Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

Brutal, Indifferent, Stupid, Cynical, and Godless

Man’s inhumanity to man dates back to Cain and Abel. All sorts of atrocities have been foisted on the conquered, the weak, the vulnerable, and those who are in the way. The Mongol warlords Genghis Kahn, Kubla Kahn, and Tamerlane are examples. Genghis Kahn is responsible for the slaughter of over 10% of the world’s population during his reign. He was also a prolific rapist to the point that today about a quarter of the people in Mongolia are his descendants and about one in ten people in central and east Asia are his offspring. Kubla Kahn murdered about as many people as his grandfather Genghis. Tamerlane was not as effective a murderer as the Kahns, having killed only 4% of the world’s population, but he did exterminate almost every Christian between eastern Syria and western India. He once promised to spare the people of a city if they surrendered. While Tamerlane did not put them to the sword because they did surrender, he chose instead to bury them alive.

Western culture is far too civilized for such atrocities. We might tell ourselves that, but it is hardly true. While the details are somewhat disputed, the Irish potato famine of 1845-1849 is an example. A blight ruined a good portion of the Irish potato crop such that about one million people died and another million or more fled the country, resulting in about a 25% decline in the Irish population. Another million would emigrate soon after. Being under the thumb of the British was certainly a factor: one Oxford don lamented that the potato famine ‘would not kill more than one million [Irish] people, and that would scarcely be enough to do any good.’ A survivor of the famine, John Mitchell, would observe ‘I have called it an artificial famine: that is to say, it was a famine which desolated a rich and fertile island that produced every year abundance and superabundance to sustain all her people and many more. The, English, indeed, call the famine a “dispensation of Providence,” and ascribe it entirely to the blight on potatoes. But potatoes failed in like manner all over Europe; yet there was no famine save in Ireland. The British account of the matter, then, is first, a fraud, and second, a blasphemy. The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.’ The British scarcely helped the starving people of Ireland, a fact that prompted an official apology by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997.

Modern societies are too advanced for genocidal atrocities. Except when they aren’t. After the Russian Revolution, as many as 10 million people died of famine in Ukraine and surrounding regions. The Soviets rounded up the most prosperous and productive farmers, the so called kulaks, and sent them off to die in Siberia. Their crime was being prosperous and productive, and therefore they were bourgeois enemies of the state. Purging the productive farmers, those who were obviously adept at farming, resulted in a 60% shortfall in Ukrainian food production. The famine was so severe that those who survived were likely to have resorted to cannibalism. Not to be outdone, Communist China caused an even greater famine than the Russians. In the ‘Great Leap Forward’ of 1958-1962 the Chinese suffered over 50 million famine deaths despite having excellent weather and good crop yields. Having decreed a 100% increase in national steel production in one year, the government took farmers from their fields to make steel, leaving their crops to rot unharvested.

These examples show the brutality, the indifference, the stupidity, and the misguidedness of man. But such inhumanity does not require warlords, religious bigotry, or the folly of communism. All that is required in godlessness. America using 40% of its corn crop for gasohol with a pending widespread famine shows how misguided and indifferent we can be. With a real energy crisis unfolding in Europe, the Canadians refusing to send natural gas when the Germans pleaded for their help is also misguided, indifferent, and truly cynical. The Canadian prime minister told the Germans that now was the time for them to ‘go green’ and promised to send them nonexistent green energy perhaps by 2025, 2030 at the latest. The Canadians don’t have this new green energy, but even if they did, the Germans would not be able to use it. Pure genius. Those turning blue from the cold this winter will no doubt be comforted by the promise of future imaginary green energy assistance.

—Fr Booth