EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the Dec. 8, 2003, issue of National Review.
At a recent “Days of Remembrance” event at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., Elie Wiesel said, “Memory is tragedy’s most indispensable element.” No modern evil compares to the Holocaust, and the Holocaust Museum–along with the preservation of the Holocaust’s memory–has taught much. Its ten-year anniversary this year is to be celebrated.
The Holocaust Museum succeeds in its mission by showing one grim, discouraging, horrible picture after another. To go through the museum is to see the center of Hell. It is neither an uplifting nor an encouraging experience, but, better, especially for our times, it is a deepening one. In a world where a majority of images speed by us and are forgotten, such deepening experiences–even into the heart of darkness–are indispensable for memory, perspective, and action. It is an irony of our time that, while many advocate the personal expression of any and all emotions and feelings, we are squeamish about telling the stories of human atrocity. Why should such hesitancy govern when allowing it to do so leads to amnesia and loss of will?
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–William J. Bennett is the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute and the author of Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.