“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
-Jesus, about the people killing him
The way we treated the Japanese during World War II is unfathomably heartless. We all apparently agreed that it would be great if every Japanese person was shot, burned, or blown up.
Yes, a few hundred Japanese soldiers attacked Pearl Harbor. But Pearl Harbor isn’t exactly Putney; it was a military base located 2500 miles away from the US.
On paper, that doesn’t feel like a reasonable justification for the relentless mass murder of Japanese civilians; but that’s exactly what we did.
We claim to be a Christian country. Theoretically, we follow the teachings of the man who told us to “turn the other cheek.” In practice, we are no more moral or mature than a seven-year-old boy shouting “he started it” after we beat up a kid we don’t like.
Vengeance is not a moral justification for violence. Wrath is a deadly sin; it’s the most terrible and destructive deadly sin of all.
“1945: The Savage Peace” is not your father’s World War II program.
It exposes – in unflinching detail – the mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Germans.
At the war’s end, it was decided that all 12 million ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe would be removed as quickly as possible. Coming up with a humane way to make this happen was not high on the list of priorities for the victors. “These are Germans, after all,” they thought. “The very people who started all of this.”
Czechoslovakia was probably the least ravaged of any Eastern European country. Nevertheless, the proud Czech people did not care for the fact that they had been ruled by Germans. Soon after the Nazi regime fell, new Czech president Edward Benes called for “the Final Solution to the German question.”
This was as bad as it sounds. Armed bands of semi-sanctioned vigilantes rounded up German citizens and harassed, beat, or killed them. The Sudetenland had been largely German for generations. The millions of residents were kicked out of their homes and forced to march to Germany.
As with everything in WWII, things in Poland were worse. The least fortunate Germans were shipped to the USSR as “reparations labor” and never seen again.
The hundreds of thousands sent to Concentration Camps didn’t fare so well, either. It’s a little known fact that soon after Nazi Concentration Camps were liberated, they were repopulated with ethnic Germans.
East Prussia had been German for all of modern history. Suddenly, the region was part of western Poland. Millions of Germans were uprooted and forced to move west with nothing but the clothes on their backs. No one knows how many died of starvation and disease along the way. And nobody cared.
We are quick to separate groups of people into Us and Them. And once someone from the Them group hurts one of Us, it is disturbingly easy to start thinking ourselves as the good guys and them as the bad guys. Then all bets are off.
That’s why Czechs and Poles were comfortable slaughtering Germans. That’s why our grandparents were comfortable fire-bombing Japanese cities. That’s why no one seems to care that our government is blowing an Arab’s limbs off with a drone this very afternoon.
Vengeance is never noble and never morally defensible. It’s just another type of murder.
Until we all agree to forgive our enemies instead of hate them, humanity is doomed to perpetual violence.