Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A visit to the Imperial War Museum...and what it says about American politics today.



Last month in London we visited the Imperial War Museum. I am a pacifist by nature, and before we first went two years ago I didn't think a museum dedicated to war would have anything to interest me. Oh, but I was wrong. It’s an outstanding museum. I’ve since returned three times, and each time I've been amazed by what I learned there.


I’ve had my heart figuratively ripped out of my chest by the suffering showcased in the World War I exhibit, which we saw on the day it opened in 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. I've seen their massive exhibit on Churchill and the staunch way he rallied the nation to hunker down and fend off the relentless attacks of power-driven Hitler during World War II. I’ve viewed lighter exhibits on wartime fashion, home and family life during the war, and a recent anti-war art exhibit of works by Peter Kennard, which concluded by showing the amount in the U.S. Artillery budget vs. the number of children living in poverty worldwide…some pretty sobering statistics that bring home the true cost of war.


Certainly most sobering and heartbreaking of all is the holocaust exhibit. We spent hours listening to voice recordings and video clips of survivors recounting their experiences. We took the time to read all the descriptions and commentaries throughout the displays. One thing that struck me more than ever before on this visit was what I learned about Hitler's rise to power…clear back in 1933, before a second World War was even a possibility.


Not unlike our current and ongoing recovery from a major recession, Germany was slowly recovering from a major financial setback—The Great Depression. Hitler's rhetoric was full of rousing platitudes like, “Make Germany great again.” According to The History Place, "He would find in this downtrodden people, an audience very willing to listen. In his speeches, Hitler offered the Germans what they needed most, encouragement. He gave them heaps of vague promises while avoiding the details. He used simple catchphrases, repeated over and over." Sound familiar?


At the same time Hitler was singling out the Jews—a minority religious group—and blaming the current problems on them. "According to this racial doctrine, Jews were an inferior race that was poisoning Germany and so did not belong in the community." (annefrank.org)


We saw the way Hitler manipulated the media by hiring filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to help orchestrate the way the movement appeared in news propaganda, making it look bigger and better than it really was. Had reality t.v. been available then, certainly Hitler would have snatched that spotlight as well, the way he took control of the radio waves. It struck me as hauntingly similar to what is going on in America right now.


When the current republican nominee first entered the race, I thought, “He’s a total buffoon. No one will take him seriously.” Now his rallies are riling up crowds and promoting violence and bigotry. He’s not just a laughing stock. He’s a megalomaniac ushering in a real-life version of the fictional feature film “Idiocracy” by promoting machismo, objectification of women, racism, and other destructive, uneducated, anti-family behavior.


He’s singling out and vilifying an entire religious group based on the behavior of some rash extremists. He has openly offended Britain's prime minister and the mayor of London—never mind that for two centuries England has been our strongest ally.

More recently, he has befriended and praised the leadership of Vladimir Putin, who has sent unconscionable power-grabbing sieges into the Ukraine, and most recently banned all religious practice—including prayer—from anyplace other than recognized churches in his country. This candidate is not just a buffoon any more. He's dangerous.


"Don't forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!" —Adolf Hitler told a British journalist in 1934. Sounds chillingly like today in America. The laughing stock of the presidential race thinks he is about to take over.


In 1933, there was no World Wide Web to research the instigator of the second World War. No one then could google the character of Adolf Hitler and make a better decision as to who ruled Germany. But today we have no such excuse. We have all the information we need at our fingertips.


With Hitler promoting the Aryan race, and Mr. Reality TV calling hispanic immigrants criminals, drug dealers and rapists, it’s no coincidence that Trump's campaign is endorsed by the Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi group.

Countless news articles have revealed the "man behind the curtain," showing the real candidate, including serial divorces and affairs, multiple bankruptcies, which end up hurting and punishing the American middle class, a lack of charitable giving, knee-jerk reactions and an inability to focus or think things through before pouncing, and an overall lack of integrity—in addition to his bullying stances on race and religion. Just today the New York Times released an article on him that looks a whole lot like large-scale tax evasion, aided by chronyism. He doesn't share our values; he's manipulating the system and taking advantage of a situation to feed his own ego and agenda.


History is destined to repeat itself if we don’t learn the appropriate lessons from what’s happened in the past. This is our opportunity to take a lesson from the great historical repository that is the Imperial War Museum, head dangerous-and-irresponsible-leadership-that-looks-a-whole-lot-like-fascism off at the pass, and choose a better direction for our nation, our families, and our future.

August 19 Update: Trump's campaign manager resigned today—the second campaign manager to jump ship in as many months.

One final word: I normally don't get involved in the political arena, preferring to keep my opinions to myself. But having seen what I've seen over the past few months, I feel I have an obligation to speak up. This is one presidential race where perhaps more is at stake than ever before. The bombastic, inflammatory rhetoric of this would-be leader of the free world seems to have fueled his supporters to behave in similar other-bashing and intolerant ways. If you happen to be one of these people, please restrain yourself. I welcome healthy dialogue and friendly conversation, but this blog is not a battleground. It is a meeting of the minds.

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