So I’m watching President Obama at the site of the former concentration camp Buchenwald. He and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke along with Nobel laureate and former prisoner at Buchenwald, Elie Wiesel. The President’s comments were well on the mark, detailing the horror of the concentration camps and relating a story about his great uncle who was one of the first American soldiers to see the inside of one of these camps. The horror was overwhelming for his great uncle and many of those who had seen what the condition of these camps was; the feeling of horror so intense that they did not want to speak of it; how Eisenhower began a project of getting films and photos of these places so that no one could say it didn’t happen. A real slap in the face to the holocaust deniers from Obama himself. Good stuff!
He then makes what I’m sure most people would consider an off handed comment that probably no one took much notice of – except me of course. Maybe I’m making too much of this, but tell me what you think this means:
“And just as we identify with the victims, it’s also important for us I think to remember that the perpetrators of such evil were human, as well, and that we have to guard against cruelty in ourselves.”
I may be wrong, and as I write this, I’m already considering that I may be reading more into this than there is. But this is why I feel the need to write about it. Here’s what I thought he was saying with this statement:
“Even though we feel sorry for the victims, the perpetrators were people too. Therefore, we should guard against being too mad at them or we become just like them.”
This is known as moral equivalence. In other words, they’re no different than us, they just did bad things. Well, to me that makes them different and worthy of scorn. This is something that has come up often during the war on terror. Some say, “We must find a way to understand what makes the terrorists mad at us. After all, they’re no different than us, they just do bad things.” I don’t agree with this line of thought. I think they are quite different than us AND do bad things. This doesn’t mean that if a Muslim terrorist commits an act of violence that all Muslims are terrorists, just as a bunch of Germans doing bad things during WWII doesn’t mean all Germans are bad. However, we do have a right to judge the bad Germans and the bad Muslims!
As I write this though, it occurs to me that there might be another interpretation of his sentence which I must consider. That is this:
“The people who comitted these acts were people who became consumed with hate and we must guard against being consumed with the same hate.”
This is not a bad idea and a good admonition and maybe I’ll just accept that this is what he meant and be done with it. However, I want to be on guard against moral equivalence, lest we all become consumed by it.