Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
On Disbelieving Atrocities (1944) (pastebin.com)
73 points by anonymouzz on Dec 22, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

The trouble with this - I can sympathize with the frustration of watching atrocities happening in your homeland and not being able to get people in another country far away to care. But I can also sympathize with the ordinary people in these countries far away wanting to live their lives and not wallow in every tragedy that happens around the world.

Because there's quite a lot of things happening all the time, even now, that at least the people involved would consider terrible atrocities. Have you even read about what the Burmese have been doing to the Rohingya? How about the new Chinese "Re-Education Camps" for Muslims there? Or what ISIS-associated factions are doing in Syria?

Yes to all, and I think it’s our responsibility as democratic citizens to be aware of them. What’s the point of having the right to vote and having people represent us if we’re not aware of what they should be dealing with wrt foreign policy, say? If everyone buries their head in the sand or only considers domestic issues, we don’t really have democracy. It becomes a charade that helps us feel reassured that we have freedom. Real freedom, and real democracy, come from an educated and aware populace. We can’t and shouldn’t look away from atrocities at home or abroad. It’s a global world, and we need to be able to direct the politicians who work for us.

That just seems to be redefining the word "democracy" so that it produces the outcomes you desire. I don't think that's helpful. It is important to realize that democratic process and following the will of people can result in bad and unjust outcomes.

Insofar those unjust outcomes undermine democracy itself, they're opposed to democracy. Notice how changed "democracy" to "democratic process", and how saying "democracy can result in bad and unjust outcomes" would have raised the question, as opposed to what, exactly?

As opposed to non-democracies, or to citizens who don't care about atrocities elsewhere? Those also "can lead to bad outcomes", and when you have something on both sides of the equation it's usually helpful to ignore it, and focus on the bits that aren't on both sides -- instead of ignoring anything but what is on both sides.

> As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake.

-- Hannah Arendt

> Notice how changed "democracy" to "democratic process"

Fine: It is important to realize that democracy and following the will of people can result in bad and unjust outcomes.

There, doesn't make a difference.

> and how saying "democracy can result in bad and unjust outcomes" would have raised the question, as opposed to what, exactly [...]

I haven't got a slightest idea what you're saying. You don't have to sell me on democracy, I'm already sold. You also don't have to sell me on caring about people elsewhere, I'm sold there too.

But you shouldn't define democracy to simply exclude outcomes you deem unethical as that is simply useless for discussion.

The responsibility as democratic citizens to be aware of atrocities elsewhere, because the polticians we elect deal with foreign countries in which they take place, isn't cherry picking a definition. That's directly related to what democracy is. They also said

> Real freedom, and real democracy, come from an educated and aware populace

Would you disagree with that? If not, would you agree that part of being educated and aware is being not myopic and navel gazing, and caring about genocide elsewhere? If so, what are you even arguing?

If not, how can one be educated and aware, yet so shortsighted and selfish? Do you know an example of a person you would consider educated and aware, who shrugs off atrocities elsewhere?

> But you shouldn't define democracy to simply exclude outcomes you deem unethical

Who did though? Someone said "real democracy" and you don't even ask them what they mean with that. While I don't know what they meant with "real democracy", if I had used those words in that context, I would have meant that you can't really have values such as free speech, freedom of assembly, right to due process -- in spirit, in daily practice, in the socialization and character of people, not just on paper -- and then just turn them off when people outside of your jurisdiction get brutalized, and not care at all. It's like I would say "a real feminist" doesn't just care about their own jurisdiction, but also about the plight of women in third world countries, and so on.

With democracy especially, this kind of half-assedness then comes back to bite us, too. I don't want to derail, but I'll just say "arms exports, allies who are kind of assholes, or in turn allied with assholes, refugee crisis".... not to mention global warming and the projected hundreds of millions of refugees that warming oceans could, probably will lead to. Caring about that stuff and about democracy elsewhere does benefit me, too, "in a globalized world". Just like helping another person can help me in my own life, since that life takes place in a world wherein that other person lives as well.

> If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?

-- Hillel the Elder

That guy probably didn't have "democracy" in mind, but still. If I believe in democratic ideals, human rights, and all that, I might be cool with, say, a monarchy that's not a tyranny, if people elsewhere want that, fine... but I MUST be against people just being murdered. I certainly must be against my own government being in bed with murderers. Otherwise, I'm not a "real" democrat, I'm not "really" for the human rights I myself enjoy, but just paying lip service.

I have nothing great to add, other than I found that post excellent and meritorious. I wish more people felt and thought like you do

Democracy presupposes an informed populace.

That's an interesting contrast to the increasingly non-interventionism sentiment around here, but I agree.

> What’s the point of having the right to vote and having people represent us if we’re not aware of what they should be dealing with wrt foreign policy, say?

The corollary would be to ask, if the common citizen must keep abreast of all events anyway, then why have representatives at all? Why not a direct democracy?

Ostensibly the purpose of a representative democracy is that the elected official would become an expert on the subjects for which he dictates policy. If he isn't doing that, then no matter if the populace is educated or not, policy will suffer.

I have learned, painfully, over the years that no matter if you are aware or not, atrocities continue and that there is very little you can do about them.

Theoretically you may be able to do more, if you are able to vote in US elections, but in practice those seem to be won by the candidate most voters would prefer a beer with, or who looks best on television, etc.

The Holodomor, The Armenian Genocide, The Yazidi Genocide, "The Great Leap Forward"...

Some Genocides get far more attention than others. Perhaps it's also our duty to proactively research all genocidal activity & research the political causes.

> If everyone buries their head in the sand or only considers domestic issues, we don’t really have democracy.

Much of your post I at least kind of agree with, but that's the real sticking point. Democracy means that the people have the policies that they want, whether or not it agrees with what you or I think would be a good thing. If you don't agree with them, you can try to convince them otherwise, but you don't get to say that it isn't a "real Democracy" if they don't go your way.

It's all well and good to say that any genocide of anybody anywhere is bad, and we always oppose it, but what's to be done? Grandstanding about it in international bodies may feel good, but is often ineffective. Economic sanctions sometimes work, but are often costly and can push nations into the arms of our rivals. Military action works, in a sense, but is massively expensive in money and lives and often makes the situation worse in a different way.

It's a dark thought, but I sometimes think the Nazi's real mistake was to do a genocide and a massive war of aggression at the same time. The world has collectively said "meh" at quite a few genocides, as long as the country involved wasn't actively trying to conquer everything they could touch at the same time. It also led to the seemingly absurd situation in the main post here - when a country you're actively at war with is doing these things, there's not much you can do to stop them besides win the conventional war as quickly as possible, which you're already trying to do. It makes you wonder if publicizing it at the time is worth the effort. Maybe it would get a few neutral countries to swing further your way, but who's still neutral at that point?

In addition, it's short sighted to imagine that genocide is not part of a countries' dangerous break down that will have serious impacts beyond its borders. Indeed, the mere flow of refugees alone destabilizes other nations immediately and obviously.

Not to be machiavellian, but it is a practical as well as moral issue.

"But I can also sympathize with the ordinary people in these countries far away wanting to live their lives"

Are you sure that "sympathize" is the correct word? I agree that it happens a great deal, but is this behavior something you regard as moral? Because the way people fail to engage with atrocities around the world meets most of the ordinary definitions of immoral. Their apathy is what enables evil.

I believe in spiral nebulae, can see them in a telescope and express their distance in figures; but they have a lower degree of reality for me than the inkpot on my table. Distance in space and time degrades intensity of awareness. So does magnitude. Seventeen is a figure which I know intimately like a friend; fifty billions is just a sound. A dog run over by a car upsets our emotional balance and digestion; three million Jews killed in Poland cause but a moderate uneasiness. Statistics don't bleed; it is the detail which counts. We are unable to embrace the total process with our awareness; we can only focus on little lumps of reality.

As sentient animals emerging from nature I think the ability to look away from atrocity understandable. It permeates nature to its core. Predation, disease, decay, and death are everywhere outside of our human distraction bubble.

What's more interesting to me than the ability to look away is that we've developed a sense of urgency to change that. Not just for ourselves, but for other humans and animals around us. In general, as a species, we've moved significantly in the right direction towards reducing the atrocity.

>> Our awareness seems to shrink in direct ratio as communications expand; the world is open to us as never before, and we walk about as prisoners, each in his private portable cage.

This seems to be an evergreen phenomenon. The world today is more open and connected than it was in 1944, but with that openness has come an much greater capacity to live in a walled garden of our own making.

This is the key quote: "For as long as there are people on the road and victims in the thicket, divided by dream barriers, this will remain a phoney civilisation."

Of course, people throw up their hands in helplessness. Or, for some, there is helpless guilt. But it needn't be so. It was Adelle Davis who once wrote: "It is part of my creed — of my religion if you like — that when you have the ability to help your fellow man, that ability ceases to be merely an ability and becomes a responsibility."

At first nobody believed because there really was no concrete evidence. This was changed by Witold Pilecki:

> During World War II, Pilecki volunteered for a Polish resistance operation that involved being imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp in order to gather intelligence and later escape. While in the camp, he organized a resistance movement and informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz atrocities as early as 1941. He escaped from the camp in 1943 after nearly 2½ years of imprisonment.


By 1944 the evidence was massive, yet Arthur Koestler still needed to write this piece.

Pilecki was one tough dude. I always thought he got in, looked around and quickly left. But his biography describes how he participated in camp life for more than 2 years like other prisoners and with the same risk to his life.

This guy was a true hero.

> This guy was a true hero.

Absolutely. Nor did he stop. Having left Auschwitz he volunteered to fight in the Warsaw uprising. He hid his rank so fought as a private but later took command of a unit. At war's end he tried to rebuild his network to seek evidence of Soviet atrocities in Poland. That eventually resulted in his capture, show trial and execution.

There are very few of his mould.

(this is based on chats with guides in Auschwitz)

Apparently survival inside the camp for this long was only possible if you knew how to climb the hierarchy, and Pilecki did it well. For example - on the day he (and a few of his friends) fled they were assigned to a job in a bakery. A job in a bakery is one of the best jobs you could possibly get there, as you can steal enough food to not die of starvation.

True. He was very smart and built up a network that kept him alive.

Which biography is that (I assume he never got a chance to write his own?)

When the evidence builds up gradually it might be less persuasive because of people sticking to their opinions formed when the evidence was weak.

Sometimes "atrocities" should be disbelieved, though.

Consider the most recent Syrian "nerve gas attacks". Politicians said they were "sure", launched airstrikes, pulled the remaining diplomats from the region. Then the only actually trustworthy body, OPCW, released the report in which it said, I quote: "no organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected" (don't believe me? Google the exact quote). If sarin were actually used, those degradation products would be at detectable levels for many years.

Chlorine residue _was_ found, but the position of the bodies on the scene is inconsistent with chlorine poisoning, suggesting that the bodies might have been moved to suggest they died of a nerve agent (i.e. fell to the ground where they stood, rather than ran to the windows gasping for air). The delivery mechanism is also unclear, there are undamaged chlorine cylinders found at the scene, suggesting that it wasn't launched from a distance.

So we've been blatantly lied to by politicians and the press yet again in order to manufacture consent. This was mostly ignored by the public. This is not the first time this has been done, either. See e.g. Iraq "WMDs", and the current darling of the liberal establishment, Robert Mueller, deliberately lying to Congress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTDO-kuOGTQ. I say "deliberately" because no "evidence" could have been presented to him, because none existed.

Atrocities happen because the systems encompassing us are not perfect. Problems arise because we humans decide to live under the imperfect systems; vastly different by where on earth you happen to be. Metaphorically it's like when you travel, you're navigating into a new realm and where the game rules are completely rewritten for whatever the outcome will be and with whatever consequences. My intuition thinks this is a problem. The differences keep the world beautiful but separate us fundamentally in how things are handled.

I've been a victim of of a situation, that would not have happened if I had not been where I was and had been in a different country. I know it was an atrocity and in 100 years I could easily see people not believing it had happened & even today I've seen doubts.

Individuals are prone to question every possible situation with vastly different personal ideas. It's how great things come about. Disbelieving is also a result for some individuals and maybe it's dangerous but it's part of the equation. My assumption is energy should be focused towards making the systems around the globe more similar with trying to keep culture intact. Although the world may be safer for everyone without culture and just one nationality.

Lastly I think we have people disbelieving atrocities because compassion is piss poor compared to what we're capable of. People will focus only on themselves when the systems don't care about societies health (depending on where you live) and results in people being delusional or disbelieving what's in fact reality.

From another great writer of the human condition ...

Musée des Beaux Arts W.H.Auden

  About suffering they were never wrong,
  The Old Masters; how well, they understood
  Its human position; how it takes place
  While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully 
  along; ....

Crystal clear writing. With cogent argumentation. This is how you persuade. Parallels with contemporary climate deniers is stunning.

> Parallels with contemporary climate deniers is stunning.

You're right. I agree with you.

But–and I say this with all respect and no judgment–I think the insight here is not to point at one's perceived opponents and say, "Yes! This describes my experience with them perfectly!"; but to ask oneself who are the screamers in ones own life who get one's own glossy-eyed stare.

It is very difficult and often impossible to pop someone else's bubble, so we should all work hard on popping our own.

As for the average climate denier[0], I won't defend them, but I'll say this: They're wrong about the climate, but they're screaming about something.

[0]By which I mean those who are sincere and not well-funded, financially motivated deceivers.

Edit: Formatting.

Regarding Arhur Koestler and bubbles popping ... apparently he was a rapist and narcissist.


and convinced his healthy wife to commit suicide with him.

> It is very difficult and often impossible to pop someone else's bubble, so we should all work hard on popping our own.

Huh? they won't listen to reason, so I should do what, exactly?

I don't know, maybe pretend e.g. the Nazis were convinced of the errors of their ways -- rather than defeated first militarily, and then shamed socially.

I'd say, "what you should do" is to organize with others and enforce boundaries on those who are in the "bubble" of not giving a (meaningful) fuck of continued organized existence of the human race. Deal with the mote in your own eye, just to shut Jesus up, and then get to work on the speck of dust in the eye of your neighbour. Turns out size doesn't matter, but what it blocks the view of, and that's one hell of a speck of dust.

The mote probably never meant shit in comparison but do it anyway, get rid of attack surface for people who are looking for excuses to not confront anyone in earnest. As if just knowing about Auschwitz was possible in a vacuum, without making oneself an enemy of the Nazis. They are obedient now, they will fall in line when you achieve critical mass with people who are worth their salt. So completely forget them until they do better, if they ever do. Don't put more stock in them than they themselves did. Focus on those who are not just a drain of resources, but that pollinate and challenge you in a way that leaves you and them better.

And notice the irony of you being downvoted without reply, instead of that downvoter instead criticizing something about themselves. You're supposed to not "think you're better than others", or consider your concerns more important than theirs -- but people will absolutely consider themselves better than you for allegedly not considering themselves better as others. But that's not for them to realize, I guess.

> I'd say, "what you should do" is to organize with others and enforce boundaries on those who are in the "bubble" of not giving a (meaningful) fuck of continued organized existence of the human race.

Dumb question here: why should I give a fuck about literally anything that happens after I die?

Because people (or even projects) you love may outlive you? It can provide immediate visceral satisfaction to try to help boost them even if you won't see the benefits. Children are a good example of this, but there are many others (legacies, societies, proteges, lovers).

Why should you... not get between a lioness and her cubs? Well, just because she doesn't yet realize that you're doing that, doesn't mean she never will. The question is really just how thick you think this ice is, and if you feel particularly lucky. The question isn't so much why should you care, but if you don't care, what leg do you have to stand on in regards to others?

Why would you care, that's the better question IMO. Maybe because you have been treated well, because you can afford it, because if you have greater capacity for care than neediness. That is, maybe after you spent all the care you possibly can on yourself, you still have plenty left and might as well use it. Because your daily income of ability to care is more than your expenses on just yourself.

I've known stinking rich egotists as well as rich people with a huge heart, and the latter seemed happier and more intelligent by far. No contest, I'd even say they're actually living in the first place, while those who care only about themselves are boring at best, constantly whining at worst. And just like there's networks of sociopaths, just like "the devil recognizes his brethren", so do people with functioning hearts and brains recognize others, and I dare say they're much better company. Better looking, too, even just insofar that being able to look any- and everyone in the eye makes a person instantly more attractive, all else being equal. And that's before age kicks in.. reaping the rewards of a selfish life is truly brutal, and the most cruel part is that after a life of selfishness you have no ability to recognize the consequences of that as consequences of that.

If what you got from reading this was "this is a perfect description of other people", then you missed the point.

>> On Disbelieving Atrocities

>> Arthur Koestler (Jan. 1944)

I wondered if the author is the Arthur Koestler, but Wikipedia tells me he was born in 1905, so if I read the following sentence correctly (i.e. meaning that the writer is 62 at the time of writing, in 1944), then the piece was written by another author of the same name, because the best-known Arthur Koestler was 39 in 1944:

>> "I know" that, the average statistical age being about 65, I may reasonably expect to live no more than another 2.7 years, (...)

And yet, a cursory search on the internet suggests the well-known Arthur Koestler was, indeed the writer of the piece. What gives?

I believe the . is a typo, and it's 27 years. That also lines up with the date he gives for his death, in 1970.

Probably an OCR glitch even, as the text has some OCR cliches in it:

> and regard these as black-and-white altematives.

Related: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18374359

Duh. You're right, simplest explanation.

Cheers :)

> These limitations of awareness account for the limitations of enlightenment by propaganda. People go to cinemas, they see films of Nazi tortures, of mass-shootings, of underground conspiracy and self-sacrifice. They sigh, they shake their heads, some have a good cry. But they do not connect it with the realities of their normal plane of existence.

translated from Hannah Arendt in "Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft":

> The movies which the Allies showed in Germany and other countries after the war was over, have proven that the characteristic of insanity and irreality of the photographed events withstands all mere reportage. For the unbiased viewer they are about as convincing as the photographs of mysterious substances in spiritist seances. Common sense reacts to the atrocities of Buchenwald or Auschwitz with the plausible argument: "What crimes have these people committed, that this was done to them?" Or, in Germany and Austria during the food shortages, the overpopulation and the general hatred: "Too bad not more were murdered!" Or everywhere with head shaking, suspicious of a particularly ineffective trick of propaganda.

> Although the propaganda of truth doesn't convince the normal "square" citizen because of its monstrosity, it has a much more dangerous effect on those who from their own fantasies know that they would be capable of doing such a thing, and who are simply happy to believe in the reality of the shown events. Suddenly it turns out that what human fantasy for millenia had declared to be beyond human competence can be produced after all. Hell and limbo, and even an inkling of their eternal duration, can be built, by letting humans die forever, with the most modern methods of destruction and healing. What these types, of whom there are more in any big city than we are willing to believe, realize when they watch these movies or read those articles, is that the power of man is greater than they dared to admit, and that hellish fantasies can be realized without the sky falling down, or the ground opening up.

Seeing how the book was originally written in English I'm sure the original is much better (but sadly I don't have it in English, yet). I hope it's at least somewhat understandable, but I still want to include the German from which I translated for completeness:

> Die Filme, die die Allierten nach Kriegsende in Deutschland und im Ausland liefen ließen, haben nur zu deutlich erwiesen, daß der Irrsinns- und Irrealitätscharakter der photographierten Begebenheiten aller reinen Reportage standhält. Für den unbefangenen Zuschauer kommt ihnen etwas soviel Überzeugungskraft zu wie den Photographien mysteriöser Substanzen in spiritistischen Sitzungen. Der gesunde Menschenverstand reagierte auf die Greuel von Buchenwald oder Auschwitz mit dem plausiblen Argument: "Was müssen die Leute nur angestellt haben, daß dies mit ihnen geschah?" Oder, in Deutschland und Österreich inmitten der Hungersnot, der Überbevölkerung und des allgemeinen Hasses: "Wie schade, dass man nicht mehr Juden vergast hat!" Oder überall mit dem Kopfschütteln des Mißtrauens genen einen besonders unwirksamen Propagandatrick.

> Wenn die Propaganda der Wahrheit ihrer Ungeheuerlichkeit wegen den noch normalen Spießbürger nicht überzeugt, so hat sie eine desto gefährlichere Wirkung auf diejenigen, welche aus ihren eigenen Phantasiemöglichkeiten wissen, daß sie so etwas tun könnten, und aus diesem Grunde nur zu froh sind, an die Realität des Gezeigten zu glauben. Urplötzlich stellt sich heraus, daß, was die menschliche Phantasie seit Jahrtausenden in ein Reich jenseits menschlicher Kompetenz verbannt hat hatte, tatsächlich herstellbar ist. Hölle und Fegefeuer und selbst ein Abglanz ihrer ewigen Dauer können errichtet werden, indem man Menschen mit den modernsten Mitteln der Destruktion und der Heilkunst unendlich lange sterben läßt. Was diesen Typen, von denen es in jeder Großstadt sehr viel mehr gibt, als wir gerne wahrhaben möchten, beim Anblick dieser Filme oder beim Lesen jener Reportagen aufgeht, ist, daß die Macht des Menschen größer ist, als sie sich einzugestehen wagten, und daß man höllische Phantasien realisieren kann, ohne daß der Himmel einstürzt und die Erde sich auftut.

another bit from the article:

> I think one should imitate this example. Two minutes of this kind of exercise per day, with closed eyes, after reading the morning paper, are at present more necessary to us than physical jerks and breathing the Yogi way. It might even be a substitute for going to church. For as long as there are people on the road and victims in the thicket, divided by dream barriers, this will remain a phoney civilisation.

Yes! I can't say anything other than "yes", really. Or "this, so much this".

> Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does.

-- George Orwell


Applications are open for YC Summer 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact