Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Nazi Hunter

Time for a few words for Simon Wiesenthal, Bush, who has been much on my mind since his death a couple of days ago. Here was a man who dedicated his life to the service of the world and its history, and to the cause of justice. His wake-up call was the Holocaust, the slaughter of six million Jews--along with millions of other "undesirables"--in the Nazi death camps in the early 1940s. In the same way, perhaps, though on a vastly different scale, that yours came on September 11, 2001.

As I understand it, Wiesenthal's life was devoted not to vengeance, but to justice and to human history. He wanted his to serve as an exemplary and lasting reminder to the world that human beings should not be allowed to commit such acts and get away with it. His weapons were not batallions of soldiers armed with guns and mortars, but fragile memories, millions of scraps of paper and fading photographs, records meticulously assembled. His targets were those Nazi thugs who had managed to slip below the horizon after World Wat II, living in distant countries under assumed identities, "terrorists," in a way--though of course no longer active. Different from your terrorists, Bush, in that sense. His Osama, perhaps, was Adolph Eichman, an important architect and facilitator of the Nazi crimes, and a man whom Wiesenthal pursued for years, doggedly--not, I think, in that "dead or alive" spirit of revenge, but to be able to hold him up as a prime example to all those who think to pursue crimes against humanity with impunity.

The organization that inherits most clearly from Wiesenthal's work today is surely the World Court, set up to investigate the acts of dictators and thugs who slaughter their own people, or those they choose to hate. It saddens me immensely, Bush, that you refuse to honor this court with the recognition of our country. It saddens me to think that Wiesenthal's lesson may be lost on the United States under your watch, when despicable acts like those at Abu Ghraib are met with denial rather than aggressive investigation, and with the punishment of only a handful of those who were "only following orders"--and yes, they should be punished--and the inexcuable exoneration of those who gave them.

Let's honor the memory of Wiesenthal, Bush, not in empty words, but as the inspiration for our actions in the world.

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