Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

10 December 2008


The New York Times’ Judith Warner is a columnist to watch. Her “Domestic Disturbances” columns are ostensibly about children and parenting. She uses her own two children to suggest themes and provide examples.

As far as comments reveal, most of Warner’s readers are women. But her writing goes far beyond children and her gender. She may be as close as our dysfunctional media will ever come to the modern equivalent of Socrates. She gives us truth through the eyes of children.

I have noted [end of first post] how brilliantly she captured the spirit of joy, relief and catharsis that progressive people felt worldwide on Barack Obama’s election. Last Thursday evening she used children as a medium to explore a timeless moral dilemma: how to cope with evil.

The trigger for that column was the death of Jdimytai Damour, the Wal-Mart worker trampled by a crowd of early-morning shoppers on Black Friday. With hints of his death’s significance as a symbol of moral and cultural decay, Warner described how she wrestled with her five-year-old daughter’s effort to understand the event, including a YouTube video of a failed attempt to resuscitate the man.

From there Warner riffed to another timeless theme (especially among Jews): the Holocaust. She described her daughter’s need to know and her own effort to keep her child’s curiosity from straying into morbid obsession, fear, cynicism or apathy. Jewish and other parents have struggled with that dilemma for over sixty years.

With all the bad news surrounding us, it seemed odd to focus on the death of oxymoronically named Damour, the trampled Wall-Mart worker. No doubt he suffered for a few minutes before oblivion. But he hardly suffered more than the thousands of people who die weekly in traffic and domestic accidents. His death was more a potent symbol of societal decay than a reflection of widespread human suffering.

No so Darfur. For four years now, the world has stood idly by while tens of thousands are killed and mutilated, women raped, children terrorized and starved, villages burned, and hundreds of thousands killed or displaced and made homeless. And while Damour’s causa mortis was an insensate a mob, Darfur symbolizes deliberately planned genocide for the vilest of human motives: territorial conquest and racial bigotry.

As a Jew myself, I find it odd to devote so much energy and angst to the Holocaust, which is history and cannot be changed, and so little to Darfur—a genocide that is ongoing right now, in our time and on our watch.

If the truth be told, the Holocaust and the Genocide in Darfur have much in common. Just as dispersed Jews found themselves an unwelcome minority in a Europe carved up by centuries of inter-ethnic warfare having nothing to do with them, so the black Darfuris found themselves unwelcome guests in a majority-white Sudan created by long-absent colonial powers. Just as the Holocaust was motivated by ethnic animus, so is the Genocide in Darfur.

“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” Isn’t that the Holocaust’s unforgettable lesson? Yet here we are, in at least the fourth year of the Genocide, with little but ineffectual chatter to show for the lesson that six million European Jews died horribly to teach.

Eons ago, a tribe ruled by a cruel, stupid and selfish brute rebelled. Its members ambushed him in silent unity. They left him dead or crippled, and collective government was born.

From that ambush to modern law was only a matter of time. The Barons’ stand at Runnymede was but a step along the way. So is the International Criminal Court, which I hope President Obama will quickly have us join.

It will take a long struggle to establish the principle born of that primeval ambush globally. In these matters practicality is all. Our ancestors hiding in the trees to jump the tribal bully had to have unity and strength with them, lest they fail and only weaken their tribe. Miscalculation and division set the cause back, as they did in Iraq.

But Darfur would be so easy. A single squadron of advanced aircraft, with electronic weapons and countermeasures, would make short work of Sudan’s miserable air force and the Janjaweed’s camel-mounted genocidal assault teams, if it came to that. Yet no one acts.

Maybe help is on the way. Susan Rice, our newly designated U.N. Ambassador, is smart, articulate, smooth and tough as nails. She has been a consistent advocate of strong remedies in Darfur.

So, apparently, has been Samantha Power, a Harvard professor now on Obama’s State-Department transition team, who is an expert on genocide. She may get a position at State, and I hope she does.

Diplomacy is always preferable to military action, and skillful diplomacy backed by the credible threat of military force still might work. The Barons did not have to fight at Runnymede, after all. All they had to do was show up.

Darfur is not the most important morsel on our diplomatic plate. Maybe India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and North Korea come first. But I can think of nothing more salving to our national self image and more bracing for gender equality than to have three strong women—Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power—stop the Genocide at last.

I hope that every Jew, male or female, will support their effort. It is not enough to read about the Holocaust, to cry “Never forget!” and “Never again!” when something like a repeat performance is occurring right now, before the watchful but impotent lenses of our TV cameras. A genocide is no less a genocide because its victims are not Jews.


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