9-11 and 11-9: And We Thought We Were Free

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Kristallnacht (11-9-38), the official start of Nazi Germany’s "endless war" against the Jews, was not an historical aberration. Rather, the Night of the Shattering Glass, which saw every synagogue and virtually every Jewish business in Germany vandalized and destroyed during the same two day period, was emblematic of an all-too-common reality that has been going on ever since the first tyrant orchestrated the first "plausible" excuse to start the first war, by sending his obedient and dutiful soldiers to kill enemy soldiers, noncombatants, women, children, infants and the unborn, in the mass slaughter of war. Today, in the high-energy confusion of 9-11 that started Bush’s endless war against nebulous "terrorism," the realities of Kristallnacht, war and fascism need to be examined. 9-11 and 11-9 have many common roots — and therefore offer many lessons to be learned.

Conscienceless tyrants throughout the history of the world have been behind every aggressive war (with Christians, ironically, doing most of the killing), sending their soldiers to do what they were trained to do; that is, kill on command, no questions asked.

Here are just a few examples of military threats from my reading of the real history of warfare: “If you French guerilla fighters kill but one of our Nazi soldiers, we will kill 50 of your people, starting with the prisoners we’re torturing for intelligence information right now.” Or: “If you Palestinians kill but one of our Israeli Defense Force soldiers, we will kill 20 of your people.” Or this hypothetical reality: “since you Japanese killed 2,500 of our US soldiers at Pearl Harbor (no civilians were targeted or even killed there) we Americans can justify killing 300,000 of your innocent citizens at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (a ratio of 1:120, with essentially no enemy soldiers being in either of those two cities on August 6 and 9 of 1945), and even then our besmirched honor and lust for revenge may never be appeased."

In 1955, Milton Mayer wrote a book entitled They Thought They Were Free. The book chronicles the lives of 10 men, all German Christians, from a small town in Germany. Each of the men were directly involved, in their roles as Nazi party functionaries or militia members, in the acts of arson and terrorism against the local Jewish synagogue and Jewish businesses on Nov. 9, 1938.

Because of the assassination, by a justifiably angry young Jewish man, of a mid-level Nazi party bureaucrat in Paris a few days earlier, these patriotic Germans justified their violence with the question: “We had to do something, didn’t we?”

Each of the 10 Germans Mayer interviewed had eagerly joined the Nazi party while Hitler was gaining power, and when Mayer interviewed them 8 years after the German empire had ended up in ashes, they still felt strongly that what Hitler had done for the German Volk proved that the Fhrer was the Savior of Germany and a political genius who had fashioned an economic miracle. They had never known such prosperity or feelings of communal warmth, security and prideful patriotism, a patriotism that increasingly united the nation whenever there were threats from foreigners outside their borders or anti-fascist freedom-fighters (AKA “terrorists”) from within. Interestingly, the feeling that the right-wing Nazi party genuinely cared for all true Germans was honestly felt.

Mayer’s book was sobering, with deep insights into fascism that enables the reader to understand the motivations of ordinary middle-class church-going people for embracing violent militaristic nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and sexism. The need to expand the empire, the willingness to kill those fingered as enemies of the state and the big business influence on politics and policy — including the decimation of the trade union movement — is not hard to comprehend. (It is important to recall at this point that the German weapons industry was the most important part of Hitler’s economic boom, and allowing trade unions to exist would have been bad for both the Nazis and big business’s agendas.)

So what are the lessons we should learn? First of all, even if we can’t predict how or when our American Empire might fall, someone has to start talking about the painful historical similarities between each of the world’s fascist empires that have crashed and burned over the past century and the bipartisan corporatist cabal in Washington, DC. (Note: It’s important to admit that all empires eventually fall, especially when they become corrupted by abusive military power, a police state mentality, indifference to human suffering and excess luxury wealth — all of which come at the expense of the poor.)

History tells us that when an empire’s political leaders, militarists, propagandists, media and big businesses are corrupted by power, wealth and greed, the end of that empire is approaching. It’s a sad commentary on our American society that one should have to again repeat the old adage that "those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it," but it must be said that those who pay the price of an empire’s fall are not necessarily the power elite that start the wars and have personal fortunes that allow them to survive the aftermath, but rather the cannon fodder soldiers and civilian victims who are just pawns in the game.

Those people of conscience who see the eternally powerful truths in the ethics of Jesus, must be among the ones to speak out courageously against tyranny. Jesus preached about mercy, forgiveness and nonviolent love of friend and enemy in the Sermon on the Mount, which is, tragically, a sermon that we seldom hear from average Christian pulpits in America. And, as could be predicted for any militaristic Christian nation, it was likewise not preached in the churches of pre-Nazi Germany either.

If America continues on its downward spiral towards more and more blatant fascism (a partial definition of fascism is within paragraph 7 above), and consent is given by the church’s silence on war issues, we will at some time in the future lament our decision not to act against the tyranny of government, law enforcement, the judiciary and big business. Those of us who speak out will inevitably provoke the wrath of those in positions of power who prefer that the people remain silent and obedient. But someone must work up the courage to cry out the warning. People of the Christian faith who have heard the clear command of Jesus to courageously work for true peace and true justice and become active, nonviolent resisters of tyranny must be among the ones to shoulder the responsibility to speak out.

There are many demeaned and persecuted minority groups in America, which the Nazis would have called the Untermenschen (subhuman ones), that need protection. The list includes Native Americans, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, "undocumented" farm laborers, Muslims, Palestinians, Aboriginal peoples, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, the children, the poor and enslaved people everywhere. And we must not forget about the protection needed by the tortured and poisoned Earth and her sick and dying creatures that are also being threatened for the profits of the few. One has to be blind or corrupted to not see that we live in a nation that is on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of justice.

I hope that I am wrong about the similarities between 9-11 and 11-9, but when one looks with an unblinking and critical eye at most US bureaucratic institutions, (most of which are peopled by decent but obedient employee/pawns) we also see political agendas that include: 1) promoting fear and confusion through blatantly obvious propaganda campaigns; 2) gradually "disappearing" the civil and human rights of the non-elite; 3) usurping power through intimidation and the threat of military or police power, while at the same time 4) having Christian religious leaders contradict their messiah by blasphemously assuring their fellow Christians: “you can kill your enemies if your earthly security is at stake.”

The god that Jesus of Nazareth revealed to his followers was a god of unconditional love, everlasting mercy and unending forgiveness. Jesus clearly commanded his followers to be merciful and refrain from harming "the least of these." May we learn the lessons of 9-11 and 11-9 before it’s too late.

Gary Kohls, MD [send him mail] is a Duluth, Minnesota physician, an avowed anti-fascist and therefore a peace and justice activist who has an aversion to human slaughter from any source, whether in times of war or in times of peace.

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