Beware the Serpent’s Promises

I teach courses in humanities and military history at Grove City College, an “enthusiastically Christian” college in rural northwestern Pennsylvania. This morning I concluded my Humanities 302 course with the Home Box Office movie “Conspiracy” which depicts a conference held on January 20, 1942 in a mansion in the posh Berlin suburb of Wannsee.

In the dining room of this mansion, which once belonged to a wealthy Jewish businessman,  SS Obengruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich hosted 14 other top Nazi officials charged with devising the final solution to the Jewish problem. In two hours, while enjoying a sumptuous buffet, they determined what constitutes a Jew and what categories of Jews would be “evacuated.”  The old, infirm and very young were to be “evacuated” immediately—turned into smoke in the ovens of death camps like Auschwitz. Healthy Jews were to be transported to German-occupied Russia, there to be worked to death building roads. The goal was a racially pure, Jew-free Europe. To achieve this end, the conferees planned the deaths of 11,000,000 Jews. By the time the war ended three and a half years later, the Nazis had achieved 60 percent of their goal.

This video concludes a course that began with the Renaissance and Reformation, moved on to the scientific revolution and the contributions the Enlightenment made toward fostering political revolutions in America and France. Students then studied the evolution of Darwinism and Social Darwinism, the advent of socialism and Marxism before considering linkages between German nationalism and anti-Semitism. Closing in on the 20th century, we discussed the relationships between capitalism, the Industrial Revolution and imperialism. For the last two weeks we focused on World Wars I and II. At the end I asked, “At Wannsee, how could 15 well-educated men, most of them lawyers, devise something as horrendous as the holocaust while eating roasted turkey and glazed hams washed down with vintage wines and the finest cognac?” Ultimately, the answer resides in mankind’s perennial efforts to create heaven on earth.

From the time Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in the chaos of post-World War I Germany to the reasons Osama bin Laden gives Islamic militants for jihad, evil always disguises itself as good. Hitler promised the German people redemption from defeat in the Great War. Nazis believed that eliminating European Jewry (as well as other “undesirables”) would strengthen the human race. Accordingly, they filmed and photographed the holocaust to document it for posterity.

Tomorrow I will conclude my course on World Wars I and II. In that final lesson, after reviewing the reasons for nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki and summarizing the changes that resulted from the two greatest blood-lettings in human history, I will ask, “How could a century that began so optimistically based on rapid advances in science and technology so quickly turn to global slaughter?”

We will start by looking back to the ninth century when Charlemagne divided his empire among his three sons. Then I will direct my students to the shift from a God-centered weltanschauung to our post-modern, human-centric worldview; a process that began with the Renaissance and continued  through the Enlightenment to play out on the battlefields of two world wars and thereafter mushroomed into post-modernist moral relativism. I will review how the Enlightenment fostered revolutions intent on gaining individual freedoms and political rights. These revolutions led to the rise of nationalism fed by ethnic pride rooted in cultural and racial identities. Almost simultaneously, capitalism and the Industrial Revolution inspired imperialism with an accompanying international competition that drove an arms race among the European powers. Finally, advances in communications mobilized the masses while modern industry provided the weapons for global war. From that point, one world war led to another.

Those factors aside, the ultimate cause for human suffering is as ancient as mankind’s earliest folly revealed in Genesis 3:4. “And the Serpent answered, ‘Eating of the fruit, dying you will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Eve never would have been tempted if the Serpent told her what really lay ahead—an end to paradise, the pain of childbirth followed by fratricide between her sons, the sufferings of aging culminating in the ravishment by disease and, finally, death. The Serpent lied…Eve suffered and died.

From Hitler’s vision for a Thousand Year Reich and Lenin’s promise to use the dictatorship of the proletariat to build a workers’ paradise, to abortion depicted as a “women’s health issue” and homosexual behavior justified as an “alternative lifestyle,” evil always comes to humanity disguised as good. The results are just as invariably consistent—destruction, suffering and death. Beware the Serpent’s promises.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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