I’m a Cold War baby. The one thing that growing up in Western Europe on U.S. military bases gives you is a clear sense of who the enemy is. When your sixth-grade classroom is a converted Hitler youth barrack, the fallen enemy is all around you.
Nazis. Nazis and their view of the world, are always the enemy.
But much like our newfound happy-go-lucky embrace of all things Russian in the Trump Administration, our clear cut sense of enemy is now skewed. Nazism has gone from being the ultimate wrong to being the negotiable right.
And that’s just wrong.
Who are we as an American people if we cannot make that distinction? If the concept and people both my grandfathers fought against in World War II now mean nothing?
Sometimes there are not two sides to every story and there aren’t many sides to blame. Sometimes there’s just good and evil. And, um, you aren’t supposed to defend evil.
Hopefully in our own little corner of America up here in Plumas County we can differentiate that a little better than how it is coming out of the White House.
I hear pockets of what I call, “But what about…” talking points in Indian Valley and Quincy. They go like this: “Nazism might be wrong (might?!) but what about the right to free speech? But what about protesters on the other side? But what about Confederate history?
To which I answer, but what about common decency?
Perhaps that is what we lack the most as a country. Common decency. Perhaps this is what I like the most about us here in the county. Common decency. There is so much to respond to in these ‘what about’ statements.
Of course free speech should always be protected, but how is celebrating neo Nazis and white supremacy any different than yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded building?
If you can’t get behind people counter protesting Nazis then my goodness what can you get behind? Not all people’s responses are the same, and no one can ever control a whole crowd.
I’m sure you watched the video footage of all those angry young (white) men in Charlottesville. What was your gut reaction to it? It probably says a good deal about you. I thought about a few things. How was it that they had the time to do this? Weren’t they in school? Didn’t they have jobs? I thought about what would have happened to them if they were Native American (truly the only people who can say ‘we’re taking our country back’) wouldn’t they have been met with tear gas and rubber bullets a la Standing Rock for their efforts? If they were black would arrests have been made for the same behavior?
I thought about the Confederate statues rampant in Southern cities. I remember going to elementary school in Augusta, Georgia, near Ft. Gordon. Those statues didn’t mean anything about history and everything to do with putting people in their place.
Historically those monuments did not go up after the Civil War but during the Civil Rights Era a hundred years later to remind residents of, well, white supremacy.
When I first saw the photos of the neo-Nazis and KKK sans hoods to hide their faces, my first thoughts went back to photographs I saw on a trip to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, which is housed partly in the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in downtown Memphis.
On one wall of the museum I visited eight years ago were seemingly endless photographs of seas of white faces unhidden at picnic like occasions with — as Billie Holiday once sang — “Strange Fruit” hanging in the trees.
That’s where the neo-Nazi, alt-right, whatever you want to call it hate rhetoric leads. It leads to mob mentality and the bodies of fellow citizens lynched in trees while seemingly nice people with smiles on their faces gather for community picnics below.
How many Civil Wars do we have to fight before the Civil War is over? How did we fight World War II against Nazism but fail to recognize it when we see it? How did it happen that the Cold War means nothing now?
Maybe the rest of the country could take a lesson from us. Sure, we have neo Nazis here in Plumas County same as the rest of the country, but we also have something else — a vital need to get along with our neighbors.
We also have a respect for those who work regardless of the color of their skin because this county can’t function without everyone all in to make it work. Just look at how we come together in fire situations — up here we seem to accept the fact that we are all connected to each other in one way or another (so newcomers make sure not to talk smack about people because the person you’re talking to is probably the cousin of the person you’re talking about).
It is my hope that this ugliness in our national culture goes away soon. But it won’t until we do a few things to acknowledge its presence.
For one, we need to be cut and dry about neo-Nazis and the alt-right. There is no place in a democracy for the supremacy of one culture or skin tone. In fact just writing those words seems idiotic. What kind of people would base their pride on the melatonin in their literal skin?
Two, we need to put a lid on crazy. Sure, all of us have that crazy racist uncle that you hope you don’t have to sit next to at Thanksgiving. But we don’t need to let him carve the turkey and we certainly shouldn’t leave him alone with the children.
Three, I think it’s time we hit the books. If this alterative history of the neo-Nazis is taken for truth these days, then our educational system has failed us. Get the kids off YouTube and SnapChat and onto some solid history books, and dear god, nothing from the Heritage Foundation whose propaganda I hold responsible for at least half the issues plaguing us right now.
Four? We just need to be better people.