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Lessons from History — Have We Learned Any?

For history, is it only lessons observed and not learned?

by Eric Holdeman / July 26, 2020

Back when I was in college I read every book available on the Hitler regime. Yes, there were the World War II accounts, but at the time I was more interested in how it was possible for Germans to give themselves over to such a man and his policies and behaviors. There are plenty of reasons, but a big one was that no one stood up.

The average German just let it happen, even when they disagreed with what was going on. With every demagogue, they use elements of truth in their messaging. There is the sense that it is us against others. A history of grievances. For many Germans it was the peace treaty post WWI that made them pay war reparations and then there were the Jews, who today are the minority communities here in the United States. They get too much, they take our jobs, they don't belong, they are changing our culture. Get the picture!

I've blogged on this book previously, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which can be read in one sitting. As we look at the events in Portland, I feel like the frog in the pot that keeps getting warmer. Today there was this opinion piece in the New York Times, American Catastrophe Through German Eyes.

[A note on the fact that not everyone will be able to open the New York Times article (you can subscribe now for $4 a month for a year). You cannot just get your news from Twitter, Facebook, the evening news -- you must read a serious newspaper. The Washington Post, the New York Times, even the Wall Street Journal. They are spending thousands of dollars in reporters' time on each article to do the investigative pieces that the mediums I mention above cannot match. In-depth reporting is what you need.]

Lastly, a German friend of mine who was born after WWII relates the story of how the shoemaker in her village of Obergammergau was known to talk about the Nazis and how bad they were — this is during the war itself. One day the village woke up and the shoemaker and all his family were gone, never to return. 

Which leads me to leave you with a famous German Martin Niemoller quote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.


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