The Price of Public Disengagement
25 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2014 Last revised: 29 Apr 2014
Date Written: 2014
I come to this essay from different perspectives but with one primary theme: I am engaged presently in a major research and writing project addressing the role of the bystander in the Holocaust, primarily focusing on the “death marches” in late 1944-Spring 1945; the project will examine, in particular: In late 1944, the tide of war had turned and Allied forces moved across Europe in a series of offensives on Germany. The Nazis decided to evacuate outlying concentration camps. In the final months of the war, SS guards forced inmates on death marches in an attempt to prevent the Allied liberation of large numbers of prisoners.
Those death marches passed directly through many towns, and many died literally at the front doors of townspeople. Many died from starvation, disease, exhaustion, and cold, and thousands more were shot along the way. It is estimated that 250,000 concentration camp prisoners were murdered or died in the forced death marches that were conducted during the last 10 months of World War II.
The Bystander project focuses on complicity while this essay examines the danger to society posed by those who disengage from the public domain in the face of extremism. The similarities between the two projects, bystanders and disengagement, have a common philosophical underpinning: a stepping back from constructive contribution to mainstream society and facilitating, to varying degrees, harm to otherwise innocent individuals. The bystander clearly saw and chose to ignore; the disengaged clearly removed himself or saw harm yet sought an alternative means to express his disenchantment from mainstream society. In both instances, the potential for substantial harm clearly exists. The question, as discussed in this essay, is how to respond in the face of incitement, aggression and extremism.
Keywords: Holocaust; incitement; bystander; disengagement; Berlin War; Yitzhak Rabin; Martin Luther King, Jr.; US Civil Rights Movement; extremism; free speech
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