Friday, August 17, 2007

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT


 
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
COMMENTS FROM A SUNDAY AFTERNOON
By Donatra
Edited by Praetorone


During the weeks and months leading up to my marriage, my then future husband told me that I would be marrying into a veritable united Nations and In many ways, he was right on center.  My husband is part Irish and Puerto Rican, a former Catholic turned Buddhist.  My oldest (half) brother-in-law is part Puerto Rican and Part Swedish, and is a very liberal member of the Unitarian Church, while my youngest (half)  brother-in-law is part Puerto Rican and part Danish and describes himself as a progressive Christian.  My father-in-law is part Irish, German, and Scottish, a former Presbyterian turned atheist.  His wife, my husband's step mother, is part Dutch, Polish, and German, a former Jew turned Episcopalian.  And her 87-year-old Uncle is a German-Dutch Jew who immigrated to this country with his parents in the year 1928, luckily missing the rise of Hitler and the nightmare years of the Third Reich. 

This is a man whose body is slowly but certainly being crippled by rheumatoid arthritis and failing vision.  that's a pity because this is also a man with degrees in both medicine and law, and who sees it as a civic duty to remain informed about what is happening in both, the country he adopted and in the rest of the world.  And yet, despite increasing physical infirmities his mind is alert and his memory appears to be as sharp as ever.  In may ways he and some of the middle aged members of our crew serve as our 'in house" historians and we are always grateful when Abe can offer his unique insight to some of our materials.  Indeed, up until a few years ago, when a series of mini strokes began to affect his vision, he was a semi active member of our old blog, and if you want the honest to God truth, we rather miss him.

One of the benefits that comes from having elderly in-laws (my "great uncle-in-law"  turned 87 earlier this year) is that he has actually experienced, lived through this wonderfully interesting and often times bizarre thing that we call history.  This of course means that he has  first hand information at his command that we don't have, the kind of information that comes from watching the march of history from a personal point of view, not from reading about events, places, and individuals in history books and biographies.   As an eye witness to some of the watershed events of the 20th Century my Uncle-in-Law naturally has opinions about current events, and as an 87-year-old man whose family followed the rise of the Nazi regime throughout the late 1920s and 30s, he of course has an interesting take on those who would compare themselves to the great and near great figures of the past.

Nothing irritates my Uncle Abraham more than when members of the Bush Administration compare themselves to the members of the Roosevelt Administration.

"It's Ironic," Abraham told me.  "On the one hand these people--and I use the term loosely--want us to think of them as modern Day FDRs, bravely leading America through another world conflict, but," he adds in a rolling German accent,  "on the other hand they are attempting to dismantle everything that Roosevelt did to protect the lower and middle classes.  They're trying to have it both ways and anyone with a serious background in history knows that they are playing fast and loose with the facts."   In addition, Abe is distressed by the disingenuous rhetoric from the current Administration which attempts to equate the current war on terrorism with the tragedy that was the Second World War.

"I don't think people today understand just how serious things were back then," Abe offers.  "By the early 1940s--1942 I believe--the world situation was grim.  Very grim.  Hitler, the Nazi war machine, and their Italian allies had conquered most of the European continent and were threatening to crush the Soviet Union."  Then, from memory he began to list the European nations which had come under the domination of Italian and German Fascism.  "Poland, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia. and Greece.  Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania, " he added, "were Axis occupied territories; Italy had swallowed up Libya."  Continuing in a similar vein, Abe pointed out that by 1942 the German war machine had conquered the Ukraine and was poised to swallow up Moscow, Stalingrad, and the oil rich Caucuses.  And then there was that matter of Italy's occupation of Libya."  Or, as my husband has put it on previous occasions, the Mediterranean was little more than an Axis dominated lake.

The situation wasn't any better in the Pacific where by September 1941,  Imperial Japan had consumed  Korea,  Manchuria, much of the Eastern Coast of China, French Indo China, Formosa, and Sakhalin Island.  Moreover there were plans in the making to conquer Thailand, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, New Guinea, the Philippine Islands, the Solomon Islands, the Kurile Islands, etc.  Chillingly, most of these objectives were obtained within a period of six months, including the sneak attack o Pearl harbor which quite literally destroyed the American presence in the Pacific Ocean.  "Again," Abe offers.  "Nobody realized how badly off the United States was during this time."  Noting past influence by the isolationists in the form of the America First Movement, Abe informed me that in the mid 1930s America had the 18th largest military in the world.  Both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had superior war machines and more war ready soldiers than the United States.  "You have to remember," Abe said, "that the Isolationist movement fought President Roosevelt at almost every turn.  They were determined to keep America out of another World War.  The only problem was that this was the wrong war to avoid.  But the Republicans were eager to score points against Roosevelt whenever they could and then, like now, they weren't afraid to engage in a little fear mongering.  When I was a young man it was the fear of another conflict like the first World War.  Today the Republicans use the fear of terrorism to smear their opponents.  It's the same tactic played over and over again like a badly scratched phonograph record."  When I asked Abe if the America First movement wasn't a broadly based movement that was composed of both, Democrats and Republicans, he responded by telling me that it was indeed a broadly based political movement, but that it was primarily a Republican led phenomenon.

"And I suspect that there was more than just a little Antisemitism mixed in there too.  According to Abe,  Antisemitism ran rampant in the years prior to the Second World War.  Indeed, it wasn't really until the liberation of the Nazi death camps near the end of the war that Antisemitism became a dirty word.  "There were people out there--at least i think they were people--who believed that Jews were in charge of the banks.  There was a belief out there that we were a part of some secret society or maybe a conspiracy to control and dominate the United States, maybe even the world."  During his youth Abe frequently heard the old cliches about Jewish people:  That they were all rich, that they were dishonest in business transactions, that they had killed Christ, that they were vampires who wanted to drink the blood of Christian children.  "Both the Catholic and Protestant churches had troubling theories about Jews," he remembers.  "Much of the hatred towards Jews in those days came from Christian denominations who taught that Jews were tools of the devil.  The Catholics and the Lutherans stand out as some of the most virulent, but other denominations were just as loathsome."  Abe also remembers reading about and seeing photos of Nazi youth, American children who burned books in public squares, and who goose stepped to the antisemitic chant that was drifting out of central Europe during the prewar years.  "They looked Iike and behaved like the Hitler youth," Abe said.  "Like their counterparts in Germany and Austria, they would congregate at some public square, throw books on blazing bonfires, and sing the praises of Hitler and antisemitism.  And it didn't help to have a national hero who was openly sympathetic to the German regime."  When asked to specify, Abe informed me that Charles Lindbergh, a popular aviation hero of the era, had been a driving force in the isolationist America First movement, as well known for his antisemitism as for his aviation talents.  "Lindbergh was no friend of the English or the French and he certainly wasn't a small d democrat.   If you ask me I don't think he saw the conflict between Hitler and the western democracies as a fight between freedom and totalitarianism."  This after all was a man (Lindbergh) who, had traveled to Germany and offered glowing reports about the rising Reich and German peoples love for their nation and Fuhrer.  Lindbergh, like so many of the people in the America First movement, refused to recognize Hitler and the Nazi government for what it was.  "As a matter of fact, I think he appreciated the regime, gave it what you kids call an 'official thumbs up.'"

So how does the current conflict differ from World War II?  "The terrorists can do a lot of damage if they set their minds to it," said Abe.  "But it isn't like World War II.  It is not as if they can destroy an entire nation state.  It is not a global conflict.  We see pockets of conflict.  An offensive here, and offensive there, but we do not have large armies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers sweeping across continents trying to capture Berlin, or Paris or London.  It's an entirely different situation.  Entirely different."

So are there other differences?   "Most certainly," Abe responded.  According to Abe, the entire attitude is different.  "No politician, no leader, not a Democrat or a Republican would have treated a returning Vet (during World War II) the way George W. Bush treats returning Veterans from Iraq.  "That creature in the White House has no feelings for anyone but himself.  He has this attitude that tells him volunteer soldiers are disposable.  He cares as little about our returning Veterans as he does for anyone else.  Your husband, and others, believe that the man is a sociopath.  I don't have a problem with that argument, because I believe it to be true."  In Abe's opinion Franklin Roosevelt had a watershed event in his life which made a huge difference in the way he treated people.  "The rich people in this country viewed Roosevelt as a traitor to his own class.  After he was struck with polio and lost the use of his legs, Mister Roosevelt developed an even deeper understanding for people."  And by people Abe does not mean the members of the economic elite.  He means the lower and middle classes.  "Unlike Herr Bush," Abe continued, "Roosevelt developed a deeper compassion--genuine compassion for the middle and lower classes.  Herr Bush, on the other hand, has yet to want for anything.  The man suffered, that much is certain.  He suffered when his little sister died of leukemia and his parents wouldn't allow him to mourn.  But Bush never used that experience to develop genuine empathy, genuine sympathy.  It may well be that he never could.  Sincere empathy and compassion are alien concepts to this man."  Bush, Abe believes. was probably born a psychopath or a sociopath.  The manner in which  he was raised didn't help the situation either.  When a sociopath or a psychopath is constantly bailed out of the trouble that they so often cause for themselves, it only makes them more reckless and more dangerous.  Bush has a long record of close calls, and a powerful clique of friends and family who have repeatedly pulled his chestnuts out of the fire.  He has yet to face the consequences for his wrong doing, although I suspect--very strongly mind you--that this is about to change now that the rats are abandoning the sinking ship of state." 

Unlike Roosevelt, Bush has yet to create a sense of the American people being "in it together."  This isn't only true of the failed invasion of Iraq, but in his failure to demand any real sacrifice from the American people.  "Look, Kelli, when I was a young man during World War II we rationed--don't laugh--rubber.  When it became clear that America required rubber and that the Germans had learned how to make synthetic rubber, we realized that we had to do something until we had the ability to synthesize rubber right here at home."  This Abe explains led to a number of unpopular steps by "that man in the white house."  One of the most unpopular involved tires.  In an effort to conserve rubber the Roosevelt Administration made it more difficult to buy a new set of tires.  Ultimately this led to gas rationing.  "The idea went something like this.  We didn't have a gas shortage, but Roosevelt realized that if he made it harder to drive long distances there would be an automatic conservation of rubber."  Other moves had already been taken with other products made out of rubber, but with the advent of gas rationing the people were not at all amused.  "Roosevelt remedied the situation with one of his fireside chats.  He simply went on the air, explained the situation, and promised that the government was actively promoting a synthetic rubber program."  In addition to an explanation Roosevelt initiated a drive in which various rubber products (everything from the rubber in women's girdles, to rubber balls, rubber bands, and pet toys) were collected during rubber drives and shipped off for recycling, to be used in the war effort.  "It made the American people feel as if they were doing something for the war effort."  And more importantly it reduced opposition to gas rationing.  "And there was an up side to the situation."  And what an up side it was.  traffic fatalities went down.  People went to movies and learned to enjoy simpler, more personal and interactive forms of entertainment.  "Instead of driving all over creation on weekend joy trips, we stayed at home, got to know our neighbors.  We rediscovered that wonderful thing called conversation--something your generation should rediscover." 

Rubber wasn't the only product that was rationed.  Sugar was rationed.  American housewives learned to use corn syrup and saccharine (yes it was around even then) as substitutes in their baking. Those same housewives also learned to cut back on eggs in their baking, they poured yellow dye into margarine so that our troops could use real butter.    Nylon was another product which had to be rationed.  To that end the one piece bathing suit disappeared and the two piece bathing suit was born.   The hemlines on now unpleated skirts rose to above the knee.  Even fat was recycled.   "And then there were the coupon books," Abe chuckled.  "As a part of the war time rationing families were given coupon books.  You'd use thee coupons to buy food, clothing, shoes, you name it.  If I remember correctly, you had to make the coupons last for a month.  It was an inconvenience, but it certainly rationed all those important things that were needed by our troops."  Revealing an obvious, but restrained anger, Abe then added, "that's a hell of a difference from THIS aschloch who sent our troops into battle without the proper equipment for an invasion."  

And then there were the price caps and tax hikes.  Unlike The Shrub, Roosevelt recognized the fact that America needed to properly fund the war, Bush has yet to so much as ask the American people to make a significant sacrifice towards for this war and the troops.  "He's more interested in protecting his own class and his own fortunes," Abe grumbled accusingly.  "If Roosevelt was a traitor in the eyes of the wealthy elite, what is the aschloch?   Your husband is a Star Trek fan.  He says it time and time again. 'The needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few.'   Roosevelt understood this.  The American people (in the 1940s) understood this.  Bush, however is the only schwienhund who does not --as you kids like to say--'get it.'  He has taken your husband's very logical axiom and he has turned it on it's head.  'The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.'  Maybe it's even worse.  Perhaps he believes that the needs of 'the one,' (himself) outweigh the needs of the many."  In either event, Abe truly believes that Bush is more interested in protecting his own elite class than he is in preserving the middle class. "That young man of yours has a theory and it goes something like this:  Conservatives see democracy and a thriving middle class as a threat to order and stability.  To that I would add, 'you are damned right my dear boy.  Especially when it's the conservatives who will be dictating the order and stability."  In Abe's opinion the so called conservatives in this country despise, or perhaps even fear, a prosperous middle class because prosperity creates leisure time and leisure time gives people time to think about freedom,. democracy, and human rights.  Sadly for us, "freedom, democracy, and human rights are anathema to conservative notions of order and stability"

"My parents came to this country in 1928 after my father read a copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf," said Abe.  " Papa believed that if someone were crazy enough to write that kind of insanity that same person would be crazy enough to act on his writings if he ever came to power."  Regrettably Abe's Aunts and Uncles refused to take Hitler's rambling treatise seriously.  While Abe and his parents and three siblings came to the United States, the rest of the family refused to take the German warlord seriously.  I don't think I have to tell you what happened to the European branch of his family.  "Most of them didn't make it," Abe said ruefully.  "Between outright extermination, disease, starvation, and being worked to death...You can guess what happened.  Very few of them survived it."

Chillingly, Abe recognizes similar patterns between then and now.  "I see another leader," Abe said, "an American leader who is using the same tactics that Hitler used during his rise to power.  I see the scapegoating of racial minorities and homosexuals; and those antisemitic Dominionists who celebrate the idea of Jesus coming back to earth to kill and torture the Jewish infidels.  Oh yes.  They make me feel ever so safe."  But it is the political shenanigans which trouble Abe the deepest.  "I see (an abuse) of power at the expense of our civil liberties.  I see the emergence of a unitary executive branch which is undermining the separation of powers in the same way that the Nazis undermined the Wiemar Republic.  And the so called Patriot Act.  Is this not the American equivalent of the Enabling Act which Hitler used to claim dictatorial power in the days following the Reichstag Fire?"  According to Abe we have been here before.  Sadly, the American people are not well versed in their world history and that has made it much easier for Bush Incorporated to rewrite the past record whenever it serves him to do so.  "If Bush is cunning sociopath or psychopath--and I believe he is--he is also a megalomaniac.   He craves power in the same way that an alcoholic craves the next shot of vodka.  We've been here before,  We've seen all of this before.  But we still have people who think Bush is some kind of great war leader, and we still have people who are willing to give up freedom for security.  Ignorance and fear are a frightening combination--especially when they can be manipulated to serve the twisted impulses of a corrupt, and I might add, power hungry leader."


1 comment:

Dusty said...

God, I love this piece. I will post the first installment at Sirens tomorrow :)