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Comparative Horror

Feb
10
2006

Look, you of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool. I know that as well from my community and our experience with slavery.”

Let’s make two things clear: First, Republican Senatorial candidate Michael Steele of Maryland assuredly was comparing the destruction of human embryos for stem cells to the destruction of European Jews for utilitarian purposes in the Holocaust. Second, he was right.


The internal logic of his position is obvious. Steele is a Catholic, and a former seminarian to boot. As one of the faithful, he does what is not often expected of American Catholics in public life: namely, he agrees with and espouses his Church’s teachings. (This is especially novel to Democrats used to the likes of Kerry, Kennedy, Durbin, Mikulski, et al.) He is against the death penalty, he believes that life begins at conception, and he advocates policy that logically flows from these things. Let us leave to the side the question of whether an unborn person is a person, and acknowledge that if one believes it is, then the willful killing of that person for material ends is a profound horror.

Is it a horror comparable to the Holocaust? Certainly there is resistance to the idea. Much, though hardly all, of the Holocaust mythos revolves about its status as a unique historical event. Accepting that every historical event is technically “unique,” the idea of the Holocaust was a sadly common one in the 20th century, as Armenians, Tutsis, Bosniacs and kulaks can attest. The intentional, wholesale elimination of an ethnicity or a class as such is, justifiably, a unique concern of Jews in history — and now — but it is not their concern alone.

That this happened is not in question. Why the Jews were massacred in the Holocaust is another matter. At the risk of oversimplifying millennia of Christian paranoia and resentment, their killers did it for — to their minds — the best of reasons. They did it to make a better Europe. They did it to make a better world.

And they did it to advance the cause of medical science. They did it to save lives.

There is a long record of Nazi experiments on Jewish prisoners. These experiments were designed to determine the limits of human endurance — most infamously, to see how long men could survive in freezing water — with the intent that the resultant data would be used to save the lives of Germans in similar straits. Other medical-related research involved tormenting or killing Jews in the course of altitude sickness-, trauma-, tuberculosis-, and gangrene-related research.

Interestingly, the consensus among scientists of the modern day is that the data thus gathered is unusable, and de facto nonexistent. Why this is so is obvious: as said Dostoevsky’s Alyosha before the Grand Inquisitor, the happiness and peace of all humanity is not worth the suffering of a single child.

Unless that child is unborn.

Oh, there is outrage at the impolitic utterance of Michael Steele, and he is now scrambling to contain the electoral damage. Certainly the partisan fools and the outright stupid are making hay of his breaking of two taboos of American public life. One is the taboo that bars public adherence to the demands of Christian orthodoxy, at the cost of being labeled “far right.” The other is the taboo that eschews the public drawing of logical conclusions from that orthodoxy: in this case, the tenuous difference between killing Jews and the killing of unborn children — for the sake of medical progress.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 11:33 PM | Permalink

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