Is it possible that an emotional uproar can reinforce confidence in the stability of our democracy?
I think so.
Consider these two very different stories — the furor over Ozzie Guillen’s comments about Fidel Castro and a front page Daily Herald story Wednesday about a 12-year-old boy, now an 85-year-old man, who watched as his father was spirited away to a concentration camp during the infamous 1938 Kristellnacht assault on Jews in Nazi Germany.
It may be that I link these two events because I recently finished Erik Larson’s sort of prequel to World War II “In the Garden of Beasts.” In his book, Larson describes the efforts of a reluctant diplomat, reluctantly chosen, to open the eyes of the world to the lunacies percolating in the minds of Nazi Germany’s leadership and the potential for those lunacies to, as Winston Churchill would later describe it, dishevel the world.
Larson’s narrative portrays, among many other things, individuals not only in Germany but around the world and particularly in isolationist America unwilling to become aroused to increasingly brazen outrages occurring almost daily.
On Wednesday, the Daily Herald front page offered a reminder of that insensitive time in the person of Eric Blaustein, of Vernon Hills, who as a child would see authorities tear his father away from his family while his own countrymen turned their backs and would himself eventually spend time in one of Nazi Germany’s heinous death camps.
It did not escape my notice that directly above our centerpiece story on Blaustein was a picture and boldfaced headline directing readers to coverage of a baseball team’s manager suspended for praising one of the latter 20th century’s most notorious and violent dictators.
Ozzie Guillen’s suspension very naturally led to an online discussion conducted by Senior Vice President and Editor John Lampinen on the nature of free speech, and if you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to look up that Talk with the Editor at our website and participate in the discussion.
But in addition to the free-speech debate, I was also stricken by the reflection that maybe we’ve learned something in sixty years.
Maybe Eric Blaustein and Erik Larson and the tens of thousands of historians, journalists, essayists and, most important of all, survivors of the Nazi inhumanity have sensitized us to the cries and whispers of offended peoples.
Few of us in the Chicago suburbs — but some of us, to be sure — can personally know the suffering and indignities endured by Cubans forced to flee Castro’s regime. But we can understand their anger, and thanks to stories like Blaustein’s, we respond to it.
It wasn’t always so. There was a time when the press and the public ignored the inflammatory remarks of individuals, no matter how prominent, and acceded to a world view that took little notice of injustice against individuals or minorities, especially if it occurred on foreign soil.
And of course, we don’t rail about every injustice nor every act of institutional inhumanity even today. But we pay attention to some of them, and we do not — as one who may be no more a student of history than, alas, Ozzie Guillen, will quickly find — suffer them in silence.
ź Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.