One of the common question you hear, and therefore presumably one of the questions which automatically comes to mind when we look at the Holocaust on the whole is," Why didn't anyone do anything about it?" Well, there are several answers. The first answer is really stupid," Because everyone in Germany was a Nazi! Duh!" The second is more practical, but still doesn't quite make the cut," Because everyone was too scared to do something about it." Which might be more or less true. It follows from the second answer that it was a minority of Germans who had the notion to do something about it. Which brings us to the question," What good would it have done for so few, who were so powerless, to do anything?" Which leads us into a whole different line of questioning having to do with morality," Was it incumbent upon them to do something, given the evident futility of the act?"
There are two kinds of moral actions, to my mind, which encompass all moral action, inaction, disposition, and thought. The first is those things which fall under moral obligation. We are morally obligated NOT to do certain things, hence," Don't sin." Don't do anything evil, immoral, et cetera, et cetera. We're also morally obligated to DO certain things, like paying those who work for an agreed wage, or worshiping God, or defending the defenseless. The second category is called 'supererogation.' Literally, a work above and beyond the normal work. The things which fall into supererogation are 'morally praiseworthy, but not morally obligatory.' For instance, finding a zit-faced teenager on the side of the road in a broken down vehicle, and then taking the time to fix his vehicle and then teaching him how to prevent it from ever happen again... that's supererogation. Or sending someone who could use it, a large sum of money, not expecting it back, anonymously. The philanthropist who can't really afford to be one is a 'supererogator.' I'm sure that's not a real word, so don't use it. Anyway, you get the idea. Christ talked about these two things in his sermon on the mount and said that, that which is morally obligatory is of no credit to us... "for even tax collectors and sinners do that." He stated in no uncertain terms that it is only supererogation that is a credit to us, " Love your enemies and pray for them."
So, why didn't a group of Catholics, why didn't hundreds of Catholics, stand up under the Third Reich, during the din of war and atrocity to at least blow up a single damn guard tower at Dachau or Auschwitz? Why didn't they knock a single damn hole in the wall? Forget that for the moment. Let's say they had. First of all, how would they be remembered today? It's safe to assume that everyone knows the answer to that. They'd be regarded as heroes by virtually the whole human race. They would all probably be canonized saints, right now... especially if they had all perished in the spray of machine gun fire.
Please don't assume that I am intending to undercut the real life heroics of hundreds, if not thousands of people in Europe who did risk everything to hide and save Jews. In no way! can the heroism and goodliness of those people's actions be delimited. And they ought not be forgotten. But having assumed this hypothetical alternate history, which category of moral action would their deeds fall into? Morally obligatory actions, or supererogation? Ruminate that.
Let's try to make a few analogies. If you saw a gang mugging an old woman, or beating an 80 year old vet to death for their wallet, do you think you would have a moral obligation to do something about it? Or do you think that your intervention would fall into the category of supererogation? Or lets say you saw a man kicking his toddler in the stomach repeatedly at a rest stop. Do you think you have a moral obligation to do something about it? Let me be more exact: To physically stop him? Or would your actions fall into the "morally praiseworthy, but not morally obligatory" category? Hmmm? Let's 'up the ante.' What if the guy stomping his toddler to death was openly armed with a pistol, and you didn't have one. Still morally obligatory? It goes back to that question," What good would it have done for so few, who were so powerless, to do anything?" Would you rather be the person who was shot trying to save that child, or would you rather live in immortal infamy as the person who stood by and watched?
"No-Brainer" questions, right? Okay, good. Congratulations on not being a completely worthless human being. Now, back to the hypothetical question about the our heroes from the alternate history... would their actions have fallen into the category of moral obligation or supererogation? Still hazy? No definitive line of demarcation? I understand. It's hard to grasp genocide, intellectually. How do you grasp a number like 12,000,000? Honestly? As Stalin said," One man is a tragedy. One million is a statistic." I could bring up things like putting people in xylon gas showers, pregnant mothers being injected with acid, people being shot in the back of the head, et cetera, et cetera. But... you've heard it all before. It will never be as shocking as 'the toddler' scenario. That doesn't make you a bastard. That makes you human. You can't fathom the gravity of it, because your mind isn't designed to. It's a thought terminating reality. It's too much. That's why the concentration camps were able to run. It's to much too grasp... Nazi soldiers included.
So, understanding, and accepting our handicap, let's just answer that question logically. Would their actions fall under moral obligation or supererogation? One answer sounds absurd, and it isn't moral obligation. So, if they, the people who knew and wanted to do something about it, were morally obligated... why didn't they do something? Hmmm? It's a good question. Which is why you can hardly think about the Holocaust without asking it, at least once.
Let's say, for the sake of argument that doing something about it would have fallen into the category of supererogation. It's unfathomable to me, but for the sake of argument. There are many situations where it is not better to live. There are many situations where life is subordinate to a goal, or the life of others. Many such situation happen in war. "Greater love hath no man, than to lay his life down for his friends." Do you believe that?.... Why didn't anyone do that violent act of supererogation? Why didn't hundreds do that violent act of supererogation? It's a good question. Which is why it naturally comes to mind.
Perhaps, they wanted to "honor the emperor." Or perhaps they didn't want to criminally damage government property by blowing up a guard tower, or knocking a hole in the camp wall. Or maybe they were worried that if they did, they would build a bigger, nicer, thicker wall in its place. Maybe, they were afraid that one of the soldiers might get burned if they threw a Molotov cocktail over the wall. Or perhaps, all that is complete bullshit. Maybe, they were just cowards. To be sure many were. Maybe, they just didn't have a single clue about what to do. Maybe, they were waiting for someone else to form an armed response that they could join. Maybe, it was too much to fathom what went on behind those walls. Or maybe, the Germans weren't lying when they told the Allies," We didn't know." Maybe...
So, let's talk about something else... killing babies. We've killed approximately 4.58 times the number of people the Nazis have, and they were all babies. And we killed them in the most grotesque place possible... inside of their mothers. People people at the incipient phase of existence. People in a practical sense, more innocent than most of the victims of the Holocaust. Not only, but we have enshrined abortion in law as a right. We have given it the full protection of our law... federal, state, and local. All our power defends and protects it in concert. 55,000,000 murdered babies. Fifty-five million. That's one of those numbers you can't really grasp. That's 6.67 times the population of New York City. That's almost 1 1/2 times the population of California. You could murder every single person living in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark twice, and still have five million more people to murder to match that number. Really, it's an act of futility. There's no figure I can give you that will make it comprehensible.
Don't feel like looking down your nose at those German cowards anymore... do you? Waiting for someone else to do something about it? Don't know what to do about it? Waiting for someone else's efforts to gain momentum that you can join? Too much to even fathom; never seems quite the atrocity that it is? One thing is for sure... there's no way for you to lie about it like the Germans did. You know. You know.
One day, maybe, people will ask about us," Why didn't anybody do anything about it? Oh they waved plenty of banners, sure. But why didn't they do something REAL about it? Why didn't the Church stand up and denounce their 'Hitlers' by name and by party?! Why didn't they do everything in their power? Why didn't they risk everything? Why didn't they risk all for the just and right cause?" Weeell... that sort of response to abortion might have fallen into the category of supererogation..." What a safe and terrible answer." May God spread his mercy upon us for our moral dereliction. Be sure to do something meaningful about this... like talking about it on facebook.