The Complexities of Conscience: Knowing what to do

So. I had lunch with a high school friend I hadn’t seen for over 25 years (and it was a lot of fun) and she mentioned one of the guys in our high school had produced the documentary “Darfur Now.”

It is a documentary about the atrocities in Darfur, the westernmost region of Sudan. It poses a fundamental question: How do you respond to an event such as a government-sponsored mass murder of part of a country’s civilian population?

The United Nations has estimated that by 2007, 200,000 people had been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur.

The truly heartbreaking documentary takeaway is that “You see that kids really are just kids.” And there is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

In the movie, the official voice of the Sudanese government belongs to Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations, who scoffs at the notion of a genocidal campaign against the people of Darfur. The conflict is an internal matter, he insists, and has to do with the apportioning of scarce resources.

Sudan has refused to comply with the International Criminal Court’s recent arrest warrants for Ahmad Harun, Sudan’s minister of the interior, and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed militias, for crimes against humanity.

I guess I share all of this because in my own little world this is an unacceptable action against humanity.

But I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

Does America send troops?

Does America shirk responsibility and pass it along to UN?

Is it even our role to take care of this?

I wrestle with this. And I could argue both sides. In the end I land on, if we don’t do it who will? Sort of like if I see a crime happening across the street (like a child being beaten by thugs) and I have the power to do something and I don’t, am I not complicit to the crime?

Maybe more importantly to me as a person as I think about this:

How would I be able to go to sleep that night if I did nothing?

Darfur is a horrendous example of what is happening outside our borders but it makes you start thinking. Like. You wonder if things like the holocaust wouldn’t have happened if more people had stood up and done the right thing. In the end I guess we also have to wonder what we would have done in that situation. It is difficult when you talk about theoretical life versus real life. Unfortunately, Darfur is real life. The here and now.

Anyway. It is sometimes easy to ignore these types of things happening outside our borders.

Out of sight out of mind

It is very easy even in the age of YouTube and cellular images to just not see what is happening elsewhere.

Because we have our own problems.

Recession. (And all the stuff that comes with it).

Our soldiers dying in Afghanistan (and do we want to send more somewhere else)

Maybe worse is ignorance. Where is Darfur? Does it really matter? And, of course, our overall perceptions of undeveloped African countries.

If we haven’t been there it is often easy to think of some of these places like horse and buggy countries. Absolutely some of these places have rural areas with spotty technology and living support (we forget how large some of these places are geographically because maps kind of lie with regard to size and stuff).

So. In the end I have no answers just questions. However. I do have a suggestion even more important than watching Darfur Now. A way to give yourself real perspective.

How can you gain perspective? Oh. It’s easy. Evil shows its price tag.

While the issues are difficult because the answers are complex, it is also easy because Evil is willing to show you its price tag. And that allows us to gain perspective on the price if we don’t figure out the answers.

Two thoughts for perspective:

Everyone should visit a holocaust museum. I guarantee you will cry. Or you will get so angry you can’t see straight.

Everyone should visit a World War II museum or cemetery. I guarantee you will be numbed by the numbers.

A Holocaust Museum

I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and Los Angeles. The Holocaust horror is different than anything you may have experienced personally. The cruelty is so calculated. Institutionalized homicide as a country edict. Processing of humans as indiscriminately as any mass production line in a factory.

Maybe the worst is the light of approval you see in the eyes of soldiers who are looking on.

Holocaust Museums across the country provide a powerful lesson in the fragility of freedom, the myth of progress, the need for vigilance in preserving human values. With harsh authenticity, the Museums show millions of people each year about the dangers of unchecked hatred and the need to prevent genocide.

I believe they hope that a visit to the Museum encourages people to act, cultivating a sense of moral responsibility among people so that they will respond to the challenges that Life confronts us with every day. In addition to morality, we seem to be facing an alarming rise in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism—even in the very lands where the Holocaust happened—as well as genocide and threats of genocide in other parts of the world. (All of this when we are soon approaching a time when Holocaust survivors and other eyewitnesses will no longer be alive)

Jews don’t have a monopoly on either suffering or insight. However, because of their share of persecution it tends to lead toward more insightful introspection. The Holocaust represents a stunning example of Evil at the height of its capabilities. It is disturbing. It will give you perspective. It will remind you that actions like this are unacceptable (even though you know it already).

A World War II Museum (and it’s quite possible a WWI would have the same affect)

So. I have been to a number of war museums around the world and the one that still has the largest impact is the one in Kiev Ukraine (It is one of the largest museums in Ukraine with over 300 thousand exhibits all centered around the now famous 62-meter tall Motherland statue).

Motherland Memorial Monument

Motherland Memorial Monument

World War II was a particularly cruel war in the Soviet Union. While Leningrad and Stalingrad are more famous battlegrounds Kiev remains a battleground of two major battles (think of it as the Nazis coming into Soviet Union and the going out as they
got their butts kicked).

Fact 1. Through the 1941 German invasion, terrors of the Nazi occupation, partisan struggle and the battle in 1943 for freedom, the ancient regional capital suffered 7,000 buildings destroyed, including 1,000 factories, 200,000 civilians were killed, and 100,000 sent to concentration camps during the occupation. What resulted was a city with only 80,000 survivors, a mere 20% of its prewar size.

Fact 2. I won’t get all the numbers right but in the initial 1941 battle for Kiev think of this – overall, the Russian army suffered 700,544 casualties, including 616,304 killed, captured, or missing during the month-long Battle for Kiev. As a result, four Soviet field armies, consisting of 43 divisions virtually ceased to exist. The second battle in 1943 was actually a series of battles with a total estimated 400,000 killed casualties. Not counting wounded and missing. Not counting civilians.

Those numbers are numbing.

Ok. Two things stand out in the museum. And to full effect one is in the front and one is at the end.

When you walk in to the main exhibit they have a huge exhibit listing all the countries who committed soldiers to the war and their total casualties.


Russia 25,568,000 – 14% of entire population

China 11,324,000

Ukraine 7,000,000 – 25% of entire population

Poland 6,850,000 – 13% of entre population

Germany. 7,060,000

(By the way. US is fairly far down the list at. 295,000 casualties)

Countries didn’t just have casualties. They lost entire percentages of their population. Entire generations were wiped out.

At the end of the main exhibit they have created one of the most visually impactful exhibits I have ever seen. They have stacked up all the German iron crosses picked up from the Kiev battlefields and created a giant iron cross in a Plexiglas display to show the sheer number of German officers who had earned iron crosses who were casualties in the Kiev battles.

Exhibit of iron crosses at World War II museum in Kiev

This is also a mind numbing display of loss of humanity.


Evil is occurring in the world. Darfur is one example. It is easy to overlook with a mortgage payment looming and the fact you may not even have a job. Or you are just worried about life as you know it.

But. Genocide still occurs. And hate.

Excuse me. Hate with action still exists.

No matter how bad the recession is affecting you. We should not, no, cannot forget the bigger picture.

So. I don’t have answers. I just have what’s on my mind. And I do believe history is a great reminder of how we should consider actions today. So if you have the opportunity, visit a Holocaust museum or a WWII museum. You will walk away less ignorant of the price tag evil puts on itself.

Written by Bruce