Albert Speer, the high-ranking architect of the Third Reich who was convicted at Nuremburg and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the Holocaust, once wrote: “One seldom recognizes the devil when he has his hand on your shoulder.”
During the Holocaust he had learned to look the other way at the atrocities being committed by his colleagues as he “peacefully” pursued a successful career within the most evil regime of the 20th century.
I do not wish to compare the current situation in Iraq to the Holocaust, but I can’t help but wonder: How many of us are failing to recognize the devils that have their hands on our shoulders? It seems that our generation’s dominant response to domestic and international problems—none more obvious than Iraq—is to be apathetic and to blame President Bush. After all, if we know nothing and do nothing, we’re not responsible right?
Wrong. How many of us voted for Bush? How many more of us voted for a Democratic congressperson who at some point voted to authorize the decision-making in Iraq or the funding of the war effort? And how many of us didn’t vote at all? Did not all of these decisions have an effect on the war today? Is that reality not both the beauty and downfall of democracy, that we share responsibility for these decisions? And further, how many of us, if asked tomorrow, would go over to Iraq to help stabilize the security quagmire that is ensuing as part of a military, government or civilian project?
If we accept that the situation is damaged beyond repair, as the many seems to do, why is the “anti-war movement” nowhere near what it was during the Vietnam War?
Or maybe you think history could still vindicate the current efforts. Why is that viewpoint not being spoken convincingly in the public discourse more often? Where is the courage to step beyond popular opinion?
I do not wish to put myself forward as the one who is treating this problem in the ideal way. I too have learned to browse through the headlines about Iraq without much response. Like the U2 lyrics, I feel numb / I feel numb / Give me some more.
But we must not give in to the numbness, and our generation cannot evade responsibility for Iraq. I’m reminded of Dr. Steve Garber’s words from a seminar session last semester when he suggested to my class that in regards to pertinent policy discussions, to know about an issue should be to care about that issue which is to be implicated therein.
I am convinced that both our actions and inactions implicate us in Iraq. And ignorance is no excuse in the most information-heavy era in the history of the world.
The political blame game isn’t helping. Say what you want about Bush, but at least the guy is bold enough to make decisions. History will judge which of his foreign policy decisions were justified in the long-term, but his policies are no excuse for our indecision and inaction.
I’m not saying that we hold as much responsibility for our foreign policy as the policy-makers do, but until we confront the devil on our own shoulders, Iraq will not get any better.
And if we continue on our present course of feigning innocence, some of us will be publishing memoirs in 50 years about the biggest regret of our time.