Never Again

If the world promised itself to prevent mass murders, that pledge has not been kept.

united nations 88 (photo credit: )
united nations 88
(photo credit: )
As the nation marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember history's greatest crime against humanity, the industrialization of murder that took the lives of six million Jews and millions of other people in Nazi concentration camps. We note the unfinished business relating directly to the Holocaust, including the failure of several countries - including Austria, Norway, Sweden, Syria and Ukraine - to prosecute still-living Nazi war criminals. However what is striking about this day in 2006 is not so much that anti-Semitic violence and neo-Nazi movements persist in the world, or that Holocaust-deniers continue to hawk their wares. The task of keeping the memory of the six million alive and of combatting direct anti-Semitism will always be with us. And yet this task, as it is often narrowly defined, can hardly encompass the full meaning of the notion "never again." "Never again" should be the world's promise to itself to prevent mass murders, ethnic cleansings and other organized atrocities. If so, it is a pledge that has not been kept. Millions died in the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970s and in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, and the slaughter continues today in Sudan. If "never again" is the ideal, "again and again" is much closer to the reality. Just a short time ago at the Pessah Seder, Jews read how "in every generation" a new Pharaoh rises to destroy us. This is usually seen as a quaint, broad brush characterization of history rather than a timely description of the present moment. For "never again" to have meaning, however, it must be applied both as a universal principle of human rights and as a command to rise up and prevent genocides that loom on the horizon. The world today is threatened by a new form of fascism no less potent than the one that swept through Europe and culminated in the Holocaust. As an article by German political scientist Matthias K ntzel in The New Republic reminds us this week, during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Iran employed thousands of its own children as human minesweepers. "In the past," the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat explained as that war raged, "we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing... And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone." Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, the newspaper assured its readers. "Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves." K ntzel reports that since that war ended in 1988 these brainwashed youth, the Basiji, "have grown both in numbers and influence" and become the shock troops of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who himself reportedly trained Basiji. "A younger generation of Iranians, whose worldviews were forged in the atrocities of the Iran-Iraq War, have come to power, wielding a more fervently ideological approach to politics than their predecessors. The children of the Revolution are now its leaders." A new report from a committee chaired by Dan Meridor warns that if Iran is allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, a number of Arab states are likely to seek such weapons as well. In the 1930s, when Hitler was on the rise but still could have been easily stopped, Winston Churchill warned that restrictions on German rearmament - in place since the previous World War - had to be enforced or else war would break out again. Today, Iran is testing the will of the world just as Germany did then. In the current instance, however, if the West fails to defeat Teheran's death-loving Islamo-fascists before it is too late, they will have nuclear weapons. "Never again" is now an imperative, perhaps more than anytime in 60 years.