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“The Perils of Indifference” Speech Analysis


The Perils of Indifference is one of the most influential speeches made by Nobel laureate Elie Weisel. The speech was given on the 22nd of April in 1999 during the Millennium Lecture Series occurring at the White House. Eliezer Weisel was directly invited by the president to give a speech on the threshold of a new century. The rhetoric of the Perils of Indifference included the personal experience of the Holocaust by Weisel, the theme of indifference during the 20th century, and aspirations for future generations.

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The Cultural Context

The context of the speech was one of the several things that made it so relevant at the time and why Elie Weisel was such an appropriate guest for the Millenium Lecture Series. Being a survivor of the Holocaust, Weisel has experienced a large amount of suffering and pain in his life and witnessed the terrors of the war firsthand. On the brink of the millennium, another war conflict in Kosovo occurred, and the fact of thousands of refugees fleeing from the country closely resembled the atrocities of the Second World War.

Even though during the times of the Holocaust, the orator was miserable and scared by the indifference of the world, his hopes for a better future strengthened in the second half of the 20th century. In the speech, Weisel stated (1999), “but this time, the world was not silent. This time, we do respond. This time, we intervene”. The quote implies his changing attitude towards the world and the intensifying faith in humanity, and that is why Weisel was such an appropriate figure for the lecture.


The theme of indifference was central in the message and persisted throughout the whole speech. Weisel believed that this emotional state might frequently be more deteriorating for a human than anger and hatred. In the speech, he stated (1999), “indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred”, implying that the latter characteristics might provoke something beneficial for humanity. For instance, one might fight for his or her own country out of anger but indifference never promotes any responses. Throughout the speech, Weisel constantly asked questions about the origin of indifference, and why the atrocities of the war were allowed to happen.

However, the answer to those queries was posed at the very beginning of the message – indifference is tempting, and it takes effort to care about other people. Nevertheless, Weisel was hopeful that the world would become more humane in the future and help those in need.

Present Times

The speech by Elie Weisel was relevant at the time given, and it is still applicable today. The current situation in the world is very different from that during the times of the Holocaust. Nowadays, with the ubiquity of television and the internet in the world, it would be much more difficult to ignore the war conflicts, and therefore more difficult to be indifferent. During the speech, Weisel asked (1999), “Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? Has the human being become less indifferent and more human?”. These and other questions cannot be answered for certain, but humanity can use them as guidelines to keep moving forward and improve.


Summing up, the Perils of Indifference is a speech that has made a profound impact on America and the world. In the message, Elie Weisel has talked about indifference, how it affected the world, and what could humanity possibly do to avoid the terrors of the war in the next millennium. The issues that the speaker brought up are still relevant to this day and will probably be applicable as long as humanity exists.

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Weisel, E. (1999). The perils of indifference. Web.

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