Friday, October 19th, 2018

Our Opinion: When we forget world history, is it bound to repeat itself?

Posted on February 06, 2017 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Editorial Board, Free Press Staff

“Never Again.” It’s a phrase attached to some of the worst and most shameful moments in human history. We say “never again” to the holocaust, “never again” to slavery. “Never again” to Japanese internment camps. We say “never again” to the Rwandan genocide. But it seems that we keep forgetting and the phrase “never again” only means something when referring to the distant past. We keep forgetting that these events didn’t just happen, but began somewhere. All had starting points, all had people who were complacent,  all had good people who sat by and did nothing.

The Guardian quoted Queens’ College student Raphael Levy in December 2016 talking about the crisis in war torn Syria, “We let Aleppo happen. We stood by. We did nothing. We have learned absolutely nothing. We ought to be ashamed. Every single western leader, from Obama to Cameron to May to Miliband to Corbyn to Holland to Merkel ought to be ashamed. One day I hope to have children and I will tell them about the Holocaust. I will tell them how the allied forces knew what was happening and let it happen. I will tell them how we said “never again”, but I will have to explain that that meant absolutely nothing.”

Many of us grew up thinking it was normal to be a country at war. For most of our young lives we were a country at war. But life went on as normal for many within the U.S. People met and fell in love, babies were born, hearts were broken, high schoolers marched across stages and flipped their tassels, people got promotions and demotions, friendships were made, gardens were planted. As children, many of us were protected and sheltered from the heartbreaking and dehumanizing aspects of what it means to be at war.

At this same time, cities were being bombed, people were being tortured, soldiers were dying, schools were burned, churches were burned. And many, many good people sat by and did nothing.

Remember watching a movie on the Civil Rights Movement in elementary school or middle school. Remember learning about the holocaust. Maybe you were reading a fiction book, maybe it was Harry Potter or the Hunger Games. Did you think, “I would have done something, I would have fought”? But things have been happening in our lifetimes that needed fighting for, and things are happening now that need fighting for. So what is it that let’s things happen, again and again? Why don’t we learn from the past?

Martin Niemoller’s famous poem about the holocaust reads, “First they came for the Communists/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Communist/ Then they came for the Socialists/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Socialist/ Then they came for the trade unionists/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a trade unionist/ Then they came for the Jews/ And I did not speak out/ Because I was not a Jew/ Then they came for me/ And there was no one left/To speak out for me.”

Now is the time to remember history. Now is the time to remember each moment that lead up the times that caused us to say “never again.” Remember each person who sat by and did nothing. Remember that there is always something to do, no matter how small. That these moments that we deem so horrible, so heinous, the worst moments of human kind, can be stopped by the collective power of the people. We are the world. We can remember, we can learn, we can say “never again,” and mean it this time.


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