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Indifference Is No Longer An Option: An analysis of Elie Wiesel's denouncing of indifference to quell human suffering

buzzz worthy. . .

Elie Wiesel September 30, 1923 - July 2, 2016. 

Rhetorical Analysis by Aria Austin

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and  Aushwitz survivor Elie Wiesel died on July 2, 2016.  He leaves behind a philosophy of understanding and compassion that is shrouded in sensitivity to the human condition based off his Holocaust experience.  Here a writer analyzes "The Perils Of Indifference" a speech that brought Wiesel international recognition.  The questions about morality he ponders are as relevant today as when he first asked them and especially timely in light of social and political upheaval ranging from racially inspired police killings in America to terrorist attacks in Nice, France and the government of Turkey declaring martial law.  Tragedies are widespread, crying for people to be the change that will make the difference in combatting evil.

"Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. . . indifference is not only a sin. It is a punishment." Elie Wiesel

Throughout history, a myriad of violent acts have been executed by humanity. Towns were destroyed for selfish reasons, wars were started for political gain killing millions, and slaves were beaten, raped and murdered due to others believing they were “superior” beings. Perhaps one of the world’s most tragic genocides was the Holocaust, which author and speaker Elie Wiesel experienced first-hand. Violence will continue to be an extrusive problem in society if humanity maintains its impervious attitude. In his speech, “The Perils of Indifference” for the Millennium Lecture series, Elie Wiesel’s questioning of humanity’s morality and reference back to past events accentuates the importance of refuting indifference.

Wiesel’s use of the persuasive appeal Ethos is evident through the various rhetorical questions he employs in his speech, pushing humanity to question their actions in society. He asks, “Have we really learned from our experiences? Are we less sensitive to the plight of victims of ethnic cleansing and other forms of injustices in places near and far? What about the children? Do we hear their pleas? Do we feel their pain, their agony?” (Wiesel 117-122). These questions lead humanity to wonder what it has done to make a change. These questions make a person wonder, “Am I a part of the problem?” Nothing will ever change if humanity continues to remain indifferent to human suffering because “Indifference is always the friend of the enemy…and in denying their humanity we betray our own.” (Wiesel 57; 62) Wiesel attempts to motivate humanity to see through his questioning that the tragedies in the world would not have to be so tragic if people would step up to the challenge of being brave and making a significant change. Wiesel intentionally questions humanity with the knowledge that questions are sometimes more effective than flat out statements. In turn, humanity is left with a guilty conscious, hopefully sparking a flame in their soul to make a difference in the world.

Wiesel references past tragic events to illustrate the negative effects of indifference in society. He uses examples from the Holocaust such as the St. Louis case, “And that happened after the Kristallnacht…with hundreds of Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues burned, thousands of people put in concentration camps. And that ship, which was already on the shores of the United States, was sent back [to Nazi Germany]. What happened? Why the indifference, on the highest level, to the suffering of the victims?” (Wiesel 90-93; 95-97) Wiesel uses this story to display humanity's lack of compassion, but juxtaposes this claim by saying, “And yet, my friends, good things have also happened in this traumatic century: the defeat of Nazism, the collapse of communism...And then, of course, the joint decision of the United States and NATO to intervene in Kosovo and save those victims…This time, we do respond. This time, we intervene.” (Wiesel 106-107; 114) Wiesel knows in the midst of all the chaos in the world, change is possible and he acknowledges that change. When reading this speech in a historical context, it becomes clear that Wiesel’s concerns about indifference are not merely a reflection of the past, but a reminder that atrocities still happen today and that all people are responsible for ending them. By pointing out the injustices that occurred in the previous century, Wiesel challenges humanity to reflect on the previous century in hopes of progress for future generations.

Wiesel hopes to motivate humanity to improve the present and work towards the future. In order to do this, past tragedies must never be forgotten, but not repeated. Humanity must step up to the challenge of not being indifferent and making a lasting change in the world. Indifference is no longer an option.