Could the Holocaust have happened in the US? What a silly question! History is what happened, not what could have happened. OK, OK, silly and all, but do I have an answer to it? Well, how can this happen in a democratic, decentralized polity with a long tradition of self-government? The key word is “decentralized”: it’s technically impossible to arrange a systematic killing of millions unless there is a nationwide plan for it. So was a strong, extremely authoritarian central government a possibility then? Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here was not a mere election leaflet, for sure.
But how about moral sentiments? Anti-semitism ran high in the pre-war US; it was as intense and widespread as in Germany. Racial killings were an old tradition, too. Yet it’s one thing to read about a ragtag Southern crowd burning alive some black guy (or receive a postcard depicting the auto-da-fe from your Smyrna, GA, uncle), and quite another to witness millions of your fellow citizens wiped out, day by day, for their religious and ethnic background. In a country of unprecedented religious freedom; in a country of immigrants, how could one imagine that…
Citizens? Did you say citizens? Wait a minute! I was talking deliberate nonsense. The Nazi Judeocide mostly took place outside of Germany proper, in occupied countries. The immediate perpetrators were SS troops, in particular Einsatztruppen — special killing units. But that’s a completely different scenario, right? Political centralization is no longer needed as a pre-condition. All that is needed is Washington’s orders to pre-selected batallions of bastards, and the bloodletting can go ahead. Remember frontier battles with the Indians? The Sand Creek and Wounded Knee massacres? Picture the same on a much larger scale if you dare.
This is not to say “Holocaust could have happened in America” — an absurdity. It’s about “preconditions” for the Catastrophe: they could be found nearly everywhere.