Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Passing of Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy will be mourned by people around the world who know that he held the banner for the kinds of causes that have been so identified with the Kennedy family. He was one of the most passionate and effective advocates for the rights of the poor and dispossesed around the world. His voice was one of the few that could be heard above the general noise--clear, articulate and most of all passionate for the values and causes that drove him. On NBC news this morning they showed a clip from the late Senators' eulogy for his brother Robert. In that remarkable speech (one I have to say I was not aware of) some powerful statements were made about the importance of global awareness. The section from the speech I quote below begins with part of a speech RFK gave in South Africa:

"There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember -- even if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek -- as we do -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can...

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again. The answer is to rely on youth -- not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress."

The Senator then went onto quote other deeply moving words from the speech

"The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society. Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live."

The words are no less true today as they were then. We must all continue the flame of hope that the Senator and the Kennedy brothers embodied.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Global Awareness : The Cost of Isolation and/or Pretending Not to See..

Jesse Kornbluth in a recent post on his blog, made some useful points about what isolation can do to people in the context of a book published in 1955--by a Chicago journalist, Milton Mayer, entitled They Thought They Were Free. The book focuses on ten representative Germans who were members of the Nazi party who he literally befriended in the 1950s to come to terms with why became part of the great evil that Nazi Germany wrought on humanity. Kornbluth summarizes some of the Mayer's key findings as follows:

"They did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now [in 1951]. None of them ever knew, or now knows, Nazism as we knew it, and know it; and they lived under it, served it, and, indeed, made it.

And none ever thought Hitler would lead them into war.

Why not?

-- They had never traveled abroad.
-- They didn't talk to foreigners or read the foreign press.
-- Before Hitler, most had no jobs. Now they did.
-- The targets of their hatred had been stigmatized well in advance of any action against them.
-- They really weren't asked to “do” anything --- just not to interfere.
-- The men who burned synagogues did not live in the cities of the synagogues.

The isolation of Germany during this period is striking and we made me think of how those countries that live under dictators, or without access to the Internet are peculiarly vulnerable today to brutal dark chapters. We can think of North Korea, Iran and most recently of Darfur. Now thanks to the web and more specifically to Google Earth and the US Holocaust Museum we can now see the brutal evidence

"Using data from the U.S. State Departments Humanitarian Information Unit and working with the United States Holocaust Museum Memorial, Google now shows more than 3,300 villages (yes, entire villages) that have been decimated during the genocide. Google notes that while the numbers have been known for some time, actually seeing the decimation in more detail than ever before provides a clearer understanding of the devastation."

We must always remember the truth of this anecdote taken from Mayer's book
"Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late."