We're facing massive threats from social disruption, political upheaval, violence and climate change. American society seems to be coming apart at the seams. As frightening as it is, though, the stories of the Europeans who went through in World War II makes me bow and weep.
Lately I've been reading gripping novels about World War II (Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, Sebastian Faulks' Charlotte Gray, and most recently Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace). I've come away with these books realizing how spoiled and lacking in perspective we Americans have become, stuck as we are to our bread and circus, buttered-popcorn entertainments and our Twitter feeds.
These novels were not just born of a writer's fantasy; they are deeply-researched works of historical fiction. As a collaborative nonfiction writer myself, I understand that their writers have to be dogged researchers; but instead of just presenting us dry facts that defy understanding ("40 million people died in World War II"), they show us the suffering of flesh-and-blood people scrabbling for a potato in the dust to stay alive. And just as historians do, they show how, in the 1940s, the perceived enemy as proclaimed by Hitler (Jews, the handicapped, anyone who disagreed with Hitler's vision of Aryan purity) were rounded up, tortured, starved and butchered by Germans, whose society also gave us Beethoven and Goethe. These novelists make the brutal reality of living under governmentally-blessed collusion (Vichy's France, Mussolini's Italy) immediate and touching. The authors portray the blind girl, the German engineer, the turncoat, the spy, the saboteur, the French Jews who fled to northern Italy as multifaceted, fascinating characters.
The facts that inform these talented authors are always the same. Millions on both sides of the insane Austrian's fight for "Deutchland uber Alles" suffered and died because one single psychotic Austrian decided he was just going to own it all, and that insane man tapped into a yearning, hungry market. He worked the mesmerizing megaphone, and people identified with his messianic message. Millions of the downtrodden, beaten down from the previous war defeat, went along with that insecure little man's paranoid vision, one that spurred mass killing. Just try to wrap your head around the thought of all the fathers, mothers, children, friends who died, or nearly did, because a that little Austrian persuaded desperate people he was their Drumpf-like savior. (I call him "Drumpf" because that was his ancestors' name, as John Oliver pointed out, and the sound of the word fits with the man's personality.)
The reality of the world wars that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents endured, and all the civil wars and terrible bloodshed and horror endured now, makes all our petty political squabbling and worries seem like nothing. Imagine facing starvation and extermination. Imagine scrounging for a cigarette butt to trade for an apple. We simply can't. But if Trump is unleashed - with the blessings of the Republican Party and a complacent media -- it could come to that, because Herr Drumpf is set in the very same mold as Der Fuhrer, a paranoid little "Boy Man," as Jon Stewart calls him, who fosters fear to spur us to attack each other. "It's true that Donald Trump is not Hitler," wrote Justin Smith, a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris 7-Denis Diderot in the New York Times. "But the fact that the comparison is a recognizable part of our new political landscape, and that the man at its center is not actively seeking to prove it wrong, shows how severe the current crisis is, and hints at how dark the future might get."
I've seen comments to various articles from people who say they will vote for Drumpf because it would be "boring" without him. What a gobsmackingly ignorant thought. This reality-show charlatan could turn our current reality into a living nightmare for the whole planet. This is why Drumpf - who reportedly reads Hitler -- must be stopped. Imagine the ghosts of those who lived through those wars and depressions, shaking their collective heads at us and saying, "you have absolutely NO idea."
There are very few old folks still alive who are able and willing to talk about the horrors they may have witnessed in World War II. We could face such horrors again tomorrow, so very easily, buried and dispersed into the smoke of burnt cities and crematories, and lost to historical amnesia. If we are condemned to new horrors because of our blindness, survivors will only get through it with the help of tight community and compassionate love. We must always for the light, for the humane, the good -- because if we don't, we are colluding with evil. We must fight against that evil with everything we have.