More From Alder's Ledge

February 8, 2013

History Never Stops Repeating On Its Own

In the darkest of hours a voice cries out from the scorched earth of the Arakan. Desperation has left a scar upon it that shapes it, molds it into the familiar tone of those who came before it. Hunger muffles its plea. Tears flow over its words as they fall over its breath like rain.

"Take me back to the killing fields", it pleads. "To where I can imagine life as it was when we did not bleed. Take me back to the world where rice grew in the fields and fish swam in the sea. Take me to time before the blade and bullet came for me. 
"Take me there where I can rest in the warmth of the setting sun. Take me there where I once stood beneath the shade of tall old trees. Let me see my home once more. Let me hear the sound of my children play just one last time.
"Take back to a time when the rats didn't eat better than me. Take me back to that place where the buzzards didn't hover and wait for me to lay down and die. Let me know once more what it was like to live beyond death's shadow.
"Take me back to a time when my brothers and sisters were not memories. Take me back to that time before they were taken from me. Take me back to when I could remember their faces, their voices, their touch. Take me back to that place where we use to gather as one... where my family once felt like more than ancient history."

History has a way of repeating itself. It is a cruel yet dedicated teacher that will not relent. It attempts to show us where we have failed as a species. With its painful repetition it offers us chance after chance to learn from our mistakes. No amount of blood or misery will satisfy it. No amount of suffering can abate its curriculum or spare us our failures in learning from it.

The cry that comes out of the depths of Burma's most oppressed community are those same cries that echo throughout history. It is a plea for humanity that was lost upon the killing fields of Cambodia. It is a cry that was silenced by the jackboots during the Holocaust. It is a scream that was brutally crushed by the Young Turks as the Armenians were marched off to their deaths. And yet the same cry for help comes out of Burma once more. It calls upon the rest of mankind to step up and fulfill the promises we made after defeating the fascist in World War Two. It begs us to not forget those two words once again... never again.

"Take me back to the killing fields," it rasp voice screams. "But not as they are or as they will soon be. Take me back to the fields as they were before. With grass grown up and the crops swaying in the breeze. Let me loose there where I was once free. Let me live upon that soil once more where my ancestors once called home. 
"Do not take me away from here to live in exile. Do not tell me to take to the sea when there is nowhere left to run. Do not pray for my safety in those little boats. Do not hope for the best while my brothers and sisters drown beneath those unforgiving waves. 
"Take me back to the villages I once called home. Take me back to the streets I walked as a young man. Take me back to the mosque in which I once prayed. Let me live in peace as I did in those days before the fires, the fights, the mobs. 
"Do not let hunger do to me what the mobs could not. Do not let my ribs break the flesh as I rot in the camps. Do not let me live like a skeleton draped in flesh. Please do not rob me of my dignity. 
"Take me back to a place where I did not pray for crumbs. Take me back to a time when I did not pick through the weeds for dropped or discarded grains. Take me back to a time when I was not considered less than a dog that I might eat like a man and not scavenge through waste. Take me there so that I might live free... free of hunger... free of fear."

It has been said that those who do not learn from history are damned to repeat it. With Syria, Darfur, the Congo, and Burma we are living through it once more. There are more genocide occurring right now than were occurring at the time of the Holocaust. The number of dead might not be as high as that of what Hitler, Stalin, or Mao killed in their horrific deeds, but the crime is the same none the less.

For those in the West these crimes are treated as anomalies, as oddities that occur in distant lands. We tend to think of genocide as a crime against humanity that we ourselves could never suffer. Americans in particular picture genocide as a thing from which we rescue others.

History has a way of remedying that.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
We never think these things can come home to where we live. We dream of them as perverse sins that stay put in the history books where they belong. And even for those who acknowledge their existence in our time, we often distance ourselves through the hope that we ourselves could never become their victims.

But how long can societies last when they do not face the sins of their fathers? How long can we keep going if we do not recall the crimes that taint our own past? And if we never learn from our own mistakes than how do we ever prevent them from happening again?

There is not a single European nation that can stand before the world and say that it has never once participated or practiced genocide. America and Canada were built upon the genocide of the native peoples that once inhabited these lands. And yet the history of our forefathers' sins is vastly ignored by the masses that now inhabit these great countries.

It is only upon looking at how, why, and when we committed genocide that we realize the warning signs that came with those crimes. Once identified and taught a society can be prepared to prevent those same crimes from occurring once again.

In the West we learned our lessons from the Holocaust. We had to repeat genocide after genocide till it climaxed in the slaughter of millions of innocent victims. But we did learn the warning signs.

So why are we ignoring those very sings when they pertain to Burma? Or Syria? Or Darfur?

Perhaps it is just my paranoia, perhaps it is my own view of history that creates it...

But how long before the next government leaning toward ethnic cleansing realizes just how relaxed the world is on the issue and topples over into genocide? After all, all you need to do is look around and watch as country after country funds genocide after genocide without even a second thought. Morality, ethics... they both seem lost now days as world leaders pander to genocidal regimes to make a quick buck.

How long before a government of a developed nation starts to flirt with the idea of ridding themselves of "undesirables"?

Once again, my history with genocide might lend to my perceived paranoia of it, yet the question remains to be answered. History has a way of repeating itself. History has a way of forcing us to deal with an issue that we so desperately try to ignore. Genocide is just another portion of our history that we can not escape.

As long as we continue to ignore the cries echoing out of Burma we assure ourselves that we will have to face this sin once again. It is a crime that knows no borders. It is a crime that knows no boundaries. Genocide does not regard anything as sacred. It does not respect any given religion. It does not look up to any race or down upon any given level of degradation. And as long as we continue to ignore it in Burma, Syria, Darfur, and the Congo we assure ourselves that we will never truly be able to honestly say those two words... never again.

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