The Consequences of Nationalism.
Recently, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Among the bright impressionist works, abstract pieces, ancient artifacts, and, of course, the charming and nostalgic Robert McCloskey exhibit, there was a photography section devoted to a specific piece of history that cannot be forgotten.
It was about the results of what happens when Nationalism based upon racism runs unchecked, and the end results of what happens when “good” people don’t voice their dissent or when they give up. It was about what happens when a few bad seeds are allowed to grow and flourish.
It was a photography exhibit of the Lodz Ghetto during World War II.
The photographer was a man named Henryk Ross, one of the 877 survivors of the Lodz ghetto, which had started out with over 160 thousand (Data from this NYTimes article). He bravely documented the atrocities of the ghetto, including hangings and the deportations of people to death camps, in cattle cars, in wagons. He wanted to document the tragedy of the Jewish people for future generations.
He was successful, and we should be glad if only photographs were what was left behind from this dark era in human history. Unfortunately, the ideology behind this dark era has not yet been banished from the world. We still need his works to be shown to remind us of the terrible places that hate can lead.
But, how did the Nazi party form anyway, and how did they come to place themselves in such a position as to attempt the massacre of an entire people? And how is this relevant to us now?
The term Nazi is an abbreviation for National Socialist Workers Party. Nazi comes from the German pronunciation of “National”. The Nazi party arose after the Germans were defeated in World War I. The treaty of Versailles resulted in territorial loss as well as loss of wealth as Germany was made to pay reparations. The terms of the treaty were said to be humiliating as well as economically crippling. The Germans were resentful. They wanted a scapegoat for their conditions at the time. They found one in the form of anti-semitism. Also targeted were the Communists. Communism, in its idealistic form, promotes equality and that was not what the Germans wanted. Germany identified with having power, and rather than forming a new identity after the empire was broken apart, they wanted to rebuild their old identity and expand upon it. They succeeded in the early 1930’s after years of being ignored and not taken seriously.
Currently, in our nation we have a similarly dangerous Nationalist movement. It’s not a full majority of Americans, as indicated by the last election, where the popular vote was won by the progressive candidate. However, this minority is loud, dangerous, and currently in power. The Nationalists have the majority in both the House and the Senate, as well as the presidency. They are the heads of corporations, and have access to a sizable percentage of the nation’s wealth.
These Neo-Nationalists come from a broad range of economic & educational backgrounds. The common factor binding our Neo-Nationalists together is racial attitudes.
It is about preserving a vision of America based on the “idealization” of the white anglo-saxon Christian male and his perceived “needs”. It is literally about pushing us back to the 40’s and 50’s, a time of racism, sexism, as well as Christian idealism (“You’re free to be any kind of Christian you want to be!”). Trump and the GOP, as well as their supporters, want to go back to a time when America was seen as the most powerful nation on the planet, because we could bomb the crap out of everybody. They want to go back to when the POC’s were suppressed and when women had a “place” they could be forced into. They want to bring back a world where they were in charge without question, based on racial superiority and power through threat of violence.
Well, they are bringing us back in time, but to a slightly different era in a different location.
We have a Nationalist Problem.
We have American Nazis.
There are, of course, plenty of differences between Modern America and post WWI Germany. We are far better off, we aren’t starving en mass, and we aren’t being forced by a treaty to take a stance of apology to the rest of the world. Also, modern Nationalists are not stupid enough to outright advocate for genocide. At least, not yet anyway. They are slightly more subtle in incorporating racism into their policies.
However, we are being looked down on by other nations for the G. W. Bush era started conflicts. We are not a manufacturing powerhouse anymore (mostly due to automation, both here and abroad). The world is bigger than just America, and we are not the Great World Power that many have imagined us to be. In an age pushing for greater progression, we have stopped requesting acceptance and have started demanding equality: Women, POC’s, & LGBTQ’s have made a lot of progress toward equality, fighting and winning policies that support their rights as equals. These groups have also had more voice than ever to call out inequality when it arises thanks to social media. Social media is free, and internet access, while not universal, is more common than not.
What does this mean for White Christian Men? Loss of power (rightfully so) since they held more than their fair share of it to start with. Equality for everyone else means that they have to give some things up.
It means loss of Privilege.
Conservatives don’t want to lose Privilege. They don’t want to lose power. They don’t want to share and they don’t want to have to face that they are not, in the great or even small scheme of things, superior in any way.
The German Nazi’s movement was, in the end, about Power, the perception of it’s loss and the maintenance of a Privilege they thought they were entitled to. It was about cultural and racial superiority, and that’s what the American Nationalist movement boils down to today.
Such Nationalism leads to horrific scenes such as this:
We have to act now to nip these American Nationalists, these American Nazis, in the bud, before we are launched on some sort of gratuitous armed conflict, before people are further persecuted for their race, faith, or sexual identities. We don’t want to find out what the modern equivalent of the Holocaust looks like. Who will be the next victims? Muslims? The combination of not taking in Syrian refugees and then the demonstrative bombing in Syria to protect our image is pretty damning. Members of the Trans community? They certainly face a lot of danger just for wanting to use a restroom like everyone else, and our current VP is a proponent of conversion “therapy”.
Regardless of who the Nationalists decide to make their target and point of unified hate, we can’t let it happen.
Quotation from Martin Niemöller on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum…www.ushmm.org
One of the most striking elements of the protests taking place around the country this week have been the signs-signs…www.theatlantic.com
The Nazi’s in Germany won because enough indifferent people let the loud voice of the party take over without pushing back.
We can’t allow our Nationalists, our Nazis, to run unchecked. We have to take a strong, powerful stance against them. There is no justification for notions of racial superiority in the information age. We need to mobilize not just the left, but the indifferent centrists and those who normally don’t vote, and those who think their voice doesn’t matter. We need them to stir and join the Progressives in fighting for the mutual benefit of all of humanity. We need to remind the centrists of the consequences of inaction, that lead to the perpetuation of tragedies in multiple eras throughout history.
We need them, because we have to stop this movement before it progresses any farther than it already has.
We owe it to history.