What has happened to my country?
On June 28th Mike Malloy asked, “What has happened to my country?”
It’s been banging around in my head since the 1999 primaries while I watched a mildly retarded man become the standard-bearer of the Republican Party.
Here was a guy so magnificently ill-equipped to be president that it was inconceivable that Republicans would gleefully say, “That’s My Boy!” With the addendum that his lightweightedness (It must be a word. I just typed it didn’t I?) was perfectly balanced by the “gravitas” of Dick Cheney.
What a load.
But they bought it fueled by their uncontrollable disdain for Clinton’s blow-job. Why … voting for Gore is commensurate with approving of everything that had gone on before! Can’t have that.
And it helped that the Supreme Court got the Republicans over the hump by thwarting the will of the American People by being instrumental in helping to steal the election for “Their Boy.”
So we had a little a coup d’état in 2000.
But that’s sooooo six and a half years ago.
A couple of nights ago I watched for the first time in at least 15 years … Judgment at Nuremberg.
Y’know … 1961 … Stanley Kramer directed. Starred Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell (Academy Award for Best Actor in this film that year), Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, and funnily enough, Werner “Colonel Klink” Klemperer. Abby Mann won for best screenplay.
Years ago when I watched it I pretty much dismissed it as another example of Stanley Kramer’s ham-fisted lets-smack-em-over-the-head-with-a-sledge-hammer-so-everybody-gets-The-Point movie.
What a callous guy I was back then as a cinema-snob. When I watched it a couple of nights ago I Was Blown Away. Y’see the subtext that winds its way through the whole movie is this:
How could the German people not know what was going on and therefore do they not share in the guilt by being an accessory to the crimes of The Third Reich?
It starts as a simple question Spencer Tracy asks his housekeepers in Nuremberg:
Tracy: I’m just curious. I’d like to know. For instance, there was a place called Dachau … which was not too many miles from here. Did you ever know what was going on there?
The housekeepers respond: We knew nothing about it. How can you ask if we knew anything about that? … Hitler did some good things. I won’t say he didn’t do some good things. He built the Autobahn. He gave more people work. We won’t say he didn’t do some good things.
But the other things … the things they say he did to the Jews and the rest we knew nothing about that. Very few Germans did.
And if we did know … what could we do?
Tracy: But you said you didn’t know.
This question of guilt builds slowly with increasing intensity until Burt Lancaster, as the German judge Ernst Janning, delivers an incredibly powerful speech at the end of the trial. Spencer Tracy’s dialogue when he hands down the verdict and his last response to Burt Lancaster in the prison answers the question asked throughout the film.
Knowledge coupled with inaction equals guilt.
Or to put it a different context for the religious right-wing-gasbags:
James 4:17 gives us the biblical framework:
Oh … but for we who know what is right to do
And do not do it
For us … it is sin.
I have neither the time, patience, or will to transcribe a 178 minute movie … but I’m sure glad somebody did and uploaded it onto the Internet. Ain’t technology grand?
Just read Burt Lancaster’s monologue:
Ernst Janning: I wish to testify about the Feldenstein case because it was the most significant trial of the period. It is important not only for the tribunal to understand it but for the whole German people. But in order to understand it one must understand the period in which it happened.
There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes. But it was torn by elements within.
Above all, there was fear: Fear of today, fear of tomorrow … fear of our neighbors … and fear of ourselves.
Only when you understand that … can you understand what Hitler meant to us.
Because he said to us: “Lift your heads. “Be proud to be German. “There are devils among us: “Communists, liberals, Jews, Gypsies. “Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.”
It was the old story of the sacrificial lamb.
What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies, and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part?
Because we loved our country.
What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password.
And history tells how well we succeeded, Your Honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany … mesmerized the world. We found ourselves with sudden, powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now.
The world said, “Go ahead, take it. “Take it. “Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland, remilitarize it. “Take all of Austria. Take it.”
And then, one day, we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger.
The ritual began in this courtroom … swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase … had become the way of life.
Your Honor … I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name. Until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it. He has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps … the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen-year-old girl, after all.
Once more, it is being done … for love of country.
It is not easy to tell the truth. But if there is to be any salvation for Germany … we who know our guilt must admit it … whatever the pain … and humiliation.
I had reached my verdict on the Feldenstein case before I ever came into the courtroom. I would have found him guilty, whatever the evidence. It was not a trial at all. It was a sacrificial ritual in which Feldenstein, the Jew, was the helpless victim.
I am aware. My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps.
Where were we?
Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in the Reichstag?
Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau?
Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal … where cattle cars were filled with children … being carried off to their extermination?
Where were we when they cried out in the night to us?
Were we deaf?
My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse … we were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty?
Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.
I am going to tell them the truth. I am going to tell them the truth, if the whole world conspires against it. I am going to tell them the truth about their Ministry of Justice.
Werner Lammpe, an old man who cries into his Bible now. An old man who profited by the property expropriation … of every man he sent to a concentration camp.
Friedrich Hoffstetter … the good German who knew how to take orders … who sent men before him to be sterilized like so many digits.
Emil Hahn … the decayed, corrupt bigot … obsessed by the evil within himself.
And Ernst Janning … worse than any of them … because he knew what they were … and he went along with them.
Ernst Janning … who made his life … excrement … because he walked with them.
And then Tracy delivers the verdict.
Tracy: The trial conducted before this tribunal began over eight months ago. The record of evidence is thousands of pages long … and final arguments of counsel have been concluded. Simple murders and atrocities do not constitute the gravamen of the charges in this indictment. Rather, the charge is that of conscious participation in a nationwide, government-organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations.
The tribunal has carefully studied the record and found therein abundant evidence to support beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against these defendants.
Herr Rolfe in his very skillful defense has asserted that there are others who must share the ultimate responsibility for what happened here in Germany. There is truth in this.
The real complaining party at the bar in this courtroom is civilization. But the tribunal does say that the men in the dock are responsible for their actions. Men who sat in black robes in judgment on other men. Men who took part in the enactment of laws and decrees the purpose of which was the extermination of human beings. Men who, in executive positions actively participated in the enforcement of these laws illegal even under German law. The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime any person who is an accessory to the crime … is guilty.
Herr Rolfe … further asserts that the defendant Janning was an extraordinary jurist and acted in what he thought was the best interest of his country. There is truth in this also. Janning, to be sure is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul … must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial. If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.
But this trial has shown that under a national crisis ordinary, even able and extraordinary men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.
No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them. Men sterilized because of political belief. A mockery made of friendship and faith. The murder of children. How easily it can happen.
There are those in our own country too who today speak of the protection of country of survival. A decision must be made in the life of every nation … at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way.
The answer to that is: Survival as what? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult. Before the people of the world … let it now be noted … that here in our decision, this is what we stand for:
Justice … truth … and the value of a single human being.
At the end of the film Tracy visits Lancaster in his cell.
Lancaster: I know the pressures that have been brought upon you. You will be criticized greatly. Your decision will not be a popular one.
But if it means anything to you … you have the respect of at least one of the men you convicted. By all that is right in this world … your verdict was a just one.
Tracy: Thank you.
Lancaster: What you said in the courtroom, it needed to be said.
Judge Haywood … the reason I asked you to come … Those people … those millions of people … I never knew it would come to that.
You must believe it.
Tracy: Herr Janning … it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.
Y’see the reason this movie knocked me out this time …
In 1961 we were The Good Guys (relatively speaking). Spencer Tracy was pointing his finger at them. All you who knew … are guilty.
And in 1961 we were smugly watching Tracy point his finger at them. We were right behind him.
46 years later …
He’s pointing the finger at us.
We knew, or rather those that chose to pay attention, that there were no WMD’s and The United States illegally invaded a country whose government and citizens did not constitute a threat against us. We went for the oil and we went to make sure that Haliburton et al were obscenely enriched by a preemptive war.
According to the latest estimate … Almost one million Iraqis have died since the invasion.
We know … because we read it in the papers, saw it on TV, and hear it on the radio.
The sick bastards who call the Geneva Convention “quaint” and redefined the word “torture” cannot change the reality.
We torture people. And then we kill them.
And here we are … stuck with repeating lines from a Stanley Kramer movie:
Your Honor, we are only little people … And if we did know … what could we do?
The Bush Crime Family has transformed our country’s citizens into “Little People.”
Impotent moral midgets whose only possible actions are protesting, typing email to our elected representatives (Hah!), and hoping that this nightmare goes away sooner or later.
We thought we were the kind of people Norman Rockwell would paint. Strong, humble, moral people who “Did The Right Thing.”
Nope. Now we’re “Little People” ohhhhhhh about two inches high. Jumping up and down on our keyboards clacking away to Nancy Pelosi to Please Put Impeachment Back On The Table.
Sometimes we call if we can reach the phone.
That’s what has happened to our country.
We’ve all been dosed with Dr. Cyclops’s radium ray. It’s so much easier to slide into Fascism when we’re only a few inches tall.
I used to wonder How In The World could the German people let Hitler and his gang get away with it. Why didn’t they stop him? Why couldn’t they stop him?
There weren’t any protest groups at the gates of Dachau for a couple of really good reasons.
One: It’s better to be on the outside of the gate than it is to do something that could get you inside the gate.
Two: If you don’t have the shield of Habeas Corpus … You can find yourself inside the gate quicker’n you can imagine.
But all in all …
It is very uncomfortable to have Spencer Tracy point his finger at me.
What has happened to my country?
Once again concision has eluded me.
What has happened to my country?
July 9, 2007