Are We Really Remembering?
By Sara Mosley
Greeley, CO


 

In her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power asserts that “we have all been bystanders of genocide” (Ratnesar, Romesh). And after the mass killings of early 1990s in both Rwanda and Bosnia, who could honestly disagree? It seems that America dwells on the terrors of the Jewish Holocaust in Germany, without applying the lessons she claims to have learned.

With the liberation of thousands of malnourished, beaten, near dead Jews throughout Europe, the Allied Powers realized that it was the United Nation’s responsibility to intervene when the essential human rights of any group of people were threatened. And in the words of Christina Fisanick in her Contemporary Issues Companion: Genocide, our responsibility and “duty to protect” continues beyond condemning the “state-sanctioned culture of hate” into persecuting the most deadly perpetrators, the committers of “crimes of indifference [and] conspiracies of silence” (Fisanick, Christina).

With this duty comes the additional responsibility to prevent genocide from happening again. Unfortunately, we as a world community have failed the Tutsi in Rwanda and the Muslims in Bosnia. It seems as though we indeed have become bystanders in the global murders of thousands. We have forgotten the lessons taught to us by the thousands of Chinese massacred in Nanking and we have forgotten the lessons taught by the six million children and fathers and mothers and families that the Nazi Regime starved and beat and shot and gassed.

Clearly, remembering is not enough. But how do we impress on ourselves the true horror of the Holocaust? We say “remember, remember,” but without relevance, without making an emotional impression, we have failed the memories of the millions who lost their lives based on the color of their skin or on their religion.

The only sensible option we have as citizens, as educators, and as life-long students, is to handle the horrors of the Holocaust with an honest and sensitive gravity. We must reconnect our emotions with what we see in photographs, what we read in books. We must dismiss the Holocaust novelties, such as “Anne Frank: the Musical” and other artistically detached pieces, and bring the relativity of the Holocaust and genocide to the public, and to America’s youth.

The public education system fails to teach children of every mass killing that has occurred in the past fifty years, yet it successfully desensitizes a new generation to the horrors of the Holocaust. This focus devalues the Holocaust and makes the topic cliché and overused, apparent by the overflow of Holocaust related films and literature released each year.

We are obviously over-exposing the Holocaust. How is it that third graders, who are banned from mild PG-13 movies that display such little violence, are exposed to pictures of the bare bones and skin of children their age and younger? When we protect children from seeing war movies, survival movies, and other disturbing fiction, how can we expect them to understand and appreciate the gravity of the largest ethnic cleansing of our time? Children don’t look at pictures of mass graves and ask, “what could we have done?” They see the photographs of Auswichtz, they look at pictures of gas chambers and relate it to what they can, the few violent films they’ve seen or the shooting-style videogames that they play on their Xbox 360 or Wii or Playstation. In a child’s mind, it is very difficult to distinguish between reality and fiction – even more difficult to face reality, accept reality, and dismiss fiction.

Though I cannot personally relate to those who shrug off the Holocaust or fictionalize it, I can so distinctly remember the first time I was desensitized to it. Elie Weisel’s Night was required summer reading in the months before my freshman year of high school. I cried as I finished the last few pages in the days before I was to report to school. But to my surprise, the novella that consumed my mind for a good few weeks, was never touched in my freshman Literature class. The teacher explained after my inquiries on why we never discussed it, that it was “just a good book to have under my belt,” and that I’d learn more about the Holocaust in my History class. This fully grown man, who obviously valued the lessons of the Holocaust – he assigned the graphic novel, Maus II that same semester – had himself become completely artistically detached from the humanity lost in the 1940s.

As Fisanick accurately puts it, the global community’s promise “must not be a matter of rhetoric but must be a commitment to action” (Fisanick, Christina). Edward Luttwak addresses the paradox in fighting such aggression: “the only way to stop determined killers is to kill the killers, and there is no general willingness to kill killers because killers can kill right back” (Luttwak, Edward). He also combats the United States’ reasons for not being involved in genocide: denial of presidential leadership, lack of global political support to stop aggression, and ignorance (Luttwak, Edward).

So what are the citizens of these hypocritical nations to do when faced with the question of saving lives? Luttwak claims that “the world in which we live…[is] the world in which the government of the United States of America must decide if, when, where, and how to intervene against aggressors and killers” (Luttwak, Edward).

So when do we choose to intervene, where do we intervene, and how do we intervene? Are we ignorant? Do we lack leadership? Are we to fall into the trap of claiming no support? Why should we become artistically detached to the greatest horror anyone on earth has ever witnessed? The current state of affairs leaves anyone who’s researched even the bare bones of the Rwandan Genocide to wonder why we didn’t do more. What excuse do we have that justifies the ignorance towards the thousands, millions of innocents laid to rest in mass graves, unmarked and forgotten?

We must re-sensitize our hearts to the tragedy of the Jews, but more importantly, we must find relevance for the Holocaust, because without seeing the direct consequences, we will never successfully prevent genocide. Awareness of current Human Rights violations would create a more appropriate response when the Holocaust is mentioned. After all, few of us personally witnessed the atrocities of the execution-style murders of the six million Jewish victims, but even young scholars can remember the modern world of the early 1990s.

We must rise and demand the knowledge to make a difference in our world. We must write and demand that our legislators petition for a bill to include a mandatory current events course in all public schools that focuses on the options that we have as the future and current citizens of the most scrutinized nation in the world.

When there is “no general willingness to kill killers because killers can kill right back,” we must strengthen our will by calling on the memories of the millions of Jews, Tutsi, and Bosnian Muslims who are among the countless victims of unnecessary genocide (Luttwak, Edward).

 

Works Cited :


"Remembering the Jewish Holocaust Can Prevent Future Genocides. ."Contemporary Issues Companion: Genocide. Christina Fisanick. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. GREELEY CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL. 21 Apr. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS>.

Luttwak, Edward N. "If Bosnians were dolphins.... " Commentary. 96.n4 (Oct 1993): 27(6). Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. GREELEY CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL. 17 Apr. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS>.

Ratnesar, Romesh. "Samantha Power: Voice Against Genocide.(TIME 100/Scientists & Thinkers)(Profile). ." Time. 163.17 (April 26, 2004): 106. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. GREELEY CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL. 17 Apr. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS>.


 

 


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