By Alexis Herr, PhD
Today, while SpaceX founder Elon Musk launched his cherry-red Tesla Roadster into space on the Falcon Heavy Rocket, back on earth Polish President Andrzej Duda also made history when he signed a law banning people from accusing Poles of perpetrating the Holocaust. It seems strangely poetic that on the same day humanity reached new engineering and scientific heights—the Falcon Heavy presents a chance to travel deeper into space than ever before—Poland’s new law criminalizing a historically accurate assessment of the Holocaust represents a new low. Today’s news cycle reminds us that although we continue to make medical, scientific, and engineering advances decade after decade, our commitment to human rights and ethics has a less direct trajectory.
Although we have yet to find a cure for cancer or AIDS, doctors and researchers are making medical advances every year in the treatment, prevention, and diagnosis of such diseases; why is it that we cannot make the same statement about human rights and genocide prevention? Like cancer, genocide poses a universal problem and yet far less time, energy, and resources go into learning from it. Why?
Politicians around the globe have condemned the new Polish law that seeks to stymie historical research on Polish involvement in the Holocaust, but let us remember that Poland is just one of many nations seeking to undermine its genocidal past. The United States, for example, has yet to refer to the annihilation of indigenous peoples in its territory as genocide. Turkey has yet to call the mass murder of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire a genocide. And now, Poland too has taken this approach. By not recognizing historical truth we have little hope in learning from the past, and when it comes to combating genocide, we need all the help we can get.
Genocide, like cancer, is a disease that requires aggressive treatment. Just as doctors get a patient’s history in order to create the best treatment plan, politicians, nations, and presidents must account for their national history in order to improve. For goodness sake people, if we can put a Tesla in space, surely we can do more to learn from and prevent genocide on earth!