What precisely the US president meant by this banal comment is not clear. However, given Bush’s political record—assembly-line executions in Texas, Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray, the indefinite imprisonment of US citizens without charges, two preemptive wars—it could be open to the most sinister of interpretations.
There is no doubt that the visit to Auschwitz was choreographed to serve immediate policy objectives: invoking the horrors of Hitler’s concentration camps to further an agenda of militarism and domestic repression. Perhaps no greater disservice could be done to the memory of the six million Jews and the millions of others who were murdered by the Nazis.
In a speech delivered in Krakow that same day, Bush declared that the concentration camps “remind us that evil is real and must be called by name and must be opposed.” He continued: “Having seen the works of evil firsthand on this continent, we must never lose the courage to oppose it everywhere.”
The cause of the Holocaust, Bush suggested, was “evil.” For the US president, the word “evil” serves to cover up a multitude of sins. He has used it repeatedly to describe the Islamic fundamentalist group that carried out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. On numerous occasions he has referred to the leader of Al Qaeda as “the evil one.” This particular expression serves a very immediate political purpose, since it avoids naming Osama bin Laden and thereby calling to mind the longstanding business association between the Bushes and the wealthy bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia.
The existence of “evil” constitutes the only explanation given by the Bush administration for the emergence of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. Such a semi-mystical and religious presentation (which, of course, assumes that the United States government embodies “good”) has the advantage of precluding any consideration of politics or history. In particular, it obscures the role played by US foreign policy—Washington’s alliance with despotic oil-rich regimes such as the one in Saudi Arabia, US sponsorship of the Afghan Mujahadeen, the CIA’s covert war against secular nationalist and socialist groups in the Middle East, the unconditional support for Israel against the Palestinians—in creating the social and political conditions in which retrograde tendencies like Al Qaeda could grow.
The use of the word “evil” serves a similar function in the case of the Holocaust. This attempt to obscure the social, political and economic roots of the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s and the horrific crimes that followed is not unique to Bush. The adoption of anti-communism as the core of the post-World War II US ideology made any analysis of the anti-socialist roots of fascism inconvenient. Rather, communism and fascism were equated as “totalitarian” and “evil.”