Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kastner's Evil And A Question

When I first read about Rudolf Kastner in Hungary, his 1944 trading the death of 100,000 of his people to save a chosen 1,000, I told almost everyone I met about him. The usual reaction was, just another evil character, they are especially common in war time. What did I expect?

I tried to explain. It was his own people whose death he caused, not the enemy's. And the response was, betrayal is also common in war. So what did I mean? What was so special about Kastner and what he did?

Our definition of evil is suppressing natural human feeling for the sake of the reassurance that comes from acting in a group. Here though there seems to be a kind of evil in which we as individuals create first in our imagination, then attempt to create in reality, a group of our own in which we are most powerful. And in this creation of an new nation our natural feelings for individuals, and even for the individuals in the nation we seek to recreate, is left behind.

Yet even this grandiose version of evil is not uncommon. Let's admit then that Kastner was evil like many others of his time and all times. And say the only difference in his case is in relation to his own people, who until recently went a couple thousand years without a government and state of their own, without forming the kind of project of society remodeling that was Kastner's evil.

Which brings us to the question: if the uniqueness of this one particular mass murder in history is that it was directed against the one people who could not mass murder, what does it mean that the response was in this case a loss of that special distinction of character?