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
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
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).
"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>.