Like many, I’ve been reading and watching the news about the plight of the refugees streaming into Europe. It is heart-wrenching to watch the overloaded boats, the bodies of those who did not survive washed ashore, the streams of humanity marching into central European countries looking for any chance to survive. I sense that even the news reporters are finding this subject difficult to cover, in part due to their own emotions at this enormous catastrophe which is unfolding before us each day.
The scope of this tragedy is such that I have found myself remembering other times, other stories of similar human disasters. Of course, the Holocaust is the first to come to mind. The enormity of it still defies comprehension, even after all the years and books and movies and even personal visits to historic and dreadful sites. We recall with discomfort the genocides of Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan and others. I have learned all too clearly the evils perpetrated on the people of Nicaragua by my own government during the decade of the 80’s. Too soon the atrocities have faded from our memories; outrage has cooled to the extent that globally we allow something like the Syrian debacle unfold today.
I suppose that it is the human condition that we will always have unfinished work before us. At the close of World War II, the mantra of “never again” filled the world with hope that maybe this time we had sufficiently absorbed the lessons of hatred, demonization of an entire people, war. But that hope was short-lived at best and the passage of time allowed a dulling of our sensitivities sufficient to permit subsequent abominations.
The sea of refugees seeking survival from war and indiscriminate death is an overwhelming reality threatening to drown Europe in waves of displaced humanity and despair. Gradually, some countries have stepped forward with offers of asylum and assistance. The Vatican itself has said that it would accept two families into their midst in a symbolic act of mercy and a call for all nations to serve. But as some countries continue to build miles of fences and to reject opportunities for providing humanitarian help, the future for hundreds of thousands remains uncertain.
Their plight rekindles thoughts of those other occasions when humanity seemed to be on the brink of simply not caring enough. In each of those eras, the post-crisis analysis almost always included unanswered questions about why the rest of the world waited to act, allowing so many to perish in the process. Of course, in the aftermath of such cataclysms such questions are safe to ask since the drama has come to an end. Retrospective analysis is more comfortable than current actions. The questions are much more difficult to grapple with when the events are happening now, in real time. Such is our discomfort with the refugees’ dilemma in Europe.
As is true for any world conflict which begs for intervention by someone, somewhere, governments speak for us in the absence of opportunities for us to speak for ourselves. As limiting as that arrangement may be, each of us retains a voice, a stance, a position that begs to be heard. Those voices are ours. The actions belong to each of us. Somebody ought to do something before the current humanitarian quandary becomes another history lesson of grief and embarrassment….