Has anything really changed?

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2009

When I was in college, I wrote a term paper titled “The Children Cry.” The theme was that as society grows in its understanding and knowledge, the children of the world are better off because conditions improve as people learn to think differently.

I compared what happened to the lives of children after the “Enlightenment” swept Europe to the improvements in lives in our own more enlightened times. In other words, my idea was that we learn from the past and because of those lessons, the world becomes a better place for children – and for everyone else too.

I remembered that paper as I listened to the story about a group of Holocaust survivors speaking to high school students at the AUM Holocaust Education program. One of the survivors, Max Steinmetz said he was thrown into a boxcar with almost no food or water. He was 17 at the time, close to the age of many of those in the audience who heard him talk about of the genocide of the Jews under Hitler.

As I listened to his story I wondered if my hypothesis in that long-ago paper was wrong because in my head I kept hearing the words.

“The same thing is happening in Darfur and the world is watching it happen just like it did when the holocaust began in Germany all those years ago.”

The horror in Darfur began when, after decades of suffering under the central government, Darfuri rebels started an armed rebellion in early 2003. The government responded with a systematic campaign to wipe out civilian groups associated with the rebels.

Six years later, thousands are dead, millions have no homes and most of the more than 3,000 villages destroyed by government forces contained no rebels when the soldiers killed, maimed, tortured, raped and displaced the residents.

Despite society’s advances, the people and sadly the children in Darfur face a life that is unimaginable to me. It is impossible to think of fear and turmoil being part of day-to-day life. It hurts to think about children alone, frightened and hungry because their parents died as a result of this genocide.

Recently the government in Darfur announced the expulsion of international aid workers, effectively getting rid of witnesses to its crimes and depriving the people of life-saving supplies of food, clean water and medicine. In an effort to make people aware of the situation in Darfur and in other parts of our world, April is Genocide Prevention Month. And why does what happens in Darfur matter to me, to my family, to my nation. After all that country is miles from my home; just like what was happening in Germany seemed miles from our shores before World War II.

First I think it matters simply because human suffering should concern us. To paraphrase Jesus, when something is done to the least of us, it is done to all of us. For that one reason alone, anyone’s pain is collectively our pain.

Secondly, we should care because of something Max Steinmetz said when he talked to those high school students. He believes, like I did when I wrote that term paper, that knowledge keeps us from repeating our mistakes and ultimately leads to changing life for the better.

“It is important for these kids to know what happened then, and also realize it could happen again,” he said. “We said it couldn’t happen in Germany, but it did, and it could happen here, too.“

To learn more about what individuals can do to make a difference in Darfur, please visit http://www.SaveDarfur.org.