Could Organ Harvesting Atrocities Really Be True?
A History of Silence Suggests "Yes"
“[Our findings] represent a grotesque form of evil which, despite all the depravations humanity has seen, would be new to this planet. The very horror makes us reel back in disbelief. But that disbelief does not mean that the allegations are untrue.”
Thus began David Matas and David Kilgour in the preface to their recent report into organ harvesting from living Falun Gong members in China, knowing full well the challenges, moral and visceral, the report might pose for its readers and legislatures in the free world. To paraphrase Al Gore: we’re dealing with “an inconvenient genocide.”
If Matas and Kilgour’s remark was forward looking in its prescience, perhaps it was equally a mix of hindsight. That is, in the 20th century there is a haunting legacy for this sort of thing. For in the Holocaust lies a tale of immense indifference and disbelief in the face of documented, concrete acts of evil. The parallels are chilling.
First, much akin to the U.S. relations with 1930s Germany, today’s China is very much economically interwoven with our country; just glimpse around any office and check how many items bear the label “made in China” for quick confirmation. A vast array of powerful interests and institutions want, or believe they “need,” China to be a normal, prosperous, uneventful place.
U.S. corporations have even gone so far as to sell internet surveillance technology to China’s communist leaders, who use it to arrest the likes of democracy advocates and underground Christians. It is extremely hard for persons in China to get the word out about the injustices they suffer.
China’s regime, meanwhile, spends tens of millions each year on sophisticated international PR firms to foster and reinforce this image of normality. Many lap it up. You can sleep easier at night this way, after all; it’s easier to still dream about striking oil in China in the absence of things like kidneys being carved out of living prisoners of conscience.
Persons of Chinese descent are no longer exotic, foreign nationals but part of our nation too, and thus, we share in the same humanity. It’s hard to picture your neighbor applying scalding iron rods to someone on a torture rack, after all.
According to Martin Kalb, in his remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum several years back, this was a major factor in the Nazi case. “Many people simply could not believe that the German people, so highly educated, so sophisticated, so cultured, would be engaged–or could be engaged–in the systematic extermination of the Jews,” Kalb stated.
So much so, in fact, that the Olympics were held in Nazi Germany. The regime made the event into a tremendous publicity stunt, reassuring the world all was normal. Many suggest that the 2008 Beijing Olympics is history repeating itself, pure and simple.
Kalb and others also indicate that government leaders, even once aware of a crisis of Holocaust proportions, might respond with a cold incredulity. In one instance, President Roosevelt urged Rabbi Stephen Wise to stop badgering him for immediate intervention in the then-unfolding Jewish Holocaust, even though it was by then known that 2 million Jews had been murdered. “The mills of the gods,” Roosevelt reportedly said, “grind slowly.”
In the more recent case of Rwanda’s genocide, state officials proved all too credulous, only in the wrong way: they were eager to hear the reassurances of the very perpetrators of genocide. Again, for reasons of convenience.
Samantha Power, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, has said, “Because most official contact occurs between representatives of states, U.S. officials were predisposed to trust the assurances of Rwandan officials, several of whom were plotting genocide behind the scenes.”
In the case of claims of Falun Gong organ harvesting in China, the U.S. State Department dismissed the issue after staff members were given show tours of Chinese hospitals. Little, if anything, has been done since, despite three witnesses from China emerging to testify to the contrary and the investigations of Matas and Kilgour. (The latter of whom, notably, have recordings of Chinese physicians confirming the practice of killing Falun Gong for their body parts.)
But perhaps the greatest problem of all is none other than the press, which has stumbled repeatedly, the Holocaust shows, at the critical juncture.
No case is more telling than that of the New York Times. The subject of an entire book–Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper–the paper’s coverage of the Holocaust was so minimal in proportion to what was known at the time, it bordered on cover-up.
According to the book’s author, Laurel Leff, the Times’s Germany bureau even demonstrated a “tendency to put the most positive spin on the increasingly desperate situation of Reich Jews… The brutality had reached such a degree that perhaps there was fear that if it were reported on the front page as a matter of fact it would come across as unbelievable.”
And there was of course, as with today, the matter of business. Leff quotes Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the paper’s publisher, as rationalizing that it ‘Had to do business’ in Germany.
In an eerily reminiscent development, the Times’s website was miraculously unblocked by China’s censors several years ago following a meeting of the paper’s editor and publisher with none other than China’s Communist Party leader and then-ruler, Jiang Zemin. Notably, coverage of Falun Gong, already thin at that time, become all but nonexistent in the months and years to follow.
At last count, it had been over four years since the Times ran a story on the murder of Falun Gong followers in China. Ditto for AP, Reuters, and major papers such as the Washington Post. Yet during this same period the known death toll has risen sharply, and sources from China have come forth to testify about the grisly perversions of surgery now taking place.
When sources such as the producer of this paper–the Falun Dafa Information Center–have tried to publicize such findings, most media have seemingly wished the whole affair away–journalism’s equivalent of the ostrich burying its head in the sand, as it were.
Again, there is precedent. As Leff has documented, the Times’s Berlin Bureau Chief, Guido Enderis, “frequently discredited stories of Jewish persecution that came from the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)… or from other sources.”
One leading reporter for the Times, Frederick Birchall, openly stated on CBS radio that Germany had no designs to enact the “slaughter of the enemies or racial oppression in any vital degree,” and instead forecasted “prosperity and peace,” reassuring listeners that German violence “was spent.”
How was it that accomplished journalists could succumb to such naivete, if not complicity? For one, there was of course constant pressure and coercion from the German regime. Much like today’s Communist Party in China, Nazi authorities would routinely summon reporters and chastise them for critical coverage, often threatening to revoke visas or even ban the publication. Many simply learn a form of convenient obedience after months or years of unrelenting pressure, the case of the Berlin bureau suggests.
Leff’s work offers a second perspective, namely, a more simple human failing: the inability to understand “the other.”
“At some level, journalists, like other bystanders, did not recognize the importance of what was happening to the Jews because it was not happening to them, or to their readers, or to a group they or (they assumed) their readers could identify with,” Leff says.
In this vein, we hope this paper may in some small regard bridge that gap in the case of China, and bring out the humanity of those who suffer the injustices we describe and the terrible inhumanity of what is being perpetrated.
If history tells us anything, it is that we have to do better. There is much at stake.