The Mysteries of Mercy

Washington Times
Jan 30 2005

Commentary: The mysteries of mercy

By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst

Washington, DC, Jan. 28 (UPI) — It’s easy to despair looking at the
world this week of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the
Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Red Army. From Cambodia to
Sudan, and from Rwanda to Bosnia, the chronicle of man’s inhumanity
to man has remained a stunning spectacle with genocide remaining
frightfully in fashion through the second half of the 20th century
and into the 21st.

With millions continuing to die every year of starvation, disease,
civil war and merciless pillaging across the continent of Africa in
particular, it is obvious that this is still not “the best of all
possible worlds” — an attitude the great French 18th century
philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire ridiculed in his classic
satirical novel “Candide.”

Given the enduring realities of human greed, hatred, cowardice and
envy, the recurrence of monstrous crimes against entire races and
religious groups of people — be they Christians, Muslims,
Cambodians, Bosnians, Chinese, Tibetans or Tutsis — over the second
half of the 20th century is arguably as predictable as the genocide
of Jews, Gypsies, Ukrainians, Armenians and Chinese in the half
century that went before.

It’s easy to overlook, therefore, other common trends in modern human
history that have been far more positive, yet may be so obvious that
they are almost always unseen. One of the most important is the wise,
commonsense observation of the great Mahatma Gandhi, architect of the
huge non-violence movement that broke the back of the British will to
remain in India: “There have always been tyrants and murderers, and
for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always
fall. Think of it. Always.”

It’s also easy to overlook during this week of the anniversary of the
liberation of Auschwitz that it and the other Nazi death camps were
indeed liberated. And less than a decade later when Soviet dictator
Josef Stalin died, his eventual successor, Nikita Khrushchev threw
open the gates of the infamous Soviet Gulag Archipelago, freeing
millions of survivors who had been convinced they would never see
their homes again.

It’s easy to forget that, as the movie “Saving Private Ryan”
dramatically reminded an entire generation of Americans, millions of
American, Soviet and British soldiers, and their Canadian,
Australian, French and many other allies, fought and died to destroy
the terrible regimes that had ravaged the human race in the 1930s and
’40s. Those awful actions eventually called forth an even greater and
ultimately decisive reaction.

The bravery and decency of hundreds of millions of human beings was
called forth as never before during World War II to protect their
nations and the wider human race from the actions of scores of
millions more who had been deceived or enticed into supporting
monstrous regimes. Eventually, the Soviet communist colossus, too,
crumbled into dust, just as Gandhi had predicted.

In 1993, the already classic movie “Schindler’s List” directed by
Steven Spielberg and starring Liam Neeson celebrated the heroism of
an ordinary, indeed, more than slightly seedy German businessman who
saved more than a thousand Jewish lives from the Holocaust. The awful
crimes he saw around him called forth from him a decency he himself
had never before realized was there.

And now, movie theaters around the world are showing a similar tale,
“Hotel Rwanda,” the story of Paul Rusesabagina, played in the movie
by the great American actor Don Cheadle. He was another ordinary man
who was not looking to be a hero but whose sense of decency saved
more than 1,200 lives from the extraordinary slaughter of 800,000
Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists in Rwanda in 1994.

It’s easy to demonize every German, or Russian, or Chinese, or
Israeli, or Arab, or Hutu that ever lived and blame the horrific
crimes perpetrated by crazed mobs or brainwashed multitudes in
specific times and places on everyone who fits the appropriate label.
It is much more difficult by far to remember the eternal words of the
great Gulag chronicler Alexander Solzhenitsyn when he warned, “the
line between good and evil runs through every human heart.”

Even Nazis could know mercy. One Nazi Party member, John Rabe, saved
a quarter of a million lives during the massacre of hundreds of
thousands of Chinese during the rape of the city of Nanking by
conquering Japanese forces in 1937.

The day after world leaders solemnly met at Auschwitz, the terrible
“capital of death” where at least 1.5 million human lives, most of
them Jewish, were deliberately and systematically snuffed out, Louis
Michel, the 25-nation European Union’s Commissioner for Development
and Humanitarian Aid, addressed a European Institute conference in
Washington. Michel straightforwardly noted, “The bald figures speak
for themselves. More than a billion people in the world live on less
than one dollar a day; 11 million children — most under the age of 5
— die each year; over 6 million of these deaths are due to
preventable diseases.” But Michel continued, “This is no time to
despair; this is the time for us to act.”

In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Bible records God stating, “I have
set before you life and death: Choose therefore life.” On the
anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is well to remember
that the camp was indeed liberated, even though it was too late for
so many — and that the way of life, as well as the way of death,
still remains open before us.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress