OPINION – This month marks the 70th anniversary of the arrest, trial, and execution of key members of the White Rose Society in WWII Germany.
To understand the importance of what these brave young people did, I encourage you to watch the film “Sophie Scholl, The Final Days.”
At the very least, you will have a far greater appreciation of the direction our nation is headed at this moment. You will also see what extraordinary courage looks like in a time when a majority of people preferred to live in shameful silence.
The story of the White Rose could also serve as a cautionary tale for us today.
In February 1943, siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, along with their friend Christoph Probst, were caught passing out anti-Nazi pamphlets at the University of Munich. They were members of a group that had published and distributed leaflets warning their fellow Germans that Hitler was leading their nation to ruin.
By the time the White Rose began publishing their pamphlets, it was no longer safe to speak openly against the policies of the Third Reich. For nearly 10 years, Hitler had been slowly and methodically tightening his control over German people. There were ample opportunities to speak out prior to 1939 when Hitler lacked popular support and sufficient political and military power. But the German people chose not to.
But as Milton Mayer pointed out in his book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-1945” the journey into the abyss consisted of innumerable baby steps.
Mayer wrote: “What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security.”
These words should serve as a wake up call to every American who sees our politicians cravenly calling for civilian disarmament and extrajudicial drone strikes but simply shrugs and goes back to watching TV.
No one wants to believe that his or her government could go so hopelessly astray. But looking back at the incremental steps our government has taken even over the last 10 years, the direction of its travel is undeniable — away from freedom and toward totalitarianism.
Columnist Glenn Greenwald explained that, “We have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed – and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight.” This asserted power to kill at whim is functionally no different than that wielded by any tyrant throughout history.
So why don’t we speak up when the costs are comparatively low?
Again, Milton Mayer provided insight into why many Germans remained silent until it was too late:
“Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.”
But, as Mayer’s research demonstrated, that realization always arrives too late:
“Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.”
Right now it is relatively easy to warn against traveling the dangerous road our leaders have chosen to follow. The worst backlash a person might face today is the schoolyard ridicule of those who remain in denial that the American people could ever have anything in common with the Germans of the 1930s.
But those who have studied the patterns of history can attest that virtually every nation that succumbed to tyranny and ruin honestly believed that it was somehow immune – right up to the moment they fell.
In every conflict throughout history, there comes a moment when each of us must either choose to ignore what is happening, to join in, or to speak out regardless of the cost.
The story of the White Rose Society illustrates why we should be willing to speak out sooner rather than later.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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