For baby boomers, on whom the shadow of World War II fell the darkest , the post war years teemed with possibility. Our future lay before us like a shimmering landscape, designed by the brilliant minds now free to bring us sci fi and fantasy tales of a world filled with scientific and technical advances beyond our wildest dreams.
Flying cars anyone?
But, if we looked to our families, who were now coping with war’s aftermath, or when we saw the shadow of a tattoo on someone’s wrist, we felt the pain of the millions who’d perished for a tyrant’s narcissistic wet dream, and, even the youngest of us wondered .. why didn’t anyone stop Hitler when he first started killing people?
During Hitler’s years in power, there were 42 failed assassination attempts on his life, that we know of. Surrounded by bodyguards and security forces, it’s pretty hard to kill a dictator.
But if you were a writer possessed of a fantastical mind, you might have asked yourself; what if you could go back in time, and kill a younger version of Hitler, before his rise to power?
It is perhaps unsurprising that this particular trope appealed to hundreds, if not thousands, of scribes, and that the attempt to find a time travel exemption to changing the past, continues to be tested. As recently as August 2011, my fave sci fi series, Doctor Who, took their own stab at the genre, in an episode called, “Let’s Kill Hitler.” (Spoiler alert; they failed to kill him.)
Actually, the very first story to do so was published in Weird Tales, in July 1941, and was called, “I Killed Hitler.”
In James Gleick’s book, Time Travel, he posits that “humans invented time travel to counter the regret that we only have one life to live. “ The question isn’t really, “Should you kill Baby Hitler?” But rather, “How do we best come to terms with a world where evil exists?””
But why do I bring this up, you ask? We’re all aware that Godwin’s Law says that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” So it’s moot, right?
Well, here’s the thing… by June 24, 2018, even Mike Godwin had to admit that “The question of evil, understood historically, is bigger than party politics.”
“The seeds of future horrors are sometimes visible in the first steps a government takes toward institutionalizing cruelty. In his 1957 book “Language of the Third Reich,” Victor Klemperer recounted how, at the beginning of the Nazi regime, he “was still so used to living in a state governed by the rule of law” that he couldn’t imagine the horrors yet to come. “Regardless of how much worse it was going to get,” he added, “everything which was later to emerge in terms of National Socialist attitudes, actions and language was already apparent in embryonic form in these first months.
So I don’t think Godwin’s Law needs to be updated or amended. It still serves us as a tool to recognize specious comparisons to Nazism — but also, by contrast, to recognize comparisons that aren’t. And sometimes the comparisons can spot the earliest symptoms of horrific “attitudes, actions and language” well before our society falls prey to the full-blown disease.”
So, why am I bringing up this comparison? The answer lies in a portion of a new digital exhibit, the 1938Projekt, that catalogues the final days of European Jewry.
” As was the case with French Jews who threw lavish parties in the months leading up to their deportation, or the Poles who helped manufacture the very weapons that would be used against them a year later, for my family the impending loss of their property, their homes, and even their lives seemed so surreal as to be almost impossible. They don’t actually mean it. They’ll make a show of it but we’ll be fine. There’s no chance we’ll really be gone tomorrow. The tragedy is that we don’t recognize how intractable these political climates are with a sudden timely realization, but rather as a slow burn—imperceptible until only after the damage is done.”
“You’d have to have been crazy to have predicted such a thing as the Holocaust. Most of them simply didn’t believe that there was any credible reason why things would suddenly surpass normal levels of anti-Semitism and go from bad to catastrophic.
It is the story of how easy it is to become inured to the progression of a deteriorating situation. Through its lens, we see the time more clearly for what it was: not just another brief chapter in the thousands-of-years-old story called anti-Semitism, but a tinderbox heating up with the passage of each day. It’s easy to look now and see a series of warnings plastered onto the walls of the past, plain and clear for all Jews to see, only for fools to ignore.
But if someone were to tell you about a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and swastikas graffitied on the Upper West Side and Nazi marches and Jewish cemeteries being defaced and a president who calls himself a nationalist and ordinances that dissolve the rights of immigrants and of the queer community and a caravan of refugees, and told you to leave behind your family business and your belongings and your home and move across the world to a place where you didn’t know a soul and didn’t know the language, would you? You’d have to be crazy.” (https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/274646/what-it-was-like-to-be-a-german-jew-in-1938)
You see, I think that, like those long ago writers of science fiction who yearned to turn back the clock to a time before Hitler took power, we’re now living in a time when there is a chance to change what seems to be inevitable.
And I think that, if a change doesn’t happen, we’ll see future writers scribbling about wanting to time travel back and kill a baby Trump, before the real horrors began in America.
Unlike a lot of people who still cling to the idea that checks and balances, and the application of the Constitution, will prevent anything too destructive from happening in America, I see that we are once again following a historic arc that has always moved in a horrific direction, and that swing is accelerating.
The assaults on the justice system and law itself are compounding daily. Where is the outrage over Khashoggi‘s murder? Why have those who swore to stand by AG Sessions, or to defend Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation, suddenly disavowed their previous words?
What did you think it meant when President Trump suggested he could pull press credentials from any reporters who didn’t show him “respect.” Can you not see that Trump has essentially revoked the First Amendment without even having to use an ‘executive order’ to do so? Like all dictators, first they must take out the press, in any way possible, because the press are they that would show you the misdeeds the administration would rather conceal.
The POTUS, on his bully pulpit, cannot repeatedly tear down American institutions verbally, without risking their actual destruction. When every speech at his rallies sounds like the words of an authoritarian, the supposition of an authoritarian regime can’t be avoided.
Post midterms, and post some of the most despicable attempts to thwart a legitimate election in recent history, many Republicans are publicly calling the attempt to count every ballot cast, voter fraud, and an attempt to ‘steal’ an election. But this is not theft or a fraud … you may not recognize it, GOP, but this is democracy.
When I hear Americans cry, “...but this isn’t America. This isn’t who we are!” I have to beg to differ.
There’s an historic pattern of racism and xenophobia that has a long through line, from America’s very beginnings, right through to the US Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut a key element of the 1965 voting rights act, based on the election of a man of colour to the presidency. That law demanded that areas with a history of racial discrimination at the polls get prior authorisation before changing their election or voting laws. As we’ve just seen in the 2018 midterms – we really needed that provision. We all watched the disastrous Republican-run elections that slashed the rights and ability of people of colour and indigenous people, to cast their votes, in the name of non-existent voter fraud. What you saw was voter suppression.. they never got a chance to vote, so there was never a chance of fraudulence, except on the part of those making up these rules to benefit their own party.
“That problem is solved,” Justice Roberts intoned, dismissing centuries of racism and exclusion.
“This isn’t who we are!” you say?
Do you remember the poem that begins, “first they came?” America’s version begins with calling Mexicans rapists and claiming that they bring drugs and crime, then moves on to the torment of American Muslims, before dancing on to the Dreamers, the Trans community, the LGBTQ, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans… and eventually, it comes to the Jews, as it ever has.
The massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue came at the hands of a white, middle aged, right wing, Trump supporter, who thinks Trump isn’t hard enough on the Jewish citizens of America, and so he murdered 11 people in Trump’s name.
Ironically, and In spite of his overtly racist leanings, Trump enjoys solid support from the Jewish community. One of his most fervent supporters, Miriam Adelson, the wife of Sheldon Adelson, will soon receive a Medal of Freedom, that is essentially her reward for her part in her husband’s donation of $113 million to Trump’s election and midterm support.
Like those in Germany, Poland and France that went to the movies, or threw parties, mere days before they were marched to camps, supporters like the Adelsons think his racism will stop with Mexican immigrants and African-Americans.
The pattern is too consistent. History shows horrible acts of racism, over and over and over again, against the most vulnerable of citizens. The United States, like 1984’s Oceania, has always been at war .. with itself.
This IS who you are, America.
Bill Maher has been calling this flaunting of law by the Trump administration a ‘slow moving coup‘ for the last year. With the illegal appointment of Whitaker to the position of Acting United States Attorney General, that coup picked up speed.
“In third world dictatorships, the chief law enforcement officer‘s main qualification is – he doesn’t enforce the law. Officials of independent mind are hounded out, or shoved aside.”
As Maher said, “In mid 2017, I first read you my dictator checklist, but since this week is the week we first added, “install your personal protector as head of the justice department, ” after adding in September, “install your personal protector on the highest Court,” let’s review the dictator list one more time.
You’re a narcissist who likes to see his name and face on buildings.
You appoint family members to position of power
You hold rallies, even when you are not running, and they are scary.
You talk about jailing the press, and political opponents.
You want to hold military parades, and muse openly about being president for life.
You use your office for personal financial gain.
You love other dictators.
You lie so frequently your supporters don’t know what the truth is anymore, and don’t’ care.
For a coup to work, it is first necessary for truth itself to be destroyed – as well as the people who try to report it. So the dictator is free to say anything, and his followers believe it.
Adding to that dictator checklist, we now have state TV in this country, an actual propaganda channel, where the ‘reporters’ openly endorse the leaders. And we have people who oversee the elections they are running in.
In August of this year, Trump’s semi-liquid mob mouthpiece, Rudy Giuliani, said “the truth isn’t the truth.”
So – truth isn’t truth, the press is the enemy of the people, there are ‘alternative facts,’ “there’s no proof of anything, ” “What you’re seeing and reading isn’t what’s happening.”
In 1986, after 21 years of being the president (dictator) of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, and his wife, Imelda Marcos, had their reign of corruption overturned, and the family was sent into exile. It is estimated that the couple plundered between 5 and 10 $BILLION US dollars from the Philippine people during those years.
And yet, Imelda made a comeback, and somehow managed to get elected to the the Philippine House of Representatives , not once, but FOUR times, despite having been called a kleptocrat by historians, being listed by Newsweek as one of the “greediest people of all time” and having had the distinction of having committed, along with her husband, the greatest robbery of a government, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
In November 2018, Mrs. Marcos was convicted of corruption involving US$200 million, from the time between 1978 and 184, when she was governor of Metro Manila. She has been sentenced to a total term of up to 77 years of imprisonment.
I’m telling you this because of the parallels between the Marcos and Trump camp … neither can quit their love for a self-serving, selfish, corrupt, world champion thief. Nothing you say will change the opinions of his or her cult. And just as the Filipinos kept voting Imelda back in, as she siphoned over $200 million from the people to her Swiss bank account, there will still be Americans voting for Trump some ten, twenty years down the road, and probably even after his death.. maybe especially after his death.
“Godwin’s Law was never meant to block us from challenging the institutionalization of cruelty or the callousness of officials who claim to be just following the law. It definitely wasn’t meant to shield our leaders from being slammed for the current fashion of pitching falsehoods as fact. These behaviors, distressing as they are, may not yet add up to a new Reich, but please forgive me for worrying that they’re the “embryonic form” of a horror we hoped we had put behind us.” Mike Godwin
Lest we forget …. On this, and every Remembrance Day, I remember and thank my family for their sacrifice.
WWI: Uncle Len, Uncle Cecil
WWII: Uncle John, Auntie Anne, Auntie Pat
KOREA: Uncle Leo, my dad
and Uncle Dennis, who served in peacetime.