You've probably seen the black and white photos of the Auschwitz living skeletons. They are stacked on wooden bunks, staring stiffly up at the camera. Their faces are monuments chiseled by pain from the rock of our collective human experience. The holocaust stands at the epicenter of an eruption of depravity which had begun to assume different names across the world by 1950. The Allied forces in WWII were not angels, but they represented the muscular determination of the west to say "no" to demons.
It is a sad story with a good ending; the kind that my childhood history books liked to emphasize -- and the kind I liked to read. It fit well with my spiritual world-view, and the perspective I inherited from growing up in a beautiful home marred only by the occasional tragedy, like the death of a family pet. Like the picture of Auschwitz, the time my grandparents knew was black and white: good versus bad, and the good won.
But I was alive in the spring of 1994. We have color photos to illustrate what whole-scale slaughter on the order of more than 850,000 people looked like in Rwanda. Who will cry the loss that was permitted by international silence? Who will stand to judge when we all sat to watch?
I fear this time. We have consigned our grandparent's courage of conviction to the dusty attic, along with their old black and white cameras. Like prisoners at Auschwitz, our rigor mortis has set in -- just in time for us to realize it. Before we die.
Before we die, however, let us consider that our grandparents saw the world in color. Their actions were not the reflexive out-workings of a primitive ethic. Courage is optional by definition, and all of the heroes of our faith and country acted with a more nuanced understanding of their moral and physical fragility than we comfort loving post-modernists would like to admit. Faith? Yes, I think so. A living faith would spur us, as it did them, with the strength to say no.
No to survival through depravity. No to sitting when it takes standing. No when everyone else is silent. No to the Holocaust, Gulags, and Khmer Rouge.
No Rwanda. No.