Everyone knows about the Holocaust, in which many millions of Jews, Romani, Slavs, and other “undesirables” were systematically exterminated by the Nazis during World War 2, but that was neither the first nor the last atrocity of its kind.
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist revolutionary group under the leadership of Pol Pot, took control of Cambodia. They executed the wealthy, professional, educated, and foreign people, and enslaved many millions of the poor and working classes. For around five years, they terrorized, murdered, and starved their own people.
As with all genocides, the numbers will never be known with any certainty, but the Khmer Rouge probably killed around two million people.
I recently read Jennifer H. Lau’s autobiography of her childhood during that terrible time, Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge (affiliate link). Throughout this detailed and intimate story of her family’s survival under extraordinarily harsh conditions, I was constantly struck with how vicious ordinary people can be and how kindness often comes from unlikely sources.
Impoverished subsistence farmers became benefactors. Next door neighbors became executioners. Protectors became thieves. Arch enemies became saviors.
People are fickle and desperation drives reasonable people to horrific behavior. No nation or race is exempt. Every people has been guilty at one time or another, and the same stories emerge from every genocide.
We have lived in such amazing peace and prosperity in America for so long that it’s easy to forget it isn’t normal. We have lulled ourselves to sleep and to dream that we are immune to the ubiquitous human tendency to force our will on others, to use people like just another resource to be consumed and discarded as needed.
Even as America prospered throughout most of the 20th century, the rest of the world reeled from genocide after genocide. The Khmer Roughe in Cambodia, the Nazis in World War 2, the Soviets in numerous times and places, the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians and Greeks, and so many others. There were genocides in every other century too, of course; modern technology just made us so much more efficient at it.
However, no matter which century, no matter which group of people are killing which other group, every genocide has this one inevitable fact in common: The belief that some people have absolute authority over others. The people exist for the benefit of the state or the party or the king, and the superior has the right to force the inferior to work, to relocate, to contribute, to live, or to die.
Although some forms of government (communism, for example) are founded on the belief that one person or group of people can have unlimited authority over other people, every form of government can be infected by this disease. It starts small: one person prospers, while another person suffers, so a third decides to take from the first in order to feed the second. It’s only fair. But once you have decided that you have a right to redistribute property based solely on your own (or the majority’s!) determination of what is fair or necessary, the only remaining moral barrier to redistributing life itself is entirely imaginary. If, in my own mind, I have a right to my neighor’s labor and property based on a vote or a pragmatic determination of my own, then I have a right to his life as well.
Every tree is known by its fruit, and communism is one of the most clearly evil schemes of government ever devised by man. There is no such thing as a decent, honest communist. By definition, they are thieves and murderers, at heart if they haven’t yet gained enough power to make their dreams into reality. Socialism is communism for people who haven’t completely killed off their consciences yet, and pure democracy merely distributes the guilt over more heads.
Many people criticize God’s Law because it allows a form of slavery. Yes, God recognizes authority, but he also says that all authority is only delegated by him and only temporarily and for limited purposes. Kings, priests, judges, husbands, fathers, mothers, and elder siblings have legitimate authority over other people, but that authority is always strictly limited. In God’s Law, life and property are sacrosanct. Nobod–not even a king–has the right to take another person’s life, labor, or property without a clear divine mandate or a conviction after a trial.
Of course, people, who reject God, also reject his law and, necessarily, all objective standards of morality. There can be no absolute law without an absolute Lawgiver. They say we have “evolved” beyond slavery and the archaic mandates of the Bible.
They are deluded.
We have not evolved. We are the same murderers and slavers that we have been from the beginning. The only difference is that we have accumulated knowledge and technology and more refined justifications for our atrocities.
If that sounds too grim a prognosis for you, then you need to read Mrs Lau’s book. You can get it here at Amazon.
Full disclosure: American Torah’s links to Amazon products are usually affiliate links. I earn a very small commission if you make a purchase after following one of my links.