Each year, our nation sets aside days in remembrance of events we deem important to remember as Americans.
As a society.
We do this to ensure we will always remember the individuals, moments and historic events that helped shape our nation and the world around us — whether it be to celebrate when we got things right or to learn from the lessons of getting it wrong. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, July Fourth — taking time to remember these days and other days like them assures that we never forget who we are and, more importantly, how we got here.
To deliver a speech on Memorial Day without mentioning the ultimate sacrifice paid by our veterans would be the first step in diluting the memory of the terrible cost of war and those who paid the price.
The same could be said for speaking at the Pearl Harbor Memorial without mentioning those who remain entombed within the submerged hull of the USS Arizona. Imagine the outcry that would ensue in the wake of such an oversight, whether accidental or purposeful.
If a pop star forgets the words to the Star Spangled Banner, the reaction is generally swift and unforgiving.
So I’m left scratching my head over the mixed reaction to the National Holocaust Remembrance Day speech delivered by President Trump, who failed to mention the 6 million Jews who were exterminated as part of the Nazi Party’s “Final Solution.”
I say “failed to mention” rather than “omitted” because I want to believe it was a rookie mistake. Over the course of the last 16 years, Presidents Bush and Obama have mentioned the genocide each year in their National Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches. I realize that they were essentially career politicians savvy with public speaking on the world stage.
President Trump is not a career politician, which is one of the reasons he appealed to so many — and why I have been going against my gut instinct and giving him the benefit of the doubt.
After watching part of the speech on television, I decided to find the speech and read it myself, expecting to find a reference to Jews or anti-Semitism that he had mistakenly overlooked.
I found no such reference.
Over the course of the next several hours, I listened to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Strategic Communications Director Hope Hicks defend the decision to not specifically mention the Jews in order to be “more inclusive” of the estimated 5 million others who were also murdered — specifically, “Gypsies, the mentally ill, Jehovah’s Witnesses, resistance fighters” and others.
While I agree that remembering the more than 11 million people who fell victim to the Nazi regime throughout Europe, not mentioning the 6 million who were specifically targeted for extermination is to miss the point of why we remember this day.
As writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”
To omit the fact that the majority of those targeted for extermination belonged to a single group is to dilute the horrific history lesson we must never forget — that one man somehow wielded the power to decide the fate of an entire people in his bid for world domination.
If we allow history to be homogenized, we lose the reference points that guide future generations toward decisions that will either be used to either eliminate or emulate our mistakes from the past.
Whether “rookie mistake” or purposeful omission by speech writer and newly appointed White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, whose anti-Semitic stance has been well documented on his Breitbart News platform, we have an obligation to give our representatives at all levels a “gut check” when there’s reason to question their actions or inaction.
I don’t disagree with everything President Trump has done, anymore than I agreed with everything done by President Obama. We are at an important crossroads as a nation, and I am hopeful that this beginning turbulence will stir up the things that will help us remember the things that identify us as Americans.
A big reason for that hope is because, as Americans, we have always realized the importance of unflinchingly acknowledging our past…
Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation and and the editor at Siuslaw New. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.