Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What To Do With Hate—What Germans Did Not Do In The Nazi Era

Hate is a very intense emotion. It means to have a passionate dislike for and a strong aversion to someone or something. Like the majority of people, I hate what Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists of German did to millions of Jews, Gypies, Poles, homosexuals, etc. during the dozen years of their rule. How is it that millions of Aryan Germans could overlook what was happening in their country under the Nazi regime?

Fritz Stern, Five Germanys I Have known, writes about German doctors being early and enthusiastic Nazis. Of one such, a former colleague of his Jewish father, he writes,
Even if the man felt a twinge of shame, he was merely following a pervasive German habit of the time: one chose not to see, one didn't see, one didn't want to know. Zivilcourage—meaning civil courage, an excellent German word but not a German practice—grew ever rarer (p. 97).
A bit later, he writes about Germany of the 1930s,
Germany had an air of uniformed normality: the political opposition had been imprisoned and silenced; economic conditions had improved; every success was pompously celebrated as public triumph (p. 104).
The Pueblo, N.M. Chieften's chief managing editor, Steve Henson, asks "What will it take for us to stop hating?" In his conclusion to a July 18, 2010 post, he writes:
We should not insist, "Our president (Obama), right or wrong." But we should insist on this: "This is our president. We may disagree, we may oppose his policies, but he is our president, and we will respect the office and help the president in efforts to improve our country. And if we disagree with the president and his policies, we will support another candidate of our choice.
For those who prefer to hate, then perhaps it's time to get a reality check and travel the world. Learn how truly wonderful our country is, how fortunate we are to live here.

How no matter to what degree we disagree with our president or other elected officials, their intentions—to serve the people, to improve our way of life—is for the most part noble and deserves our support. Not blind support, but support nonetheless.
Earlier in the article he wrote, "To compare our president—any president; doesn't matter if his name is Reagan, Clinton, Bush or Obama — to Hitler is unpatriotic and hateful."

It seems we face the same dilemma as the Depression era Germans. How does one successfully separate policies from the person? How can you respect the office and yet strongly disagree with what the man in the office is doing? How can you support our president when you do not believe his intentions are noble nor that he wants to serve the people and improve our way of life?

In Nazi Germany most Protestant (read Lutheran) clergy and congregations had long fostered a hatred of Jews. They clamored for an elimination of any acknowledgment of the Judaic origins of Christianity. Ultimately thousands of them compromised their theology and historic Christian teachings. They embraced the Nazi version of the German religion. Only a relatively few pastors in the Confessing Church ever publicly stood against Nazism's substitution of race for religion. Many of these clergy were imprisoned. One notable Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was hanged shortly before the war's end for his part in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

We Americans must think carefully about this history. It is probably not possible to separate the man from his policies, especially in public life. We know a man by his fruits, his policies. Once again, hatred is an intense emotional response to and a passionate dislike for a person and/or his policies. To suggest that we should—or are even able to—eliminate such feelings is naive. The more important issue is what any of us DO with such emotional energy. In this democracy we still have some power to bring about change, to unseat politicians embracing and promoting what we consider hateful policies. We still have the power to vote in leaders who will change laws and policies we intensely dislike, yes even hate. Because of their inbred passivity and conformity many, many Germans lost that opportunity once National Socialism had thrown out the democratic policies, parties, laws and constitution of the Weimar Republic. Their time to act was gone. Our time still remains.

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