Throughout the many decades of my active military career and post active military career working for the Department of Defense I have had the privilege of working with some great and sometimes not so great people from all corners of the world; literally. I’ve worked with people I would trust with my life and I’ve worked with people I would not dare take my eyes off of them for fear they would knife me in the back; literally. I have spent time in places I never before knew existed and endured hardships that, after the fact, were events to ponder as to how I survived with my mind (and body) intact. I learned from them all, people and events alike; the good and the bad, and even the ugly. I learned how to respond, how to act; more importantly, I learned how not to act. I can’t say I always react properly based on my life’s tutelage, but I try. I have my bad days just like everyone else. I’ll not say I have an ability to understand the cause and effect of past events; what precipitated the event, how they played out, and the resulting aftermath. There are however, many past events within history (both global and personal) that I, from time to time, try to figure out. Why did it happen and how did it happen.
I’m currently living in the heart of Germany, a wonderful experience; I’m about an 30 minutes from the border of the Czech Republic. The food, the people, and the scenery of Bavaria portray just a bit of the overall experience. I must admit I have yet to meet a rude German, however, sadly if pressed into a truthful statement, I must admit I’ve met rude Americans here. I’m not saying there are no rude Germans, I’m just saying I’ve not met them yet. For the most part my existence here is pleasant but it brings to mind one of those “events” that eludes my understanding.
How could these wonderful people, a mere generation ago, march hundreds of thousands to extermination camps? This is not a question meant to isolate the German population as evil incarnate. Every nation has its dark past that shames the pages of its history. The United States’ initial agricultural foundation was built on slavery. The Chinese, European, and African immigrants who came here were dogged, berated, and beaten, the Native Americans were all but exterminated. In fact, as Germany was using their camps as mass murder facilities we, the United States, had its own camps that “protected” the Japanese Americans, many of whom were born here and lost everything when we decided to “protect” them. So let’s not stand on the moral high ground and judge the representation of the Germans portrayed in the ‘30s and ‘40s. This chronicle has nothing to do with a single nation or isolated group of people. If you look at the whole picture, and assess the portrait correctly and honestly, you will see that throughout history there was never a moment when we were not, in some small and large part, all to blame.
So, back to the original question. How could a civilized, hardworking, generous, educated, and supposedly spiritual nation allow such things? How can a group of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters stand on the sidelines and watch the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters of others be forced through a gate knowing full well what was happening within those walls. How can these same mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters be the ones herding the crowd through the gate? There were those who stood their ground and tried to stop it and it cost them their lives; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Johann Maier, Rupert Mayer to name a few.
So, what’s the answer? This is a question that each of you must answer for yourself. If you ignore the question it will all happen again, as it has many times in the past. In fact, it’s happening still in several parts of the world, although many refuse to see or acknowledge this truth. If we acknowledge the current atrocities, we will have to admit our complacent involvement and willful ignorance. So, as you can see, this narrative has nothing to do with others—it has everything to do with the individual, you and me.
We do not, even collectively, have the ability to stop all evil in the world; even if we could, complacency and apathy would stand in the way. But we can control the evil within our own lives. If we do that, it might give strength to the person next to us to control theirs. We might not be able to change the world, but we can change our little part of it. It’s really not that hard. Do not let complacency, apathy, or an artificially manufactured self-destructive hatred forced upon you by others, turn you into something you were never meant to be.
Here’s a final question. Would you be willing to give your life to stand against such evil? Ponder that question diligently as there may be a time in the not-so-distant future when you will need to make a decision. Will you stand up to hatred and evil and possibly lose your life or will you turn your back to it, ignore it, and die anyway.
Just a thought.