of the second millennia, many people hold the opinion that right now we are the most advanced and humane civilization yet. Little children visiting Holocaust museums experience the barbarianism of Nazi Germany, not thinking this treatment could ever resurface. The forced internment of United States citizens during World War II is seen as unjust and intolerable, never to happen again. Our civilization is dangerously conceited, taking for granted the warnings of the past and promising never to relapse. When we ignore these warnings, we step back into a cycle that is doomed to repeat itself.
In 1941, world powers banded together to fight the growing German force. War started for a plethora of reasons, yet one that cannot be overlooked is the atrocious treatment of the Jews in this time. This genocide, one of the deadliest in history, is undoubtedly recognized as the major impact of the Nazis. Six million people shot, gassed, bombed, starved and frozen simply for being of the Jewish faith. The Holocaust indisputably set a modern precedent against mass genocide and the persecution of religious groups.
Here in the United States, many find it inconceivable that this was tolerable. In the mind of the conceited public, nothing as revolting as this genocide would not be found in the advanced and humane world we live in today.
Yet the evidence is shocking.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, a communist political party, seized control of the Cambodian government. The goal of the party was to create the ideal agrarian utopia, but the results were anything but. Citizens were forced from their homes to labor camp fields, in essence enslaved to work tending crops and digging canals. Known as the Cambodian Genocide, as many as three million lives were lost in this brutal system. Contrary to the ever popular belief, genocide did not stop after the Holocaust, and the Cambodian Genocide proves this.
Since the Holocaust there have been eight major mass killings throughout the world. Found in every time period in history, genocides are ongoing to this day. Take the Genocide of the Yazidis by the Islamic State (ISIL) as an example. Beginning in 2014, Islamic fundamentalists have sought to erase the identity of the 400,000 Yazidi people in Syria and Iraq. Through killing men and enslaving women, numerous atrocities have been committed by the Islamic State in their conquest.
For the world to claim that societies in modern times are educated enough to move past the inhumane and revolting ways of their past is simply ignorant. In claiming this, the millions of lives lost since the Holocaust cannot serve as a precedent, not as a warning or a wakeup call. By failing to acknowledge the modern horrors, we are no better than those that commit them.
Around the same time as the Holocaust, the United States suffered a crippling blow. The bombing of Pearl Harbor, one of the deadliest attacks on human soil by a foreign country, caused shock and unease nationwide. This wasn’t just the event that sent the U.S. into the second World War, but also the event that started the rounding up of over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans. On February 19 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into effect executive order 9066. This order allowed for men, women and children alike to forcibly be taken from their homes and put into internment camps. In a country where the American dream was prevalent, this was more an American nightmare.
The United States government claimed internment camps were justified, that there was a large enough threat of espionage to require the roundup of these citizens. Critics argue that the actions of a small minority, the Japanese attackers, should not have punished the large majority, United States citizens, most of whom were native english speakers who had never visited Japan.
In Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the individual rights of Japanese Americans were outweighed by the threat of espionage. However, evidence today largely shows that there was racial motive in the ruling. With an ongoing war against the Japanese, it’s no surprise that anti-Japanese sentiment was at a high. So high, in fact, that at the time an opinion poll found that 13% of the American population favored the complete extermination of the Japanese.
Decades after Roosevelt’s order, the Ford administration signed a proclamation renouncing Executive Order 9066, the order responsible for the internment of Japanese Americans. Later in history, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, appointed by President Carter, found that the policy was largely caused by race prejudice.
Even though this monumental event has been denounced and condemned, it’s having little impact on deterring political decisions today. President Trump, echoing this past time period, called for a database of Muslim citizens as well as a travel ban on several Muslim majority countries. Advocates of the president have argued that the Korematsu ruling should actually serve as a precedent for the existence of a national registry of Muslim citizens.
The year is 2017, but the world today isn’t looking much different than the world of 1942. Just as before, security is beginning to stomp on individual rights. The question we must all ask now is “Where do we stop?” - Should we allow this new administration to continue with its travel ban on several Muslim majority countries? Should the national registry exist, or should the infamous wall even be created? Should we support this ‘safety measure’ or should we take a stand and defend our rights? As the son of a Muslim immigrant, policies that tighten its grip on individual’s rights also crank down on my own security. The popular balance between rights and security does not exist for me, a decrease in one will cause damage to the other.
As seen in the war hysteric America, rulings based on fear and a lack of political leadership will not improve the security of the nation. Rather, as seen in the past, scapegoating and containing a large population to make the rest feel safe will result in a highly divided political climate. Prejudice will grow along with hate crimes and exclusions.
I do not believe that as a nation we should give up our individual liberties. Actually, to rephrase that, I do not believe that 3.3 million followers of an increasingly feared and scapegoated religion should give up its individual liberties, simply to make the rest of the population feel safe.
I do not believe that societies around the world have gotten to the point where they will stop committing atrocities overnight. I do not believe, either, that we are all doomed to a path of no return. If we stopped our ignorance of the past, we could find similarities in our actions and in those of our ancestors. Looking at the consequences of the Japanese Internment, for instance, one can actually gauge the contemporary outcome of repressing individual rights for the security of the nation.
The society we live in is failing to recognize the past. Our culture adopts an “ignorance is bliss” approach when it comes to evaluating our past actions. When looking at what would be thought of as a horror in history, optimists say, “Yeah that happened back then, but, like, we know better right?”.
That’s the point of this article. The answer, unfortunately, is no.