Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

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[BRIEF NOTE] The Funny Thing About Genocide

I've noticed today that I've been writing a lot about historical negationism of late: the Turkish genocide of the Armenians; the massacres of Bosniaks by Serb paramilitary forces at Srebrenica; the Holocaust. While I hesitate to call this a trend, it is true that I've been thinking a lot about the mechanics of historical representation and collective memory, and questions of accuracy. My thoughts on this subject have evolved since last year's review of Alison Landsberg's Prosthetic Memory and John Barnes' The Merchants of Souls, but the issue still matters to me. One thing I've been wondering about recently is the question of why a person or a community would deny the existence of genocide. What possible motivations could there be? Disbelief at the scale of the crime is one, relatively honourable, motive; a desire to protect one's personal or group honour is another, dishonourable, justification. It's a truism to say that these two motives don't cover every situation.

One particularly horrible motive has come to me recently. Ron Rosenbaum's Explaining Hitler is the first, and so far the only, book I've seen which suggests that the Holocaust was a vast jest. Consider, if you will, the famous "Arbeit macht frei" motto greeting incoming prisoners at Auschwitz. Were the Nazis really going to allow the inmates destined for extermination escape and life if only they worked hard enough? And then, there's the classic, "We're sending the Jews to ... Madagascar!" (Cue cymbals.)

One definition of humour has it as the "ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd." If you're in the process of committing genocide, and if you believe that the victims deserve their fate, might you not find it a bit of a stress-reliever to play on the incongruity between your victim's disbelief and your certain knowledge? True, this is a one-sided humour, but when does humour have to be fair to all parties concerned? After the genocide's over, you can't have the same fun that you used to--you run out of victims, for starters. There's still an incongruity between the knowledge that you share with the wider world and your public pretense, mind. Your genocide denial also runs the decided bonus of tormenting the survivors just a little bit more. What's the harm to you?
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