No sane person can dispute that many of the acts committed during World War II
by the Nazi and Japanese military were atrocities. The leaders as well as the
populations of these two civilized industrial nations not only condoned, but
praised victories regardless of the means practiced to achieve them. Looking at
the common factors that led to a total lack of conscience and humanity by both
of those nations is important. Recognizing the causes of the insidiously
progressive changes in the national attitudes of others will help us guard
against falling prey to them ourselves by rooting them out as soon as they raise
their ugly head.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, Japan was industrialized and became aware of the benefits of expansion by the West. Humiliating treaties imposed in the past led the Emperor to be determined to build the Japanese military strength to a force that would prevent future defeats and enable expansion in the Pacific to build the Empire. The Emperor was worshipped as a god, descended from the Shinto gods, in contact with and inspired by them. When the Emperor told the Japanese people that they were superior to other people and because of their purity they would be invincible in carrying out their destiny to rule the world, it was accepted as dogma. There was a surge of nationalism. The combination of the promise of divine protection and feeling of superiority led to the devaluing of life from other cultures as less than human. This allowed their acceptance of the rampant killing and torture committed by the Imperial military forces without the interference of guilt.
Propaganda helped Hitler convince the German people that they were descended from the "white" Aryan race of Northern Europe and as the supposed "master" race, they and Germany were superior. The purging of non-Aryans who could possibly contaminate the purity of the "true" Germans led to unprecedented atrocities aimed at genocide. The military was built up and war like attitudes fostered with parades, music, and rallies. Nationalism thrived with displays of symbols and flags everywhere. There were many reasons for Hitler's invasions, including revenge for past humiliations, such as the Versailles Treaty that penalized Germany, to prevent the spread of Communism and for expansion of Greater Germany. They felt justified in their actions because Hitler told them God was on their side. Military belt buckles were inscribed with the motto "Gott mit ums", God is with us. Hitler's vision for Germany delivered in speeches filled with messianic zeal made him the object of extreme loyalty and near worship by the majority of the population. A succession of early victories gave the impression of invincibility. Again the belief that God was on their side and their feeling of superiority over "undesirables" allowed them to accept the purging of those who would contaminate the purity of their blood by eliminating them from the face of the earth.
Regardless of false reasons given for the necessity of our invasion of Iraq, Americans were willing to accept the lies to avenge our national honor and the people killed in an attack by a handful of terrorists that the mightiest nation in the world couldn't stop. Since World War II Americans have felt they were superior to the people of other countries. George Bush has a foreign policy that involves spreading democracy throughout the world because of the feeling that our form of government is better than any other form of government. He has been quoted as telling a group of Amish people during his campaign that "God speaks through me." It was reported in an Israeli newspaper that he told Palestinian president Abbas, "God told me to strike al Qaida and I struck them. Then He told me to strike Saddam Hussein and I did that."
We have demonized all Muslims because of 9-11. After an initial shock, photos showing Iraqi detainees being abused at Abu Ghraib prison were compared by some to a fraternity prank. The types of abuse consisted of beatings, threatening with vicious dogs, allowing the dogs to bite, sleep deprivation, stripping them and piling them in a pyramid, rape, sodomy, forced enemas, attaching electrodes to genitals, and other forms of torture. The White House attorney who sent a memo providing the president with excuses to ignore the Geneva Conventions and International Law, and could be used to defend against charges of war crimes, was rewarded with being nominated as Attorney General. The fact that Congress would confirm a man who advised the President of the United States that he was above the law, and condoned torture is a warning that our attitudes need to change.
The maxim "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it" was never more true than the direction in which we're now heading. We are slowly losing our values, morals and principles. We are beginning not only to accept what should be unacceptable but rewarding it. If we fail to correct our attitude and change our direction we will continue to sink into the pages of history along side of those most vile inhuman regimes. America deserves better.