Is there a modern parallel to "Holocaust"? I asked myself that question the other night as I watched the first episode in the series and remembered that, during the days it pictured, we Americans could have rescued the people portrayed in the film and did not do so.
Not that it was a conscious decision on all of our individual parts. As a people, we didn't know how Jews were being treated in Germany. But our State Department knew at least to some extent and decided not to recommend action. We were at the time isolationist-minded. We were also going through a major depression. Was our government afraid to suggest that we take in large numbers of jobless immigrants?
In any event, as the story on the screen revealed, we did nothing. And it seems to me that there is a modern parallel. Something a little like what happened in Germany is taking place today in Uganda and, although we are more conscious of it, we are again doing nothing.
The parallel is not exact. Hitler set out to exterminate Jews. Idi Amin seems to have a preference for exterminating Christians, but he is by no means systematic - anybody will do. Recently a young man named Remigius Kintu, an escapee from Uganda, told me how it was done.
I don't suppose it matters how people are exterminated. But somehow the details make the reality as the word "exterminate" does not.
Kintu explained: Idi Amin's guards like to castrate prisoners; they like to force people to kill each other by hitting each other with hammers; they like to cut a small hole in a prisoner's intestines and then, while he is still conscious, insert fire crackers connected to a fuse, then stand back and watch what happens.
Kintu said Amin rewards his army for this sort of ingenuity. His chief of training in the army for example, achieved rapid promotion after publicly dismembering the body of a local mayor and then licking the sword.
I mention all this in connection with "Holocaust" because it seems to me that it's wrong to the children and young adults of America today to say to themselves, "Well, that happened before I was born, and people don't behave that way any more."
The fact is that people do behave that way, and are now behaving that way, and what people should be saying to themselves instead is, "What can I do about it?"
Kintu, who has formed a Committee on Uganda to try to interest us in what is going on in his country, asks us to do a very simple thing. He asks us to stop buying Ugandan coffee, the revenue from which is the means by which Amin raises the hard cash to keep himself in power.
Amin confiscates the coffee from the farmers and sells it himself, retaining all profits. He sells it chiefly to U.S. companies. The brand names of the coffee you buy, part of which comes from Uganda - according to Kintu and confirmed by a congressional source - include Maxwell House, Sanka, Nescafe, Folger's and Mellow Roast.
These companies could go elsewhere for the Ugandan green coffee which they add to their mixture. But it would be troublesome for them to break off old and established trade relations, and they will certainly not take the trouble unless you and I complain.
I did not complain at the time of the Holocaust because I was in junior high school.
But as the Bible says, "When I was a child, I understood as a child." We are old enough now to put away childish things.