Fifty-four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a small town in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethe's beloved Weimar, in a place of eternal infamy called Buchenwald. He was finally free, but there was no joy in his heart. He thought there never would be again. Liberated a day earlier by American soldiers, he remembers their rage at what they saw. And even if he lives to be a very old man, he will always be grateful to them for that rage, and also for their compassion. Though he did not understand their language, their eyes told him what he needed to know - that they, too, would remember, and bear witness.
...We are on the threshold of a new century, a new millennium. What will the legacy of this vanishing century be? How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it will be judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysical terms. These failures have cast a dark shadow over humanity: two World Wars, countless civil wars, the sensless chain of assassinations - Gandhi, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Sadat, Rabin - bloodbaths in Cambodia and Nigeria, India and Pakistan, Ireland and Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sarajevo and Kosovo; the inhumanity in the gulag and the tragedy of Hiroshima. And, on a different level, of course, Auschwitz and Treblinka. So much violence; so much indifference.
What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means "no difference." A strange and unnatural state in wich the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil. What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference concievable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one's sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?
Of course, indifference can be tempting - more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.
Over there, behind the black gates of Auschwitz, the most tragic of all prisoners were the Muselmanner, as they were called. Wrapped in their torn blankets, they would sit or lie on the ground, staring vacantly into space, unaware of who or where they were - srangers to their surroundings. They no longer felt pain, hunger, thirst. They feared nothing. They felt nothing. They were dead and did not know it.
Rooted in our traditions, some of us felt that to be abandoned by humanity then was not the ultimate. We felt that to be abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Better an unjust God than an indifferent one. For us to be ignored by God was a harsher punishment than to be a victim of His anger. Man can live far from God - not outside God. God is wherever we are. Even in suffering? Even in suffering.
In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.
Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a responce. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor - never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees - not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.
Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century's wide - ranging experiments in good and evil.
In the place that I come from, society was composed of three simple categories: the killers, the victims, and the bystanders. During the darkest of times, inside the ghettoes and death camps - and I'm glad that Mrs. Clinton mentioned that we are now commemorating that event, that period, that we are now in the Days of Remembrance - but then, we felt abandoned, forgotten. All of us did.
And our only miserable consolation was that we believed that Auschwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets, that the leaders of the free world did not know what was going on behind those black gates and barbed wire; that they had no knowledge of the war against the Jews that Hitler's armies and their accomplices waged as part of the war against the Allies. If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders would have moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spoken out with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombed the railways leading to Birkenau, just the railways, just once.
And now we knew, we learned, we dicovered that the Pentagon knew, the State Department knew...
...The depressing tale of the St. Louis is a case in point. Sixty years ago, its human cargo - nearly 1,000 Jews - was turned back to Nazi Germany. And that happened after the Kristallnacht, after the first state sponsored progrom, with hundreds of Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues burned, thousands of people put in concentration camps. And that ship, which was already in the shores of the United States, was sent back. I don't understand. Roosevelt was a good man, with a heart. He understood those who needed help. Why didn't he allow these refugees to disembark? A thousand people - in America, the great country, the greatest democracy, the most generous of all new nations in modern history. What happened? I don't understand. Why the indifference, on the highest level, to the suffering of the victims?
But then, there were human beings who were sensitive to our tragedy. Those non-Jews, those Christians, that we called the "Righteous Gentiles," whose selfless acts of heroism saved the honor of their faith. Why were they so few? Why was there a greater effort to save SS murderers after the war than to save their victims during the war? Why did some of America's largest corporations continue to do business with Hitler's Germany untill 1942? It has been suggested, and it was documented, that the Wermacht could not have conducted its invasion of France without oil obtained from American sources. How is one to explain their indifference?
And yet, my friends, good things have also happened in this traumatic century: the defeat of Nazism, the collapse of communism, the rebirth of Israel on its ancestral soil, the demise of apartheid, Israel's peace treaty with Egypt, the peace accord in Ireland. And let us remember the meeting, filled with drama and emotion, between Rabin and Arafat that you, Mr. President, convened in this very place. I was here and I will never forget it.
And then, of cource, the joint decision of the United States and NATO to intervene in Kosovo and save those victims, those refugees, those who were uprooted by a man whom I believe, that because of his crimes, should be charged with crimes against humanity.
But this time, the world was not silent. This time, we do respond. This time, we intervene.
Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? Has the human being become less indifferent and more human? Have we really learned from our experiences? Are we less insensitive to the plight of victims of ethnic cleansing and other forms of injustices in places near and far? Is today's justified intrevention in Kosovo, led by you, Mr. President, a lasting warning that never again will the deportation, the terrorization of children and their parents be allowed anywhere in the world? Will it discourage other dictators in other lands to do the same?
What about the children? Oh, we see them on television, we read about them in the papers, and we do so with a broken heart. Their fate is always the most tragic, inevitably. When adults wage war, children perish. We see their faces, their eyes. Do we hear their pleas? Do we feel their pain, their agony? Every minute one of them dies of disease, violence, famine.
Some of them - so many of them - could be saved.
And so, once again, I think of the young Jewish boy from the Carpathian Mountains. He has accompanied the old man I have become through these years of quest and struggle. And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.

- delivered at the White House, April 12, 1999

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Comment by Dancing Fingers on December 29, 2008 at 12:09am
Thank you for sharing this....very profound and full of truth.
David, I am glad to hear you are writing a book....... peace
Comment by MiraCulous on December 29, 2008 at 10:47am
America holds the key to Peace in the Middle East and (for that matter), Peace in the world. We cannot continue on these destructive ways. America is suffering now b/c of the suffering it has infringed on others, by not caring, not acting, not intervening.

"Those who induldge in suffering will too suffer." ~Thich Naht Hanh

Even if we did intervene and help wage Peace in these countries of turmoil, we are still a country that is not at Peace. There is so much suffering that goes on in this country. We let crazy people get a hold of guns, our youth is making their own bombs, we imprison innocent peole, we knowingly let our citizens consume poison, human trafficking, corrupt officials, the list goes on and on. It is really dicpicable!!! How many massacres need to happen before they DO SOMETHING!?!?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over agian and expecting different results." ~Albert Einstein

blah blah blah it was written in the constitution that we have the right to bear arms. That was a LONG time ago, and things are very different now. As long as we keep on allowing these murderers to run rampant and allow the killing of innocent people, then there will be no Peace, in this country, in other countries, and the world at large.

Yes we have made progress, but it has been said that with every step forward, we take a step back. And as we are doing all this stepping, in the name of progress, we are stepping on the rights of others, and stepping over suffering, not thinking twice as we continue to be clouded by our selfish induldgences, stupid tv shows, and superficial lives.

thats what they want anyway!! there is a new show on television about "Homeland Security", they are trying to make these guys look like heroes, when really they are ANYTHING but. They are just egotistical jerks high on a power trip. They make them out to look like the "good guys". Of course they are not going to show the tasering of innocent people, slamming women on the ground at airport security, throwing handicap peole around like a rag doll, imprisoning people for getting high.

Something has to happen. And it needs to happen soon. We cannot continue down this path of greed, destruction, and selfishness.

"Evolve or Die" ~Eckhart Tolle
Comment by Oliver Bulfango on December 30, 2008 at 12:23am
Comment by George Stevens on January 16, 2009 at 10:09pm
"..........How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it will be judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysical terms. These failures have cast a dark shadow over humanity: two World Wars, countless civil wars, the sensless chain of assassinations - Gandhi, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Sadat, Rabin - bloodbaths in Cambodia and Nigeria, India and Pakistan, Ireland and Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sarajevo and Kosovo; the inhumanity in the gulag and the tragedy of Hiroshima. And, on a different level, of course, Auschwitz and Treblinka. So much violence; so much indifference......"

Great Post David!

The quote above is extremely significant, as we have seen more of the same horrors described above during the first eight years of the 21st Century. Lets face it, we have not started this century any differently than the one which preceded it.

As Iran inches closer to a Nuclear weapon, so do terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, whose attacks on Israel have been bankrolled by Tehran. To be concerned the Iranians would someday sell the WMD’s to the Islamic radicals is in no way out of the realm of reality.

These theological criminals’ misinterpretation of the Koran leaves them entirely fearless of death and believing an attack on innocent people in the West would result in a one-way ticket to "Heaven."

Meanwhile, several countries in Africa have experienced as much genocide as Hitler and Stalin facilitated during WWII. And now we have observed the second coming of pirates across the globe who kidnap innocent people, demanding ransom for their safe returns.

While we advance by quantum leaps technologically, there seems to be a frightening spiritual decline. It is important to note that I don't consider spirituality and organized religion synonymous. Quite the contrary in fact!

As the Religious Right continues to ignore the U.S. Constitution, constantly attempting to impose their values on others and this country as a whole, Muslim extremists are basically do the same in the Middle East -- albeit in a far more violent fashion.

This is all far too reminiscent of the Inquisition and Crusades centuries ago.

Sadly, torture has become a part of the U.S response to enemy aggression since 9/11. Until the new millennium began, that vile practice was limited to severely-misguided rogue nations. Even the American citizens themselves have been subject to unlawful domestic spying and ethnic profiling.

No doubt, much of this country's transgressions of this new century will come to an abrupt halt with the inauguration of the new president in just 4 days. But that won't change the atrocities going on globally.

Yogi Satchidananda, who served thousand of spiritual seekers in the U.S. since the ‘60s, once noted prior to his death eight years ago that wars are never actually won; Rather, one side is temporarily stifled by another -- only to wait for the opportunity for vengeance. History has shown us more than enough evidence to support this philosophy.

So if violence and intolerance do not work, than it is obvious only peace and love – perhaps the two most potent weapons in this life -- clearly do. That is why it is so imperative we all lead by example, committing "random acts of kindness," as the bumper sticker tells us.

There is no doubt the only way to create a harmonious world is to begin on the local level, starting with our communities. If it’s to be, it’s – indeed – up to me!
Comment by Matthew Lynch on March 6, 2009 at 6:09pm
i concur with Glenn: if it is to be, it is up to me....

either we believe in the innate goodness of humanity, and that it will prevail, or else.....well, if the opposite is true then what is the point of living?

if the above holds true about our innate goodness, then a choice must be made by each of us, knowing that individually we affect the group consciousness of the whole.....because we are all one....despite the fact that in our conscious state we live in the constant illusion of separateness.....

...spiritual beings that we are, having a physical experience...

each choice we make impacts the world. We can affect world peace by sharing a smile, a positive attitude, an uplifting comment.

we live in unprecedented times. and to be alive during such times...well, i have to believe it is because we each have a piece to play in the enormous game that is humanity right now. and thus, we are blessed to be alive at this time in history.

it is up to






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