There was a time when Holocaust revisionists were sophisticated crackpots pretending to be academics. With the creative math skills of a crooked accountant and some wishful thinking, they sought to force six million Jews and three million others to die a second death by denying they ever lived.
Today, that revisionism has a new iteration and has found its way into the ridiculous notion that a flood of private weapons would have eliminated (or at least reduced) the Nazis' genocidal efforts in Europe. Proponents of these viewpoints do not hate Jews; it would be wrong to group them with classic anti-Semites. Indeed, today's revisionists actually seek to court the Jewish community while misusing the memory of the Holocaust for political purposes. To make matters worse, the argument is advanced to compound the grief of families of the victims of mass shootings who were not prepared to offer armed resistance in a classroom or a church.
There are three reasons these arguments make no sense.
On a logical level, we cannot read back into history what we learned after the fact. The Nazi death machine, which used sophisticated weaponry and the power of the state, relied on the disbelief of victims and observers alike. A credible lie is often more effective than an incredible truth. The Jewish victims, especially outside of Germany itself, were overwhelmingly naïve about German plans. In that sense, they were not much different than the rest of the world. In 1938, there was no precedent for what the Nazis began. It is an argument we cannot make today, but to put the understanding of a contemporary American into the head of a Polish Jew born in the late 1800s is like suggesting that Lincoln could have been saved if they had just called in a neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins.
Next, individuals who are criminals, terrorists or homicidal sociopaths are not part of an evil government. Even presuming that Jews and others could have been armed to offer widespread resistance to deportations and executions, the uniforms and tanks would have given away the enemy. In what universe would a pastor draw on a stranger who comes to Bible study? Who would hire a first-grade teacher who insisted on keeping a loaded semi-automatic pistol in her desk "just in case?" And under which circumstances would a creative writing professor at a community college include on his syllabus a requirement for students to come to class armed?
The Jews in the Warsaw ghetto lived with a clear and present danger. Their heroism was unparalleled and inspired others to resist the dehumanized philosophy of German racialism. Armed resistance was necessary when the rule of law was undependable; though forms of government may vary, the protection of all law-abiding citizens is a presumption of legitimate statehood. An armed and authorized citizenry may be the result or cause of the breakdown of law, but either way it is a vote of no confidence in the values of a society.
Lastly, from the point of view of faith, a moral society should not encourage the proliferation of weapons. Indeed, we should not give mere lip service to the prophetic vision of beating swords into plowshares. Arming a peaceable citizenry and encouraging vigilantism run counter to the lessons we admire in every faith tradition represented in this great country. Replacing God with a gun, the Bible with a bullet and peace with a piece is a surrender to the lowest aspirations of our basest instincts.
Worse still is deflecting harm to someone else. "Don't do it to me, do it to that other person" resonates with the ultimate defeat of Winston Smith, the protagonist in Orwell's 1984. It is what he cries out when he is stripped of his freedom by being immersed in his worst fears.
Our society will be safer and more secure when we embrace the aspirations of our founders to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the rule of law. The courage to stand up to those out to harm the individual body and the body politic does not depend on a sidearm but on a conscience inspired by the same faith or philosophy that guides the medical profession: first, do no harm.
Until a person understands that courage does not depend on the caliber of a bullet, he cannot understand that the Nazis were defeated because goodness refused to be redefined by evil.