The past two days I have been writing about Hurricane Matthew and the appalling lack of empathy of some people, especially self-proclaimed conservative Christians who support Donald Trump for President in order to supposedly Make America Great Again.
I began to think about what makes people accept the hateful rhetoric of such people, including that of Trump, and even support it. Then I began to think of the classic film, Judgment at Nuremberg. The question of how many Germans, who should have known better abandoned all sense and supported Hitler is quite similar to what is going on with many Trump supporters. They are afraid of the futures, they are frustrated, and their fear of the past, present, and future is such that they are willing to cast aside logic and blindly support a man who can only be called a madman.
In the movie, Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning. As the trial dragged on he was content to allow his defense attorney to use whatever means necessary, even re-victimizing the people who were in fact the victims of his own judgments in support of his government’s policy. When he went to the witness stand his conscience finally got the best of him and he explained his guilt and how he and so many people like him abandoned all sense and morality in supporting Hitler.
“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, 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’ll just leave you with that for now. I think that is enough for the day.