Thursday, September 17, 2015

Appalling Silence

"Belonging Together"

I am sort of a history buff and so I have always wondered how, back about a century ago, an entire nation of “good” and smart people could be “taken in” by the likes of Adolf Hitler and his bunch of Nazi thugs?  How was it possible that so many well-educated,  church-going, upstanding Germans would allow their fellow Jewish citizens to be systematically rounded up and sent off to concentration camps? How was it possible that the fundamental human rights of so many people were so egregiously violated while neighbors just sat back and watched?

I just read a chilling story about an incident that occurred yesterday at a school in Irving Texas that helped put some of my historical questions about Germany into perspective.

Yesterday a very bright, technologically savvy, and well-behaved 14-year old high school freshman who had invented a “spiffy” new digital clock brought it to school with him to show his science teacher. When some of his other teachers at the school saw the clock, they immediately called the police who handcuffed the boy and hauled him off to jail.

The problem was that this boy happened to be an American-Muslim and his skin was darker than the other kids at that school in Irving Texas.  This boy and his family were established American citizens who had lived in their suburban Texas home for over 30 years; but the boy looked “foreign.” He was a good boy who looked suspicious and so he was handcuffed and arrested, and for the most part no one really seemed to be all that upset about what happened.

When I read that story about the incident at the Texas school, I had some new insight into what may have happened almost a century ago in Germany. The people in that country back then were living in a climate of fear and distrust, the economy was faltering, many foreigners and immigrants had occupied their land, and Jews were stereotyped as contributing to the cause of the national unrest. The Nazis were going to fix the problem.

As I see it, that’s why so many good upstanding German citizens just sat back and watched so many atrocities perpetrated even in their own neighborhoods.

When I hear about a story like the one in Irving Texas, it not only scares me, it really “makes my blood boil.” After this poor kid was arrested for building a clock, why wasn’t there a school assembly to promote tolerance and respect? Why didn’t the citizens of the town gather in a public square to denounce what happened and demand an apology?  Instead school officials shrugged it off, saying that in an age of terrorism they have to take precautions against suspicious looking people.

The story was basically ignored by the good citizens of that Texas town and barely made the news in the national media - after all, there was a big debate that needed to be covered as Republican presidential hopefuls took the stage to give the nation yet another dose of “fear mongering” with rhetoric about building walls and rounding up immigrants.

I think about something Martin Luther King, Jr. once said many years ago at the height of the Civil Rights movement:

In this generation we will have to repent
not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people,
but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Somehow this madness must cease,
we must stop it now!

Historically the people of Germany became more and more horrified at what the Nazis were doing as they eventually saw their nation crumble into a pile of rubble because of the hatred and division they had tolerated for so long; but by then it was too late, and to this very day the good people of that land are still repenting of their past.

One of the reasons for studying history is so that we do not repeat the evils of the past. The good people of America need to stand up and take notice, lest history repeat itself once again.

For many years I have carried around a little note card that I keep in the top drawer of my desk, it reads:
Not to decide is to decide.

Somehow this madness must cease, we most stop it now!

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