Just finished watching a disturbing, powerful and brilliantly produced documentary on the National Geographic Channel called Hitler’s Hidden Holocaust.
It is heartbreaking profile of the little-known Nazi SS “Einsatzgruppen” (German for “action groups”) In the years before the Nazis hit upon the concept of the death camps, the various Einsatzgruppen moved methodically through German occupied Eastern Europe rounding up each village’s Jews–men, women and children–herding them to a freshly bulldozed ditch on the edge of town, forcing them to strip naked, and then lining them up by fives and tens to be shot.
Hundreds of thousands of unarmed Jewish civilians were murdered in Latvia, the Ukraine, and other Baltic States. If you’re not familiar with the Einsatzgruppen, I strongly recommend viewing the documentary and/or exploring the links on this page.
Watching it was particularly chilling with the mass killing spree in Norway as a backdrop.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of fallen mankind is the capacity to rationalize even the most monstrous acts as being necessary, and even righteous. As a matter fact, even less well known than the Nazi’s Einsatzgruppen is the reality that over the last sixty years numerous Arab-Islamic groups have used the Einsatzgruppen as inspiration and a model for their own approach to their own “Jewish problem.”
It is even more poorly understood that many of the late 20th Century’s Arab nationalists imbibed deeply of Nazi ideology and tactics. It is impossible to truly understand the personality-cult dictatorships of Egypt’s Gamal Nasser, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, or the Assads of Syria without taking this “National Socialism” influence into account. (See here for example.)
Still, after getting a fresh reminder of of the horrors of Nazi expansion in the ’30s and ’40s, it’s important that we remind ourselves that Nazi Germany comes in third place behind the Soviets and the Communist Chinese among the 20th Century’s murderous ideologies. But for some reason Hollywood, the news industry, academics and documentary makers are less interested in telling those stories.
Which brings us to the the horrific story that came out of Norway this weekend. There is much about the mass murder event that doesn’t make sense. (Of course, when do the actions of a deranged/demonized individual ever make “sense.”) But one thing you can always count on after an event that essentially everyone considers to be reprehensible or heartbreaking–some will not be able to resist the temptation to exploit the event to score political points against their favorite ideological enemy.
We saw it after the shooting of Congressman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona. The attempts to link the acts of a psychotic individual to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, or the Tea Party represented a new low for discourse in our country.
In the case of the events in Norway. I have already noticed several left-leaning blogs and news sites making prominent mention that the shooter/bomber had recently set up a Facebook page in which he described himself as “Christian” and “conservative.”
Of course, for many in Post-Christian Europe, the descriptor “Christian” is more a cultural designation than an expression of faith. It simply means not Jewish, Muslim or Hindu. Here’s a pledge for you, if we learn in the coming weeks that the shooter attended church every Sunday and studied the Bible, I’ll eat my keyboard. And if he shouted, “Jesus is Lord” before pulling the trigger, I’ll eat my laptop, too.
The other big news of the weekend was the death of Amy Winehouse. As many of the news reports have pointed out, she now joins the pantheon of flamed out, self-destroying rock stars that includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain–each of whom died one way or another from self-inflicted lifestyle wounds. And amazingly, like Winehouse, all of these talented individuals were 27 when the flame flickered out.
I’ll not succumb to the point-making temptation I condemned a couple of paragraphs ago. But when I heard the repeated recitals of Winehouse’s drug and alcohol habits, I couldn’t help but wonder how old she was the first time she ever got truly drunk. I suspect she was quite young. (Binge drinking is even more of a cultural epidemic in Great Britain than here in the States.)
I wondered because I recall seeing the results of a study a few years ago that revealed a remarkable correlation. The younger an individual is when he or she gets plastered for the first time, the more the likely that person is to be an alcoholic as an adult. This seems intuitive, but the study revealed that there are brain wiring and brain chemistry reasons for this.
The wiring of the human brain isn’t fully formed until about age 21 in females and as late as 24 in males. (Yes, this explains a lot.) There is something about extreme inebriation that redirects the development of the immature brain–creating what we commonly call the “addictive personality” and impairing the centers responsible for sound judgement and risk avoidance.
We know about the trajectory of Amy Winehouse’s life because she was famous. But it’s a trajectory shared by millions of other addiction-prone individuals. And every time I hear about some group of 17-year-olds getting “hammered,” I wonder if they realize that the choices they’ve made today have very likely determined how functional the brain is that they will be depending on for the rest of their lives.