The Second World War is infamously portrayed by the rise of Hitler’s Nazi ideologies, coupled with the physical adoption of his most terrible ‘Final Solution’. This is certainly an event that has, and rightly so still is, one of the first subjects that spring to mind when the Second World War is mentioned in Western cultures.
Genocide, the most terrible example of humanities inability to see past human differences, is far from an extinct practice. Before the death camps of the Final Solution, there have been century’s of ‘ethnic cleansing’, whether it be in the name of God, or by the colour of a persons skin. The First World War saw the Armenian Genocide where 600,000 to over
1.5 million people were murdered under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The Holocaust, in total, is estimated to have taken up to 6 million Jewish lives and if we compare the death toll to that of ethnic Chinese civilians who were victims of Japanese war crimes we see the murder of an estimated 23 million people.
It is difficult to draw comparisons between such unspeakable acts of atrocious murder, but it is important that such events are not forgotten. Although western culture has not necessarily ‘forgotten’ the Japanese war atrocities, I feel it may deserve more of a place in understanding the horrors of human nature and war in Western teaching and culture. This is not to say that China, Asia and even the Middle East grasp onto the Holocaust as the West does, far from it in fact. Obviously a nation will focus on the events that deeply effect them as an national community, the Rape of Nanking where up to 300,000 people were massacred in horrendous systematic fashion is prominent in the remembrance the second Sino-Japanese War by the Chinese. In contrast many Arab states still deny the existence of the Holocaust, mainly due to the past and on going Arab-Israeli conflicts which has coincidently, led Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ to become a best seller in many of these states today.
We appear to pick and choose, not deliberately, but mainly psychologically, as naturally we unilaterally align ourselves, and let ourselves be effected by the events that we can most relate to. It is important that a nation teaches to cater some sense of national pride, Britain for example sees the victory in the Second World War as such, and Winston Churchill has become a symbol of English national patriotism. A nation must also teach the atrocities so that future generations will not make the same mistake, although unfortunately this is rarely the case.
The Rwandan genocide in 1994 where up to 800,000 people were murdered, although widely reported at the time and U.N. intervention, may have been forgotten if it wasn’t for the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ (2004). For people around the same age as me (21)may have had little to no knowledge of the Rwandan genocide like myself. I only recently (upon research for my dissertation on the Holocaust) learn’t about the Armenian Genocide. It is my belief that many people that leave school, at GCSE or A-Level or even after graduation from university, only leave with the Holocaust as their only concept and understanding of ethnic cleansing and genocide. There is much more to genocide, the grass roots can be attributed almost always to economics and greed. Religious crusades implemented by Kings and religious leaders merely to convert, tax and take from the ‘unbelievers’ and the rise of right wing parties such as the Nazi party and following the recent world recession the Golden Dawn party in greece, which ultimately attributes ‘foreigners’ and ‘ethnics’ to the country’s economic problems.
In Britain it is only through our high standards of education that we only see a minority of supporters for parties such as the BNP and the UKIP (whom I’d describe as cloak and dagger right wing party). Groups such as the EDL have risen in numbers since the ‘war on terror’ and the economic crisis also but upon evaluation of its members we see the everyday stereotypes associated with nationalism; the skinheads, the football hooligans and a minority of trade and public sector workers whom may have lost work to foreigners.
Ultimately, my conclusion to this disorganised rant is that just teaching the Holocaust (which is important) and not mentioning previous genocides and modern genocides is just as bad as discrediting the importance of Holocaust itself. If we were to leave school with the knowledge that the Nazis hated and murdered Jews but that was the be all and end all of such atrocities, we remain knowledgeable of the Holocaust but ignorant to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Which in my view disgraces all those who died at the hands of the Nazis or the Japanese or before that the Ottoman Empire.