The Meaning of a Few Words
Never Again was a lovely dream. I thank those who dreamt it, who repeated it, who spread those words in commemorative museums that bear witness to one of our darkest times in history. Those who survived to coin the phrase are a bridge to a time that should never be forgotten – a time that we should constantly struggle to understand and prevent.
It is indeed a struggle. The shipwreck of the phrase “Never Again” is a testament to that struggle. What was coined as a promise has been repeated as a plea – never let us allow it ever again, if not this time, then the next. My generation, those of us born in the 70s and 80s, have inherited the history of the Holocaust. What should we do with it? We’ve heard about it, read the Diary of Anne Frank, and visited the local Holocaust Museum. We have memorized the dates, the people involved, and the war tactics on all fronts. But what do we do with the Holocaust? If we have learned anything from previous generations, it is that repeating the events is not enough. Telling the story is important, but it is not everything. We know the numbers, and we have the dates. Now it’s time to process the information – to give it context and to apply what we have learned, not just about the history, but about ourselves.
What does the prevailing trend of genocide say about us? About the human condition as a whole?
One thing that we have learned is simple, yet rarely stated: we cannot stop genocide. Not in our current state. Corrupt regimes will always come to absolute power, and it will corrupt absolutely. Whether along national, ethnic and/or religious group lines, new hegemonies will always strive to destroy in whole or in part, those that are considered to be “other.” Fear will thrust human kind to do fearful things, to react in fearful ways toward fellow human beings. Man will never stop feeling threatened by his fellow man. There is no phrase that can prevent it.
Then what do we do?
It is time to frame history differently. To confront, head-on, what it says about us to live in a world where we allow genocide to rage so far out of control that the number dead must reach the hundreds of thousands before anyone takes notice. History, contrary to popular belief, does not occur long ago, in a time far gone; nor does history occur in a vacuum. History is made in the present. We make it; we mold it. We shape what our children will read in textbooks about what we allow to happen.
My generation learned that Adolf Hitler was a monster. That his regime was made up of evil men who behaved outside the confines of any natural state of humanity. But Adolf Hitler was not a monster, although it is more comfortable to label him thus. He was human. As was Pinochet, Milosevic, the Khmer Rouge, the Janjaweed. They are human. Humans who sanctioned unspeakable crimes against humanity, but humans nonetheless. That is what is so scary about this history – it is made by people like us, yet we can ill-afford to separate the humans from their humanity – from their crimes against humanity. These are crimes against us, all of us.
It is time for us to evolve emotionally and mentally to accept the global state of our world – that genocide, whether confronted sooner or later, will affect us not only morally and ethically, but economically, socially, culturally, and politically. We are globalizing (whether we like it or not) economically; we are globalizing politically. It is time to start globalizing socially.
Genocide is an issue that should constantly be kept in the public discourse. To contextualize it, understand it, so that we can recognize the fear that breeds it. Recognize it before hundreds of thousands of people are slaughtered and millions more displaced. It is time for us to evolve into the kind of humans who will not tolerate the intolerance that spreads genocide like a disease. We need to understand that preventing egregious human rights violations is cheaper than cleaning up after the damage they cause.
Does that mean we militarize the argument; do we fight it with war? No. We fight it with diplomacy, with world standards about how humans deserve to live. Enforcing codes of conduct through government and private oversight. Disallow government isolation and let every nation of the world know that torture, slaughter, forced hunger, and slave labor will not be tolerated as viable government programs. But most importantly, keep it in the public discourse. Inform the public about the state of the world. We deserve to know – to make a choice about the type of world in which we live.
I do not want another genocide museum to visit. I do not want another phrase to repeat.
That’s the test. That’s how we know when we’ve learned the lesson.