Value Judgments

I had and interesting exchange with my history teacher today that was a bit puzzling. The assignment it to write a paper, comparing the use of violence in the establishment of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany and the Bolshevik (Communist, Russian) Revolution.

Ok. Its an interesting question, because it challenges, or at least can challenge someone's emotional/rational responses. Generally speaking we're expected to react badly to violence, and to Nazism. They are bad things, and because we're trained to react to these words, serious consideration of these questions is difficult at best. So let us try for a moment to consider this issue.

Violence is a bad thing. People dying and hurting is a bad thing. Yes. Very bad. It's also par for the course, and seems to follow humans everywhere we go. There is no avoiding violence. Violence represents our darkest fears of chaos, and the fear of personal morality certainly doesn't help this reaction. The only problem is in order to argue against this (from any point of view) makes you (or me) come off as an insensitive jerk who doesn't care or have compassion for other people. A person, who doesn't care if "those people" die, as long as "we're" safe. On the other hand, if someone's to eager to die, then its overzealousness, which is equally as bad. So there's a fundamental flaw in this argument, and lets tack on as a disclaimer, that the acceptance of violence is not a devaluation of life, but a realization of actual circumstances. Regardless of reality, I don't think progress on this discussion can be made if we let emotions battle it out over this point.

Moving on.

The next point is that because of the Holocaust, and other clearly ReallyBadThings(tm) Nazism, like violence, provokes an emotional reaction, which isn't good. I'm not saying that we should forgive Nazism, and try too look at all the good things it accomplished. But I do think that allowing the emotional reaction to overtake us without rational consideration is dangerous at best. I've taken to do a couple of things, that I think help a little, both of which are semantics related. That is, using the words National Socialism and SS, rather than Nazism and Stormtroopers. Minor detail, but it removes the initial instinct to react.

That accomplished, thought is now required.

Basically, what I have to do in a research paper, now, is say that Hitler didn't use a standing armed force to obtain power, whereas, the Bolsheviks did. That basic over view hasn't quite moved into the realm of rational thought, but that's due at least to the simplicity of the statement. I also think that I can twist this objective to something a little more reasonable, so in the end I'm not terribly worried about this paper, but given what I said above, I'd like to ponder what my teacher gave me in a little more depth.

Because of the reaction to 'violence,' it seems to me that this question puts the Bolsheviks on a lower level than the German fascists. Perhaps. That's something that I think is unfair and incorrect.

Other incidents and comparisons between Germany and Russia that have been made in this class that I feel twist and hurt historical objectivity, or at least rational consideration of history:

The six million or more killed in the Holocaust (the commonly quoted statistic at least) compared to the 20 million Stalin killed in the Purges.

The one million Soviets died at Stalingrad (during WWII) compared to the all time running total of US war dead (which are apparently, still under a million).

The fact that retreating troops were shot at Stalingrad. While certainly gruesome, I do belive that it's always been standard military procedure to shoot troops that flee from a battle in a situation like this.

And there you have it. Not to be snobbish or anything, but that's straight from the highest level history class available at Metro High School, in St. Louis, MO. The perennially highest ranked school in the state (according to the standardized test scores, which aren't always the best marker of these things but still). I somehow doubt that the rest of the country is much better off.

Clearly thought isn't expected or particularly desired, but aren't we obligated?

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