The Promise, directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), takes place during World War I, when the Ottoman Turks set out to exterminate the Armenians, the first attempt at genocide of the past century.
The film, which purports to be educational, does a decent job showing Turkish mobs attacking Armenians and looting their homes and businesses. On the other hand, The Promise fails to show why the Turkish oppressors met with such little resistance.
As Peter Balakian noted in The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, a good companion volume for the film, the Ottomans took great care to disarm the despised Armenians. That left them essentially helpless against a determined and highly mechanized oppressor.
The Ottoman Turks proceeded to pack Armenian men, women and children into rail cars and send them on death marches. All told, however, The Promise fails to portray the grizzly details and vast scale of the slaughter, thoroughly documented by journalists, diplomats and missionaries alike.
Instead of showing the worst, such as babies ripped from the womb, lead character Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) merely talks about that atrocity. In similar style, The Killing Fields (1984) failed to show the genocidal Khmer Rouge actually killing people.
For their part, the Ottoman Turks killed more than one million Armenians. As The Promise notes, Turkey remains in denial, but the lesson should be clear. An oppressive regime that wants to kill will first dehumanize and disarm its victims.
As Stephen P. Halbrook noted in Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and ‘Enemies of the State,’ the German National Socialists did likewise. Under the Weimar Republic Germans citizens had no legal right to bear arms or keep arms in the home, and groups such as Gypsies were barred from owning guns.
The gun registration records of the Weimar Republic fell into the hands of the Nazi Party, which allowed weapons only in the hands of the state. In the Nazi view, nobody needed a firearm for self-defense when the police protected society, and sport shooting and hunting were not a “need,” as determined by the government.
The Nazis thoroughly disarmed the populace and that is why, when the killing began, there was no effective resistance movement within Germany. There are lessons here for the United States, where politicians have attempted to deploy the Centers for Disease Control as an agent of gun control.
Congress put a stop to that in 1996 but in 2013 President Obama ordered the CDC to study “the causes of gun violence,” which usually turns out to be the guns themselves. California has recently taken this to a new level.
Californians now face ID and background checks to purchase ammunition, and the state will create a new database of ammunition owners. Magazines holding more than 10 rounds are banned and the state now restricts the loaning of guns, without background checks, even to close family members.
California’s gun-control surge also funds the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis. The Center’s first project was “a survey that looks at who owns guns, why they own them and how they use firearms.” Like the German National Socialists, the government snoops want “the names.”
President Trump and Congress should reject similar intrusive measures and keep the CDC in its place. Congress should also ensure than any replacement for the Affordable Care Act, does not empower doctors to pry into patients’ gun ownership. What citizens keep in their homes for the protection of their lives and property is not the business of any doctor or government agency.
Viewers of The Promise, meanwhile, may recall another film reference on firearms. When an evil empire comes after you, as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) put it in Star Wars, there’s nothing like having a good blaster at your side.
Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is the author of Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation, and Bill of Writes: Dispatches from the Political Correctness Battlefield.