5/23/2005

 

The Next Krystallnacht

 

A while back I wrote about the key lesson of the last century, that when a leader has an idealistic goal, even when itís a good goal, but doesnít stick to humane means of pursuing that goal, then great tragedies occur.

There is a companion error made all too frequently in the last century, the complicity of the people.

The Nazis steadily encouraged hatred of the Jews and, having laid that groundwork, called for an attack on them. Many citizens participated in Nazi youth gangs and militias in the attack known as kristallnacht. Itís in your encyclopedia.

It is the acquiescing in laying that groundwork that is the great error. In our own way we are seeing the repeat of that error. There is a growing acceptance of opinion makers spewing, not just disagreement with their opposition, but a disdain, a win-at-all-costs attitude, an attitude that those who disagree are either idiots or evil. That in turn lays the groundwork for justifying treating your opposition unhumanely, for justifying winning by dirty tricks, which can easily escalate into much worse.

There is always a thin veneer of love the sinner but hate the sin, but in the whole stew of what they say there is little room left for anything but hate.

Many issues rightly generate serious concern and passion. Whether it is abortion or the extinction of whole species or the loss of last old growth forests. But when we loose our commitment to work these things out in civilized ways, we are committing that same tragic error.

Given the tactics many of our leaders use, the dirty tricks, the venom many opinion makers spew, would violence be surprising? Right here in our own community weíve had the vandalizing of the gay pride center. We hope it was just a couple of wayward youths, but they got the idea it would be okay from somewhere. Given the tone of letters in this paper about the ACLU, if there was a local office would it be a surprise if it was vandalized? Given the tensions there will be in this area as we grow would it be a surprise to hear about the vandalizing of some developerís office or the arson of some construction?

When we commit to sorting out these issues by civilized, democratic processes we will sometimes lose our case. Permanent errors may result, like the development of some pristine area that can never be recovered. Perhaps even consequences you take to be about life and death, like abortion or end-of-life issues. But that is the true test of our commitment. That even when the consequences are great we stick to civilized methods. The alternative is to repeat the tragic errors of the past.

When you or I talk with people, pressing the case for our viewpoint, stating that we agree with this or that leader or opinion maker, we must just as clearly state that we disagree with their tone, if it is hateful, or their tactics, if they disrespect the opposition. If we do not, then perhaps you wonít engage in violence, but someone else more volatile and less mature who gets the idea that all this hate is okay, will. When we are stating the case for our position, if we do not just as clearly stand against the hate mongering, then we are acquiescing in laying the groundwork for the next kristallnacht.