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Nguyen essay: Knowledge a vital tool to stopping genocide

Thu., April 4, 2013, midnight

“You will be judged in years to come by how you responded to genocide on your watch.” – Nicholas D. Kristof

Genocide is the deliberate killing of a certain group of people or race. The Holocaust was one such genocide. Adolf Hitler’s corrosive hatred of the Jewish people took the lives of over 6 million Jews and 10 million other people who the Nazis deemed unsuitable for life. By the time the Allied nations found out, it was too late to do anything except to liberate the camps. Hitler, using underhanded tricks and propaganda, turned the whole German nation against the Jews, using them as scapegoats for all of Germany’s problems during the great global depression of the 1930s.

When the first ghettos and concentration camps were established, then later death camps, many people became bystanders as Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were harassed and forced into these places to kill them off. Some of these camps and ghettos were near cities, yet the city folk chose to never know what really went on in there and the atrocious conditions the Jews lived in. If they had known, they probably would not have even cared. After all, German propaganda made it look like the Jews were less than human, and needed to be exterminated, as Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels wrote, “Each Jew is a sworn enemy of the German people.” Despite this hatred, there were some significant efforts to oppose the Nazis’ Final Solution. An example would be the Dutch couple Molly and Gerry Van Heel, who hid a Jewish girl named Elise Kann with her sister when the Germans occupied the Netherlands. The couple forged identification papers using stolen material to help protect these girls. In so doing, they saved Elise and her sister, along with a number of other people.

We hear the quote “Never Again” often when on the topic of the Holocaust, but genocide has not stopped yet; it is still going on today. When people decide they don’t like one group, they kill them. Genocide is the inhumane slaughtering of innocent people, and the best way to hinder it is to make sure everyone is aware of these acts, not just the people who are being affected.

An example of genocide is the violence that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. I learned about this tragic story when an instructional assistant named Ms. Jeanne Mukambogoye gave a presentation on her experience during the Rwandan genocide to my social studies class. Ms. Mukambogoye lost both of her parents and most of her siblings in the brutal killings. She described how she was forced to stay with a Hutu general. The Hutus, under the cover of war, launched their plan to massacre every Tutsi, a minority in Rwanda at the time. The general would return home every night after massacring innocent people, and she would have to wash the blood off the machete he used to kill the people. One night, she saw her father getting hacked to death by a machete in front of her. She also detailed the time she spent hiding from the Hutus prowling around for any Tutsi to kill. From April to August of 1994, 800,000 Tutsi men, women, and children were murdered in Rwanda. The rest of the world watched, with a few weak protests. World leaders ignored what was going on and declined to challenge the genocidal Rwandan government. By the time they voiced concern about the genocide, the genocidal faction just changed their tactics. The rest of the world pretended that the Rwandan genocide was someone else’s problem, and nobody came to the afflicted Rwandans’ aid until it was too late. Among the people killed with the Tutsis were thousands of Hutus who opposed the killing campaign.

Sometimes it is difficult to act when genocide happens, but young people can help out to keep such atrocities from happening and to support those being affected by the genocide. Using the media to convey the message of genocide can be an effective way for young people to know about the genocides going on in the world, like Darfur. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, young people spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes with any type of media a day. If they get exposed to what is happening, then they could take action, through pop-ups and short videos on YouTube or Facebook. To help support those who are in a genocidal situation, young people could assemble care packages, do fundraisers, raise awareness, or donate money to the International Red Cross to help make sure refugee camps are safe and sanitary.

The most important weapon is knowledge. That is why the project I suggest to oppose genocide is to do something like Kony 2012. Kony 2012 was a video about Joseph Kony, who led a guerilla group in Uganda. He had been tried for war crimes involving abducting children to use as sex slaves and child soldiers. The video went viral, and 3.7 million people pledged their support to bring Kony to justice. Since the world today is connected by media, people can be made aware of these atrocities. Not months down the road, but rather, in real time, to take real action. Keeping an eye on hot spots and watching areas through social media can be a big step in protecting human rights. On YouTube, an organization can make a short film about the genocide and make it a featured one, where it would be easy for people to access it and make it go viral. We have immediate access to technology. With this, people can be informed easily. In different countries, the people can petition their governments to offer assistance to the afflicted country, protest, or do whatever to help out. United, the international community can resist genocide.

Simon Nguyen is an eighth-grader at Shaw Middle School.

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