Let me be the first to admit it. I am not one of those who would willingly rush over the hill, bayonet affixed yelling, “Charge.” If all the soldiers in the North and the South had my attitude, there would have been no battles at Gettysburg or Antietam. Sadly, history has shown that others are far braver – thus accounting for the thousands who died in the American Civil War and so many others.
But there comes a time when each of us must take a stand – even if our position is born out of cowardice rather than bravery. When we see a person or a group of people being subjected to persecution, we must speak up – although doing so is to put ourselves in jeopardy. The rationale for my statement is simple. If we tolerate anyone else’s persecution – we may well be next.
The history of the world is filled with one group of men assailing another. The Romans persecuted the Christians because they felt this religion threatened the sovereignty of the Roman state. The Christians had their Spanish Inquisition – torturing heretics – because they wanted to purge the world of those who had an unorthodox view of God and the world. Hitler exterminated the Jews and Slavs and anyone else who wasn’t up to his standards of being the genetic ideal. Stalin imprisoned dissenters, and then there was Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot and the list goes on.
In an earlier post (“On Doing the Right Thing”) I referred to the 1966 movie, “A Man For All Seasons.” Sir Thomas More refused to sign the oath designating the succession of Henry VIII’s offspring. He would not say why he would not sign it – but he wouldn’t. His accusers took that to mean that he was opposed to it and to this More responded, “The premise in law is ‘qui tacet consentire’ – silence gives consent.”
When we see an injustice committed, whether against one person or a group, it is far easier to turn our backs and avert our eyes if we are not the person or a member of the group affected. But are we not as culpable as those who are committing the atrocity? We have given consent through our silence.
Even if we are not moved to act through some high standard of moral indignation, let us speak out because of our cowardice. The next time the person who is the subject of this abuse may be you or me.