What keeps us from recognizing the truth when it’s staring us in the face? That’s the question that occurred to me as I visited the Holocaust Museum last week when I was in DC. The answer is complex. Dealing with its ramifications challenges us to remember what we learned in kindergarten and what many of us were taught in church.
Last week’s visit was my second time through the Holocaust Museum. Its four floors of display, film, recordings, and horrific material memorabilia are dedicated to keeping alive the nightmare of the systematic murder of millions of communists, socialists, Jews, trade union leaders, priests, ministers, nuns, homosexuals, gypsies, and disabled along with other “dysfunctionals” and enemies of the state.
This time Peggy and I along with our youngest son, Patrick (age 26) spent most of our time on the fourth floor. It details Hitler’s rise to power. How did the German people allow that to happen, I wondered? They were Europeans. They were “modern,” producers of great philosophers, theologians, poets, novelists, musicians, scientists, and industrialists. Even more puzzlingly, they were largely Christian living in a major birth-center of the Reformation.
And yet they allowed the prison-camp system to emerge. They allowed Hitler to declare war on the world. The majority claimed ignorance of the gassings and incinerations. But surely, no one was unaware of the vilification of the ovens’ victims. Hitler’s speeches were filled with denunciations of “Jewish madness.” The phrase not only reflected anti-Semitism, but was code for the political left inspired at its core by the Jewish Testament – those communists and socialists that Hitler (and the ruling classes across Europe and the United States) hated and feared more than anything else.
And when Hitler declared war on the world, good Christian Germans lined up to fight for God and country. As Elie Wiesel reminds us, Catholic prison guards gassed Jews during the week, and then went to confession on Saturday and received Holy Communion at Mass on Sunday.
Reviewing all of that in the Holocaust Museum made me uncomfortably aware that the specter of Adolf Hitler is stalking our world today. It actually pains me to say that this time the shadow is cast by the United States. As I write, the “Americans” have established the control of the world that Hitler sought. In effect, Hitler (or more accurately Hitlerism) won that Second Inter-capitalist War.
In fact, since 9/11 the U.S. has declared a Hitler-like war on the world. It recognizes no inhibiting law, and will brook no rival. Its law of the jungle prevails. The war’s enemy: the poor who demand a fair share of the resources located where they live. Acting as the Hessian armed force of multinational financial interests, the United States identifies, arrests, tortures, and eliminates those who insist that the oil, minerals, natural resources, and agricultural produce of their countries belongs to them and not to the foreign interests on whose behalf the United States polices the world.
Part of the police-world the “Americans” have established is unending war; another is the world-wide prison system like the one at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisons are entirely reminiscent of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Belsen, and Dachau, though government secrecy keeps us in the dark about the true extent of the clandestine hell-holes. They are centers of torture and degradation that beggar description. They are filled with Muslims, not with Jews. (Ironically Palestinian Jews are spearheading the attack on Muslims. It’s not for nothing that the Palestinians are called “the Jews’ Jews.”)
As for the unending war, according to the highly decorated ex-CIA agent John Stockwell, over the last 60 years, “The Third World War against the Poor” has claimed far more lives than the horrendously iconic figure of six million. In Vietnam alone more than 2 million Vietnamese were slaughtered. In Iraq, the figure of pointlessly butchered reaches beyond 1 million in a war of aggression which the U.N. terms the highest of international crimes.
And yet, our contemporaries, like the good Christians of Berlin and Cologne, are mostly in denial about the extent of the police state that has taken form especially since 9/11. Most deny (at least by their silence) the very existence of secret prisons, torture of suspects, the plain fact of political prisoners, death squads, and systemic cruelty.
Where does that denial come from? Where did it come from as Hitler rose to power? Part of the answer is that the process of take-over was gradual. It took years as Hitler advanced from army corporal, to political prisoner, to best-selling author of “Mein Kampf,” to Member of Parliament, to Chancellor, to dictator.
Similarly, the mission creep of the U.S. National Security State has been gradual as we’ve seen our government claim (and be granted by the judiciary) the right to spy on its citizens, search them without probable cause, imprison them without charge, torture them without limit, and ultimately kill them without trial. In the face of all that, like our German counterparts, most of us have stood dumbly by and have even applauded our oppressors as they expropriate us of our constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Another source of denial is the disruption that truth-telling causes in our own lives. As Paul Craig Roberts has recently pointed out, telling the truth disturbs career trajectories and can even disrupt family relationships. That makes fathers and mothers, ministers and priests, politicians and pundits close their eyes and moderate their speech. Roberts says,
“The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.”
What to do about this state of affairs? For one we must learn to think critically. At the very least, that means applying daily to what we see and hear the “law of reciprocity.” It’s something even a child of seven can understand, though it seems beyond the capacities of our “leaders” to grasp.
One meaning of the law of reciprocity is that what is good for me is good for you; what is bad for you is bad for me. This means that if the U.S. would consider it unacceptable for Pakistanis to drone their enemies on “American” soil, it unacceptable to drone “American” enemies on Pakistani soil. If it’s wrong for Iranians to have nuclear weapons, it is also wrong for Israel or the United States to have them.
The law of reciprocity makes one wonder what the United States would do if a foreign drone so much as appeared unbidden in American airspace much less if it did its destructive work on the ground.
Besides observing the elements of what we were all taught in kindergarten, it would also help to heed what most of us have heard in church all our lives. That those German prison guards could do their crematorium work during the week and receive communion on Sundays seems somehow contradictory to the teachings of Jesus, don’t you think?
What about the guards at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, the soldiers in Fallujah or Haditha, or the drone pilots sitting at the consoles in their air-conditioned theaters? How are they different from the Germans we condemn?
Help me figure this one out. The question is disrupting my life.