Funny, the Burmese Do Not Look Jewish

History is obvious back to front. We all know what happened and surely we know about the plight of Jews in Europe during the Second World War. Actually, we did not and for a good reason. It was ignored.

During the 6 years of the War, the New York Times had 26,000 front-page stories. Of these only 26 were about aspects of the Holocaust and none were on the coveted “ right side” of the page where the important news is shown. They are hardly alone. The US and especially the Foreign Office in the UK did not do any better. There are always reasons, some rational and some excuses. The point is that if we do not pay close attention we cannot assume that terrible things will not happen.

Each day I open the Times, front page and then the World Section. It took a bit of a search but I found the latest story by Hannah Beech, the Bureau Chief for South East Asia and a superb chronicler of the rise of autocracy in the region. She details the harrowing loss of emerging free societies from Thailand to Hong Kong. The scale in landmass and numbers of millions is both harrowing and prescient. When the New York Times reported on the Warsaw Ghetto, it was in terms of “ refugees seeking shelter”.

Myanmar is all but fully transformed into a military led government. Many have died it the streets or will die in the jails. Some deaths get noticed and some do not. Seeing this more broadly, Ms. Beech reports on the decline of open societies and institutions in an entire region of the world. Yet, for many of our passionate social “justicers”, the earth is surprisingly flat.

In the US, someone is always claiming the moral high ground. At times, it is a genuine aspiration. At others it is calculated posturing. Making claim to virtue is a risky business as it signals that your concern is universal and empathy expansive. As in the past, a reason can always be found for looking away. What we choose not to see is often, when looking back, more lasting and consequential.

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Professor of Medicine , essayist, practitioner, basic research and education ; reflections on medicine and modern society

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Joel B. Levine MD

Joel B. Levine MD

Professor of Medicine , essayist, practitioner, basic research and education ; reflections on medicine and modern society

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