Dear Father Connell:
Gonzaga Preparatory School’s genocide club and elective genocide class involves its students in promoting genocide education and awareness. Unfortunately, not all students receive the opportunity to partake in these activities. After-school sports may not allow them to join the club, or, perhaps, their schedule does not permit them to enroll in the elective class. This curriculum is critical, as the Holocaust offers important insights into human weaknesses—perhaps the greatest of these is our willingness to create scapegoats. Understanding these weaknesses and our own susceptibility provides the key to preventing future holocausts. Therefore, a mandatory Holocaust and genocide education class should be included in the school’s curriculum in order to inform students.
Germany suffered greatly from its loss in World War One, creating social unrest that spread throughout the country. Adolf Hitler turned the country’s misery and anger against the Jewish population—making a scapegoat of them. He craftily convinced the people that the only way to remedy their suffering was to destroy the Jewish community. Thus, the Holocaust—the mass murdering of six-million Jews and five-million other minorities in treacherous concentration camps—was carried out. Such tragedies continue to exist and repeat themselves today, as people blame others for their problems. Our willingness to create scapegoats proves a major problem.
William Golding’s allegory “Lord of the Flies” explores this human tendency to create scapegoats. In the novel, a group of young boys finds themselves stranded on an island without any adult supervision. Although order is established early on, it quickly deteriorates.
At one island gathering, a small boy mentions a “beastie” that lives on the island, wondering what is to be done about it. Originally, the existence of a beast on the island is denied. However, the beast’s existence soon becomes the boys’ reality, as they readily place the blame for the island’s destruction on it. Jack, one of the island boys, leads the others in attempts to destroy the beast. This, however, only results in the island’s further destruction as innocents on the island are killed in the chaos. Simon, another one of the boys, recognizes that no physical beast exists, saying, “Maybe there is a beast…maybe it’s only us.” Indeed, the only beasts on that island are the boys.
William Golding’s scenario reflects the Holocaust in numerous ways. Just as the imaginary beast provides the boys with a scapegoat for the island’s destruction, the Jews provided the majority of the German population with a scapegoat for the country’s suffering. Their resentment for the Jews grew rapidly into fear and hatred.
A similar pattern can be seen in the Los Angeles riots of 1992 when racial tensions and gang violence were sparked by the Rodney King trial. Pre-existing divisions based on race came to life as people attacked and counter attacked with violence, caving to mob mentality. Soon, as seen in the movie Freedom Writers, directed by Richard LaGravenese, people started to target anyone who looked different from them.
This pattern of instinctively attributing our own problems to others continues into high school life. When we are unable to follow through or keep pace, we quickly pass the blame to others making excuses for when we have failed. Phrases such as “I was cut from the team because the new kid took my spot” or “I was not ready for the test because Suzie told me it was not until Friday” are rather common. Although these are minor occurrences, this practiced behavior of blaming others can have unforeseen effects, such as bullying and the creation of stereotypes.
Furthermore, these mentalities parallel those in the early stages of genocide. People are labeled as different from us based on appearance or customs. On a larger scale, it may lead to widespread prejudice and discrimination—just as it did for the Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust.
Clearly, creating scapegoats presents real issues in today’s society. Genocide may seem like a thing of the past—but it’s not. Sadly, such catastrophes continue to play out; the Darfur Genocide in Sudan provides just one example.
A class dedicated to Holocaust and genocide education would not only aim to educate its students, but also to promote them to share this knowledge with others through school presentations and other forms of media. Above all, this program should place emphasis on our human tendency to avoid responsibility for our own problems and redirect the blame to someone else. Recognizing this flaw and taking responsibility for it is essential to defeating it and taking the first step towards a genocide-free world.