Dan Mac Alpine: Is it time for Nazi History Month, too?
In honor of Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell’s declaration of April as Confederate History Month — conveniently leaving out that nasty slavery bit because, to paraphrase McConnell, who cares about that anyway? — I think it’s time we declare April Nazi History Month, conveniently leaving out the nasty bit about the Holocaust because, who cares about that anyway?
Think about it. It makes perfect sense. Lee surrendered on April 12, 1865. Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, and was born on April 20, 1889.
The South had great mansions and plantations, a civilization, not only gone with the wind, but also built by millions of slaves over hundreds of years.
But who cares about that anyway?
And Hitler? Well, he got the trains to run on time. He built the autobahns. Why, we wouldn’t even have the Volkswagen Beetle without Hitler. And he had such fashion sense, dressing up all those Germans in spiffy black uniforms with shiny black boots. And, man, could he build a tank. Much of all that building financed with wealth stolen from Jews, first from their bank accounts, their land and their possessions, then their slave labor and then in gold pulled from their teeth.
But who cares about that anyway?
The Confederacy and Nazi Germany have other things in common.
They both have apologists who either seek to mitigate the evil that permeated these societies or ignore it all together, as a sitting, elected governor in the Unite States of America chose to do — perhaps we should, henceforth, refer to WWII as the War of Democratic Aggression?
Yes, yes - the Civil War wasn’t initially fought to end slavery. Yes, Abraham Lincoln merely wanted to prevent its spread to new territories. And, yes, the Emancipation Proclamation, technically, freed no slaves as it only applied in areas in “open rebellion” against the United States. And, yes, at the start of the war, Indiana troops said they would lie down in the woods and let moss grow on their backs before they fought to free one slave, only they didn’t use the word slave.
New England certainly took its share of profit during the slave trade. And, yes, northern industrialists abused immigrant labor. But these workers were paid. They could keep their language. Keep their families intact. They could keep their religion. They could move west. They could vote.
And, yes, the vast majority of Confederate troops were too poor to own another human being.
Yes, Germany suffered terribly under the yoke of a cruel and harsh settlement from WWI, and the Treaty of Versailles prepared the ground for Hitler.
But these factors don’t mitigate the evil inherent in each cause. We can’t, in viewing both sides of history, rewrite it. Mitigate it. Euphemize our way through. We can’t tour Monticello and ignore the slave quarters.
We can’t confuse honoring the soldier with honoring the cause, as Gov. Bob McConnell has done.
I have two uncles who fought in WWII. I’m sure they were both brave in battle. One commanded a panzer tank at Stalingrad. The other was with the Wehrmacht in Italy. Miraculously, both survived.
One uncle recently died. He was a good man. The other is still a good man. When I was in my late teens, my uncle Heinz, survivor of Stalingrad, visited. I asked him, when we were alone on the back deck one day, speaking German, why he went, why he fought. Anger flashed in his eyes. The anger then subsided to resignation: “You either went or you were shot,” he said raising his arms waist high and then letting them flop to his thighs.
I wonder if under different circumstances, would they have stood up as Arne Brun Lie did? Lie died this week, leaving a legacy of bravery fighting the Nazis in the Norwegian underground before being taken prisoner, escaping execution because of a clerical error and then surviving the death camps. Would they have risked execution? Almost certain death in concentration camps, as Lie did?
Under different circumstances, would I take such risks?
I’d like to think so. But I don’t know for sure. I do know we can stand up, now, against euphemizing the past. We can recognize the wrongs, fully and completely, if for no other reason than it’s the only way we can heal and move to a better future.
Dan Mac Alpine is editor of the Ipswich (Mass.) Chronicle.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.