Moral Homework

German and Russian Genocide

Posted on August 17, 2017

Moral Homework

Black citizens of the United States want to remove monuments of those who praised slavery. This includes confederate generals, who fought against the union soldiers in order to maintain slavery as a legitimate form of social life. Union armies won and slavery has been abolished. Southern slaves were free to migrate to the steel mills and slaughterhouses of the northern states. But black citizens still have more chances to end up in prison than in a gentrified city center or green suburb. Black mayor of Boston removed four confederate monuments at night to avoid clashes of black left and white right. Trump was not amused. He has wondered if Jefferson and Washington statues are also removable. After all, both approved of slavery and kept slaves. Should all US dollar bills be printed with Lincoln and Obama rather than Jefferson and Washington on them?

The question has no ready-made answer. The past belongs to all of us and it is also passionately disputed by everybody. Should the Belgians break the monuments of the vile king Leopold down to atone for genocide in Kongo, which made Brussels rich and beautiful? Should the Japanese pay reparations to China for war crimes, which allowed Japan to rob half of Asia and join the imperialist club? Who should decide about it? The court of public opinion never sleeps in the networked world. It corrects blind spots and black holes in our history. It reminds us about moral homework.

In 1939 the Russians were ruled by Stalin as a dictator of Soviet Union. Stalin and Hitler started World War II by invading Poland and dividing a difficult task of genocide among themselves. Then Hitler invaded Russia and Stalin, aided by the West, defeated him, claiming the Central and Eastern Europe as a war trophy. Some of the Germans who ran concentration camps and committed war crimes were tried. None of the Russians who ran concentration camps and committed war crimes have ever been tried. Russians discovered that Stalinists were bad, but they were not Russian (as if communists were aliens). Nowadays even Germans seem to have discovered that concentration camps were run by Nazis (as if Nazis were aliens). Can citizens of Europe deal with this old Russian blindness to genocide? Can we deal with the newly emergent German one?


Rotterdam, August 17, 2017