Friday, June 22, 2018

Stéphane Hessel and the Importance of Being Outraged

by Nomad

Stéphane Frédéric Hessel isn't a name you are likely to recognize but that doesn't mean he wasn't an influential person who lived an uneventful life.
Before his death five years ago, the New York Times called Hessel “one of the last living heroes of the darkest era of the twentieth century.”

Tested by Circumstance

Heroes are shaped by the reactions to the circumstances they are born into. That is certainly true for Hessel, whose life reads very much like a film script.

Born in Berlin on October 20, 1917, Stéphane's parents moved to Paris when he was seven. On the eve of the Second World War, he became a French citizen.
When France surrendered to German in 1940, Hessel was arrested but managed to escape into Portugal by way of Oran and Casablanca. After a fortuitous win at a casino, he was able to continue his journey to Great Britain. There he met up with the French leader in exile, Charles DeGaulle. 

Working with de Gaulle in London, Hessel parachuted into occupied France in advance of the Allied invasion of 1944 to organize Resistance networks.The Gestapo captured him and he later was deported to the Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps, where he was tortured with "enhanced interrogation techniques" (verschärfte Vernehmung) namely waterboarding.
Despite being scheduled for hanging, Hessel somehow managed to escape his captors and took part in the liberation of Paris.
But that was not the end of his story.

After the war, he became an observer in the editing of one of the most important documents in modern history: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A Time for Outrage

Hessel and his 2010 book Time for Outrage! have been cited as an inspiration for the Spanish Indignados, the American Occupy Wall Street movement and other political movements.
Here's what he said about the importance of moral outrage.
If you want to be a real human being - a real woman, a real man - you cannot tolerate things which put you to indignation, to outrage. You must stand up. I always say to people, 'Look around; look at what makes you unhappy, what makes you furious, and then engage yourself in some action.'
True, it was not always so easy to overcome our indifference. Hessel saw that "the worst attitude." From his book, there's this quote:
It is true that the reasons for outrage today may seem less clear or the world more complicated. Who runs things? Who decides? It is not always easy to distinguish the answers from among all the forces that rule us.

It is no longer a question of a small elite whose schemes we can clearly comprehend. This is a vast world, and we see its interdependence. We are interconnected in ways we never were before, but some things in this world are unacceptable. To see this, you have only to open your eyes. I tell the young: just look, and you’ll find something.

The worst possible outlook is indifference that says, “I can’t do anything about it; I’ll just get by.” Behaving like that deprives you of one of the essentials of being human: the capacity and the freedom to feel outraged. That freedom is indispensable, as is the political involvement that goes with it.
In 2004, upon the 60th anniversary of the National Council of the Resistance, the veterans of the Resistance movements, along with the fight forces of Free France, Hessel and his compatriots issued this statement:
“Nazism was defeated, thanks to the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters of the Resistance and of the United Nations against fascist barbarity. But this menace has not completely disappeared, and our outrage at injustice remains intact to this day.”
The full text of Hessel's book- it's actually quite short- can be found here. His book has to date sold 4.5 million copies worldwide.