What would Jesus’ response have been to Hitler and the Final Solution? How can we love Hitler, Goerhing, Goebbels, and others in that regime who carried out this plan? If Britain, the United States, and France had nullified Germany’s payment of reparations from World War I after the invasion of Poland, would that have done anything?
Thus writes a reader in response to the post on Jesus’ teaching on murder, revenge and enemies (click here to review).
We interrupt the Story of the Faith series to provide some responses.
While it may seem that fighting the Nazis, as Churchill put it “on the seas and oceans ... in the air ... on the beaches ... on the landing grounds ... in the fields and in the streets ... [and] in the hills beaches” is, or was, the only possible response, we don’t actually know that this is true. Nothing that seriously follows the teachings of the Galilean was tried.
But let’s imagine that all Jews, Communists, gays, Roma, along with pacifist Catholics and Bonhofferian Lutherans — in brief , everyone who in good conscience disagreed with the Nazis and everyone who was hated by them — had stood up and gone to PrinzAlbrechtStrasse, the HQ of the Gestapo, all at once, saying, “arrest me and liquidate me.”
Indeed, Mohandas Ghandi tried precisely this in colonial South Africa. He convinced all the Indians living in South Africa to violate the racial laws, sitting in the seats for whites and so forth. At first they were all arrested, but soon enough the Brits found themselves with jails filled to the brim and still more lawbreakers to process.
The Brits gave in. They invented the “colored” designation for Indians and other South Asians, which extended distinctive rights between those of Europeans and Africans. This persisted through the Apartheid period after independence.
Some in the former British North America may argue that the Brits were more civilized than the Germans. Were they?
The Brits invented the concentration camp (in Africa, in fact, during the Boer War, when Churchill himself was there). Racial classifications? As we have seen, the Brits beat the Germans at that, too. The Brits even had their own Hitler, a fellow named Oliver Cromwell, who simply did not possess the technology of Hitler to enforce his all-encompassing dictatorship, which even decreed how and to whom one should pray. Ask the Irish about the civilized British since Cromwell.
Lastly, the firebombing of entire urban population centers in Germany, a tactic devised by an RAF officer known as “Bomber” Harris, was no less of a mass murder than anything the Nazis did. It may have been revenge, but who said revenge was a high moral value? Not the Bible (Deut 35:32, also Romans 12:19).
So, really, who’s to say that a massive turning of the cheek at the Nazis might not have stopped them dead in their tracks, overwhelmed by love? To echo Chesterton, it wasn’t tried.
As to Hitler, Göhring, Göbbels and the rest, taken as individuals, they were surely humanly appealing in some way.
Strip off the considerable propaganda about them. Adolf Hitler was a battered, frustrated artist who undoubtedly felt very unloved. Hermann Göhring became drug addicted from excess morphine given to him as a wounded soldier; surely, his excesses and his blindness to the pain of others had something to do with his particular psychological handicap. Joseph Göbbels was a club-footed ugly little man who surely suffered terrible indignities before he became the Nazi propaganda chief; he was reputedly a very kind and soft-hearted father.
Could we not love the divine spark that they had in them, as we have? Could we not empathize with their pain and attempt to offer better palliatives than leadership of an insane regime? Could we not, even in the Nuremburg docket (only Göring was alive by then and he cheated the hangman by hanging himself), see what wretches they were and offer therapy and kindness to show them the path to The Way (a name given to the Christian life by early believers)?
This is not an impossible and unthinkable set of propositions, if we take the sayings of Jesus seriously. Such thinking might have changed history.
Certainly, at Versailles after World War I, the Allies (pushed by the French, whose troops were verifiably the most prone to deserting in battle) were overly harsh with Germany, pushing them into a corner out of which another war seemed the only way out. President Wilson didn't think reparations were the way to go.
After the Second War, the lesson was learned. Not a penny was demanded from Germany by the Allies. The proposed Morgenthau plan to starve and deindustrialize occupied West Germany back to the Middle Ages was disregarded; by the late 1940s the U.S. generals were pleading for generous aid. Hence the Marshall Plan.
Clearly, the Versailles Treaty was a huge and very un-Christian mistake.
Beyond that, we need to consider whether actually heeding the words of the Galilean is not merely the nice thing to do. Is it not possible that, if they truly represent divine advice, norms such as turning the other cheek are good and practical instructions for making the world the Creator gave us simply work well?