Sunday, November 6, 2005

"Appreciating the Triumph of Truth"

In the November 3 issue of Harvard Law School's The Record, Amos Jones cites Prof. Lipstadt, Simon Wiesenthal and Rosa Parks as examples of people who have made "bold enemies on their righteous missions to reconcile the human family". Here are some excerpts:

Amos's Sermon: Appreciating the Triumph of Truth

By Amos Jones

BERLIN, October 29, 2005 - It all started with a lie. The annexation of Austria. The invasion of Poland. The foray into Russia. The genocide of six million Jews and elimination of six million others, and the abuse of millions more who survived long enough for the Allies' liberation of the concentration camps and the countries occupied by Adolph Hitler's Germany sixty years ago this year. This is the city from which the villains of the Third Reich ruled. Fifty million people died in World War II, and it all happened because of the lie that is racism.


The demise of fact

Before shuttling to Berlin on the cheap for three days during our annual fly-out week, I attended a lecture across campus titled "The Demise of Fact in Political Discussion." Delivered on Tuesday by the highly regarded communications expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, it presented her argument that today's political partisans are challenging what once would have been considered fact, molding their readings of fact to political goals and preventing real deliberation from taking place. [...]

Jamieson lamented adherence to facts "as convenient to ideology" and questioned the media's "split-the-difference relativism," which lazily reports as though certain facts are disputed simply because one side says that they are.


The costs of correcting

We can thank a number of dedicated journalists and historians for ensuring that the truth has come out. In many cases, it has taken them years to correct distorted records. Sometimes chroniclers of fact have found it necessary to confront and fight liars publicly. Exposing these most intransigent wretches rarely goes unpunished.

The cover of the current Emory Magazine features a triumphant Deborah Lipstadt, that Southern university's Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, who in February released "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving." In this book, she recounts the landmark libel trial in the United Kingdom that resulted five years ago in her being cleared of charges brought by a famous Holocaust denier who claimed that she defamed him inasmuch as the Holocaust never occurred. The British legal system essentially required Professor Lipstadt, an unimpeachable authority on the Holocaust, to prove in court that the Holocaust happened. The trial was five years ago. She won.

A recent obituary in The Economist pays tribute to Simon Wiesenthal, a famed Nazi hunter who died on September 20 at the age of 96. The article began: "One of the stranger conversations in Simon Wiesenthal's life occurred in September 1944. He was being taken by SS guards, in his faded striped uniform, away from the advancing Russians. Somewhere in the middle of Poland, he and an SS corporal scavenged together for potatoes. What, the corporal asked him mockingly, would he tell someone in America about the death camps? Mr. Wiesenthal said he would tell the truth. 'They wouldn't believe you,' the corporal replied." We know the rest of the story. [...] Wiesenthal's concurrent pursuit was to remind the world about the dangers of Nazism and to warn on the lecture circuit and in books about motivating trends in far-right politics. Insisting that world leaders had a duty to combat racism, he faced constant threats. In 1982 neo-Nazis blew up his house. Yet Wiesenthal pressed on, because, according to The Economist, "his survival of the Holocaust gave him a duty to seek justice for the millions who died."

On Monday, our own country paid tribute to Rosa Parks, the civil-rights pioneer who rejected white racism fifty years ago, December 1, when she refused to leave her seat for a white man on an Alabama bus. As E.R. Shipp of the New York Times wrote last week, black Americans had been arrested and killed for disobeying bus drivers. [...] As the cradle of the movement, nearly ten of Montgomery's black churches were firebombed the evening the court order forcing desegregation of the buses was announced. Once integrated, many buses were shot at terrorism-style. Within weeks of the integration, the Parks family had to leave Montgomery for good because of white people's violent retaliation against them. The family would settle in Detroit, where Rosa Parks died at the age of 92, on October 24.

Respecting honesty

It was predictable that Lipstadt, Wiesenthal, and Parks would make bold enemies on their righteous missions to reconcile the human family. History reveals that liars hate the truth and the people who tell it. Recall that prophets tend to be murdered. Yet ordinary people, the backbones of mass social movements, often understand the challenge and appreciate the response.


Bill Pretzer, a curator of political history at the Ford museum, revealed how student visitors today often are in disbelief that what happened on the bus could have occurred in America: "They say, 'What do you mean can't sit there? That's impossible,'" he told a reporter. "Which is why we need to keep looking at this. There is a danger that if we don't spark peoples' imaginations as to what in fact happened, we risk it one day happening again."

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