Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
The Sun: What’s most upsetting to you in the world today?
Paul Krassner: The creeping — no, galloping — fascism in this country, specifically the lack of accountability in government agencies, multinational corporations, and organized religion. Nobody wants to take responsibility for the injustice and anguish they cause. Power without compassion is the name of their game, and dehumanization is their modus operandi. They reek with arrogance. There’s a trickle-up effect, from the brutality permitted in the prison system, to those federal officials who approve international torture. And there’s a trickle-down effect, from Karl Rove’s refusing to testify under oath about the political firings of U.S. attorneys, to the court system in which a just-released African American spent twenty-six years behind bars because the prosecutors withheld evidence of his innocence. And yet those prosecutors cannot be legally punished. At the very least we should give them empathy implants.
The Sun: Do you really think the U.S. has descended into fascism under George W. Bush?
Krassner: I’m sorry, but the Patriot Act won’t allow me to answer that.
“In the Jester’s Court,” Paul Krassner, interviewed by David Kupfer, February 2009
At the risk of seeming a fool, let me say that all hates, wars, needs, desires, perversions (all perversions!) of mankind are built on love — or on its absence. The more I study and read and think, the more I know we come to the world desperately hungry for love — that some of us are lucky, find enough of it; some of us are not. In that race for love that could never be found in mothers or fathers or aunts or uncles or schoolteachers, the psychotics and “leaders” and religious masters find it through politics or money or power, and they come to destroy so much in their twisted desire for what they never had. A lack of love formed Attila, Hitler, Stalin, Haig, Eichmann, Tojo; it is the force that drives men to astonishing cruelty.
“Beautiful Summer in Abano,” Lorenzo W. Milam, September 1985
You can make a spiritually irresponsible statement about evil. For example, I’ve heard people say that Hitler was crying out for love. That may be true. But there was a massive anti-ecological, anti-evolutionary act that he brought into existence, and one could call that evil. There’s a danger in using the deepest level to excuse the other levels. So it seems to me that there is evil. There are acts that oppose the flow of life and growth and human dignity. They must be dealt with courageously. They must be dealt with by warriors.
“The Prayer of the Body III,” Stephen R. Schwartz, interviewed by Sy Safransky, October 1992
I have thought often and painfully of the education I received — in some of the best colleges in this country — about the history of the Third Reich. I was taught by good historians, some of them award-winning. But I was taught the history of Nazi Germany in such a way that I felt as if all of that murderousness had happened to another species on another planet.
My teachers were not Holocaust revisionists. They weren’t saying it didn’t happen. They taught the statistics and the facts and the theories behind the facts, but they presented them at such objective arm’s length that the inwardness of those events was never revealed to me. All was objectified and externalized, and I ended up morally and spiritually deformed as a consequence.
There are two things that I failed to learn from my history courses on Nazi Germany — things that I should have learned, and did learn painfully in later years. One was that the very community I grew up in, on the North Shore of Chicago, had its own fascist anti-Semitic tendencies. I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, and if you were a Jew in the Chicago area, you didn’t live in Wilmette. You didn’t live in Evanston or Kenilworth, either, because there was fascism at work. I should have been taught that. Had my life been connected with history in that way, it would have helped me understand my own time and place, and my own involvement in the same evil. Without that knowledge, there was no way for me to grow morally.
The second, even more deeply inward thing I didn’t learn is that there is within me, in the shadow of my soul, a little Hitler, a force of evil that, when the difference between you and me gets too great, will order me to kill you off. I won’t do it with a bullet or a gas chamber but with a category, a word that renders you irrelevant to my universe: “Oh, you’re just a [fill in the blank].”
“The Grace of Great Things,” Parker J. Palmer, September 1998
The Sun: When you speak about immigration, you often cite the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor . . .” Do you think that image of a safe harbor is still a part of the American identity?
Pramila Jayapal: I think that the majority of Americans still see the U.S. as a nation of immigrants and as a generous, fair country. Of course, people want policies to govern who comes to America and whether they get to stay. And that’s a reasonable request. But research shows that Americans have strong beliefs in fairness, equality, justice, and democracy. The words due process poll well with Americans. Even if people can’t define what the phrase means, it implies to them that there’s a process, it’s fair, and everybody gets treated equally.
But the system isn’t fair, and we’re trying to publicize that. We need due process for everyone who is detained by immigration officials. More than 90 percent of people who go through the incredibly complex immigration system don’t have an attorney, and those who do get one often hire someone who exploits them and sometimes worsens their situation. My group is constantly solving problems for people who have gotten terrible legal advice or been ripped off by corrupt lawyers. And there are not enough immigration judges to hear all the cases. More and more discretion has been given to clerks to make decisions that should be made by judges, such as whether somebody’s going to be deported.
“Without a Country,” Pramila Jayapal, interviewed by Madeline Ostrander, November 2008
Born at the end of the Second World War, I grew up listening to my Jewish relatives condemn not only Adolf Hitler but every German who witnessed, and did nothing to prevent, the extermination of millions of European Jews. What difference did it make whether ordinary Germans were privately revolted by the depravities of the Nazis, my relatives asked, if they did nothing to stop them? Well, the United States in 2006 isn’t Germany in the 1930s, but I have a better idea today of what some Germans must have experienced as the Nazis began their rampage. How many suspected terrorists are being tortured right now by interrogators who claim to speak for me, an ordinary American, while I sit here petting my cat? If the interrogators were torturing my cat in front of me, I wouldn’t just sit here writing about it. But they’re not torturing my cat. And they’re not torturing prisoners right in front of me, but in Iraq and in Guantánamo Bay and in dank cellars in Eastern Europe — far from the room where I’m sitting this morning, this comfortable room with no blood on the walls, no screams echoing down the hall; far from this room where I read the newspaper and shake my head in dismay that somewhere a hooded man in handcuffs is about to be kicked again. How vigorously I shake my head, thinking, No, no, oh no.
Sy Safransky’s Notebook, July 2006
Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, is two and a half miles away. The trail between the two camps is often referred to as “Death March Road.” Birkenau means “birch-tree woods.” It was built as an extermination camp.
The Nazis used to tell the prisoners upon their arrival in Birkenau that the only way out was through the chimneys. I spend two days wandering there. I feel numb. An exhibit displays the victims’ family photos. The air is filled with ghosts.
I learn that it took only twenty minutes for a newly arrived group of Jews to be undressed, gassed, and stripped of hair, gold fillings, and jewelry before being taken to the crematorium. At the height of operation, as many as twelve thousand bodies were burned each day. Their ashes were plowed into the soil and dumped into ponds.
At the large “pond of human ashes,” I tiptoe silently around the edges, trying to photograph it with great respect. At some point, though, I sink into the water. It’s very much like a swamp, and as hard as I try, I cannot get to dry land. I go deeper and deeper into the pond. At first I am filled with horror. My shoes are soaked. It feels disrespectful and sacrilegious to be there among the ashes. The water is warm. I start to cry.
Then somehow I begin to feel solidly connected to the people I have been trying to imagine all day, the people who are my ancestors. I stand in the water and weep.
“Among the Ashes,” Gloria Baker Feinstein, July 2002
No one ever said a word around me about Hitler or the Holocaust. That was too big and awful for little ears, such innocent shells. But I soon learned what had happened from books. I began, of course, with Anne Frank. Staring at her picture on the cover, I was stunned by the resemblance between us: dark hair, clear face, brown eyes, a bold yet shy look. Were she and I the same? More books followed: The Last of the Just, Exodus, The Wall.
“You shouldn’t read so much,” my mother said. “Your eyes will fall out.”
“Curtains,” Genie Zeiger, May 1999