Shortly after Schindler’s List came out in 1993, my wife and I got a babysitter and went to the theater to see it. I managed to keep it together until the scene depicting the cleansing of the Warsaw Ghetto.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the film is done in black and white. But in the Warsaw Ghetto scene, there’s a small girl trying to escape the madness and suffering that has suddenly broken out all around her. Steven Spielberg made that small girl stand out by giving her a pink coat.
She was about my daughter’s age, and she looked very much like her too. I recall her crawling under a bed, and I remember Schindler looking down from a hill seeing her dash down the street uncertain where she might go to escape the machine gun fire, rape, and chaos that marked the Ghetto’s final hours. Later in the movie, we learn her fate. I don’t think I’ve ever wept so openly in a theater before or since. That could be my daughter I thought over and over again.
Yesterday, I was reminded again that this could be my family. As I watched White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodge the question yelled at her by Brian Karem, a reporter with Playboy Magazine, I saw the face of someone — the face of an administration — that simply could not imagine their children and grandchildren in anything other than the comfortable circumstances they already enjoyed.
“Come on, Sarah, you’re a parent,” Karem shouted at Sanders. “Don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?” No, she doesn’t. Besides, as she had already told CNN’s Jim Acosta, taking away the children of immigrants crossing the border is the law, and the Bible tells us to follow the law. It isn’t the law, but to these people the rule of law has always been seen as a rather quaint concept.
“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”
― Anatole France
There are certainly plenty of verses that justify slavery, misogyny, and genocide in the Bible. Most of them are in the Old Testament, however. Though I’m hardly a religious man, I am well aware there are a number of other verses that focus on love and recommend forgiveness. Regardless, Jesus was supposedly not a man overly attached to the law, and he paid a price for it.
But if we’re inclined to turn to the Bible in situations like these, the verses we turn to say far more about us than they do Judeo-Christian ethics. Those willing to face Brian Karem and accept his challenge to imagine our children or grandchildren being ripped from our arms don’t need a Bible verse to tell us that what’s happening on the Mexican border right now is evil.
I, like most Americans, grew up convinced that the horrors of 1930s and 40s Germany would never happen here. Not in my lifetime at any rate. I was wrong. It’s begun. Border agents are telling mothers and fathers they are taking their child for a bath and not returning them. Sound familiar?
That there are supposedly only a couple of thousand children so far does not mean we are as far from Auschwitz as we would like to think. Numbers are about scale. Evil is about how we treat others. Whether our betrayal of human rights affects one, a thousand, or a million people we are tarnished just the same.
But the numbers will not remain a couple of thousand. Those taking a quantitative view of evil must tell us at what number we should be troubled that our country is tearing families apart, traumatizing children, and condemning people to live in warehouses and (soon) tent cities. They must explain why quantity matters when it comes to human rights abuses, but not when it comes to treating people as though they have inherent dignity and worth.
I’ve had enough of walls. I’ve already seen more hate in my native country than I ever thought I would. If we can answer the question Sarah Huckabee Sanders could or would not, we must oppose this government with every fiber of our being. The global community must not engage in appeasement. If America’s noble aspirations are to be salvaged, the current US government must be peacefully but forcefully resisted on every front. If successful, we’ll never know how far America would have descended without our resistance, but that’s not something we want to find out.
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