On April 12th, 1999, Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, delivered a speech on the dangers of indifference. Early in the speech, Wiesel reflected on how the 20th century will be viewed in the new millennium (Wiesel, 1999). He described the numerous violent and inhumane events as darkness cast over humanity and how at their core, these events prevailed due to indifference.
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In the following points, he referred to apathy as being an extremely tempting approach to the horrors of the world, but he was concerned about the lack of empathy is a pathway to treating the hardships of others as obstructions. Wiesel stipulated that seeing the anguish of others as though they may interfere with one’s happiness, dreams, and aspirations, is why indifference is a static attitude that allows cruelty to take place (Wiesel, 1999). He continued by explaining that indifference can only benefit the attacker and not the victim, and, as such, it is more damaging than even anger and hatred.
Further in the speech, Wiesel assessed the events of the holocaust and the involvement of American troops. At first, he and other survivors believed that their imprisonment was unknown to the leaders of the world at the time (Wiesel, 1999). He became disillusioned when he found out that the Pentagon knew of the events of the camps. He questioned the indifference of leaders at the time and reflected on how an empathetic attitude may have led to different outcomes. For instance, the invasion of France may not have taken place were it not for American oil (Wiesel, 1999). Wiesel held hope for the future in the second half of the speech and mentioned the interventions that took place, such as NATO presence in Kosovo.
As the speech concludes, Wiesel mentions that the greatest suffering in conflict and war is carried by children. He believed that greater empathy was much more likely to save many lives. Wiesel ended the speech with worry but with hope as well, that not only world leaders, but common people, could begin conquering fear and indifference.
Wiesel, Elie. (1999). Elie Wiesel Perils of Indifference. American Rhetoric. Web.