The tragedy of the Holocaust can be viewed as a precursor of future Holocausts that are likely to occur due to the political mismanagement that continues to plague the world.
The Cold War -- Superpower Confrontation
The Holocaust was an almost inevitable adjunct of World War II. But this great tragedy was almost eclipsed during the Cold War period. The superpower rivalry -- fueled by enmity, mistrust, the war institution and the arms race -- nearly brought humankind to a second Holocaust. A combination of technology, social institutions and cultural influences existed in the '70s and '80s, and formed the same catastrophe-oriented pattern (see Table 3).
|Jewish-Slavic Holocaust I||Potential Nuclear Holocaust II|
|Enmity: Racism and endemic antisemitism||Enmity: Anti-communism and anti-capitalism|
|Technology for mass murder: poison gas; crematoria||Technology for mass murder: thermonuclear warheads; ballistic missiles; CBR (chemical, biological, radiological) weapons|
|Vulnerability of populations to violence||Vulnerability of populations to violence|
|Political mismanagement||Political mismanagement|
|War as a social institution||War as a social institution|
|Precursor: World War I||Precursor: World War II|
The Holocaust was caused by a combination of technology, social institutions and cultural influences that formed an infrastructure for genocide, which was then triggered by war and political mismanagement.
For more than a decade a second, this time a nuclear, Holocaust was a probable event, because of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, which created conditions that could have triggered a World War III:
Cosmic Catastrophe -- Asteroids and Comets
Scientists are discovering that the planet Earth is in continuous danger from asteroids and comets orbiting in space. If an asteroid is large enough -- six or more miles in diameter -- its impact would destroy most life. Experts hypothesize that about 65 million years ago precisely this type of catastrophe took place. Dinosaurs, the then dominant life form on the planet, became extinct, along with two thirds of all life then existing. One astronomer estimates that there is a 1-in-10,000 chance that the huge Swift-Tuttle comet (about 6 miles in diameter) may hit our planet in the 22nd century. Other large comets and asteroids may lurk in space undetected, possibly causing one day an unprecedented natural catastrophe.
Human Folly -- Four Men on a Submarine
Obviously we cannot do much about the natural catastrophes of planetary collisions. But human folly -- such as political mismanagement and the war institution -- could have caused a planetary disaster and resulting species extinction in the '70s and early '80s. During this peak of the Cold War, nuclear powered and armed submarines cruised off the respective coasts of their enemies. Hundreds of nuclear missiles, each with as many as a dozen thermonuclear warheads, were targeted against the United States and the Soviet Union respectively. Key military installations and the largest cities were the preferred targets.
It would have been feasible on any one of these submarines for the commander and three of his key subordinates to launch their missiles without authorization. (Confirmed by Capt. James Bush of the Center for Defense Information, who commanded one of these nuclear submarines.) Whatever their motivation -- anti-communism, anti-capitalism or even religious fanaticism -- the result would have been the same. Under the operating procedures of instant retaliation both sides would have fired off most of their missiles. The explosion of the tens of thousands of nuclear warheads not only would have destroyed most urban areas, but through the emission of smoke and dust would have triggered a "nuclear winter" condition. The outcome would have been the same as if a large asteroid had struck our planet -- the extinction of most life forms.
This is possibly the worst case of political mismanagement in human history. To give power to four mortals over billions of human lives -- equal to the unlikely collision of planet Earth with an asteroid in the near vacuum of space -- is simply mind boggling. But as history shows, there is almost no limit to the folly of politicians and their military supporters in the 20th century.
We were fortunate that conditions in the Soviet Union allowed the unexpected emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev on the world scene. Gorbachev defused, at least temporarily, the nuclear threat of superpower confrontation. The next time a similar situation emerges we may not be as lucky. Meanwhile, none of the conditions that threaten future genocides are changed or eliminated. If anything, new instabilities, enmities and hostilities are emerging throughout the world.
The previously outlined events clarify the occurrence of Holocausts -- actual or potential major genocides and mass murders. What are the human characteristics that allow such genocides to take place? Attempts to understand the Holocaust developed a coherent theory that explains a human tendency toward genocides. This human tendency poses a mortal threat to human survival, unless corrective action can be taken.
The next chapter explores the causes and conditions that allowed and even facilitated the occurrence of the genocides of the 20th century.
Return to Contents