We Are In Such Danger of Becoming What We Hate
It is so hot here that Bruce and I have been watching films in the evening when we would ordinarily be outside.
We watched a documentary about the Depression, in which many beloved performers who lived through that time were interviewed, ranging from Jerry Stiller to Phyllis Diller to Mickey Rooney. Ray Bradbury spoke movingly of his experiences, how the hard times changed the way people were with each other for the better. I can’t even look at Bradbury or listen to him without my eyes brimming with tears. I became a writer, and specifically, a science fiction writer, because of the speeches he gave at our library in Redlands while I was growing up.
Bradbury talked about coming west through the Dust Bowl on the train, reading a book he’d picked up before the trip: The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. He said, “I was reading about it, and traveling through it —
and this, became The Martian Chronicles.
Then we watched the 2001 film, Conspiracy.
It is another hallmark of our time that our greatest actors are asked again and again to portray the Nazi butchers, using their magnificent, humane creative gifts.
Conspiracy (2001) dramatizes the infamous Wannsee Conference, the January, 1942 meeting during which Nazi leaders led by Reinhard “Butcher of Prague” Heydrich, decided upon the details of the “Final Solution” to create the industrial death camp system that soon slaughtered 11 million European Jews and millions of others deemed undesirable by the Third Reich.
Branagh portrays Heydrich much as historical chroniclers describe him: urbane, handsome, brutally-efficient and dominant. Eichmann, as portrayed by Tucci, is emotionally stunted but deeply invested in the quality of his work. He is a man for whom every detail must be perfect, and for whom display or sensation of emotion must be subordinated to his work. In this case, Eichmann’s task was to create the perfect system to transport, kill and dispose of as many people as possible in the shortest time, for the lowest cost. At the time of the Wannsee meeting, the beta test of the gas method of execution had already occurred, with more than 70,000 “undesirables” exterminated using mobile carbon monoxide death vans. Eichmann described this venture to fellow attendees with reserve and quiet pride.
America has, at this time, performed many of the steps necessary to achieve the starting point Eichmann reported at that long-ago meeting.
And in some ways, gone far, far beyond anything the men around that conference table at the gracious Berlin villa could have envisioned.
Imagine what the Nazis could have done with 800 military bases around the globe, and 6,800 nuclear weapons. We perfected Hitler’s V-2 rockets and the space program of which we still speak so highly, could not have achieved success without Wernher Von Braun, Hitler’s rocket scientist, and a man who wouldn’t have objected one bit to the “solutions” discussed around the Wannsee conference table.
Every time our country authorizes a drone attack we are following the Wannsee procedures. Like the Nazis, we prefer to keep our hands clean and avoid unnecessary emotional baggage over the lives we take.
It isn’t the ordinary American people doing these things, any more than the vast majority of the German people supported the Nazi death camps and crematoria.
My first fiance’s parents were German immigrants who had been teens growing up during the second World War. His father was a notable and gifted photographer who had been taken by the Nazis after school one day, and carried along with them to take color pictures in every theater of the war, including traveling with Rommel and the Afrika Corps. His mother survived extreme deprivation in northern Germany when food ran out and allied bombings devastated everything.
I questioned them. Neither had known much, if anything, about what happened to the Jews or the “Final Solution” until the war was over. His mother told me they would hear radio broadcasts of how Germany was winning the war while bombs were dropping on their neighborhood. She was so hungry, she said, that she and her friends went to the park to gather grass to eat.
The ordinary German people suffered the utmost in deprivation, horror and death. By the end of the war, they had nothing. They were starving, bombed-out and nearly as hollow and hopeless as the few death camp survivors.
I cannot describe in words better than what Neil Halloran did in his multiple award-winning 2015 visualization of World War II’s impact.
We are at-risk of this kind of time again, I feel in my bones and soul.
And our leaders and pundits have the character of those men around that Wannsee table. Not “Germany’s leaders” and not “Russia’s leaders.” Our leaders, America. The United States of America.
Not one man at the Wannsee Conference questioned the monstrosity of what Eichmann was proposing: industrialized murder. The only objection raised was a point of policy and procedure made by the man who authored the Nuremberg Laws codifying non-Jewish German relationships with Jews.
As the lone, feeble excuse for the Wannsee attendees, it’s obvious that if anyone had spoken up on behalf of the Jews or even the humanity of those around the table, Heydrich — so brilliantly portrayed by Kenneth Branagh — would have freed his SS revolver and shot them in the head.
That said, many have chosen to die with honor rather than live as a debased coward. Of those millions sent to die in the death camps, many died with dignity and their souls intact.
Just as Native Americans did and do.
Just as the estimated 23 million Americans without health insurance and only last-minute emergency care do.
Just as the 2 million non-American casualties in the War on Terror to-date have done.
Some may read this and think so far, “That’s right! Trump’s a Nazi!”
I don’t know whether he is or not. I do know we are today led by, and hear from almost exclusively, voices with the moral fiber, integrity and attitude of the men around the Wannsee table.
My final motivation for writing this was this tweet:
Look at the number of likes. The “crime” he’s referring to is Donald Trump’s son talking to a Russian woman at Trump Tower last year, when she tried to peddle some type of pre-election dirty information on Hillary Clinton.
If you like thinking of Trump as Hitler, Sexton is today’s version of a propagandist in the employ of Ernst Rohm, the former Brownshirt leader who, along with all his cronies, lost his life in the Night of the Long Knives.
Rohm and the Brownshirt S.A. didn’t have any more morals, integrity or insight than the S.S. They were simply much less organized, efficient and prepared. When Hitler had had enough, time ended for the brutal group of thugs, thieves and murderers.
These men, the million-member Brownshirts, had money, power, all the sexual favors they could want, and were worshipped daily. Hitler used them to smash any leftist or religious opposition to his rise to power. In a way, once the Brownshirts were gone, he was free to consolidate his ironhanded control of all life in Germany, giving rise to the war that took so many lives: and even still, when unexploded bombs are found, continues to take them. They (and Hitler and his propagandist the skull-faced Goebbels) dealt in simple slogans and brutal threats.
One more historical fact: just as with Napoleon’s fatally doomed invasion of Russia during the 19th century, Hitler’s fatally doomed invasion of Russia was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, contributing factors to stopping Nazi Germany from overwhelming Europe. By today, there’s no question Nazi technology, which our country and Russia both received benefit from, would have Germany in a similar position to America in world dominance today. The Russians saved the whole world, just as much or moreso as our GI’s, the Anzacs and the British did.
What differentiated America from Nazi Germany in those long-ago days was leadership and national character. We did not slaughter our voices of dissent or morality. We did wrongfully intern people: I have visited the lonely, windswept place at the foot of the eastern Sierra called Manzanar. But, we did not go farther.
This is why the Democrats punch left so often. Just the way Ernst Rohm’s Brownshirts did. This is why today, we hear nothing but Trump-Russia.
We have lost our way. Men like Ray Bradbury, men like Woody Guthrie, they helped us to hear songs and voices to bring us home to what’s good. Our humane, human voices are as silent and miserable today as Germany in the 30s.
The Depression made us better here in America: we had the WPA, we received the New Deal. Education, learning, working together, were all so valued. Today we advocate for #Net Neutrality and yes: it is so, so important.