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Letter from America
IT is not often that the opening of a museum helps to shape a nation's foreign policy. But the new Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has unquestionably played a role in the debate over American intervention in Bosnia. President Clinton spent over two hours looking at the museum's permanent exhibition and said the experience would leave him -forever changed". At the opening ceremony, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel drew an explicit parallel between the Nazis' atrocities and events in the former Yugoslavia.
The debate over American policy in the Balkans is being driven by several different factors including a widespread feeling that the US should not take unilateral action without the support of its European allies. In the aftermath of the Cold War there is no longer a consensus about the principles that should guide the country's foreign policy; the arguments for or against intervention cut across party lines. But the example of the Holocaust while incomparably different in scale is invoked to show that moral considerations cannot simply be dismissed. If the Holocaust Museum has influenced the debate, that is entirely in line with the ambitions of its organizers. It is quite deliberately a didactic institution. "Our position leads to an active stand against any kind of ethnic cleansing, ethnic hate, religious hate", says the museum's director, Jeshajahu Weinberg.
The idea that Americans can learn from the Holocaust is fundamental to the museum's purpose. When the project was announced nearly 15 years ago, some people questioned whether an European act of genocide was an appropriate subject for an American national monument. But the museum's backers argued that, in a country of immigrants from around the world, it would proclaim that such an event must never happen again. There is also a consistent emphasis on the role played by outsiders, particularly the US. in helping or failing to help the Jews.
Although the museum was funded and promoted by America's Jewish community, some Jewish thinkers are uneasy with the final result. One prominent journalist, Jonathan Rosen, has said it represents "The Americanisation of the Holocaust". He believes it is wrong to try to incorporate such an event within America's optimistic culture of self-improvement: "The murder of six million Jews is not a metaphor for suffering. It is not a metaphor for anything." Other writers have complained that it is simply a lavish way for the American government to ease its conscience over the failure to take stronger action at the time.
Yet, the museum has won widespread acclaim, and there have been long lines to get in. The material it contains is so powerful that it tends to sweep away any questions about its function or design. "With everything that's going on now", one early visitor commented, "we must confront the worst that can happen."
I covers and loose somewhere under the she is doing her hair and. each morning, they have the same ritual: he reaches under the covers, makes like a magician, and solemnly announces: "Out of nowhere, not rabbits but two yes, ladies and gentlemen, two white socks." Only a wife, he comments, would laugh.
The rest of us, however, will see in these stories a theology of marriage that few books and courses on that subject ever approximate. His memories are what a good theology of marriage should sound like.
Later in the book, reflecting on his own loneliness and the struggle we all have to touch each other, he comments that the road to intimacy is not easy for we are all built differently: "Some people want to talk; others would rather read the newspapers. Some people want to hang colourful curtains on the windows; others would rather panel the basement walls. Some people want to be embraced; others want to build a deck off the kitchen."
Small wonder that intimacy is a task!