Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter 2 Share on Facebook 8 Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit 2 Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 7 (19 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Stats   32 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

Shielding a Flickering Flame

      (Page 1 of 2 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Must Read 7   Valuable 5   Well Said 4  
View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H1 11/25/13

Author 28678
Become a Fan
  (398 fans)
- Advertisement -
Source: Truthdig

With the folly of the human race -- and perhaps its unconscious lust for self-annihilation -- on display at the U.N. Climate Talks in Warsaw, it is easy to succumb to despair. The world's elite, it is painfully clear, will do little to halt the accelerating destruction of the ecosystem and eventually the human species. We have, through our ingenuity and hubris, unleashed the next great mass extinction on the planet. And I suspect the reason we have never discovered signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is because extraterrestrial societies that achieved similar levels of technological development also destroyed themselves. There are probably more wreckages of advanced civilizations, cursed by poisoned ecosystems, floating through the universe than we imagine.

The death spiral we face means that resistance will increasingly break down along two lines -- those who have children and those who do not. It is one thing to sacrifice one's self. It is another to sacrifice one's children. No matter how grim and apocalyptic the world becomes, a parent is compelled to protect his or her child. One cannot totally give up hope. When resistance becomes an act of almost certain futility and suicide, and this is what is fast approaching, violent confrontation will mean the extermination of your children. And that is too much to ask of a parent. 

Parents -- and I am one -- do not make great revolutionaries. We have to go home to put a child to bed. Those who do not have children more easily rise up. Most parents, for this reason, are able to embrace only nonviolent protest. And nonviolent mass protest offers, as long as we remain in a period of relative stability, our best hope. Resorting to violence would, right now, make things worse. But as societies unravel, as desperation becomes worldwide, both nonviolence and violence will do little to alter our impending self-destruction. In the coming struggle against the global corporate elite there will be two sets of priorities -- those of parents and those of fighters. These differing priorities will have to be respected if we are to build a cohesive movement. There are some things a mother or a father cannot, and perhaps should not, do.

The dichotomy between the role of parents and the role of fighters in times of extremity was delineated in Hanna Krall's remarkable book "Shielding the Flame," a narrative that drew on the experience of Dr. Marek Edelman, who when he died in 2009 was the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Edelman, 23 years old when he helped lead the April 1943 uprising, refused to hold up his actions as more moral than those who walked with their children to the gas chambers. After all, he said, by the time of the uprising he and the other resistance fighters knew that "it was only a choice as to the manner of dying." 

The uprising lasted three weeks, ending when the Germans razed the Warsaw Ghetto. Edelman was the only commander of the uprising to come out alive. He escaped through the sewers and was carried away from the ghetto on a stretcher by some of the few remaining members of the underground, posing as members of the Polish Red Cross. A sign reading "Typhus" was placed on his body, and the terror of that disease among the German soldiers ensured his passage through checkpoints.

One of the women carrying the stretcher, Dr. Alina Margolis, later became Edelman's wife. During part of the 1979-1992 war in El Salvador, Margolis lived in my house in San Salvador. She was working in a refugee camp for Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, an organization she helped found. She and Edelman were fierce anti-Zionists, publicly denounced Israel's occupation and repression of the Palestinians, and defended the right of Palestinian people to resist that occupation, even through violence. They saw in the Palestinian struggle their own fight against German occupation during World War II. I deeply respected them.

"... [T]o die in a gas chamber is by no means worse than to die in battle, and ... the only undignified death is when one attempts to survive at the expense of somebody else," Edelman told Krall. He said of parents and children who were deported to the death camps: "Those people went quietly and with dignity. It is a horrendous thing, when one is going so quietly to one's death. It is infinitely more difficult than to go out shooting. After all, it is much easier to die firing -- for us it was much easier to die than it was for someone who first boarded a train car, then rode the train, then dug a hole, then undressed naked. ..."

- Advertisement -

And yet, at the same time, Edelman noted that everyone, even the young ghetto fighters, needed "somebody to act for, somebody to be the center of his life." To be totally alone was to be drained of purpose and meaning. This was true even for those who faced certain death. "To be with someone was the only way to survive in the Ghetto," he told Krall...

"One would secret oneself somewhere with the other person -- in a bed, in a basement, anywhere -- and until the next action one was not alone anymore. One person had had his mother taken away, somebody else's father had been shot and killed, or a sister taken away in a shipment. So if someone, somehow, by some miracle escaped and was still alive, he had to stick to some other living human being. People were drawn to one another as never before, as never in moral life. During the last liquidation action they would run to the Jewish Council in search of a rabbi or anybody who could marry them, and then they would go to the Umschlagplatz [where Jews were forced to gather for transportation to the death camps] as a married couple."
"When one knows death so well, one has more responsibility for life," he said. "Any, even the smallest chance for life becomes extremely important. A chance for death was there all the while. The important thing was to make a chance for life."

Edelman noted the collective self-delusion that prohibited the Jews in the ghetto -- as it prohibits us -- from facing their fate, even as the transports were taking thousands daily to the Nazi death camp Treblinka. The Germans handed out oblong, brown loaves of rye bread to those lining up outside the trains. Those clutching the loaves, desperately hungry and overjoyed with receiving the food, willingly climbed into the railway carriages. In 1942, the underground sent a spy to follow the trains. He returned to the ghetto and reported, in the words of Krall's book, that "every day a freight train with people would pass that way [to Treblinka] and return empty, but food supplies were never sent there." His account was written up in the underground ghetto newspaper, but, as Edelman remarked, "nobody believed it." ... "'Have you gone insane?' people would say when we were trying to convince them that they were not being taken to work," Edelman remembered. "'Would they be sending us to death with bread? So much bread would be wasted!'"

Edelman castigated the head of the Jewish Council, Adam Czerniakow, for committing suicide. The official killed himself by swallowing cyanide on July 23, 1942, the day after the mass deportation of the Jews to Treblinka began. "There was only one man who could have declared the truth out loud: Czerniaków," Edelman said. "They would have believed him. But he had committed suicide. That wasn't right: one should die with a bang. At that time this bang was most needed -- one should die only after having called other people into the struggle." Edelman went on to say that Czerniakow's suicide was the "only thing we reproach him for."

"We?" Krall asked.

"Me and my friends," Edelman said. "The dead ones. We reproach him for having made his death his own private business. We were convinced that it was necessary to die publically, under the world's eyes."

- Advertisement -

Traditional concepts of right and wrong, Edelman pointed out, collapse in moments of extremity. Edelman spoke to Krall about a woman doctor in the ghetto hospital who poisoned the sick children on her ward as the Germans entered the building. "She saved children from the gas chamber," Edelman said. "People thought she was a hero. So what, then, in that world turned upside down, was heroism? Or honor? Or dignity? And where was God?"

Edelman answered his own question. God, he said, was on the side of the persecutors. A malicious God. And Edelman said that as a heart surgeon in Poland after the war he felt he was always battling against this malevolent deity who sought to extinguish life. "God is trying to blow out the candle and I'm quickly trying to shield the flame, taking advantage of His brief inattention.  He is not terribly just. It can also be very satisfying because whenever something does work out, it means you have, after all, fooled Him."

The forces of life, including the ecosystem, are being transformed into forces of death. The monster Typhoon Haiyan is only one of the first tragedies. Nature and global elites seeking to exploit the planet's last drops of blood and its repressed masses are joining to make the days of descent squalid and terrifying. And in this extremity we will have to find our place. There will come a time, if there is no radical change, when we too will be forced to choose how we will die, whom we will cling to, what we will risk. 

There will be no moral hierarchy to resistance. We will be pulled one way or another by fate and love. And these different routes of resistance will all be legitimate as long as we do not, as Edelman said, attempt "to survive at the expense of somebody else."

Next Page  1  |  2


Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of (more...)

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

Go To Commenting

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Related Topic(s): ; , Add Tags
- Advertisement -
Google Content Matches:

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government

This Is What Resistance Looks Like

Rise Up or Die

Hope, from now on, will look like this. Chris Hedges Speech Before Joining Anti War Vets in DC Civil Disobedience Action

The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History


The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
18 people are discussing this page, with 32 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

 I suspect the reason we have never discovere... by Josh Mitteldorf on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 8:19:03 AM
Bravo! This is an elegant and measured response to... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:31:56 AM
I love Albert Camus.  He was a quintessential... by Bayard Waterbury on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:48:57 AM
"I think your failure to take the Camus thesis to ... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:59:03 AM
A few years ago I happened upon an interesting col... by Derryl Hermanutz on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 12:38:55 PM
0n point for me as this story sets a line between ... by Robert S. Becker on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 2:22:08 PM
I agree completely. Indeed, given what we've seen ... by John Pepper on Saturday, Nov 30, 2013 at 10:11:53 AM
This is so existential in nature.  That is to... by Bayard Waterbury on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:38:21 AM
Hedges is absolutely correct about why no aliens h... by Lester Shepherd on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 12:34:32 PM
Some thoughts on aliens and also Chris:From an evo... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 12:58:42 PM
It is characteristic of oracular true believers to... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 1:17:59 PM
Mark Twain, my overall favorite author, was a mast... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 2:25:32 PM
Only if one is foolish enough to value nuance, he ... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 7:08:27 PM
Parents, read this to understand those who rise up... by VCubed Inaru on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 3:48:04 PM
What is Mr. Hedges saying here ?!"When despair rea... by Ad Du on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 5:43:54 PM
By the way: how has Edelman enjoyed Democracy in t... by Ad Du on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 6:01:23 PM
We are all harming others simply by our lifestyles... by Jim Miles on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 6:02:15 PM
"If you will not fight for right when you can easi... by Nelson Betancourt on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 7:53:50 PM
fascinating description of resistance in utterly u... by Charlotte Rouillon on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 12:48:56 AM
Chris has no hope, no faith in humanity. Just utte... by E. J. N. on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 1:11:45 PM
Yes, there is a colossal difference between experi... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 2:25:52 PM
Well said Robert, though your describing God as "H... by E. J. N. on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 4:46:06 PM
Were there no consciousness to it all, there would... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 7:16:04 PM
All we have to do is find the default setting for ... by Allan Wayne on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 1:59:39 PM
Okay, I am looking for it right now.  Got a m... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 2:27:06 PM
My  dream is to fulfill Isaiah 23:17-18 an... by Michael Dewey on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 3:46:38 PM
You have to play a Barry McGuire song, Eve of ... by Allan Wayne on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 7:07:30 PM
Actually this was a reply to Robert S Becker... by Allan Wayne on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 7:08:26 PM
Hedges is so unbelievably pessimistic. This is not... by Paul Easton on Wednesday, Nov 27, 2013 at 12:04:00 AM
You do not understand the greed of human nature an... by Lester Shepherd on Wednesday, Nov 27, 2013 at 6:59:18 AM
Two realms: Ours, within the narrow constraints of... by molly cruz on Wednesday, Nov 27, 2013 at 2:20:39 PM
Interesting stuff but this line in the apocalyptic... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Nov 28, 2013 at 2:49:26 PM