I don’t know what made me think of this, but it seems to me a supreme testament of the fragility and elusiveness of humanity. Just as America was winning the war against Germany, Japan jumped into the fight. We were slowly exposed to the horrors of the holocaust, and we were appalled. We executed and imprisoned Germans for war crimes, and yet simultaneously we created concentration camps for Japanese Americans (particularly on the west coast). Was this hypocrisy ignored merely for the necessity of war, or were stereotypes of the Japanese ubiquitous? Was the machine of war, propaganda, conformity, white supremacy, too overwhelming to recognize the tragic loss of humanity?
We have to recognize the many layers of context which were at play in the mid-20th century. Every nation had a prevailing sense of patriotism, which fed the hatred of foreign ethnicities, especially regarding one’s enemy. People trusted their governments and media. America’s brand of ethnocentrism was continually reinforced by technology such as radio and television. These presented polished versions of reality that appealed to our rigid worldview. What we failed to see was the issue of war in general.
The fact that we so easily and quickly fell into the same patterns as the Nazis–in the midst of a radically different political structure–means that the nature of war itself is responsible. The military industrial complex is a manifestation of the addiction war has on economies, societies, and citizens. Time and time again, the military becomes inseparable from the gears of every nation which endorses militarization. If all is fair in love and war, then why do we have trials for war crimes? Why are we not accountable to the same measure of as our enemy? Why does war justify terrors on both sides?
Siddhārtha Gautama beautifully articulates an answer: “Those who attempt to conquer hatred by hatred are like warriors who take weapons to overcome others who bear arms. This does not end hatred, but gives it room to grow. But, ancient wisdom has advocated a different timeless strategy to overcome hatred. This eternal wisdom is to meet hatred with non-hatred. The method of trying to conquer hatred through hatred never succeeds in overcoming hatred. But, the method of overcoming hatred through non-hatred is eternally effective. That is why that method is described as eternal wisdom.”
For almost any immoral act, both victim and violator have the same mindset, they both feel victimized. Victims tend to become aggressors, obsessed with revenge. It seems that the only effective way to counter hate is with non-hate. This is the enduring principle of absolute pacifism.