Tag Archives: nazi germany

North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan: Rhetoric Versus Reality

north-korea-an-absurd-display-of-aggressionWe have to be very careful listening to political leaders who make wildly aggressive statements. Foreign policy is a game of poker not a game of chess. There’s a lot of uncertainty and thus a lot of room for playing with degrees of truth. Bold public announcements do not necessarily represent any real intent for action. It may be nothing more than a posturing for leverage in international relations or even just fodder for the internal propaganda machine.

Yesterday, North Korea has threatened a nuclear attack on the United States in the name of world peace. Hitler produced some of the same rhetoric in the mid and late 1930’s. He claimed that military power was a way to defend Germany of “evil” that was preventing a peaceful prosperous existence.

So, how can we tell the difference between Hitler and Kim Jong-un? It’s seems that the general public in the United States does not take the young North Korean leader seriously, much like the majority of Americans did not take Hitler seriously until the war began. I think that we have to (1) gather the best facts/intelligence and (2) use extreme caution in making any aggressive actions. We failed on both #1 and #2 in Iraq. We are failing on #1 and #2 in Iran. Pakistan is incredibly tricky because technically they are a “friend”, but the instability and tension in that part of the world means that of all the nations they are currently the most likely original spark of a nuclear war.

So we need to be very careful to get #1 and #2 right on North Korea. Arguments like the ones made in this report are a good start. It describes why North Korea is powerless to do what it claims. Much like in poker, that means there is some wiggle room for the game of diplomacy. Time for the carrots and the sticks…

Polite Conversation in the Early Days of Nazi Germany

William-Dodd_178608kI’m reading In the Garden of Beasts which is the story of an American professor (not much different than me 30 years from now) serving as ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in 1933.

The story is terrifying because it describes a civil world on the verge of turning to destructive hatred and insanity, and shows how easy it is to ignore the signs of impending doom. The momentum of polite conversation at a respectable dinner party can drown out the strongest of our moral intuitions.

Again, the story is terrifying because I continue putting myself in the place of the main character, William E Dodd, and fail to ask the questions I wish I was fearless enough to ask. I am haunted by the thought that the people who were committing the worst atrocities in the 1940’s were not much different than the average American just a decade before.

I’d like to believe that the internet has changed the vulnerability of the masses to brain-washing. It has put massive stores of information at our fingertips. But perhaps, I’m being naive in that optimism and atrocities are always around the corner, just as long as we wait for the generation that remembers the previous one to die out.

I highly recommend the book because unlike other perspectives on the Third Reich, this one focuses exclusively on that most critical transition between something very similar to modern American society to the completely breakdown of thereof under Hitler.

Nuremberg Laws

In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws established the legal basis for racial discrimination, with almost no opposition from the German people.

The image to the left shows the method for determining whether you were Jewish blood or German blood based on what your grandparents were.

Not only marriage, but sex between those labeled as Jewish and those labeled as Germans was forbidden. Also Jews were no longer permitted to display German colors (national flag) but were encouraged to display Jewish colors.

I came across these laws recently in researching the Nuremberg Trials, which by the way I recommend highly if ever you wonder about the limits of human nature. Here’s a link to the complete transcripts. It’s the darkest play you will ever read.

I bring up the Nuremberg Laws because of the question that has worried me for a long time: “Can the Holocaust happen again?”. Particularly, can I envision a reasonable downward path into a society that can breed the same mix of hatred, nationalism, and mass-conformity as was present in Nazi Germany. The Nuremberg Laws to me represent a critical step that I can envision many modern countries taking if the populous is deceived through a large propaganda campaign, most likely amidst a major war and/or an economic crisis. Or, for example, suppose that an organization like Al Qaeda detonates a nuclear weapon in a major American city, and declares that it did so in the name of Islam. Can a major horrific event erase the progress of the civil rights movement in the 20th century by forcing all Muslim citizens of the United States into concentration camps? It’s sick to think about, and surely seems impossible, but is it?

Human rights are violated world-wide on a mass scale, every day, still. We need to learn, ask questions, and help. A book I’m currently reading (Mountains Beyond Mountains) covers just one example of human suffering and an American that gives all his time to make the tiniest incremental improvements in their quality of life.