You Can't Separate the Holocaust From Western 'Enlightenment'

The Holocaust was not, as we like to believe, something that came out of nowhere; a time when Western civilization suddenly went astray. It was deeply rooted in its traditions.

When, here and elsewhere, one extols the praises of the superior and enlightened “Western civilization” – which should perhaps more aptly be termed “core-Christian” civilization – we refer to all the good and beautiful things it has bestowed on the world: the poetry, literature, science and technology, philosophy, music and art, architecture and table manners – you name it.

However, we, and all those who see themselves as part of Western civilization, never regard the Holocaust as one of its achievements. Nevertheless, the systematic murder of millions of Jewish men and women in Europe in the last century is also a part, and far from a negligible one, of Western civilization.

The Holocaust was not, as we like to believe, something that came out of nowhere; a time when this civilization suddenly went astray and started to systematically murder us, as if by mistake.

It’s not that we’re shocked and angered by acts of genocide. That’s not what we perceive as the terrible mistake. It’s the fact that, of all peoples, we were the ones those cultured and educated Europeans chose to exterminate. “Hey there, enlightened people,” we cried imploringly. “You’re making a mistake! How come you’re exterminating us? We’re Jewish, we’re cultured. We’re white like you are, not some wild blacks, Indians or Arabs. What’s the matter with you?”

Nothing was the matter with them. That’s how they are – or at least, how they were until a short while ago. For many centuries, genocidal murder of millions was an inseparable and core feature – even a foundation stone – of Western, core-Christian civilization, which annihilated and robbed numerous entire peoples whose only crime was not being white Christians with the same culture.

Here are some conservative estimates of the number of people killed by Western civilization over the last 500 years, since the conquest of the “New World” and the launching of its colonialist enterprise: 40 million in South America; 10 million in North America; and 20 million blacks who were destined to become slaves mainly in the land considered the pinnacle of Western civilization – the United States of America.

Just so we understand that these were not victims of wars, pestilence or natural disasters, here is what Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, had to say in a message to Congress about Native Americans in 1867: “If the savage resists, civilization – with the Ten Commandments in one hand and the sword in the other – demands his immediate execution.”

At the same time at which colonial powers were carrying out these massive genocides in Africa and the Americas, Europe was undergoing an industrial-technological revolution, as well as a scientific-moral one, the fruits of which we all – including Jews who survived what Europeans inflicted upon us – are living with today as members of Western civilization.

The majority of historians now believe that the links between acts of genocide outside Europe and the industrial-scientific-cultural flourishing in Europe are causal, not coincidental. In other words, what we term “Western civilization” was founded on the resources of non-white, non-Christian nations that were robbed, before being enslaved and annihilated.

“It’s high time you withdrew your long tongues out of Western civilization,” suggested maverick singer-songwriter Meir Ariel in one of his compositions. Maybe the time has come to do that, even a little.