Alexis de Tocqueville once described history as “a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.” Right now, in contested regions across the world, enemies of freedom and decency are adding new works of horror to this already gruesome gallery.
Some American leaders have risen to the challenge of the moment. One of them, North Carolina’s own US Sen. Thom Tillis, has been a voice of moral clarity and resolve.
In September, for example, Tillis and his Democratic colleague Jeanne Shaheen issued a statement calling the Ukrainian resistance to Vladimir Putin “a fight for democracy and freedom in every corner of the world,” arguing that “if we let authoritarians like Putin dictate the futures of sovereign countries, respect for human rights and democratic values will deteriorate, the global economy will suffer and any autocrats, including Xi Jinping, will be emboldened to follow suit.”
And just last week, Tillis defended Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
“The only two nations in recent history that have consistently welcomed Jews and provided them with a safe home are Israel and the United States,” Tillis wrote in an op-ed. “The only way that can be preserved is by destroying Hamas and rooting out antisemitism here at home.”
Alas, in too many ears, the phrase “never again” lacks the powerful resonance it should invoke. Consider three notorious genocides of the 20th century — and their ominous parallels today.
Shortly after the start of World War I in 1914, the supposedly “modernist” Young Turks, who ran the Ottoman Empire in its last days, embarked on a systemic expulsion of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and other ethnic minorities who’d lived in Asia Minor for countless generations.
The Armenians, in particular, were subjected to forced migration and murder on a massive scale. Of the approximately 1.5 million Armenians then under Ottoman rule, as many as 1.2 million died — either killed outright by Turkish soldiers or marched into the deserts of Syria and Iraq to die of exposure, disease, or starvation.
Two decades later, another ruthless gang massacred another ethnic minority. The culprits were Joseph Stalin and his Communist thugs. The victims were Ukrainians. Some had actively resisted Stalin’s tyranny. Others wanted only to live unmolested in their rural villages.
Although the Communists executed many Ukrainians outright, their primary tool of genocide was starvation. After forcibly collectivizing all agriculture, Russians repeatedly confiscated Ukrainian harvests and used violence to keep peasants from leaving home to find food elsewhere.
Ukrainians call it the Holodomor, the Great Starvation of 1932-1934. Estimates of the death toll vary, but four to five million is a reasonable guess, amounting to about 15% of Ukraine’s population.
At about the same time, Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist Party initiated their own campaign of persecution against the Jews of Germany. Over the next decade, as the scope of Nazi power grew across Europe, so did the breadth and depth of their savagery. Six million Jews — about two-thirds of all the Jews in Europe — died during the Holocaust, as did some 3.3 million Soviet prisoners-of-war, 1.8 million Poles, half a million Romani, and hundreds of thousands of other ethnic and religious minorities, political dissenters, and homosexuals.
Here we are, nearly a century later, and what horrors do we confront? In September, the military forces of Azerbaijan, aided by Turkey, invaded the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing some 100,000 Armenians to flee a place their ancestors called home for centuries. In Ukraine, Putin continues his bloody war of conquest, which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives. And in the Middle East, Jews again face genocidal foes — not just Hamas but their allies in Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, and elsewhere.
This time, however, Jews possess the military might to fight back. And they do not face their foes alone. Most Americans stand, rightly, with them.
“Throughout history,” Sen. Tillis wrote, “we have seen the tragic consequences of what happens when antisemitism is allowed to metastasize. It can never happen again.”