THINGS in history can be understood as ‘events’ or ‘developmental processes’.
Take the Holocaust. I think of the ‘event’ as the murder of 6million Jews by the Germans. It is an indispensable gobbet of usually shared information which allows ‘the Holocaust’ to be understood and discussed.
However I know that the Holocaust was a developmental process. One could trace its origins back hundreds of years but this is not very useful. I would say it started in the 1930s when Jews were deprived of citizens’ rights and subject to state-sanctioned mob violence. The German state began murdering those with mental and physical disabilities. The campaign included the murders of many groups as well as Jews, including dissidents, gypsies and homosexuals, and no doubt numerous random individuals.
It was subject to sudden massive accelerations, such as following the 1942 Wannsee Conference when the Nazis co-ordinated the implementation of what they called the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’. It grew through the progressive use of machine guns, then portable gas chambers, then concentration camps with large fixed gas chambers and crematoria. It included gradual decelerations, such as when it became obvious to camp personnel that they would likely be soon held to account, and massive decelerations, such as the liberation of the camps. As it faded away there were significant blips, such as the Polish massacres of returning Jews after the war. It had a very long tail which includes, possibly, the suicide of Holocaust survivor Primo Levi in 1987, and doubtless many others like him. You could easily graph the curve.
This is my personal take on the Holocaust as a ‘developmental process’. I may be wrong in details and your account may differ, but this is my personal attempt to scale it.
Because I have this understanding, I am immune to false arguments such as those proposed by David Irving (remembering Irving v. Lipstadt 2008), for example that various physical details in the design of so-and-so gas chamber were inconsistent with the standard account. Again, misleading statements such as ‘it is impossible that 6million Jews were killed at Auschwitz’ can fool only those who through stupidity or malice never look past the ‘event’ view.
There are some features about a ‘developmental process.’ The beginning does not design the middle, and the middle does not design the end. Its progress is subject to human nature, both individual and group, and also chance. There is a direction of travel which can achieve its own momentum. At some point many will say to themselves that ‘I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er.’
So in the present you never know whether you are at the beginning, the middle, or the end.