The Perils of Indifference
Short summary of the speech:
The main point of Wiesel’s speech, given in the White House on the 54th anniversary of the end of the second World War, is to denounce indifference and to praise those who stood up for the victims of the Holocaust. He makes a point to praise President and Mrs. Clinton for the actions they have taken to fight injustice, and then he begins by defining indifference, especially in regard to human indifference toward the suffering of a neighbor: Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. He continues by describing the role indifference played during the Holocaust and by calling out those who personified this condemning trait. Despite this negativity, he also highlights some positive occurrences, such as the defeat of Nazism and the collapse of communism. He asks if the world has grown up since then to become less indifferent to its sufferings. While he does not answer this and other difficult questions, he finishes the speech with a tone of progression: And together we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profound fear and extraordinary hope.
Move 1: Suspend Judgment
Wiesel declares his opinions strongly in this speech, but while he obviously disapproves of the bloodshed that occurred in the twentieth century, he hopes future generations will judge for themselves just as strongly: How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it will be judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysical terms. I think it is completely understandable that he would believe this way because he was a victim of the Holocaust. He offers all the praise he can to those who made an effort to save the victims. For example, in the opening paragraph, he thanks the American soldiers for the rage they felt at what they saw and for their compassion.
Move 2: Define significant parts and how they are related
Wiesel describes indifference in depth and relates it to the enemy by its non-responsive nature. Not only does it serve as a sin for those who commit it, but, because it naturally helps the enemy, it also serves as a punishment for the victim. Furthermore, Wiesel discusses some beneficial events and relates those to an active response, possibly showing that we can learn from our experiences.
Move 3: Make the implicit explicit
Underlying this whole speech is Wiesel’s belief that something more could have and should have been done to finish the war. He says, “Our only miserable consolation was that we believed that Aushwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets… And now we knew, we learned, we discovered that the Pentagon knew, the State Department knew.” Also, although it is the 54th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death, Wiesel must share his disappointment in FDR’s lack of action. He explicitly states, “No doubt, he was a great leader,” but his disappointment shows when he says, “…with some anguish and pain,…his image in Jewish history is flawed.”
Move 4: Look for patterns
Patterns of repetition: Wiesel begins his with a reference to himself as a young boy on the day after American soldiers liberated his concentration camp. He changes back to the first person for the middle of his speech, but at the end, he changes again to refer to that young boy, whom he says has accompanied him throughout his life. This is to show that what happened to him during the war has forever affected him and that he can never forget both the atrocities and the redemption.
Patterns of binary opposition: When Wiesel starts to define indifference, he uses binary oppositions to support his definition: "A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.” Indifference, then, is a state of lifelessness and inaction. Binary opposition is also used in the last sentence of the speech, when Wiesel describes his lifelong companion as that boy from the Carpathian Mountains who has brought both “profound fear and extraordinary hope.” Although he has witnessed some of the worst humanity can offer, he still hopes for a better future for humankind.
Move 5: Keep reformulating questions and explanations
Does the twenty-first century automatically signify a growth in compassion for fellow humans?
Are our interventions in other countries and their atrocities of pure motives?
Have we finally come to a point to realize that wars and violence end the lives of innocent children?
When will the world raise its voice in response to all of the injustices?