By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- The US military received a special message from its senior officer today: Never again.
To mark the 44th Holocaust Remembrance Day, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged members of the armed forces to heed the lessons of the extermination of six million European Jews and many others as much of the world stood by.
"The story of the Holocaust, however ghastly, offers us an opportunity to reflect on the responsibilities in life," Navy Admiral Mike Mullen said in a message to air on the Pentagon Channel, the official news service broadcast to soldiers around the world. "It’s a chance to remember that what we do – or choose not to do – really matters."
Mullen's appeal to the rank and file was in stark contrast to a speech delivered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday at a controversial United Nations conference on racism in Switzerland.
Ahmadinejad, a serial denier of the Holocaust who has called for the destruction of Israel, said the Jewish state was founded "on the pretext of Jewish suffering," prompting a number of European diplomats to leave the hall in protest. The United States had joined Israel and a handful of other countries in boycotting the conference altogether.
Mullen, the top uniformed officer of a force that wields more destructive power than any military in history, used the commemoration -- a national holiday in Israel that is also marked with somber ceremonies around the world -- to remind the US military to remember what it's fighting for when memorializing the Jews and millions of other innocents who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
"As we pause to remember the 11 million who perished, let us also pause to celebrate the lives of those who survived -- who went on to teach us the great responsibility of life itself," he said. "It matters what we do."
President Obama is scheduled to speak at a Holocaust commemoration ceremony hosted by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday.
"We are honored that President Obama will participate in our Days of Remembrance ceremony," Fred S. Zeidman, the chairman of the museum, said in a statement. "At this critical moment, with hatred and anti-Semitism on the rise in so many parts of the world, and genocide still a reality, we are reminded of the continued relevance of the Holocaust and the urgency of its lessons."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.