Turning Taboos into Constructive Discourses


Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

Freedom of expression can be severely curtailed by taboo zones in any country, outruling, sometimes also outlawing the unspeakable.  Sexuality was, and still is in some places; but today that freedom has become–for many–an obsession to speak.  Some still feel repressed, others become obsessed, still others feel aggressed upon.  Taboo zones are in sensitive areas.  But after some time, many probably feel relieved.  The unspeakable has become speakable, normalized.

But most seem to agree that some taboo zones should remain: the sacred, overstepped, e.g., with Mohammed caricatures, and private life.

However, the fight for freedom of expression was not about sex, to peer into the private lives of others or to step on the sacred.  The freedom is among our most cherished human rights for reasons of power, and the lack thereof.  We have freedom of expression, like the right of assembly to challenge the powerful and promote the powerless.  Democracy is based on the use of words–not money, not bullets–to change the public power equation.  Politics.  Libel limits the freedom to speak about the private; respect the freedom to step on the sacred.

Generally, freedom of expression is expanding and taboo zones are shrinking.  An example is how freely monarchy is talked about in the UK, and presidential campaign candidates in the USA; today.

Religion is in the twilight zone.  The organizations of faith, synagogues, churches, temples, mosques may no longer be taboo, but to step on the divine or sacred texts is sacrilege and personal faith is private. These borders have moved in the past and may move in the future.

Shoa is in the twilight zone.  To Germans and Jews all over, to an Europe high on perpetrators and victims, and to USA, shoa borders on the religious, the transcendental. To break taboos is sacrilege.  But shoa was also power, politics by other, unheard of means.  And politics is not sacred.  Not to break some taboos is undemocratic.

The taboo zones regulating the shoa discourse in general and the Israel discourse in particular, can be crudely formulated as follows:

    1. Shoa had nothing to do with anything Jews have done;
    2. Shoa suffering has no equal, being unique.
    3. Shoa was purely an act of Nazi-Hitler evil;
    4. Shoa atrocity has no equal, being unique.
    5. Israel is always right;
    6. Israel’s critics are always wrong.[i]

This Dualist-Manichean perfect evil fighting perfect good is a key archetype in the Occident, defined as the civilization spanned by the Abrahamic religions.  God and Satan fighting for the souls and the Final Judgment. And on earth Armageddon, the final battle, there being no alternative.  Dialogue with evil is meaningless.  This DMA syndrome is a form of understanding, a deep-culture text with a bipolarity easy to understand, leaving no doubt about the right stand.  Ambiguities, alternative forms, yin/yang, are worse than crimes: sins, sacrilege.

Statements in the taboo zones are not judged by correspondence with facts, or how they are used, but as deviations from taboo norms.  If anti-Semites, or (neo-)Nazis, have said something similar, guilt by association warrants the use of those labels, possibly followed by sanctions like disinvitations, boycotts, social exclusion, etc.

Statements in the taboo zones are interpreted as hatred of Jews and as naziphilia; as emotions, not thought like analysis-forecasts- remedies; but outright rejection of any academic or social legitimacy.

From regulating the discourse–how to speak–there is but a short step to regulating the paradigms–how to think.  Thus, “has no equal” means “cannot be compared with anything”.  Comparisons relativize both suffering and evil, trivializing them to matters of degree.[ii]  “Unique” sees shoa as a universe with one element, itself; to be documented to deepen compassion for innocent suffering and abomination at evil. Being unique there is nothing to learn beyond shoa itself as an archetype for evil against innocence with massive killing.

Whereupon the shoa archetype is used for two violent conclusions:

  • War, preemptive-preventive-retributive, to crush evils like Nazism.[iii]
  • Discourse control by taboos, to prevent evils like anti-Semitism.[iv]

Shoa is used to justify violence and to rule out conflict resolution as outside the archetype.  What is needed for violence are parties defined as innocent and evil, headed by a leader, a Milosevic, a Hussein, a bin Laden, a Gaddafi, a Assad, a Putin cast in the Hitler role.[v]  The military intervention has names like R2P, “right/responsibility to protect”, and “humanitarian intervention”.  To some, this gives Jewish suffering a meaning; to others, Nazi atrocities serve to justify more violence.

          Alternative: intensive and informed search for solutions.

In the same vein taboos on anti-Semitism are generalized to taboos on anti-Americanism and anti-Islamism, with parallels to shoa.

          Alternative: the freedom of thought and expression for solutions.

To confine major 20th century phenomena, Nazism-dictatorship-WWII –shoa-genocide to taboo zones has unacceptable consequences.  Worse than a crime against freedoms of expressions and thought it is stupid. The more catastrophic the events the more we need free analysis, and the taboo rules map neither the past, nor the present, nor the future.

What does the [1]-[6] discourse remind us of?  Of Nazism, only reversed: Aryans are all good, non-Aryans, and Jews in particular, all evil, contaminating Aryan purity.  The Nazi term for Armageddon, the final battle, strongly driven as they were by this Dualism-Manicheism-Armageddon script, was Endlösung, the final solution.  No alternative, no dialogue, no trauma conciliation or conflict resolution possible.  The discourses are each other’s negations; their common ground is DMA.

The [1]-[6] discourse is also DMA.  Respecting taboos is good, breaking taboos is evil.  Evil is anti-Semitism/neo-Nazism, good are those who identify them and denounce them.  Dialogue, ambiguity, etc. are warnings that the taboos have not been fully internalized.

The thesis is not that they imitate each other, that Jews and Germans merely reverse the Nazi script and play it back on anti-Semites/neo-Nazis.  Rather the thesis is that all three share the same Occidental deep culture syndrome.  Thus, DMA may be one root of Nazism in general, shoa in particular and of other phenomena.[vi]  To raise that question, however, we had to compare.  And rejection of the Nazi DMA syndrome may lead, by comparison, to doubts about the other two.

We are right in the center of the problem.  On the one hand there are understandable taboos.  On the other hand there might be something to learn, for more constructive approaches than military intervention.  For that, questions have to be asked that may already break taboos.  To think about DMA, concrete examples are needed.  They do not have to be shoa-related.  But shoa shouts: Understand me!  Shoa is politics, shoa is sacred, making understanding problematic for three reasons.

Phenomena have to be described.  Subject: perpetrators, object: victims, verb: exterminate.  But attributes, adjectives, adverbs, are needed for understanding.  The problem with [1],[3] is that only good attributes are permitted for the former and only evil for the latter. Jews and Germans are pure in their innocence and evil.  Even to say that such humans do not exist, never have, and never will, is taboo.

Understanding is equated with justifying.  But understanding is about what is and is not; justifying is about right and wrong.  States of affairs are subsumed under something more general to understand; an act is seen as good in itself or leading to something good (autotelic vs heterotelic) to justify.  Both are based on logical validity.

There are strong emotions involved.  Add to the enormity of the Jewish trauma, with shame of being vulnerable and stigmatized and fear of repetition, the immense German trauma of having traumatized others, with guilt and fear of retribution.  Taboos serve as a pact: let us protect the taboo discourse as a joint project, and leave it at that.

Emotions should be respected.  They are deeply rooted in deep realities.  But so should the need to understand and learn from shoa. Hence a question of weighing for and against, of proceeding with care.  Thus, Mohammed caricatures is an expression and insult the believers. This calls both for freedom of expression and for freedom not to be insulted. And for an exploration of the line, or zone, between them.[vii]

Conflict, violence, solution, peace are all highly emotional.  But they have in common something very helpful for thought, speech and action: all four are relations between the parties, not attributes of the parties.  They are between, not within.  It takes two to tango, and at least two to have a conflict (if within one, then that party is somehow split into two).  Within matters, but the conflict incompatibility is between the goals the parties have. So also violence, solution, peace: all between.

Hence, look less at the parties and how they can be changed and more at relations, and how new relations can be created.  Conflict studies lift diagnosis-prognosis-therapy from the level of attributes of the parties to the level of their relations.  The focus is not on blaming the parties, but maybe the relations between the parties.

However, to talk of relations between Jews and Germans, beyond the discourses of Jewish suffering and German atrocities, is already highly contentious.  To define the conflict and identify solutions is impossible without breaking some taboos.  As also for the relations between Nazi Germany-Austria and the rest of Europe-USSR-USA in the context of half a century and two World Wars.  Yet it has to be done.

Thinking feeds on comparison.  We note differences, similarities, over time, and draw our conclusions.  If phenomena unfold, the same way it is due to similarities; if in different ways due to differences.  And we cannot leave the biggest elephants in the broken porcelain shop out of these explorations untouched by free thought and speech.

Those key phenomena in 20th century Europe call for three types of exploration: explanatory, preventive, and constructive.  To explain we have to identify causes and conditions that produce or contribute to those phenomena.  To prevent we have to remove or modify the causes or conditions identified; and-or add something positive.  Prevention N is closer to negative peace, like focusing on conflict resolution and trauma reconciliation, and Prevention P closer to positive peace, like focusing on cooperation and harmony.

These are all thought experiments.  What could have happened if, history in the subjunctive, not in the indicative mode; conjectures that may be more or less compelling, counter-factual[viii], virtual[ix], alternative history.  The conclusion may be that the two phenomena were avoidable, unavoidable or, more likely, somewhere in-between.

But more important than exploring this terrible past is what the explanatory and preventive approaches to the past can teach us about the present and the future.  We have to generalize from the two cases, maybe to dictatorships and genocides in general, or whatever we focus on.  Certainty is beyond our reach, but not constructive approaches.  Taboos against learning from the past are like taboos against learning from cancer, being too emotional; knowledge might serve to spread it.  The task is to turn taboos into constructive, peaceful discourses.  The exercise has a name: rationality, summarized below:

Table 1: A general overview of themes for free exploration

Approaches: Nazism

dictatorship, WWII


genocide in general



causes, conditions causes, conditions
Preventive N;

negative peace

Preventive P,

positive peace

how to remove them

how to modify them

how to build

what to add

how to remove them

how to modify them

how to build

what to add



expanding from the

singular to the general

expanding from the

singular to the general

Much explanatory work has been done, but not much on preventive and constructive approaches.  The thesis here is that such work has been impeded by the taboos.   Hence a three-fold task:

    1. To indicate explanatory, and negative and positive preventive ideas; * to indicate constructive ideas from the past for present-future
    2. To indicate that this learning process is impeded by the taboos
    3. The third point follows directly from Table 1 as a paradigm. “Explanatory” postulates causes and conditions beyond the medieval idea of Evil aggressing on Good by Satan possessing Hitler, Hitler and Nazism possessing Germany through the Machtergreifung, with shoa as one of its evil projects.

“Preventive N” goes one step further by indicating what could have been obtained by removing or weakening causes and changing conditions.  And “Preventive P” adds measures that do not have to be negative but introduces new factors to build positive relations.  In other words, the assumption is that Nazism in general, and Hitler in particular, could have been modified by essentially peaceful means; both the relations to the world in general and to Jews in particular.  In that there is no a priori stand that the tragedies were avoidable, only that it is our duty to explore how they might, possibly, have been prevented.  And draw our conclusions.

“Constructive” then goes still one step further, leaving Nazism and shoa from mid-twentieth century behind, to learn for present and future, on the assumption that they are not unique and incomparable; they are singular elements in sets with more elements.  What elements and what sets depend on the aspects uncovered by the explanatory and preventive approaches rather than anything so complex as dictatorship and genocide in general.  Generalization, then, generates hypotheses.

Two general approaches were indicated above, based on relations between the parties, and on the deep cultures within themselves.  Let us generalize to structure and culture, starting with structure.

Table 2: The structural approach


dictatorship, WWII


genocide in general



Germany, a late-comer

as unified state


Germany bypassed

by social revolutions


Germany humiliated

by the Versailles Treaty


National socialism combined right wing national

left wing social


Nazism fighting a European civil war with USSR, and

The Allies wanting that

From exclusion in Russia and pogroms

to inclusion in



Jews overrepresented in economic and cultural niches;

rank discordance[x]

Preventive N;

remove causes

Preventive P:

add causes


by massive boycott


by social reforms


by undoing Versailles


by adding clandestine media by exile government

by massive nonviolence


by peaceful co-existence


by transferring Jews to Palestine


by keeping distance inside Germany


by lifting Germans up



By Jewish-German equity

through cooperation



avoiding humiliating defeat

parallel institutions

massive civil disobedience

integrative communities

inclusion means loyalty

avoid rank discordance

community integration

dialogue, respect

None of the preventive approaches indicated for Germany was practiced.  But the constructive approaches are today commonplace when dictatorships emerge or there is the threat thereof.  Norway during Nazi occupation had a clandestine media, not waiting for internet and social media; and the exile government in London backed resistance.  The German heroic attempts (like Geschwister Scholl) were minor.

The idea of avoiding humiliating defeat was practiced, but after WWII, not before, after WWI, when it might have had a crucial impact.  The same applies to integrative communities; they were practiced after, not before WWII.  Both exemplify late learning from Nazism, in spite of, or maybe because of, its uniqueness: next time we do better.

Nonviolence, as civil disobedience, makes a structure vacuous by refusing to follow commands, incurring the risks of doing so.  We are reminded of one German denouncing euthanasia and of the Rosenstrasse nonviolence, both successful.  But the historical focus has been on the unsuccessful violence of 20 July 1944 by German army aristocrats, and, less so, on the communist who tried the same.  There is worthy and unworthy resistance.  The conclusion has been that neither worked, what worked was full-scale war, and unconditional capitulation. The leading approach has been the approach of the leading power, the military. Moreover, a coup might challenge any military, and civil disobedience might challenge any government; governments and armies being the pillars of the Westphalia state system.  Such filters benefit from the taboo zones in ruling out dangerous insubordination as of no avail.  Explorations of how civil disobedience could have been improved to be more successful in Nazi Germany seem to be almost non-existent.[xi]

Then, the shoa side of the Table 2.  Jews had been excluded in Russia and suffered massive pogroms, they tried inclusion in Germany, integration (shaving, dressing, speaking German, many occupations).  But societies are multi-dimensional ranking systems, class along economic, cultural, military, political dimensions.  A minority low on all four can be tolerated.  But a minority high on some and low on others, rank discordance, is a recipe for disaster, mobilizing military-political hard power against economic-cultural soft power.

This applied to Jews and Germans, Armenians and Turks, Chinese and Indonesians, Tutsis and Hutus, all ending in genocide.  Malaysia came close, with Chinese and Malays in the 1969 horrors; but Mahathir changed the relation by lifting the Malays up economically.  Weimar could have done the same.  In no way is this “blaming the victim”.  If anything is to be blamed it is a bad relation that had to be changed.  A good example of turning taboos into a constructive discourse.

Much bigger than Jewish and Chinese diasporas are today the Muslim diasporas, meaning that this theory might be very relevant for explanatory, preventive and constructive approaches.  One direct consequence is that Muslims may fill the prejudice-discrimination gap, left by the Jews, on the right hand nationalist side of the spectrum.  Poor, uneducated powerless Muslim immigrants from Afrique francophone may be acceptable in France as they speak the language, perform all kinds of menial tasks and live in poor neighborhoods outside cities, like in ghettos.  Distance, socially and spatially; no integration.

The problem comes with mobility on any dimension.  The Jews, with traditions for handling money and ideas, attempted integration with built-in rank discordance.  Abram Leon, in The Jewish Question[xii]:

“–the preservation of the Jewish religion or nationality can be explained only by the ‘real Jew’, that is to say, by the Jew in his economic and social role.”–a “people-class” of merchants and moneylenders in the centuries preceding the domination of industrial capitalism. In times of social crisis renewed Jew-hatred is incited by the capitalists to mobilize reactionary forces.”

Failing to lift the Germans up, the only option, as Zionists had argued, was emigration to Palestine.  The Nazis agreed and cooperated on two conditions: no financial or other boycott of Germany as Germany needed credit to lift the economy and the working classes. And not only that: the Jewish Zionist emigrants would have to promote German products (like Siemens radios, Volkswagen) in, and outside, Palestine.  Thus many Jews were saved at the expense of canceling the only outside approach short of intervention that might have impeded Nazism in Germany, and WWII in Europe, and, with it shoa.  Might.

For Nazism the Jews were the problem, seen as Bolsheviks in the USSR and as “plutocrats” in the City of London and Wall Street.  For Anglo-America and Germany bolshevism was the problem.  For the USSR capitalism was the problem, traumatized by interventionist wars.  The tragedy unfolded as war with West and East, with horrors in the East, as shoa with a problematic Israel; all backed by very strong forces.

To see Hitler as “evil” is not helpful theology.  To see him as politics, against Allies-USSR-Jews is helpful, and can be summarized:

Table 3. Between-wars Hitler-Nazism vs Allies politics

Hitler-Nazism goals: Allied goals:
1-to undo the Versailles Treaty

2-to humiliate the humiliator France

3-to have all Germans in one state

4-to expel all Jews from Germany;

5-to stop bolshevism

6-to colonize Slavic Europe

7-to dominate a European Neuordnung

1-to keep it as victory symbol

2-to avoid any German warfare

3-to keep Germans fragmented

4-to keep Jews out of Europe

5-to stop bolshevism

6-to penetrate Slavic Europe

7-to lead Anglo-French Europe

Gone is the idea of Hitler as evil.  But except for the first one he was a carrier of very evil ideas: wars, moving borders, expulsion, colonization, hegemony.  The Endlösung came later, as a part of WWII.

To see Hitler, not his ideas, as evil, is itself an evil idea.  Kill Hitler or he kills himself and the ideas are still alive, blowing in the air so to speak, in search of new carriers.  The ideas have to be confronted and overcome; only killing individual carriers is naive.

Table 3 identifies the key problem: the Allies shared the ideas, and in addition were responsible for the Versailles Treaty.  England and France had humiliated each other for centuries, the nation-state was a key driving force for both of them, expelling Jews to Palestine was one aspect of the Balfour declaration, stop bolshevism a key goal, and they were colonizers par excellence.  If anyone had dominated a European Neuordnung it was France through Napoleon, and when it comes to an Endlösung USA by killing the First Nations.  Better focus on Hitler as evil, not on evil ideas that are also their own.[xiii]  As for Nos. 4-5 they were more than willing to use each other for the job.

If the lists mirror reality, seven conclusions would follow:

    1. as time passes the Versailles Treaty wanes in significance
    2. resolutions, persuasion, bargaining rather than war
    3. cooperation for the same goal: stop bolshevism
    4. opening markets for Germany and Allies in Slavic Europe
    5. no major, only minor, action to rescue Jews
    6. if Germany goes beyond undoing Versailles, then war
    7. if Germany threatens Anglo-French dominion, then world war

And this is more or less what happened.  München was agreement more than appeasement, moving Hitler eastward against bolshevism.  That whetted his appetites.  He attacked Poland.  WWII followed.

The alternative would have been to amend Versailles, undercutting Hitler’s best argument.  The WWI aggressor could have been defined as Kaiser Germany, not all Germans.  The Kaiser abdication cleared the road for undoing the Treaty, but that road was not traveled.  It might have saved Europe from Hitler-Nazism, WWII, shoa, and other projects. Failure to do so does not make the Allies guilty, but co-responsible. Acts of omission can be as catastrophic as acts of commission.

After WWII the aggressor was defined as Nazi Germany.  Hitler’s suicide, the Nürnberg trial, deNazification, cleared the road for Cold War joint anti-bolshevism, and that road was indeed traveled.[xiv]

The idea of social reforms in Germany: what Bavaria and Weimar did not manage Hitler managed through employment, social capitalism, and bottom-up mobility.  But that smacked of bolshevism as did the peaceful co-existence argued by the Soviet foreign minister Litvinov. Anglo-American policy was to have the lesser evil, Nazism, fight the bigger evil, bolshevism.  But bolshevism won, hence the Cold War to finish the job, as actually happened, by bolshevism-USSR imploding.

Weimar did not manage equitable integration by lifting Germans up or German-Jewish cultural synergy that could have become a strong bond.  But the fact that this did not happen is no proof that it could not have happened before the Hitler projects became Nazism projects, became Germany’s projects through dictatorship.  Meeting point 1 might have denied him the power; not meeting it opened for the next six. The inner drive in one person resonated with the inner drive in a nation.

But persons with their personality come and go; nations with their deep culture remain.  Too much have been written about Hitler, too little about the nation.  Hitler embodied, “inspirited”, the nation.

What were these inner drives, on the German and the Jewish sides?

Table 4: The Cultural Approach

Approaches: Nazism

dictatorship, WWII


genocide in general



DMA: Dualism-Manichaeism-Armageddon


Chosen People,


Promised Land


Deutschland über Alles

Vom Deutschen Wesen

soll die Welt genesen

DMA: Dualism-Manichaeism-Armageddon


Chosen People,

Genesis 17:5-14

Promised Land

Genesis 15:18


Numbers 33:50-56

Isaiah 2:1-5

Preventive N;

remove causes

Preventive P:

add causes

Deep culture consciousness

Rejection, as metaphor Liberation

Processing trauma

Deep culture consciousness

Rejection, as metaphor


Processing trauma



A culture based on

horizontal cooperation;


A culture based on

horizontal cooperation;


We have made them similar, as species of the genus Occident I, both equipped with DMA, with chosenness and promised land from their common script, the Torah-Old Testament (Qur’an to include the third abrahamism); more explicitly related to Jews and Judaism.  Wit not only the right but the duty to drive out the non-chosen from the Promised Land, and then lording it over others, imposing their peace (Isaiah). But in Germany there was space for only one chosen people.

The preventive approach comes from Jung-Freud: consciousness about the deep, collective subconscious, liberation, a new equitable, empathic-sympathetic culture.  That takes time, and a deep shock may be needed.  Germany was defeated, and changed afterwards toward equity and harmony.  The Jews as Zionism-Israel were divided–so far.

Could Nazism-dictatorship-WWII-shoa have been avoided? Imagine:

    • the Versailles Treaty undone, together with Kaiser-Germany;
    • social reforms, particularly lifting lagging Germans up;
    • economic boycott of Hitler-Nazism, no exchange for transfer;
    • exile government, underground media, massive nonviolence;
    • work for Allies-Germany-USSR, and for German-Jewish, equity;
    • rejecting the shared deep culture script as the real enemy.

The first alone would have had an impact; with the next three we seem close to avoiding WWII-shoa. The last two, and processing traumas used to justify behavior and attitudes, may have been out of reach.  But dimensions have been identified, all in the taboo zones, with explanatory relevance and constructive utility.  There is much to learn, for Germany in Afghanistan, and for Israel in the Middle East.

And for Jews as victims of scapegoatism.  When a majority suffers decline and fall, economically through crisis, militarily through defeat, politically through loss of empire, culturally through anomie, a rank discordant minority whose loyalty is disputed is the ideal scapegoat.  In the USA this applied to Jews more than Muslims. The worst a minority can do is to confirm prejudices held by the majority.

Take the Protocols: a forgery, probably lifted, often word for word, from Maurice Joly’s 1864 “Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu” against the authoritarian (Devil’s Island!) regime of Napoleon III.  They were confiscated; Joly was imprisoned, and came to Russia and forged as an anti-Jewish tract to portray the revolution in 1917 as a Jewish plot.  And, indeed, used by the Nazis.

Read by millions they are to some a discourse for understanding the world: Protocol 12 “The Kingdom of the Press and Control”; Protocol 20 “The Financial Program and Construction”, and Protocol 21 “Domestic Loans and Government Credit”.  To deny people the right to read because of horrendous abuse is a non-starter given the role of debt bondage and media complicity in current affairs.  But much worse, potentially catastrophic, is to confirm the protocols by enacting them through the Jewish role in US media and in the financial crisis, e.g., by Lehman Bros and Goldman-Sachs.  Millions nodding, “there you see”.

Prediction: rampant anti-Semitic scape-goating in the USA and Europe. Remedy:  Free and open discussion, action against financial abuse.

Identify prejudices and make them self-denying, not fulfilling.

Generally speaking, what do anti-Semites like to see happen?

The US foreign policy issue.  Not only cutting the tie to Israel via AIPAC, but blaming AIPAC for the decline of the USA in the world, as a catch-all scapegoat, much as Hitler and Nazism used “Jewry”.

The economic crisis issue.  Not only “ethnic cleansing” of Wall Street, but also blaming Jews in general, and Jewish owned companies in particular, for the whole crisis, again as a catch-all explanation.

The general Israel issue.  They would prefer Israel to disappear, but not for reasons held by Islamists.  The latter are bound by the Qur’an to embrace the religions of the Book, but are against Zionism, the idea of a Jewish state with religion, language, territory, army.  One anti-Semitic position is against Israel as a Jewish state, not just as an occupying and expanding state; another anti-Semitic position would favor it as a depository for all Jews.  Balfour?

The general holocaust issue.  Hard-core anti-Semites want Hitler justified as generally right in his theory, if not in his practice.

To counteract this madness the discourse, the way we talk about the issues, has to be turned into constructive solutions:

The US foreign policy issue.  American Jews, Jews all over, and others have to articulate a strong stand in favor of an Israel that combines democracy with Jewish characteristics, and sees 1967 borders in cooperative settings as final.  AIPAC (actually ALPAC, L for Likud) must stop harming US democracy by intimidating critical politicians.

The economic crisis issue.  Jewish finance capital executives should be up front demanding regulation, outlawing some derivatives, abolishing bonuses, compensating victims, condemning foreclosures.

The general Israel issue.  A liberal, democratic, soft Zionism.

The general holocaust issue.  Free and open discussion of Jewish-German, -US, -Arab relations; what could have been done in the past; what must be done now; how can we build peaceful future relations.

In addition to the structural and cultural approaches there is also the general Western normative approach: rule of law, human rights and democracy.  If they had prevailed in Germany, neither Hitler-Nazi dictatorship, nor WWII, nor shoa would have happened.  There would have been checks and balances, media and parliament, police, courts and law.  There would have been human rights for the victims.

But that is by definition.  The problem is how they could have been strengthened under Weimar before 1933, not reintroduced after the war was over.  They are institutions needing time to build and mature.  Like the admonition to take social reform seriously, they constitute a valuable agenda for a country in serious crisis, economically through recession-depression, militarily through humiliation, politically through incapacity, culturally through anomie.  Like the USA today: learn from Germany to avoid a similar fate in the hands of AIPAC-NRA.

A general rule: Underlying violence is unresolved conflict (with frustration as a limiting case); underlying massive violence, some massive unresolved conflict.  Some of it may be in the distant past as unreconciled trauma.  And, again: it is possible to postulate that the humiliation of Germany in the Versailles treaty is related to the shoa genocide without in any way justifying it.  Understanding identifies causes-conditions to know what should be removed to prevent genocide. The same applies to the USA, and the West, in decline.

Conclusion:  Other ways of talking about Hitler-Nazism-WWII-shoa are overdue.  We need constructive discourse for past-present-future.  The Cold War discourse that finally dominated focused on what USA-USSR had in common, nuclear arms race and mutual assured destruction, MAD. We need discourses that focus more on a problem that actors have in common than on what separates them.  Candidates are vertical, rank discordant structures, and DMA, Chosen People-Promised land cultures.  They can be challenged and rejected as shared enemy.  To the benefit of us all.



The Cold War ended with the Monday demonstration in Leipzig 9 October 1989 and the Berlin wall fall on 9 November.  But before that, new discourses and paradigms had changed speech and thought.  Thought-Speech-Action is not linear but all three matter, not only the latter.

The Cold War discourse in the West, as defined by Churchill-Truman (Zürich-Fulton MO), and institutionalized in the North Atlantic (1949) and Warsaw Treaty Organizations (1955), was easy to grasp:

    • Dualism: There were two parties, often referred to as the West (alliance) and the East (bloc); us and them;
    • Manicheism: West good: democracy and market; East bad: dictatorship and plan; even evil, imposing this on others through world communism;
    • Armageddon: Strength for containment, possible roll-back, and victory if a final battle is unavoidable is the only approach East respects.

The Alternative Cold War discourse challenged this polarization:

    1. Pluralism, more actors: the European neutral-nonaligned, the world Non-aligned movement from 1961, and at the personal level the Third Way, neither NATO nor WTO, but dialogue and bridge-building East-West;
    2. Plague on both your houses, moral balance; Western colonialism, imperialism, democracy deficits, and some communist achievements;
    3. Trauma as factor: Napoleon-Hitler for Russia-Pearl Harbor for USA;
    4. The two superpowers, stressing similarities over dissimilarities; locked in a deadly arms race embrace, unable to exit;
    5. MAD–mutual assured destruction–focus on the nuclear arms race as threat to humanity and mutual disarmament as essence of the Cold War;
    6. The political solution, accepting existing borders in return for economic relations and better human rights in the East (Helsinki);
    7. Political movements, the peace movement and dissident movement, for nuclear disarmament in the West, and human rights in the East;
    8. Nonviolence as method, more successful in the East than the West.

In short: equating the superpowers; seeing the nuclear arms race as the real enemy; focus on their relations; depolarization; solution-not force- and victory-orientation; nonviolent inner change in both.

The synergy of these eight brought about the end of the Cold War. All taboo-protected and resisted by superpowers and their clients.


[i].  Two organizations standing guard at the borders of the taboo zones in the USA, AIPAC and ADL, seem to follow [1]-[2] and [5]-[6], and through their signals most of the mainstream media.  I would like to use this occasion to express my deep thanks to Oscar Cohen, Anti-Defamation League director at the end of the 1950s and beyond, for helping financing the study on desegregation in Charlottesville VA 1958-60, and a study on anti-Semitism, the “swastika epidemic”, which actually turned out also to be a study of anti-anti-Semitism–see “The image of Anti-Semitism: A Study of Anxiety-reducing Perception”, Essays in Peace Research, Vol. III, Copenhagen: Ejlers, 1978, ch. 12, pp. 374-398.

[ii].  This applies not only to the suffering of other nations, but also to the atrocities by other states.  About the latter Professor Manfred Henningsen, himself a German, at the University of Hawai’i, has coined the expression “wenn wir nicht die besten sind, sind wir wenigsten die schlimmsten” (if we cannot be the best we can at least be the worst).

[iii].  Colin Powell, after 9/11, about Al Qa’eda: We’ll identify them and crush them.

[iv].  The subject matter of this paper.

[v].  With Syria’s Assad waiting.

[vi].  This deep culture thesis is underlying my Hitlerisme, stalinisme, reaganisme. Tre variasjoner over et tema av Orwell. (in Norwegian: Hitlerism, Stalinism, Reaganism. Three variations on a theme by Orwell), Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag A/S, 1984, 162 pp. German version: Hitlerismus, Stalinismus, Reaganismus, in: Militär, Rüstung, Sicherheit, Band 36. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 1987, 169 pp. Spanish version: Hitlerismo, Stalinismo, Reaganismo. Alicante: Gil Albert, 1985.  The theme by Orwell was the theme of constructing an irreversible society.  Not published in  English but will, with “American Fundamentalism” substituted for Reaganism.  That was a mistake, he was not at that level.  The Appendix in the books is based on themes in occidental culture to defines homo occidentalis, extreme versions being teutonicus, sovieticus and americanus, and extreme version of them again being hitlerensis, stalinensis and fundamentalis.  Deep cultures all, as scripts driving behavior and attitudes.

[vii].  See Johan Galtung, 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, TRANSCEND University Press 2008, ch. 87, for a reconciiation effort between Denmark and Muslim clergy.  Denmark accepted invitations for dialogue, but not the proposal to organize a conference to explore that line-zone.

[viii].  See P. E. Tetlock and Aaron Belkin, eds., Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.

[ix]. See Niall Ferguson, ed., Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals, New York: Basic Books 1997.

[x].  For the theory of rank discordance and related phenomena, see Johan Galtung, Essays in Peace Research, Vol. III Peace and Social structure, Copenhagen: Ejlers, 1978, chs. 1-8.

[xi].  But communist DDR managed what Nazi Germany did not: the massive nonviolence of the Montag Demonstrationen in Leipzig, particularly 9 October 1989.  But they had access to West German TV and to outsiders communicating ideas of ho to do it. Gandhi, however, was known to both, but better in France than in Weimar Germany due to Nobel Prize winner Romain Rolland.

[xii].   Subtitle A Marxist Interpretation, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970; the quote is from the back cover page.  Leon was active in the Belgian resistance movement against the Nazi occupation, captured and killed in Auschwitz.

[xiii].  The hard Zionist version of 2-7 would be to humiliate Egypt, to have all Jews in one country, Israel, to expel all Arabs from Israel, to stop islamism, to colonize mandated Palestine or the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, to dominate a New Middle East Order.  However, in indicating this the point is not that one imitated the other but, as above for DMA, that they were both inspired by the same deep culture.

[xiv].  As is the present road, presenting anti-Islam as war on terrorism.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. Prof. Galtung has published more than 1500 articles and book chapters, 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and more than 170 books on peace and related issues, of which more than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at transcend.org/galtung.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Sep 2017.

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7 Responses to “Turning Taboos into Constructive Discourses”

  1. Ricochet Majest says:

    The master said, “When one is uninfluenced by slanderous state ments about someone that reach a saturation point or by disputes that are brought before him that have a direct bearing on him, then he may be said to be discerning. He may also be said to be farsighted.”

  2. Molroch says:

    “But much worse, potentially catastrophic, is to confirm the protocols by enacting them through the Jewish role in US media and in the financial crisis, e.g., by Lehman Bros and Goldman-Sachs. Millions nodding, “there you see”.”

    The “jewish role” in US media? The “jewish role” in the Lehman Bros and Goldman-Sach? And they “confirm” the Protocols in your opinion?

    You are a raving anti-semite Galtung.

    • Hiram Labeef says:

      I think you are misreading the entire thrust of this paper. And you are doing so in a very stupid way.

      Let’s break it down even more than the paper above does:
      1. Some jews and some non-jews adhere to the hard zionist reading: ethnonationalism. 2: Other jews and non-jews do not.
      3: Among those [jews and non-jews] in Israel and abroad that are pro ethnonationalism, some have a role in media and finance and others do not.
      4: The ones with a role in media and finance have on occasion been empirically involved in ethically questionable acts for (a) biased reporting on the Israel Palestine conflict to the detriment of the Palestinians or (b) having had a hand in the debt crisis and debt bondage of some countries in recent years.

      And n°5 is what Galtung is explaining to anyone who has a capacity of dispassionate and clear thinking:

      5: If any of n°4 is accurate and empirically true, then that is catastrophic for all efforts that are intended to increase the protection of jewish people against antisemitic prejudice against jews. Galtung writes that the best wway to fight prejudice is to disconfirm prejudice. Anyone who confirms an iota of a prejudice fuels the flames of that prejudicial trope.

      The above can’t be that! hard to comprehend.

      • Molroch says:


        Let me turn it around. And try with an example that is identical to Galtung’s just turned around:

        – Arabs should stop throwing stones at Israelis. Becasue they only confirm that Arabs are low-life sub-human losers.

        – Galtung should stop screaming at Israel and the West, because it only confirms his and Transcend’s idiotic hate of democracy and civilization.

        I’m not subscribing to these two points, but they are identical to Galtung’s utterlty stupid argument about Lehman etc and the protocols.

        Do you understand the point now?

      • Hiram Abeef says:

        Nope. Galtung is not! accusing Jews pars pro toto of anything. What this rather self-explanatory paper above is saying is that Culture and Behavior interact in ways that MAY be, but mustn’t necessarily be automated. The link between the two becomes deliberate as opposed to unconscious through education and self awareness. THAT discussion then begs among other questions this one: What is in a culture. And Galtung offers DMA, which you didn’t pay attention to of course, because you’re all up in your shit because he is actually writing, daring to reflect about a subject we all have internalized as a taboo. I think you missed these lines here:

        “Taboos against learning from the past are like taboos against learning from cancer, being too emotional; knowledge might serve to spread it. The task is to turn taboos into constructive, peaceful discourses. The exercise has a name: rationality, summarized below.”

        Also, you may have forgotten or never known what Galtung is about. To call him antisemitic tells us more about you than about him…

  3. From Johan Galtung:

    I am not the slightest anti-Semitic, neither in the sense of against Jews-Israel(is), nor against Arabs-Muslims. To fight antisemitism:

    [1] know what the prejudices are about (like dominating world economy; like always being violent);

    [2] if there is something to it, counteract the prejudices by doing the opposite (sharing with non-Jews; struggling, but nonviolently). If you are unwilling to do that, the prejudices, pre-judgments, may change to empirical judgments.

    Tks. for your thoughtful comments.