In the News This Week

8 03 2008

Death of a Hero
Britain’s last survivor of the Auschwitz death camp has died at the age of 97. Leon Greenman lost his wife and three year old son in the Holocaust, but he himself survived – promising God that he would devote his life to making the horror of the Holocaust known should his life be spared. Greenman was a hero who was awarded the OBE for his work against racism, and was a powerful voice in keeping the memory of the 20th century’s greatest crime alive in public consciousness. In reading Laurence Rees’ excellent treatment of Auschwitz at the moment I find myself deeply moved by the stories of any who survived the Shoa.

Amazingly, Greenman had to live out much of the remainder of his life with bars on his windows and letterbox because of a threat to his life from neo-Nazis. It seems that depravity has a long shelf-life, and an insatiable appetite for destruction.

Death of an Innocent
There has been a major furore over the behaviour of some US troops, as captured on video ,and broadcast on YouTube. The footage (which I wouldn’t watch for all the oil in Iraq) apparently shows a US Marine throwing a live puppy to its death in a gully. The 17 second clip has sparked massive outrage, with bloggers mounting a name and shame campaign against the soldier in question. His phone number have been published on the web, along with his address and a photo of his car.

BBC Radio 2’s ‘The Jeremy Vine Show’ ran a 40 minute phone-in on the issue on Thursday, with many people ringing to express disgust and distress at the behaviour of those in the video. The discussion was interesting in terms of why the puppy’s death should be highlighted, and the deaths of countless non-combatants go unreported each day. The principle at stake seemed to be that of innocence. The puppy had no means of defending itself, or giving voice to its anguish, and therefore the soldier’s crime was all the more reprehensible.

What sprang to mind as I listened to the report is how fickle our consciences are as human beings. People will weep, will mount web campaigns, and will phone in to the radio breathing fire and ire over the death of a puppy, but the true slaughter of the innocents in our own country goes on with barely a murmur of disquiet reaching the press. I’m writing, of course, about the issue of abortion. How is that the suffering of a defenceless animal (which breaks my heart as well, might I add) is prioritised above the 200,000 babies who are destroyed by the state each year? How is it that we do not weep over their fate, over the moral vapidity of our nation, and over the blood which cries to God from the floors of abortion clinics across the UK?

The link which forms between these two stories in my mind is how historically arrogant we are. We look back to Auschwitz and the Holocaust, and ask with wide eyed wonder how ordinary Germans could have allowed an entire race to be ushered to an ignominious end without a word of protest. We call down reproach on those who stood silently by as an outrage unfolded across Europe which defies vocabulary in its barbarity and mindlessness. And yet, we do the same…we live our lives in centrally heated cosiness and entertainment soaked numbness while ‘you shall not kill’ is ignored to the cost of hundreds of thousands of little lives every year.

How loud is the voice of evangelicalism on this issue? How will history portray our tepid acquiescence to the state murder of millions?

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