The lessons and questions of history

by Ginger on November 18, 2015

in Random

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by history. Certain time periods more than others, but in general, history has always been captivating. And often horrifying.

When I was younger, World War II was one of my biggest obsessions. There were so many elements to what was happening during WWII, so many players, so many different horrors to wrap your mind around. I was fascinated and disgusted and horrified: Nazis, concentration camps, Pearl Harbor, internment camps, atomic bombs, to go with all the “normal” destruction and death that accompanies war. The many facets of fear and hatred and lust for power and desire for destruction that led to the unfathomable deaths of millions. I couldn’t wrap my head around it (and still can’t, if we’re being honest).

I read and learned about the Japanese internment camps. When I was younger, I was horrified. We were the good guys! America wasn’t supposed to do things like that! As I got older, I was heartbroken that America had let fear turn into…that.

And I wondered, would I have been so afraid that I wanted my Japanese neighbors taken away? Would I have gone to the dark place that puts suspicion and hatred on everyone who looks and sounds and seems different? Or would I have been horrified at the atrocities my country was committing?

I read and learned about the horrors the Nazi regime inflicted on so many people. About concentration camps and experiments and death upon death upon death. I could not wrap my head around the reality of a concentration camp, and people, families, *children* dying there (and the WAYS they died there), just because they weren’t the “right” people. Like most of the world, I read Anne Frank’s words. I wept at her death, a kid, just a normal kid…such a senseless loss of life.

And I wondered, would I have hidden the Frank family? Or would I have turned them in? Or, like so many did, would I have just put my head down and said not my problem?

I do not like, nor do I seek out conflict. I am, generally, a rule follower. But I always liked to think that I would not have let my fear make me take fellow citizens and round them up like criminals just for looking different. I always liked to think I would have helped the Frank family. I was raised to love my neighbor, and I always wanted to believe that even in dark times I would have found the strength to do just that. I always wanted to believe I would have gotten past my fear of not following the rules, of getting in trouble, of getting hurt, to do what was, so obviously to me, right.

I always wanted to believe the rest of the world would have too, if they’d only REALLY known what was happening. If they could have been aware. If they could have seen it with their own eyes.

At least, I consoled myself, with our knowledge of history (and let’s go ahead and include atomic bombs, and the general annihilation of civilians in that history) America obviously wouldn’t let horrors like that happen again.  Wouldn’t let a madman murder millions. Wouldn’t choose to kill hundreds of thousands as a strategic move. Wouldn’t round up citizens just because they seemed different. How could you, after knowing what we know? How could you, when history is so clearly there, blinking a neon sign, “Remember how awful this was? Remember all this? REMEMBER? REMEMBER FOR GOD’S SAKE. REMEMBER.”

I laugh at my naivete, to believe that what happened then was a blip in history, that we would learn, that we would see it when it happened again, that we wouldn’t allow it to ever happen again. Because no, of course we would. Humans are often selfish, and often fearful, and often hateful, and often have short memories.

But I have always still wondered, for myself, what would I do? If the time came and I had to choose to help or not, to be brave or not, to speak out or not, what would I do? Would I take the lessons from history about humanity and aid, or would I take the lessons about fear and hatred and destruction? What would *I* do?

And now, sadly, I have a chance to find out. And I can say this: I want to help. I want to be brave. I want to speak out. It seems ludicrous to even consider doing anything else, to the point that I’m legitimately confused at the people who don’t feel that way. I am horrified at what that fear is turning into, at the destruction and havoc it is spreading, and at how scarily it mirrors (and even intentionally evokes) history.

As for me, I am choosing a different path than fear and hatred. I don’t know what exactly what that path looks like for me, but I refuse to let fear overtake my logic or my compassion or what I believe is right.

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