We must not become a nation of onlookers.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We, Americans, are being strenuously tested. Can we, and will we, step up to the challenges facing both our social relationships and our political institutions? We have not been a perfect nation during our 242-year history. We have a lot to be ashamed of in our history. We also have a lot to be proud of in our efforts to make America live up to its ideals.
I believe we can learn much from another great nation that succumbed to nativism and bigotry.
Germany has always been an advanced country with intelligent and sensible people. After an embarrassing defeat in WWI, the German people followed a megalomaniacal politician. He promised to make Germany "great again." He enthralled the people with promises of jobs, global respect, and revenge against those who had defeated and shamed the country. However, his most sinister ambition was to rid Germany of what he considered "undesirables." Jews, socialists, Catholics, Roma people (so-called gypsies), the handicapped and gays were targeted and used to advance his purity-of-the-Aryan-race dream.
This despicable human being had a nefarious plan to achieve his objective. He would, first of all, find and label one group of people as the reason for Germany's defeat and subsequent economic woes. The Jews of Germany became both scapegoats and victims of the National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazi party. He railed against their presence in Germany at every opportunity. He incited violence against them. He questioned their loyalty to Germany. The legislative body, the Reichstag, was effectively neutralized. With no one to provide checks and balances on him or his party, he proceeded to implement his murderous vision. While there was dissent and active resistance early on, it was quashed by the government and police apparatus.
In addition to his attack on German Jews and others, he silenced the press. His fondness for autocrats, dictators and despots found him cozying up to Fascists like Mussolini and despots like Stalin. The news medium became an unchecked outlet for his propaganda. Lying was considered a legitimate and effective way to influence and control the German people.
Hitler believed the lie told had to be a big lie. According to a translation of Mein Kampf, Chapter 10, by James Murphy, the future Fuhrer writes, "that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously."
What happened in Nazi Germany could happen to any country/nation, given the right circumstances. One of the keys to having the right circumstances is the constant promulgation of fear, hatred, and division. Another key is the pacification and criminalizing of dissent.
Dissent becomes unpatriotic, treasonous speech and disloyalty to the Leader. Equally important to the despotic leader is to either neutralize or mobilize parts of the populace. Those elements of the populace who are not immediately threatened often are unconcerned or dismissive of those being targeted. Martin Niemoller, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany and one-time Nazi sympathizer explained why it is important to be an active resister to an evil empire. After the end of WWII, he famously said:
"First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."
Here in our great country, dissent and protest, as well as a free press, are bulwarks against tyranny and the emergence of an autocrat. Democracy is not, as they say, a spectator sport. To ensure that our young experiment in protecting democracy does "not perish from this earth," we must remain vigilant and active.
Every election counts — so vote. Your vote is both your sword and shield. We must never become a "nation of onlookers."
Answer Book 2018
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