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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004


Report on the Museum of Tolerance


My girlfriend and I visited the Museum of Tolerance on the afternoon of Sunday, July 25. At the entrance, a security guard had to check our identification, the trunk of our car, and the record the license plate number. To me this hardly qualifies as an “encroachment” of my “civil rights”, but alas was described as such in a conversation I overheard. What did bother me about it was the thought that somewhere there is someone with enough misguided hatred, enough ignorance and malice to want to destroy or deface something so valuable that only seeks to enlighten us about the history of our humanity. Do forgive me, but there is no way I can say this elegantly; one would have to be really, painfully, stupid to be threatened by the story of the holocaust.


We began our tour with the segment dedicated to tolerance, in and of itself. We were given the choice of going through a door for the “prejudiced”, and a door for the “unprejudiced”. Being conscious of the fact that I am prejudiced, (though I do consider myself an equal opportunity cynic) I chose the door for the prejudiced (which of course drew some odd looks from the others). My ideas were confirmed as it turned out we could only enter through the door for the prejudiced (ha!). We sat in the “Point of View Diner” and watched a scenario of hate speech and the consequences of. Personally, I make no apologies for hateful, incendiary speech, writing, or film; but I do feel that the issue was slightly oversimplified in the POV Diner. I was presented with the question “Should hate speech be outlawed?” My answer would be an emphatic yes, given that we could objectively identify hate speech and consistently outlaw it. But I fear this is no simple task, there are all types of hate, and in our political atmosphere any type of law against speech would only fall victim to exploitation by people of opposing viewpoints. After watching the short film about the white radio host who served as an example of “hate speech”, I left the POV Diner with one question: If that white radio host qualifies as a racist, then can we not consider most, if not all, mainstream black comedians racist as well? (For the record, I am Hispanic)


We then moved on to a timeline of human rights violations, and again, though I found it interesting I could not help but notice that some things were slightly oversimplified. One example of this was the mention of the “Zoot Suit Riots”, labeled simply as a racial riot against Mexicans (there is a lot more to this story, but I will not digress). Then we saw a film about more recent genocides: Milosevic’s “ethnic cleansing” and the massacre of Tutsi’s in Rwanda. These events were not new to me, although some of the footage was. Fortunately, NATO got involved in Eastern Europe and Milosevic was brought to justice; but in Rwanda there was no such intervention. What struck me about Rwanda was the fact that my girlfriend and many of those in our group had never heard of this event, even though it happened so recently. So I was left asking why, with so many human rights’ groups claiming to be working in third world countries, nothing was done to stop such an atrocity. No protests, no intervention, no anti-genocide movements? Why?


We moved on to the holocaust segment, which is what I found the most interesting. What the Museum of Tolerance offered me that other accounts of the holocaust did not was a better understanding of how Europe was before and during the holocaust. The reproductions of Nazi propaganda, Nazi graffiti, and the bookstore with copies of Mein Kampf in the window, the conversations in a café in Berlin, all gave me a clearer picture of the atmosphere in pre-war Germany. Staring at the actual uniforms of the SS, I could see what would psychologically drive a young man to commit such atrocities. The skull on the dagger, the elaborate embellishments on a hat; all brilliantly designed to give the soldier a sense of supremacy and invincibility. Understanding how it must have felt to wear that uniform, I can understand how so many people surrendered their morality to serve Hitler. That gray coat, that hat, and those boots represent the greatest perversion of a person’s conviction.



In Retrospect


Before my visit to the Museum of Tolerance, I was under the impression that I more or less knew what Europe’s Jews had gone through during the holocaust, but of course I was wrong. I have always had an interest in World War II and the events leading up to it. I feel that the victory over the Nazi regime was a genuinely proud moment in the history of the United States and the history of humanity.


Sadly, before they were defeated, Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich were able to massacre millions of innocent Jews and effectively carve the darkest, most sinister mark in the history of humanity. During my visit to the museum of tolerance, I learned about how reluctant the United States and other countries were to get involved. World War I left us, in particular, with a very isolationist view toward world affairs that overpowered our sense of moral obligation. Ideally, politics should yield to ethics; but in this case politics prevailed over ethics.    


I also find it sad that knowing the extent of Adolf Hitler’s malice, we have no qualms about comparing him to those modern day politicians and political groups whom we disagree with. It is with reckless abandon that politicians are likened to Hitler, political groups likened to the Gestapo, the SS, fascists, and “Brownshirts”. Every time we throw these words around we trivialize them, we strip the weight of what are some very heavy words.