By DAVID RUDERMAN, U.S. Army Human Resources PAO
Many years ago a Jewish baby came into this world, a male child, destined to change and influence the thinking and practice of the civilized West and humanity at large.
As he grew he developed insights and understandings about the world around him that would have a profound impact in his own day and in succeeding generations. He gathered around himself a circle of disciples, at first all of them Jewish, who would receive and magnify his teachings about the mysterious workings of the human soul.
In the course of his life his ideas spread and many were attracted to his insights and practice, but his teachings were not welcome in all quarters. Some demonized him as a radical, a destroyer of the social order, an ingrate, renegade and fraud.
He was roundly vilified by the social elites and in popular culture, and toward the end of his life hounded by the temporal powers of his time, which sought to kill him. Still, he persisted in his mission to cast light where darkness had previously held sway, and till the end bore an unflagging allegiance to the truths he had discovered regarding the human condition.
Today his ideas and practice, much amplified and elaborated, are commonplace around the world.
Do you know who I mean?
Yes, it was Sigmund Freud, born in Vienna in the early 1860s, the pioneer of psychoanalysis, a profoundly influential architect of the modern age.
Take this as an example of the power of narrative, the persuasive force of words and the marshalling of meaning to achieve an effect, which brings us to the issue at hand.
We commemorate again today the Days of Remembrance, the anniversary of the liberation of the death camps at Auschwitz and across Europe, to remember and honor the victims of the attempted annihilation of the European Jews by the German National Socialist movement of the 1930s and 1940s.
We recognize again in solemn memory the murder of 6 million Jewish people, including more than a million children and young adults, by a vicious state power and its many willing collaborators.
This monstrous crime against humanity, within the living memory of a dwindling number of survivors and perpetrators, was in itself driven in its vindictiveness by a complex of hatred fueled narratives and fantasies, harnessed in its power for evil by perverted state and social powers.
They had their slogans, they had their storied illusions, they had their scripts at hand, and there were not enough voices raised early enough to stop them.
I will not dwell on the ugly, anti-Jewish rhetoric of the time, I find it too disgusting to regurgitate.
But I will take the opportunity to remind you, dear reader, that the Stalinists had their narratives in place when they murdered tens of millions, that the Khmer Rouge exercised theirs when they murdered 2 million or more in the killing fields of Cambodia, that the Hutu leadership were trumpeting theirs when they instigated the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda.
Remember, and beware the bewitchment of words deformed to justify intolerable ends. Never forget and never underestimate the evil of the Nazis then, and the danger of would-be dictators today who subvert the power of narrative to achieve another kind of power: political power, martial power, tribal power, state power—the power to do violence by exploiting the hatred of “The Other.”
The dangers of our present day are palpable and present. Both at home and abroad conflicting narratives contend to influence the train of events and myriad balances of power. It is the responsibility of every man and woman alive today to remember what can go wrong in giving in to the seductive influence of a narrative of hate.
It is incumbent upon all of us, to recognize the troubled history of humanity and our susceptible natures. You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to get the gist of the story, but it doesn’t hurt to keep Freud in mind as well.
It is the responsibility of every moral person to engage with the challenges of our time, to insist on the truth of our shared human experience and fate. It is mandatory upon each of us to exercise critical thought and argument, to speak up and speak out against evil in whatever mask of plausibility it may assume before evil achieves its aims.
Let us remember then the 6 million. Let us remember as well the countless collateral victims of the Nazi outrage. They are dead and we are by their deaths diminished, but they will never be forgotten by men and women of good will.
Let us pledge together that in our time, with the hindsight of knowledge gained from their suffering that we will look both inward and outward, to the past and to the present, to recognize within ourselves and within all human beings, the divine spark of the Creator of the universe.
Let us honor and protect the humanity of all God’s children in memory of the 6 million.
Remember! Never forget! Never again!