I confess I have always been on the lookout for disaster, and so far, I've never experienced one.
As a practicing lawyer years ago, I was drinking a beer with one of my law partners in a harborside bar in Juneau, Alaska. We happened to catch a breaking news story on the bar's television about an earthquake out in the Pacific Ocean. The reporter mentioned the possibility of a tsunami hitting Hawaii or some other unspecified place.
I told my associate we were leaving the bar that very minute to find high ground. He could barely conceal his mirth, but I was his senior at our law firm, and he dutifully followed me out the door, leaving his half-consumed beer on the table.
There was no tsunami, it turned out, and I admit that I overreacted. But I had a vision of being buried under a wall of cold Pacific Ocean water pouring through the streets of Juneau. I did not want to die that way.
We know, however, that catastrophes happen from time to time. The Holocaust, for example. Some people saw it coming and escaped before the Nazis showed up, and some waited until the goons beat down their front door.
In Night, Elie Weisel's personal memoir of the Holocaust, Weisel told the story of Moishe, a neighbor who lived in Sighet, a Jewish village in Hungary. The Nazis arrested Moishe first be because he was a foreign Jew. The Hungarian police rounded him up with other Jews and shipped them to Poland in cattle cars. There the Gestapo took over and transported the Jews to an extermination site. The prisoners were then forced to dig their own graves, and then they were shot one by one. Moishe escaped, however, and came back to Sighet to warn his neighbors about what he had witnessed.
Nobody believed him. It was just too incredible. The Nazis would never slaughter civilians wholesale, they reasoned. But of course, they were wrong.
On the other hand, some people can see the future clearly in all its horror. William Shirer was a news correspondent in Germany as the Nazis came to power. Shirer's wife was Austrian, and she gave birth to her first child in a Vienna hospital. As it happened, she was in the maternity ward when the Nazis invaded Austria. A Jewish woman in a room across the hall heard the news and knew what it meant. She jumped out a window, killing herself and her newborn baby.
For our own sake and the sakes of our family and loved ones, we have a duty not to lull ourselves into complacency during a time when an unthinkable disaster looms on the horizon. And we are now in such a time.
The hatred toward our President has not abated since the 2016 election. It has intensified. The Democrats and Republicans are at each other's throat, and they've turned a medical pandemic into a political event.
I don't think it will matter who wins the November election. Either way, Americans are screwed. The Federal Reserve Bank is propping up the stock market to postpone an economic calamity, but that can't go on forever. The market will crash soon, probably in less than a year.
Then we will know who acted wisely as the storm built on the far horizon and who will lose everything. And the people who did this to us--the crooks on Wall Street and their corporate cronies--will still be living large because they know the party is over and are already taking steps to preserve their wealth.
When the economy collapses, the oligarchs will be drinking mai tais in Costa Rica. The rest of us will be scrambling to pay our mortgages--and we will be damned lucky if we don't lose more than our homes.
Thursday, August 6, 2020
Thursday, July 16, 2020
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out." Reflections on Martin Niemöller, who stood up against the Nazis
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.
Like most Americans, I am familiar with Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous quote, but I knew almost nothing about him until recently. I knew he was a Protestant pastor who opposed Adolph Hitler during the 1930s, but I did not realize that Niemöller spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp.
As William Shirer noted in his memoirs, Niemöller would seem to be an unlikely person to stand up to the Nazis. Niemöller had been a decorated U-boat commander during the First World War. He was a fervent nationalist during the post-war years, and he welcomed the day when Hitler became the chancellor of the Reich in 1933.
But Niemöller slowly became disillusioned with Hitler, and he spoke out publicly against Nazism from his pulpit. At some point, Niemoller realized that Hitler meant to wipe out Christianity in Germany and replace it with the National Reich Church.
Indeed, Hitler's national church publicly repudiated the "strange and foreign" Christian religion. The Reich church openly acknowledged that it intended to place Mein Kampe on church altars instead of the Bible.
With great courage, Niemöllerdefended his Christian faith against Hitler's paganism. In 1937, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau.
Shirer, reflecting on the struggle between Hitler and German Christians during the 1930s, admitted that he had perhaps paid too much attention to it. After all, most Germans were not alarmed by what the Nazis were doing. "I should have realized," Shirer wrote, "that a people who had so lightly given up their political, cultural and economic freedom were not . . . going to die or even risk imprisonment to preserve freedom of worship."
Today, the United States is swirling in a witch's brew of cancel culture, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and "wokedom." Elected politicians publicly denounce the police, and demonstrators feel free to throw bricks and bottles at police officers. Day after day, vandals posing as protesters destroy statues and monuments that memorialize America's heritage. Churches and businesses are being set afire, and almost no one is prosecuted.
If the United States had a free press and healthy universities, all this destructive rhetoric and criminal behavior would be thunderously denounced in the media, much as some newspapers denounced the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
But America no longer has a free press. Instead, as Bari Weiss wrote this week in a letter to the New York Times," a new consensus has emerged in the press . . . that truth isn't a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else."
If our nation's universities were truly a marketplace of ideas, as the Supreme Court once described them, our intellectuals would speak up when a professor is bullied and even fired for failing to acquiesce to the destructive agenda of the cancel culture. But they are not speaking up.
For the most part, Americans are indifferent to the mass assault on traditional American values and our nation's democratic traditions. Our media and our universities are hell-bent on destroying American society, and few people dare to stand up to them.
We are like the Germans of the 1930s who stayed on the sidelines instead of opposing Hitler's thuggery. And like the Germans, we will eventually regret our cowardice.