[OPINION] The danger of neutrality

When Nazi Germany was defeated in World War II, the slaughter of millions of Jews and prisoners of war came to light globally. What remains of concentration camps, which have been hidden from sight for years, revealed the atrocities that the Adolf Hitler-led regime committed against those incarcerated therein.

Notable are the findings of the Allied Forces in the concentration camp of Buchenwald in Weimar, Germany. During its existence, the camp housed an estimated total of 280,000 inmates, 56,545 of which died of either starvation, exhaustion, illness, human experimentation, suffocation in gas chambers, or summary execution, in what seemed like a measure of industrialized mass killing.

Horrific news of the death toll shocked the senses, but all the more appalling was the attitude of the townsfolk near the Buchenwald extermination site. When the facility was liberated, it was discovered that the Germans who lived in nearby towns claimed they knew nothing of what happened in the camp and that they were similarly surprised. These were their claims despite the soot that fell on their towns from the mass burning of bodies, the stench of decaying corpses, and the sight of prisoners through the wire mesh that fenced around the camp. The townsfolk turned a blind eye or simply did not care.

While these events happened years ago, the attitude of looking away and simply ignoring the facts of wrongdoing remain in society. Today, there are still some of us who feel that being in the middle, and staying quiet and inoffensive, is the way to go, seemingly leaving out what history has taught us about such a frame of mind.

The most prevalent modern version of this attitude is the idea of neutrality. Despite better access to verified information about the old and the new horrors that happened and are happening in the world and our country, there are still those who refuse to choose a side in the guise of keeping the peace, on top of claims of fairness and impartiality, which are all, clearly, misguided.

By definition, neutrality means the state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict; it is the absence of decided views, expression, or strong feeling on a matter at hand. The way the word is used in various media today, especially by those who have platforms wide enough to claim commentary weight, reveals that to assume neutrality is to have a convenient defense against critique, debate, and self-assessment.

However, what most fail to understand is neutrality is not a mere opinion; it is a personal stance against everything good. It is not an escape route, but rather, a tool to aid the guilty. In plain, to be neutral means to not support anything, even the good in the face of the bad. What, then, does this make of us? 

Those who choose neutrality in the face of moral crisis become catalysts for even more atrocities, impunity, and injustice, much like the townsfolk who lived near Buchenwald more than 70 years ago. The failure or, rather, lack of interest to act on a recognized problem, by denying the facts that constitute it, sends a message of support to those who perpetrate it. While no support is lent to the good, the bad feasts on the apathetic attitude and self-imposed ignorance of those who claim to be neutral. To be neutral is to become an accomplice to the deeds of the demons that haunt us.

The danger of neutrality also hits close to home. In the Philippines, many turn a blind eye to the actual threat of incompetent leaders, widespread corruption, and padrino politics in the guise of being supportive of the government as one nation. High-profile entertainers and famous individuals keep silent on public officials who pilfer public funds, order extrajudicial killings, and revise established history for the misguided notion of fairness and justice because they allegedly have “a story to tell.”

The problem with this attitude is clear in our history as human beings. Among the sheer examples happened in World War II, when Nazi Germany made great progress in establishing its empire in Europe because the Allied Forces initially turned a blind eye to their advance, paving way for the massacre of millions that took place in hundreds of concentration camps established by the regime. The neutrality of those capable of stopping the problem at its root allowed the matter to snowball into catastrophic levels, not only in concentration camps but in every place of war overall. 

In our country, we are faced with questions today that will determine who we are in the years to come. Do we wait until it’s all over before we take a stand? Do we wait until the damage becomes overwhelming before we support the good and condemn the bad? Do we wait until the political turmoil, war on drugs, historical revisionism, and public funds heist are over before we realize the contribution that our neutrality had to the harm they all caused? The answers to these questions should be no, because what we do now, how we stand and make known such, will define how evolved we are as a society to learn from the mistakes of the past.

In the words of Dante Alighieri, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”

This is the time to shed our false sense of quiet. Wake up! – Rappler.com

Joshua L. Labonera is a 27-year old junior law student from San Beda University College of Law-Mendiola, who believes that the ultimate power to determine the future of the Philippines rests in the hands of its people.