|For Immediate Release||April 12, 1999|
The East Room
7:37 P.M. EDT
MRS. CLINTON: Welcome to the East Room and the WhiteHouse for our 7th Millennium Evening, "The Perils of Indifference:Lessons Learned From a Violent Century.
We're honored to have so many members of Congress,ambassadors, religious leaders, historians, human rights activists,and so many other concerned citizens for what I know will be anunforgettable evening.
Before we begin, I would like to thank our sponsors, theNational Endowment for the Humanities, and Sun Microsystems. Sun ishelping us to bring this event to millions of people around the worldvia satellite and the Internet. And I also want to thank Pioneer NewMedia for donating these screens, and the Library of Congress and theUnited States Holocaust Museum for lending us the extraordinarydisplays in the Grand Foyer.
And I especially want to thank our guests of honor,Elie, Marion and Elisha Wiesel. When my husband and I look back atour years in the White House, one of the highlights are the timesthat we've been able and been privileged to spend with Elie andMarion. We always feel enriched by our experience.
We didn't know them before, except through his writings.But for those of us who have ever read those writings, especially"Night," we can never forget the description of the horrors inflictedon him as a young boy -- a boy of great religious convictions whotells us his God was murdered. A boy of 14 who is forced to ask,"Was I awake? How could it be possible for them to burn children andfor the world to remain silent?"
It was more than a year ago that I asked Elie if hewould be willing to participate in these Millennium Lectures that wehad not yet even started, but which we were planning. I never couldhave imagined that when the time finally came for him to stand inthis spot and to reflect on the past century and the future to come,that we would be seeing children in Kosovo crowded into trains,separated from families, separated from their homes, robbed of theirchildhoods, their memories, their humanity. It is something thatcauses all of us to pause and to reflect, as we will this evening,how could this be happening once again at the end of this century.
On any day in the last 40 years it would have been atremendous honor to hear this man speak at the White House about theneed never to give in to silence or to resign ourselves toindifference. But there would not have been a more important daythan now, here, on the eve of the Days of Remembrance and in themidst of the crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Kosovo.
When I invited him here I explained that we wereplanning a series of Millennium Evenings designed to mark thisspecific turning point in history by honoring the past andimagining the future. And in many ways, our previous eveningshave been celebrations of that past -- the founding ideals of ourrepublic, jazz music, poetry and scientific discovery that havedefined us as individuals and America as a nation.
But honoring our past and learning from it meanslooking not just at our noblest achievements, but at our greatestfailings; not just at what makes us proud, but at those darkestimpulses that have marred this century.
We know that the Nazis were able to pursue their crimesagainst humanity precisely because they were able to limit thecircle of those defined as humans. The mentally ill, the infirm,gypsies, Jews -- all were identified as lives unworthy of life.And this process of dehumanizing comes from the darkest regionsof the human soul, where people first withdraw understanding,then empathy, and finally personhood. Now, this phenomenon ofindifference, this human capacity for evil we know too well isnot unique to that time and place in Nazi Germany.
Many of us in this room have personal experiences thatare much more recent and fresh, about what it means to face thatevil and that indifference today. I can remember sitting in aroom in Tuzla, shortly after the Dayton Peace Accords, talking toa group of Bosnians. They were Serbs and Croats and Muslims,although I could not tell the difference. They explained how menand boys were put into camps and executed; how women were raped;how children were turned into orphans.
One of the people I was talking to said, you know, whenit started in my village, I went to one of my neighbors and Iasked, we've known each other; we've been at each other'sweddings, we've attended the funerals of our loved ones together.Why is this happening? And the response she was given from thatold friend was, well, we read in the newspaper that if we didn'tdo this to you, you would do it to us. It was the message ofhatred that Milosevic and his allies were communicating in orderto turn Bosnia into a killing field.
What are we to do today, when leaders hijack holytraditions, even history; not to lift people closer to God ortheir own human potential, but to push them further apart? Whatdo we do about those who try to constrict the circle of humandignity by convincing us that our differences -- race andreligion, gender, ethnicity and tribal origin -- are moreimportant than our common humanity? If this violent centuryteaches us anything, it is that whenever the dignity of one isthreatened, the dignity of all is threatened as well; and nonecan or should remain silent.
Imagine how different life would be today for thepeople of Kosovo and in so many other troubled parts of our worldif the evil that was allowed to run free had been stopped bythose who stood up and broke the silence, that indifference didnot in any way paralyze those who could have taken action.
In 1999, it isn't enough to refuse to commit crimes ofhatred, stereotyping one another, going along with the crowd. Itisn't enough to look deep into our own hearts and say we findthem free of hatred. We have to do more. Every time we let areligious or racial slur go unchallenged or an indignity gounanswered, we are making a choice to be indifferent, a choice toconstrict the circle of human dignity; a choice, I believe, toignore history at our children's peril.
When Elie Wiesel accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, heremembered asking his father how the world could have remainedsilent. And he imagined what that same young boy would ask himtoday. Tell me: What have you done with my future? What haveyou done with your life? And I tell him, Elie says, that I havetried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those whowould forget.
You have done that. You have taught us never toforget. You have made sure that we always listen to the victimsof indifference, hatred and evil. You have been among those inour world to whom we look to for conscience. You have been thevoice of the voiceless -- from Soviet Jewry to the people ofSouth Africa under apartheid, to the people of Yugoslavia today.You have been a teacher.
When that young boy asks Elie Wiesel what he has donewith his future, we can point to numerous awards and honors,including, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize and the PresidentialMedal of Freedom, or we can hold up the more than 40 books or theservice as the Founding Chair of the United States HolocaustMemorial. But that is not his real legacy. His real legacy iswhat he has given to us and how he continues to prod each of usto understand the peril of indifference.
When he was forced to leave his home more than 50 yearsago, he went into the backyard and buried the watch he hadreceived on the occasion of his bar mitzvah. In 1997, he wentback to that spot. He took the same number of child-size paceshe had taken as a boy. He dug into the ground with hisfingernails -- and the watch was still there. That must havebeen a bittersweet moment. The watch had lasted all those years;but his family, his village, the life he had known, so manyfriends and relatives were gone.
But just as that watch was still there, Elie Wiesel isstill on watch -- on watch for us -- to help us keep our memoriesalive despite the passage of time, for teaching us the lessonsthat transcend time, about the perils of indifference.
It is my great honor to introduce a friend, a teacher,a voice for justice and freedom, Elie Wiesel. (Applause.)
MR. WIESEL: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, members ofCongress, Ambassador Holbrooke, Excellencies, friends:Fifty-four years ago to the day, a young Jewish boy from a smalltown in the Carpathian Mountains woke up, not far from Goethe'sbeloved Weimar, in a place of eternal infamy called Buchenwald.He was finally free, but there was no joy in his heart. Hethought there never would be again.
Liberated a day earlier by American soldiers, heremembers their rage at what they saw. And even if he lives tobe a very old man, he will always be grateful to them for thatrage, and also for their compassion. Though he did notunderstand their language, their eyes told him what he needed toknow -- that they, too, would remember, and bear witness.
And now, I stand before you, Mr. President --Commander-in-Chief of the army that freed me, and tens ofthousands of others -- and I am filled with a profound andabiding gratitude to the American people.
Gratitude is a word that I cherish. Gratitude is whatdefines the humanity of the human being. And I am grateful toyou, Hillary -- or Mrs. Clinton -- for what you said, and forwhat you are doing for children in the world, for the homeless,for the victims of injustice, the victims of destiny and society.And I thank all of you for being here.
We are on the threshold of a new century, a newmillennium. What will the legacy of this vanishing century be?How will it be remembered in the new millennium? Surely it willbe judged, and judged severely, in both moral and metaphysicalterms. These failures have cast a dark shadow over humanity: twoWorld Wars, countless civil wars, the senseless chain ofassassinations -- Gandhi, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King,Sadat, Rabin -- bloodbaths in Cambodia and Nigeria, India andPakistan, Ireland and Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Sarajevo andKosovo; the inhumanity in the gulag and the tragedy of Hiroshima.And, on a different level, of course, Auschwitz and Treblinka.So much violence, so much indifference.
What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means"no difference." A strange and unnatural state in which thelines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime andpunishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.
What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Isit a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifferenceconceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Isit necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one's sanity,live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as theworld around us experiences harrowing upheavals?
Of course, indifference can be tempting -- more thanthat, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims.It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to ourwork, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward,troublesome, to be involved in another person's pain and despair.Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor areof no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless.Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest.Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction.
Over there, behind the black gates of Auschwitz, themost tragic of all prisoners were the "Muselmanner," as they werecalled. Wrapped in their torn blankets, they would sit or lie onthe ground, staring vacantly into space, unaware of who or wherethey were, strangers to their surroundings. They no longer feltpain, hunger, thirst. They feared nothing. They felt nothing.They were dead and did not know it.
Rooted in our tradition, some of us felt that to beabandoned by humanity then was not the ultimate. We felt that tobe abandoned by God was worse than to be punished by Him. Betteran unjust God than an indifferent one. For us to be ignored byGod was a harsher punishment than to be a victim of His anger.Man can live far from God -- not outside God. God is wherever weare. Even in suffering? Even in suffering.
In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is whatmakes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is moredangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative.One writes a great poem, a great symphony, have done somethingspecial for the sake of humanity because one is angry at theinjustice that one witnesses. But indifference is nevercreative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fightit. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits noresponse. Indifference is not a response.
Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And,therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for itbenefits the aggressor -- never his victim, whose pain ismagnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisonerin his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees -- not torespond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude byoffering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory.And in denying their humanity we betray our own.
Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is apunishment. And this is one of the most important lessons ofthis outgoing century's wide-ranging experiments in good andevil.
In the place that I come from, society was composed ofthree simple categories: the killers, the victims, and thebystanders. During the darkest of times, inside the ghettoes anddeath camps -- and I'm glad that Mrs. Clinton mentioned that weare now commemorating that event, that period, that we are now inthe Days of Remembrance -- but then, we felt abandoned,forgotten. All of us did.
And our only miserable consolation was that we believedthat Auschwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets; thatthe leaders of the free world did not know what was going onbehind those black gates and barbed wire; that they had noknowledge of the war against the Jews that Hitler's armies andtheir accomplices waged as part of the war against the Allies.
If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders wouldhave moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spokenout with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombedthe railways leading to Birkenau, just the railways, just once.
And now we knew, we learned, we discovered that thePentagon knew, the State Department knew. And the illustriousoccupant of the White House then, who was a great leader -- and Isay it with some anguish and pain, because, today is exactly 54years marking his death -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt died onApril the 12th, 1945, so he is very much present to me and to us.
No doubt, he was a great leader. He mobilized theAmerican people and the world, going into battle, bringinghundreds and thousands of valiant and brave soldiers in Americato fight fascism, to fight dictatorship, to fight Hitler. And somany of the young people fell in battle. And, nevertheless, hisimage in Jewish history -- I must say it -- his image in Jewishhistory is flawed.
The depressing tale of the St. Louis is a case inpoint. Sixty years ago, its human cargo -- maybe 1,000 Jews --was turned back to Nazi Germany. And that happened after theKristallnacht, after the first state sponsored pogrom, withhundreds of Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues burned, thousandsof people put in concentration camps. And that ship, which wasalready on the shores of the United States, was sent back.
I don't understand. Roosevelt was a good man, with aheart. He understood those who needed help. Why didn't he allowthese refugees to disembark? A thousand people -- in America, agreat country, the greatest democracy, the most generous of allnew nations in modern history. What happened? I don'tunderstand. Why the indifference, on the highest level, to thesuffering of the victims?
But then, there were human beings who were sensitive toour tragedy. Those non-Jews, those Christians, that we calledthe "Righteous Gentiles," whose selfless acts of heroism savedthe honor of their faith. Why were they so few? Why was there agreater effort to save SS murderers after the war than to savetheir victims during the war?
Why did some of America's largest corporations continueto do business with Hitler's Germany until 1942? It has beensuggested, and it was documented, that the Wehrmacht could nothave conducted its invasion of France without oil obtained fromAmerican sources. How is one to explain their indifference?
And yet, my friends, good things have also happened inthis traumatic century: the defeat of Nazism, the collapse ofcommunism, the rebirth of Israel on its ancestral soil, thedemise of apartheid, Israel's peace treaty with Egypt, the peaceaccord in Ireland. And let us remember the meeting, filled withdrama and emotion, between Rabin and Arafat that you, Mr.President, convened in this very place. I was here and I willnever forget it.
And then, of course, the joint decision of the UnitedStates and NATO to intervene in Kosovo and save those victims,those refugees, those who were uprooted by a man whom I believethat because of his crimes, should be charged with crimes againsthumanity. But this time, the world was not silent. This time,we do respond. This time, we intervene.
Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Doesit mean that society has changed? Has the human being becomeless indifferent and more human? Have we really learned from ourexperiences? Are we less insensitive to the plight of victims ofethnic cleansing and other forms of injustices in places near andfar? Is today's justified intervention in Kosovo, led by you,Mr. President, a lasting warning that never again will thedeportation, the terrorization of children and their parents beallowed anywhere in the world? Will it discourage otherdictators in other lands to do the same?
What about the children? Oh, we see them ontelevision, we read about them in the papers, and we do so with abroken heart. Their fate is always the most tragic, inevitably.When adults wage war, children perish. We see their faces, theireyes. Do we hear their pleas? Do we feel their pain, theiragony? Every minute one of them dies of disease, violence,famine. Some of them -- so many of them -- could be saved.
And so, once again, I think of the young Jewish boyfrom the Carpathian Mountains. He has accompanied the old man Ihave become throughout these years of quest and struggle. Andtogether we walk towards the new millennium, carried by profoundfear and extraordinary hope. (Applause.)
I conclude on that.
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, we have all beenmoved by one more profound example of Elie Wiesel's lifetime ofbearing witness.
Before we open the floor for questions, and especiallybecause of the current events in Kosovo, I would like to ask youto think about what he has just said, in terms of what it meansto the United States, in particular, and to the world in which wewould like our children to live in the new century.
How do we avoid indifference to human suffering? Howdo we muster both the wisdom and the strength to know when to actand whether there are circumstances in which we should not? Whyare we in Kosovo?
The history of our country for quite a long while hadbeen dominated by a principle of non-intervention in the affairsof other nations. Indeed, for most of our history we have wornthat principle as a badge of honor, for our founders knewintervention as a fundamentally destructive force. GeorgeWashington warned us against those "entangling alliances."
The 20th century, with its two world wars, the ColdWar, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Panama, Lebanon, Grenada,Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo -- it changed all that; for goodor ill, it changed all that. Our steadily increasing involvementin the rest of the world, not for territorial gain, but for peaceand freedom and security, is a fact of recent history.
In the Cold War, it might be argued that on occasion wemade a wrong judgment, because we saw the world through communistand non-communist lenses. But no one doubts that we never soughtterritorial advantage. No one doubts that when we did getinvolved, we were doing what at least we thought was right forhumanity.
Now, at the end of the 20th century, it seems to me weface a great battle of the forces of integration against theforces of disintegration; of globalism versus tribalism; ofoppression against empowerment. And this phenomenal explosion oftechnology might be the servant of either side, or both.
The central irony of our time, it seems to me, is this:Most of us have this vision of a 21st century world with thetriumph of peace and prosperity and personal freedom; with therespect for the integrity of ethnic, racial and religiousminorities; within a framework of shared values, shared power,shared plenty; making common cause against disease andenvironmental degradation across national lines, against terror,organized crime, weapons of mass destruction. This vision,ironically, is threatened by the oldest demon of human society -- our vulnerability to hatred of the other.
In the face of that, we cannot be indifferent, at homeor abroad. That is why we are in Kosovo.
We first have to set an example, as best we can --standing against hate crimes against racial minorities or gays;standing for respect, for diversity. Second, we have to actresponsibly, recognizing this unique and, if history is anyguide, fleeting position the United States now enjoys, ofremarkable military, political and economic influence. We haveto do what we can to protect the circle of humanity against thosewho would divide it by dehumanizing the other. Lord knows wehave had enough of that in this century, and Elie talked aboutit.
I think it is well to point out that Henry Luce coinedthe term, "The American Century," way back in 1941. A lot ofterrible things have happened since then, but a lot of goodthings have happened as well. And we should be grateful that,for most of the time since, our nation has had both the power andthe willingness to stand up against the horrors of the century.Not every time, not every place, not even always with success;but we've done enough good to say that America has made apositive difference.
From our successes and from our failures, we know thereare hard questions that have to be asked when you move beyond thevalues and the principles to the murky circumstances of dailylife. We can't, perhaps, intervene everywhere, but we mustalways be alive to the possibility of preventing death andoppression, and forging and strengthening institutions andalliances to make a good outcome more likely.
Elie has said that Kosovo is not the Holocaust, butthat the distinction should not deter us from doing what isright. I agree on both counts. When we see people forced fromtheir homes at gunpoint, loaded onto train cars, their identitypapers confiscated, their very presence blotted from thehistorical record, it is only natural that we would think of theevents which Elie has chronicled tonight in his own life.
We must always remain awake to the warning signs ofevil. And now, we know that it is possible to act before it istoo late.
The efforts of Holocaust survivors to make us rememberand help us understand, therefore, have not been in vain. Thepeople who fought those battles and lived those tragedies,however, will not be around forever. More than a thousand WorldWar II veterans pass away every day. But they can live on in ourdetermination to preserve what they gave us and to stand againstthe modern incarnations of the evil they defeated.
Some say -- and perhaps there will be some discussionabout it tonight -- that evil is an active presence, alwaysseeking new opportunities to manifest itself. As a boy growingup in my Baptist church I heard quite a lot of sermons aboutthat. Other theologians, like Nieburh, Martin Luther King,argued that evil was more the absence of something -- a lack ofknowledge, a failure of will, a poverty of the imagination, or acondition of indifference.
None of this answers any of the difficult questionsthat a Kosovo, a Bosnia, a Rwanda present. But Kosovo is at thedoorstep or the underbelly of NATO and its wide number of allies.We have military assets and allies willing to do their part.President Milosevic clearly has established a pattern of perfidy,earlier in Bosnia and elsewhere. And so we act.
I would say there are two caveats that we ought toobserve. First of all, any military action, any subsequentpeacekeeping force, cannot cause ancient grudges and freshlyopened wounds to heal overnight. But we can make it more likelythat people will resolve their differences by force of argumentrather than force of arms -- and in so doing, learn to livetogether. That is what Rumania and Hungary have done recently,with their differences. It is what many Bosnian Croats, Serbsand Muslims are struggling to do every day.
Second, we should not fall victim to the easy tendencyto demonize the Serbian people. They were our allies in WorldWar II; they have their own legitimate concerns. Anyinternational force going into Kosovo to maintain the peace mustbe dedicated also to protecting the Serbian minority from thosewho may wish to take their vengeance.
But we cannot be indifferent to the fact that theSerbian leader has defined destiny as a license to kill.Destiny, instead, is what people make for themselves, with adecent respect for the legitimate interests and rights of others.
In his first lecture here, the first MillenniumLecture, the distinguished historian, Bernard Bailyn, argued howmuch we are still shaped by the ideals of our Founding Fathers,and by their realism -- their deeply practical understanding ofhuman nature; their understanding of the possibility of evil.They understood difficult moral judgments. They understood thatto be indifferent is to be numb. They knew, too, that our peoplewould never be immune to those who seek power by playing on ourown hatreds and fears, and that we had more to learn about thetrue meaning of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness.
Here in this house we have tried to advance thoseideals with our initiative against hate crime, the raceinitiative, AmeriCorps, the stand against the hatred that broughtus Oklahoma City and paramilitary groups, the efforts to forgepeace for Northern Ireland to the Middle East.
But our challenge now, and the world's, is to harmonizediversity and integration, to build a richly-textured fabric ofcivilization that will make the most of God's various gifts, andthat will resist those who would tear that fabric apart byappealing to the dark recesses that often seem to lurk in eventhe strongest souls.
To succeed, we must heed the wisdom of our foundersabout power and ambition. We must have the compassion anddetermination of Abraham Lincoln to always give birth to newfreedom. We must have the vision of President Roosevelt, whoproclaimed four freedoms for all human beings, and invited theUnited States to defend them at home and around the world.
Now, we close out this chapter of our historydetermined not to turn away from the horrors we leave behind, butto act on their lessons with principle and purpose. If that iswhat we are, in fact, doing, Kosovo could be a very good place tobegin a new century.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
We have hundreds of questions -- I know. Ellen, do youwant to describe what we're going to do?
MS. LOVELL: Well, I think, Mr. President, you have aquestion for Mr. Wiesel. And then I'm going to begin thequestioning from the room and Mrs. Clinton will take thequestions from the Internet.
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to ask you a questionabout what you think the impact of the modern media and sort ofinstantaneous news coverage will be. It is obvious to me that webuilt a consensus in the United States and throughout Europe foraction in Bosnia in no small measure because of what people sawwas going on there. It is obvious to me that the support in theUnited States and Europe for our actions in Kosovo have increasedbecause of what people see going on.
And I think I worry about two things, and I just wouldlike to hear your thoughts on it. Number one, is there a chancethat people will become inured to this level of human sufferingby constant exposure to it? And number two, is there a chancethat even though people's interest in humanity can be quickened,almost overnight, that we're so used to having a new story everyday, that we may not have the patience to pay the price of timeto deal with this and other challenges? A lot of these thingsrequire weeks and months, indeed years, of effort. And thatseems to be inconsistent with, kind of, rapid-fire new news weare used to seeing. MR. WIESEL: Mr. President, usually, in this room,people ask you questions. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's why I like this. (Laughter.)
MR. WIESEL: What you said is correct. The numbness isa danger. I remember during the Vietnam War, the first time wesaw on television, live, the war in Vietnam -- usually, ofcourse, the networks broadcasted during dinner. So we stoppedeating. How can you eat when people kill each other and peopledie? After two weeks, people went on eating. They were numb.And it's a danger.
But, nevertheless, I don't see the alternative. ExceptI hope that in the next millennium, the next century, those whoare responsible for the TV programs, for the news programs, willfind enough talent, enough fervor, enough imagination, to presentthe news in such a way that the news will appeal to all of us dayafter day. I do not see an alternative. We must know what ishappening.
And today we can know it instantly. If the Americanpeople now are behind you, it is because they see it ontelevision and they see it in newspapers. They see the images.They see the pictures of children on the trains, as you said --in the planes. So how can they remain indifferent? And,therefore, I am -- the risks are there, but I have faith that weshall overcome the risks. But we must know.
MS. LOVELL: I'd like to call on Marcus Applebaum.Marcus is a junior at Laurel High School in Prince George'sCounty. And he and the other students who are here with him takepart in a program coordinated by Lynn Williams of the U.S.Holocaust Memorial Museum. And the program is called, "Bringingthe Lessons Home." Marcus.
MR. APPLEBAUM: I need help to know what do I sayto my grandmother. She's a survivor who's having a lot oftrouble understanding what's going on with -- I met a group ofGerman students in the museum over the summer. And I believeit's important for us to come together and talk about what hashappened in our history. So they've been invited to my house tocome and stay with me for the summer. And my grandmother ishaving a hard time understanding this. And I would like to know-- I love my grandmother very much, but I'd like to know how Ican help her to understand, to help forgive.
MR. WIESEL: Forgive whom? Not your friends; they areyoung. I don't believe in collective guilt. Only the guilty areguilty. Even the children of killers are not killers; they arechildren. By definition, a child is innocent unless that childdoes something terrible. And, therefore, I will speak to yourgrandmother and say, look, don't see in them Germans; they arechildren. And I am sure that your grandmother, after a while,will understand.
MS. LOVELL: Mrs. Clinton, let's go to theInternet.
MRS. CLINTON: This is from Justin Kiefer in Lufton,Indiana. And it's for Elie Wiesel: Some people worry that theworld will forget the Holocaust when all of the survivors die.Do you also worry about this, or do you feel that the world willnever be able to forget the Holocaust?
MR. WIESEL: Oh, I am worried. I am worried what willhappen when the last survivor will be around. I would not liketo be that survivor. The burden of knowledge, the burden ofmemory, the weight on his or her shoulder will be so heavy that Iworry over the possibility of that person losing his or hersanity.
Now, it's true that what every survivor can say no oneelse can. The witness which is ours is unique. All the otherpeople, the historians and the novelists and the journalists --all together, I don't think they have -- they have the will, theyhave the desire, but to say something that the survivor can say,no, they cannot.
So what will happen 20 years from now? I believe thisis the most documented tragedy in recorded history. Never beforehas a tragedy elicited so much witness from the killers, from thevictims and even from the bystanders -- millions of pieces herein the museum what you have, all other museums, archives in thethousands, in the millions. So anyone who will want to know willat least know where to turn.
And here and there, I believe that somehow truth has atremendous force. Sometimes it takes centuries, but it emerges,it surfaces. And then, the world will remember.
MS. LOVELL: Chief Joyce Dugan, of the Eastern BandCherokee Nation, is here.
CHIEF DUGAN: Good evening, Mr. Wiesel, President andMrs. Clinton. I am Joyce Dugan, principal Chief of the EasternBand of the Cherokee Nation, located in North Carolina.
While Indian nations in this country did not suffer aHolocaust of the magnitude that your people did, we did suffer aholocaust in a sense, when we, too, endured the forced removalfrom our homelands. We endured a Long March across thousands ofmiles, under armed guard, in extreme weather conditions, losingmany of our people.
None of us wants to dwell on those past mistakes, thosethat even happened in this country, for if we dwell on them, thememory will eat at our souls and destroy us. However, we mustremember them so, hopefully, we can prevent such acts from beingrepeated, even in this country.
Unfortunately, throughout this world there are those inpower who continue to make the same mistakes over and over intheir treatment of others, because of their culture, their race,religion, their political beliefs. Even more unfortunate, as wasmentioned earlier, is that it has become commonplace throughoutthis world, and we have, indeed, become indifferent and tend toview it as someone else's problem.
My question to you is, what must we do as a nation andwhat can we do as individuals to overcome this indifference sothat we don't have to resort to military action, to awakenawareness and to instill compassion?
MR. WIESEL: Thank you. A few years ago at BostonUniversity I had a course on the suffering of minorities and Ibrought some Native Americans to my class, and we spent hoursjust discussing with them. I wanted to know mainly what happenedto their anger. After all, they're entitled to their anger. Wecame here and we simply displaced them, we took over their land.Where is their anger?
And after the discussion course was over I said to themand I said to myself, suffering, my dear lady, does notconfer any privilege. It all depends what we do with it. And intruth, your community has shown us a way, many ways, that was --even if there was anger, there was not hatred. What we should dois listen to one another. I love to listen to your communities'tales, legends, myths. They are so beautiful. There is so muchbeauty in your past. Let's listen to it. And when we listen, weare not indifferent.
MRS. CLINTON: I think that's a really interestingquestion, though, because at the first Millennium Lecture thatthe President referred to, Bernard Bailyn made a point of sayingthat too often, we overlook, we ignore, we turn our backs onpieces of history that are discomforting, that are painful --whether it is the story of Native Americans, the story ofslavery, the story of immigrant struggles -- at least when I wasgrowing up, those were not hot topics in the teaching of Americanhistory. And as a result, a certain sense of truth was conveyedthat wasn't a complete story about America.
So I think that Elie's point's a very good one both ona personal level, in terms of listening to one another andhearing about one's experience, but it has to go beyond that intoa much more socially aware sense of how we all have to do more toconvey the truths and the histories of each other, andparticularly in a diverse country such as ours.
But it would be the same in a country such asYugoslavia, where there are different truths, all of which makeup the history of the people sharing that land, and to try tocreate some acceptance of, some awareness of each other's storyand some respect for the suffering that each person and theperson's past might bring.
THE PRESIDENT: I'd just like to say one thingspecifically, Chief. First of all I'm glad you're here, and I'mglad you're here for this. I think that Hillary and I have spentmore time on Native American issues, and with Native Americanleaders, than any previous administration, at least that I knowanything about. And, with all respect, one of the things that Ithink is killing us in this country -- still, is a big problem --is a phenomenal amount of ignorance on the part not just ofschoolchildren, but of people in very important positions ofdecision-making, about the real, factual history of the NativeAmericans in the United States.
And you can almost find no one who understands thedifference in any one tribe or another. And you can almost findno one who understands that, yes, a few tribes are wealthybecause of gaming, because of the sovereignty relationship, butalso the poorest Americans are still in Native Americancommunities. And I think this disempowerment, this stripping ofautonomy and self-respect and self-reliance, and the ability todo things that started over a century ago, still, in subtle ways,continues today.
And from my perspective, I've been terribly impressedwith a lot of the elected leaders of the tribes all across thecountry. And I think that we really have a huge job to do to nothave kind of a benign neglect -- or not benign, a malign neglect-- under the guise of preserving this sovereignty relationship.We need to recognize what we did, and what is still there that'sa legacy of the past, so that we can give the children of theNative American tribes all over this country the future theydeserve.
I think it's a huge issue, and I still think ignoranceis bearing down on us something fierce. And I thank you forbeing here.
MS. LOVELL: Well, this next question really relates towhat you just said.
MRS. CLINTON: This is from James Mott in Ilion, NewYork, and it's also for Mr. Wiesel: I have taught about theHolocaust for many years as part of my English curriculum. I waswondering what advice could you give American teens today to helpthem understand that racism, prejudice and ethnic cleansing areall wrong, but things that are still too prevalent today.
MR. WIESEL: Oh, it's enough to listen to a witness --that is why the witnesses are here -- to tell them, look, that isnot the right way; that hatred is not only destructive, it'sauto-destructive, it is self-destructive. Hatred brings what?More hatred. There is nothing good in it.
And the main lesson really is look at the consequences.It began with words. It ended in a hell. So tell your --children should know that. It begins with words, but look how itended.
MS. LOVELL: Odette Nyiramilimo is here from Rwanda .She's a physician practicing in Kigali and she is a survivor ofthe Rwandan massacres. Dr. Nyiramilimo, I know you have a storyto tell and a question to ask.
DR. NYIRAMILIMO: Thank you, Mr. Wiesel, for sharingyour experience with us this evening. Thank you, Mr. Presidentand Mrs. Clinton, for hosting this evening today. As you heard,I'm a Tutsi survivor of the monstrous genocide in Rwanda. I haveexperienced firsthand the real value of not being indifferent tohuman injustice and atrocity.
My family and I were trying to flee Kigali. We tookour car, but to avoid road blocks we had to abandon it and go byfoot towards the border of Burundi. But we did not make it. Amob attacked us in a swamp. They killed my sister and manyothers. We tried to hide everywhere we could, and by chance, wemanaged to leave that swamp and retreat back to our home inKigali.
Now, when I look back, one man, a soldier, decided ourfate. He came to our house where we were simply waiting to bekilled. He asked for our identity papers. My husband showed hisfalse Hutu identity, and myself -- I had destroyed my Tutsiidentity cards, but I lied that I had lost it in the market theday before. Then he looked to us and decided to help us. Hetook us, one by one, to the safety of a hotel in town. And myfamily, my husband and my children, we survived like that.
Much later, I had the chance to go back and thank thatman. Then, I asked him: Why did you help us? Didn't you knowthat we were Tutsis? And he said: Yes, I knew you were Tutsi.But I looked at you trembling and looked at your children and thefear into their eyes, then how couldn't I help you?
Ultimately, my husband, my children and I were thesurvivors. But unlike the survivors of the Jewish Holocaust, whocould go and have -- to other countries, Rwandan survivors areremaining in country, living with their killers, day after day.
Now, my question is this, Mr. Wiesel: How cangovernments and individuals around the world who, by theirindifference in 1994, allowed the genocide to happen in mycountry, now could do to show that they are not still indifferentto our fate?
MR. WIESEL: Madam, I wish I had an answer. I don't.Why are we so involved, so nobly, in Kosovo? Why were we not inRwanda? I am -- as you know, Mr. President, I am not in highcouncils of your government, so I don't know the real reason.Maybe Mr. Berger knows more, surely more than I. But one thing Ican't understand. I know one thing -- we could have preventedthat massacre. Why didn't we? I don't know. Maybe that becausewe didn't then, we're doing it now. It's also possible.
THE PRESIDENT: I think we could have prevented asignificant amount of it. You know, it takes -- the thing aboutthe Rwanda massacre that was so stunning is it was done mostlywith very primitive weapons, not modern mass killing instruments;and, yet, it happened in a matter of just a few weeks, as youknow.
And I want to give time for others to ask theirquestions, but let me say I have thought about this a great deal-- more than you might imagine. And we went to Kigali when wewere in Africa and we talked to a number of survivors, includinga woman who woke up to find her husband and six children allhatcheted to death, hacked to death. And she, by a miracle,lived and was devoting herself to the work of helping people likeyou put your lives back together.
One of the things that made it, I think, more likelythat we would act in Kosovo, and eventually in Bosnia, is that wehad a mechanism through which we could act, where people couldjoin together in a hurry ,with NATO. And one of the things thatwe are trying to do is to work with other African countries nowon something called the Africa Crisis Response Initiative, wherewe send American soldiers to work with African countries todevelop the ability to work with other militaries to try to headthese kinds of things off and to do it in a hurry.
I can only tell you that I will do my best to make surethat nothing like this happens again in Africa. I do not thinkthe United States can take the position that we only care aboutthese sorts of things if they happen in Europe. I don't feelthat way. And I think that we will, next time, be far morelikely to have the means to act in Africa than we had last timein a quicker way.
MS. LOVELL: This question is for Mr. Wiesel, but itreally could be for all of you.
MRS. CLINTON: This is from William A. Hackney, inTombul, Texas: Who determines exactly what human rights are? Isthere a list? (Laughter.) Are human rights different in variouslocales?
And that's a very good question because, oftentimes, onthe news or in speeches, people refer to human rights, but many,many people around the world don't know that there is a UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the UnitedNations that was very heavily influenced by Eleanor Roosevelt.It was a very important statement by all of the nations of theworld about what human rights are.
So that is one short answer, that there is something wecall the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But perhaps thePresident and Mr. Wiesel would like to be more specific aboutthat.
MR. WIESEL: Human rights today have become a secularreligion. And I applaud it. I think it's one of the mostbeautiful things that's happen today, except, if we think aboutit, Mr. President, it gives us, I think, a kind of duty to thinkabout, to reflect on it. Why? Why are there so manyorganizations for human rights today? There are 2,000, more.The best of them -- among the best is IRC, of which I'm a member,and -- Committee and Amnesty. There are good organizations.Now, in the '30s, maybe there were 10, not more. Why are thereso many today?
One of the reasons, it is sad to say, it is becauseindividuals lost their faith, their confidence in government.And they say, since governments don't do it, we shall do it. Andtherefore, you have so many NGOs and so many private people,especially young people, who join these organizations. They say,we shall work. And wherever you go, you find them. I went toCambodia, I found the IRC. I went with them. Wherever you go,you find these organizations, and they are great.
Now, what is human rights? Human rights, really,again, as the First Lady said, there is a Universal Declarationof Human Rights, and we've just celebrated the anniversary inParis; I was there. It's very simple. The other is not myenemy. The other is my ally, my kin, my friend. And whateverhappens to that other involves me. The worst thing is, I have noright to stand by whenever the other is being humiliated.Humiliation is probably the worst that can happen.
One is humiliated because of poverty, because ofdisease, because of injustice, helplessness. You mention AIDS,the disabled. We cannot save everybody. We can't even helpeverybody. But we can try to begin somewhere -- anywhere. Andthe first task is to prevent the humiliator from beinghumiliated.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say -- there was anotherpart to that question. The young man asked a very good question.The only thing I would say is you should get a copy of theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights. You should read it. Youwill find that it also says, in addition to what Mr. Wiesel says,that all people should have certain rights against government.They should have the right to speak their mind. They should havethe right to dissent. They should have the right to organize.They should have the right to chart their own course.
And then the last question you ask is a very importantone. He said, is human rights, are they different from countryto country. And the truth is that to some extent they are, butthat's not because people can use their own culture or religionas an excuse to repress women and young girls, for example, theway the Taliban does in Afghanistan. It's because countriesshould be free to go beyond the baseline definition if theychoose.
For example, we have an Americans with DisabilitiesAct, which we believe is sort of a further manifestation of thebasic human rights. So we don't want -- when you say they're thesame in all countries -- no, countries normally, when they havemore wealth or more advanced democracy, find new ways to manifestthose rights. And to that extent, they can be different fromcountry to country.
Countries do have different religious and culturalinstitutions, but the whole purpose of the Universal Declarationof Human Rights was so that no country could get away withoppressing the basic humanity of any person on the grounds thatthey were somehow different from some other country. That's themost important point to be made. That's why there needed to be aUniversal Declaration.
MS. LOVELL: Judy Cato, Maryland Commissioner on Aging,and better known to her senior residents as manager of CounselHouse, and I know you have some concerns about indifference inour domestic lives.
COMMISSIONER CATO: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, Mr.Wiesel, ladies and gentlemen, there are no words to describe howexcited and honored I am to be here with our President and FirstLady, both of whom I adore.
Mr. Wiesel, in keeping with your lecture onindifference, I am very concerned about the families of ourelderly being indifferent and in denial about the needs of ourelderly. They put them in clean, safe housing like CounselHouse, and forget them.
Studies show that intergenerational involvement isbeneficial for all generations. But every day, I see the elderlyI work with wait and wait and wait to see their children andtheir grandchildren, only to be disappointed. The elderly thenbecome very lonely and depressed. They feel useless and begin towithdraw within themselves.
As medical research and science cause us to livelonger, we must be concerned that our elderly population willcontinue to increase. Indifference and denial has a negativeeffect on our personal and family lives. Mr. Wiesel, how do youthink we can overcome this increasing family problem?
MRS. CLINTON: It's very important as we get older thatwe address this issue. (Laughter.)
MR. WIESEL: Where I come from we used to respect oldpeople. I had a grandfather, a grandmother -- for me, they wereso important. I was looking forward twice a year to see themwhen they came during the holidays. And it was a celebration forme, literally -- I was so excited. Although they lived sevenkilometers away from my town, but I saw them only twice a year, Iwas so excited -- more than when I go to Paris today by Concorde.Believe me, it was so special.
Today, what is happening? Science is making progress.Medical technology is making tremendous progress. People livelonger. But the moment they live longer, we throw them away. Atbest, we send them to Florida. At best. (Laughter.) We don'twant to see them. I would have kept my grandfather in my homeall year long.
What should we do? I think we should teach ourchildren to respect the elderly. But I would -- if I had powerwhat I would do, I would organize in every community thatchildren in kindergarten, almost, once a month they should go toold-age homes, with little tape recorders and speak to them, andask them to tell a story, sing our songs. It's good for both --the children because they will learn something about the future,and the old people because they will give their past to the youngpeople. What you need is imagination, and, of course, somemeasure of compassion. MRS. CLINTON: This question is from Mary JaneHalliard, in Orlando, Florida, and it's also for Mr. Wiesel: Ijust finished reading 'Night,' the first book in your trilogy.My granddaughter is 12 years old and in the sixth grade. She isvery bright, and for extra credit her teacher has recommendedthat she read 'Night.' I do think everyone should read it, butnot at such a tender age. I've had nightmares about it, and I'm62. How you survived and didn't go crazy is a miracle. At whatage do you think a child should read your trilogy?
MR. WIESEL: There is no age, really. I don't know howold Chelsea was when she read -- she was 12, probably when shetold you, when -- she was the one who actually told you to readme. (Laughter.)
It's really the parents, or the teacher must decide,and, actually, the child, herself or himself, must decide. Wemust be guided by the children. We should not impose reading,any reading about the Holocaust, on children. We should not doit. It must come from the child. At one point the child willsay, tell me about it, what happened, and why did it happen? Andthen we should be ready with the book, other books, and answers.But not before that. Otherwise, it's counterproductive. Thechild will resent it, and why make a child resent such reading?
MS. LOVELL: I'd like to recognize Azizah al-Hibri,who's a Professor of Law at the University of Richmond. She'salso the founder and President of Qura'ma, (spelling) MuslimWomen Lawyers for Human Rights.
PROFESSOR AL-HIBRI: Thank you, Mr. Wiesel, for yourinsightful discussion on the nature and consequences ofindifference. In Kosovo, our country has chosen to stand up forits ideals, and for the human rights of individuals not even itsown. It did so, thanks to the courageous leadership of ourPresident, who refused to look away, even though he has just beenthrough a very difficult year.
I thank you, Mr. President, for your courage. And Ithank Mrs. Clinton for your active interest in relief efforts.
As persons of faith, Mr. Wiesel, Mr. President and Mrs.Clinton, you must share my frustration at the fact that so manyof the atrocities in this world have been committed in the nameof religion. All three Abrahamic religions -- Islam,Christianity and Judaism -- teach love, kindness and compassion.But each has used -- each has been used as a tool of oppressionand suffering.
Both Muslims and Jews believe that saving a single lifeis like saving the life of a whole people. Christians believe inloving one's enemy. Yet, until the recent events in Kosovo, theworld has exhibited profound indifference to Muslim suffering,especially the suffering of women and children in various partsof the world.
Given this shameful record, one cannot but wonder,where are our Abrahamic principles being practiced in the worldtoday? More importantly, how can we help our children develop apeaceful and caring world view that better approximates thevalues of our faiths?
MR. WIESEL: Before answering -- Ellen, how manyminutes do we have?
MS. LOVELL: We have time. MR. WIESEL: We have time? Okay. All right. What yousaid, of course, is correct, but some religions did less thanothers. Forgive me, but the Jewish religion is a religion, andbecause of maybe social and political and historic circumstances,we didn't have the power for 2,000 years even to impose ourreligion on others, or to speak on behalf of our religion and --we didn't do that. We couldn't, and maybe we wouldn't.
Now, in general, the problem with religion is when itbecomes fanatic. As everything else, nationalism may be good,patriotism may be good, but if it goes beyond, then it becomesfanaticism. And fanaticism produces exactly what you said --killing, violence, hatred -- because then, the person whobelieves in God believes that only he or she has God's ear; thatonly he or she has the right to speak in God's name; that only heor she knows what God wants, only he or she has the power and,therefore, the right to impose his or her belief on others. Inother words, that fanatic person wants to be the jailer of all ofus. They would like us to be their prisoners. They actuallywould like God to become their prisoner.
Therefore, I believe one of the most important dutiesthat we have today is to fight fanaticism. The real threathanging on the 21st century, Mr. President and Hillary, isfanaticism. Imagine fanaticism combined with power, what itwould do, what it does already in certain countries, as youmentioned -- the Taliban or the Iranians. Imagine with nuclearpower, bacteriological power. So we must fight fanaticism.
How does one do that? I know only word. I am ateacher. I believe whatever the answer is, education is itsmajor component.
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to just offer a couple ofobservations, if I might.
First of all, I think one of the most hopeful signs Ihave seen to deal with this whole issue of religious fanaticismin the last few years is the enormous support of Jews in Americaand throughout the world for the Muslim populations of Bosnia andKosovo. I think it doesn't answer all the questions of whatshould be the details of the resolution between the Israelis andthe Palestinians, it doesn't solve all the problems, buteverybody should see that this is a good thing. I think that theAmerican Jewish community was maybe the most ardent community,earliest, for the United States stepping forward in Kosovo. AndI think we have to see that as a good thing.
Secondly, I think this whole question of the treatmentof women and children by the Taliban has aroused a vocalopposition among members of the Muslim community around the worldwho feel that they can say this and not be betraying their faith.I think this is a good thing.
Now, I would just like to make two other points, one ofwhich is to agree with Elie on this one point. I agree oneducation, but education for what? There are a lot of geniusesthat are tyrants. What is it that we're going to educate.
I believe that every good Jew, every good Christian andevery good Muslim, if you believe that love is the central valueof the religion, you have to ask yourself, why is that? Thereason is, we are not God, we might be wrong. Every one of us --I might be wrong about what I've been advocating here tonight.It's only when you recognize the possibility that you might bewrong or, to use the language of St. Paul, that we see throughthe glass darkly, that we know only in part, that you can givethe other person some elbow room.
And somehow, one or two central scriptural tenets fromJudaism, from Islam, from the Koran and from Christianity, needto be put in one little place and need to be propagatedthroughout the world -- to preach a little humility, if youplease. Otherwise, we'll never get there.
The second point I wanted to make is this: A lot ofthese people that are saying this in the name of religion,they're kidding. They know perfectly well that religion hasnothing to do with it. It's about power and control, and they'remanipulating other people. And when it is, if it's someone whopractices our faith, we've got to have the guts to stand up andsay that. And it's hard, but we have to.
MRS. CLINTON: I just would follow up on that, becauseI think that the point about standing up and speaking out whenyou believe your faith or your religion is being misappropriated,misused, is critical.
Because if one looks at the central tenants of thegreat monotheistic religions, there's so much similarity in, asyou were pointing out, the role of faith in our lives, themeaning of love, our relationship with God and our relationshipwith one another and the duties that our faith imposes upon us.And what happens too often is what we've been talking abouttonight in more of a political context, also in religion -- thatwhen it is time to stand up, we often say, well, they're a littleextreme, but I don't want to be mistaken as someone who might beundercutting the faith, so I won't speak up against those fanaticChristians or those fanatic Jews or those fanatic Muslims,because then, they might turn and say that I'm not a goodChristian or a good Jew or a good Muslim.
And I think there is a really important opportunity inthis next century for people of faith -- particularly Jews,Christians and Muslims -- to come together in more of an alliancethat does speak out against fanaticism wherever one finds it.
It is very hard to find support in the Scriptures, theOld Testament, the New Testament or in the Koran that supportmany of the misuses of power that are used against people of thesame or similar religion. Yet, we often don't hear that in aunited voice. And one of the efforts that Bill and I have beentrying to make over the last six and a half years is to reach outin our own country and reach out around the world to people ofgood faith who recognize and accept the perils of indifferenceand who are willing to stand against intolerance and speak out,as much as they are able.
So it's a very critical point you raise and it will beincreasingly important in the years to come. And I think there'sa real opportunity of these three great faiths to form a moreunited front on behalf of this stand against fanaticism.
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to make one more pointwhich I think is very important in the dealings between the Westand the Islamic countries, generally -- and I will use Iran as anexample.
It may be that the Iranian people have been taught tohate or distrust the United States or the West on the groundsthat we are infidels and outside the faith. And, therefore, itis easy for us to be angry and to respond in kind. I think it isimportant to recognize, however, that Iran, because of itsenormous geopolitical importance over time, has been the subjectof quite a lot of abuse from various Western nations. And Ithink sometimes it's quite important to tell people, look, youhave a right to be angry at something my country or my culture orothers that are generally allied with us today did to you 50 or60 or 100 or 150 years ago. But that is different from sayingthat I am outside the faith, and you are God's chosen.
So sometimes people will listen to you if you tellthem, you're right, but your underlying reason is wrong. So wehave to find some way to get dialogue -- and going into totaldenial when you're in a conversation with somebody who's beenyour adversary, in a country like Iran that is often worriedabout its independence and its integrity, is not exactly the wayto begin.
So I think while we speak out against religiousintolerance, we have to listen for possible ways we can givepeople the legitimacy of some of their fears, or some of theirangers, or some of their historic grievances, and then say theyrest on other grounds; now, can we build a common future? Ithink that's very important. Sometimes I think we in the UnitedStates, and Western culture generally, we hate to do that. Butwe're going to have to if we want to have an ultimateaccommodation.
MRS. CLINTON: But I would also add -- this issomething we talk about a lot --
THE PRESIDENT: You can tell we're obsessed with this.(Laughter.)
MRS. CLINTON: -- is this whole issue of history, andthat's something that we've touched on, but haven't directlyaddressed. You know, occasionally, when Bill and I are eitherentertaining people from other countries here, or travelingabroad, we'll get together at the end of the day and trade notesand stories about what occurred. And we're often struck by howdifferent the conversation is with people from other countriesand cultures.
I remember asking the wife of a president from acountry I won't name how things were in her capital. And shestarted the conversation by talking about the Crusades.(Laughter.) And half an hour later we were in the 18th century.(Laughter.) And it is very hard for Americans -- we are oftenaccused of not having any respect for our own history and notknowing it very well, and so being almost too present- orfuture-oriented. It's very hard for us to understand the gripthat history has on people.
So the difficult challenge -- and Bill is saying we'vegot to understand where people are coming from, but we also haveto somehow think of how we can create conditions in which peoplecan be freed from the grip of history in a way that allows themto build a better present and a better future. After a certainpoint you can only be dragged down if you are constantlyrelitigating or reliving or refighting the past. And so how dowe move forward on that front, as well?
MR. WIESEL: We forgot one point. A sense of humor.(Laughter.) The best answer to fanaticism is a sense of humor.The fanatic doesn't have a sense of humor. (Laughter.)
MS. LOVELL: I'm going to recognize Ativa Desusa(phonetic.) He's a student at the University of Maryland. Hemoved here from Trinidad at age 10 and he's been part of the"Bringing the Lessons Home" program for fouryears.
MR. DESUSA (phonetic:) Thank you. Good evening, Mr.President, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Wiesel. My question thisafternoon is -- because I am from Trinidad and I've been heresince I was 10 years old, so it's most of my life now, I've hadthe opportunity to experience this country, one, as an immigrantand, two, as an African American male living here. And myquestion is: Given the influx of immigrants into this country inrecent history and, as we can see, coming in over the next fewyears where basically America's minority will soon become itsmajority, can we achieve a global society in both social andeconomic terms? And, if so, how do we, one, as the leaders, andtwo, the youth, get there?
MR. WIESEL: I listen to you and -- I came here, I wasolder than you, but I came as a refugee, as a stateless person,and here I am. I think of themes for novelists, my life is for anovel. Can you imagine coming from where I come from and be herein the White House with the President of the United States, whensome 50-odd years ago, I couldn't get a visa anywhere -- and 60years ago, I belonged to those who were not even considered humanbeings. But here I am. When I think about it, I'm always filledwith wonder, a sense of wonder -- gratitude, also, to thisnation, to the humanity it represents.
I think what we should teach -- again, teaching -- ourpeople is to accept the stranger who is no longer the stranger,and see in him or her the messenger, with so many stories, withlessons, with memories, with all kinds of experiences that arenot ours. But we receive them, and make them ours.
It's a matter of communication, which means education.I come back to it again and again -- we must educate. I don'tknow any other way. Educate, to begin educating fromkindergarten, and then in elementary school, and then thecolleges, and then the media. The media, I think, often, toooften, forget that their task also is to educate the reader, orthe viewer. It's education. Nothing else can substituteeducation.
THE PRESIDENT: I would just make two points. I think,first of all, I think given the fact that we're living in an ageof globalization, where, whether we like it or not, more and moreof our economic and cultural and other contacts will crossnational lines, it is, in fact, a very good thing that sometimein the next century there will be no single majority racialgroup.
But I should also tell you that before, we had largenumbers of African Americans coming who were not here -- directdescendants from slaves, but others coming, like you did, fromthe Caribbean. And before we had large numbers of Hispanics, ahundred years ago, Irish immigrants to this country were treatedas if they were of a different racial group. So we've always hadthese tensions.
But I think if we can learn to live together across ourracial and religious lines, in a way that not just respects, butactually celebrates our diversity, that does it within theframework, as I said, of a common fabric of shared values andshared opportunity, I think that will be quite a good thing forthe 21st century. I think it will make America stronger, notweaker. So I look forward to that.
The second thing I want to say is I think that to getthere we're going to have to more broadly find a way to have moreeconomic and educational balance in the share of wealth, in theshare of knowledge, across all of our racial and ethnic groups.There is no easy way to achieve that. But I am convinced that --and I see your colleague, Mr. Silver, out here, who's thoughtabout this a great deal in his life -- I'm convinced thatlowering standards for people who come from poor backgrounds isnot the answer.
I think we should raise standards and invest moreresources in helping people achieve them. And then I think weneed to provide the incentives in every neighborhood, in everyNative American reservation, in every rural area, that made theeconomy work elsewhere. It will never be perfectly done, but wecan do a much, much better job of it. And unless we do a muchbetter job educationally and economically, then we won't have allthe benefits from our racial diversity that we could otherwiseenjoy.
MRS. CLINTON: I also think that, in addition to theeducational and economic challenges that we have to address as asociety, which are the really critical ways that we will enablepeople to live together peacefully and in prosperity in thefuture, there are some things individuals can do. And oftentimesin conversations like these, some people think, well, I don't runa school, I don't even have kids in school; I have my own work todo; I can't worry about how we try to upgrade opportunities forothers; so there's really nothing for me to do. And, in fact, Ithink there is a lot for individuals to do.
One of the consequences of the President's raceinitiative is that we were reminded once again how often peoplejust don't spend time with others who are unlike themselves inany meaningful way.
We actually went around and did some discussions withpeople and we would ask: How many of you have ever had a meal inthe home of someone of a different race? And there would be veryfew hands that went up. We would say: How many of you have everworked on a common community project with somebody of a differentrace? How many have ever visited a house of worship of somebodyfrom a different religion?
So there are many ways that, on an individual basis, wecan do more to break down the barriers of indifference andotherness. And they're not big things, they don't grabheadlines. But I remember being so struck by the woman who usedto be my chief of staff, named Maggie Williams, who is an AfricanAmerican woman, who, in the process of talking about this oneday, said how she remembered when her mother, who was a teacher,became friends at the workplace at a school with a woman who is awhite teacher. And they were determined to try to model thiskind of behavior, so they were going to eat dinner at eachother's house. And it was a simple thing and some people madefun of them for doing it.
And Maggie said, you know, my family didn't want to go,my mother made us go. We'd never been in a white person's housebefore, we didn't know what to expect. She said it was thebeginning of breaking down a lot of my own stereotypes.
So it's not just what whites feel about blacks. It'swhat blacks feel about whites; it's what Hispanics from differentkinds of backgrounds feel about each other. We can just go groupby group.
And so the more we can break that down, so that thenyou can say to children and young people, this doesn't -- beingtolerant doesn't mean you have to like everybody. There arepeople just in the course of human life you're not going to like,but you will show respect to everyone. You will have a feelingthat that person has as much right to his or her beliefs and heror his place in America as you do. And it's that kind ofeducation -- not just what goes on in a classroom, but whathappens in a home, what happens in a religious upbringing -- thatis really important to how we deal with this in the future.
MS. LOVELL: Well, last we'll hear from Father DrewChristianson, Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center atGeorgetown University and Counselor for the U.S. CatholicConference.
FR. CHRISTIANSON: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, thankyou for this wonderful Millennium Evening, and thank you for anextraordinary seminar. And I hope when you leave the White Houseyou both will teach, because you're wonderful teachers.
Mr. Wiesel, thank you for sharing your wisdom andgiving your witness once again this evening. At the end of yourtalk, your very last phrase was go into the new millennium withan extraordinary hope. The question I have for each of you isthat given the carnage and inhumanity we've seen in this century,and even, somewhat unexpectedly, in this decade, whence comesthat extraordinary hope?
MR. WIESEL: It comes from hopelessness. Albert Camus,the French philosopher, said, where there is no hope, we mustinvent it. And there was no hope.
In truth -- hope in what? Faith in hope. Culture? Doyou know that over in Auschwitz, "Arbeit Macht Frei," which wastheir famous -- infamous, "Arbeit" -- do you know where it comesfrom? From Hegel, the great philosopher. One of the greatestphilosophers in Germany. Hegel.
So why should we believe in them? TheEinsatzkommanders -- the leaders, the commanders, all of them, ormost of them, at least, had college degrees, and some of them hadPh.D.'s and M.D.'s. That's culture? That's education? Forwhat? And we say it's because there was no hope, we must inventit. It's all in our hands.
But since this is the last question, I don't likeanswers, but I like stories. So I'll tell you a story.(Laughter.) The story is, how to fight indifference, really, isto assume it and to take it as something that belongs to me, andfor me to deal with it.
The story is that once upon a time there was anemperor, and the emperor heard that in his empire there was aman, a wise man with occult powers. He had all the powers in theworld. He knew when the wind was blowing what messages it wouldcarry from one country to another. He read the clouds and herealized that the clouds had a design. He knew the meaning ofthat design.
He heard the birds. He understood the language of thebirds, the chirping of the birds carried messages. And then heheard there was a man who also knew how to read another person'smind. I want to see him, said the emperor. They found him.They brought him to the emperor. Is it true that you know how toread the clouds? Yes, Majesty. Is it true you know the languageof the birds? Yes, Majesty. What about the wind? Yes, I know.Okay, says the emperor. I have in my hands behind my back abird. Tell me, is it alive or not?
And the wise man was so afraid that whatever he wouldsay would be a tragedy, that if he were to say that the bird isalive, the emperor, in spite, would kill it. So he looked at theemperor for a long time, smiled, and said, Majesty, the answer isin your hands. (Laughter.)
It's always in our hands.
MS. LOVELL: Well, Juan and others, so many storiesthat won't get told tonight, but thank you.
And Mr. President, your final remarks.
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think there's much to say,except to thank you again for once again giving us your witnessand for the powerful example of your life. We thank your familyfor joining us. And I thank all of you for caring about this.
I believe there's grounds for hope. I think thehistory of this country is evidence. I think the civil rightsmovement is evidence. I think the life and triumph of NelsonMandela is evidence. I think evidence abounds.
What we all have to remember is somehow how to strikethe proper balance of passion and humility. I think our guesttonight has done it magnificently, and I thank him. Thank youvery much. (Applause.)
What's New - April 1999
The Washington Summit
Union of American Hebrew Congregations Dinner
Remarks by President Clinton and Secretary General Solana
Humanitarian Relief Organizations
Remarks on Kosovo
Remarks Before Departing for NATO Summit
Teacher of the Year Ceremony
Statement on Efforts to Respond to Crisis in Kosovo
Education Flexibility Act Signing
Remarks at NATO Commemorative Ceremony
Patients' Bill of Rights Event
Remarks on Strategy Session
Presentation of the Medal of Freedom
Annual White House Easter Egg Roll
Remarks to Military Personnel at Barksdale AFB
Remarks at Hate Crimes Announcement
Remarks on the Economy
Statement on Kosovo
Remarks in Foreign Policy Speech
Statement on School Shootings
Lessons Learned from a Violent Century
Roundtable Discussion on Equal Pay
Remarks at Volunteer Event
Announces USA Accounts
Press Conference with Zhu Rongji
Call to Aviano Troops
American Society of Newspaper Editors
President Clinton Welcomes Premier Zhu Rongji
Statement on Unemployment and Kosovo
Statement Upon Departure from the White House
National Medal of Science and Technology Awards Ceremony
T.C. Williams High School Discussion
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