Lessons From Auschwitz-Birkenau

One cannot help but be tormented by the sights of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The sheer size of the complex and the efficiency with which the Nazis exterminated millions is overwhelming. Each of the chimneys in this view are remnants of a barracks that held 4-5 hundred human beings awaiting death.

Emptied and refilled over and over.

The Nazis epitomized all that is wrong with humanity. It is necessary to remind ourselves of the beast within us.

Adolf Hitler killed no Jews.  He used the power of hate, anger, misinformation, and repetition of lies to inspire an entire nation to kill millions of innocent men, women, and children simply because they were different. For anyone, anywhere, to emulate the philosophies of the Nazis is the height of ignorance and evil.

To deny the Holocaust is obscene. It is to abandon one’s very soul.

Instead of worrying about football players taking a knee during the National Anthem, we should all be more concerned of the existence of the American Nazi Party and their supporters. Nothing is more unAmerican than such hate.

I defy any rational human being to stand under the gate to Auschwitz, to read the words Abreit macht frei, and not recognize the evil of such philosophies. To stand in a room, once filled with human beings stripped of their dignity, and realize it was intentionally flooded with poisonous gas by other human beings is to know true evil.

I stood mere feet from the ovens used to consume the remains of what were once vibrant human beings, all in the cause of purifying the Third Reich. That people holding such philosophies exist today is the worst abomination of humanity. The one thing every American should agree with is there is no place for such hate in our country or anywhere in the world.

It is said that if you desire peace, you should prepare for war. I think a better philosophy is, 

If you desire peace, remember the cost of war.

These shoes, taken from a child before he or she was sent to the gas chambers, are a reminder of that cost. They sit alone in front of 40000 pairs found in storage after the Nazis fled the camps. A small reminder of the estimated 16 million pairs taken during the Holocaust.

What potential did we lose with this child’s death?

An Einstein? A Chopin? A Maya Angelou? A Nobel Prize in Medicine? 

That is the cost of war and the price of forgetting the past.

At the entrance to one of the barracks in Auschwitz, is the saying by George Santayana “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Remember, Hitler did not kill one Jew.  Yet, with mere words, caused millions of deaths for the sake of a lie.

Never Again!

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Thermonuclear Tweets (A Modern Day Version of Rome Burns while Nero Fiddles)

In the latest round of tweets out of the President, we have him mocking diplomatic efforts in North Korea and engaging in a juvenile name-calling tirade against a highly respected Senator.

neroHere are the tweets from @realdonaldtrump if you missed the latest.

Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars & getting nothing. Policy didn’t work!

Bob Corker gave us the Iran Deal, & that’s about it. We need HealthCare, we need Tax Cuts/Reform, we need people that can get the job done!

I suppose if you consider avoiding war while slowing the development of nuclear weapons a failure, he has a point. But tweets as a platform for policy pronouncements is about as useful as a poem on an underground wall or graffiti on a railroad car. The choice of broadcasting the messages says more than the content.

Finding a way to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea has failed. It’s where the leadership of President Trump takes us now that is the wild card. There is a vast chasm between nuclear proliferation and nuclear war. Wise counsel offers a chance to avoid the later, it’s the absence of wise counsel that concerns me.

Herein lies the real issue. The President’s public tantrums about any criticism of his policies, no matter how accurate the criticism, offers little hope for a considered and rational policy. The nature of war, in a world of nuclear weapons, has changed. And It is not just the nature of warfare that’s changed, it is the essence of what would constitute victory that’s different. If the death toll in five minutes of a nuclear exchange could exceed that of World War II and be considered a victory, it is Pyrrhic at best.

In the book, On War, Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “war is the extension of politics by other means.” The book is considered must reading for those who would engage in warfare, particularly as a commander. But, written in 1832, it concerned a world of weapons much different than today.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was a US-born philosopher. She became famous for her work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, as one of the first to propose that Nazism and Stalinism have common roots. Her work, On Violence, published in 1970 offers a remarkable insight into today’s volatile nuclear-armed world.

She wrote in a world where the nuclear “club” had fewer members, but her words are prophetic.

The technical development of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential or justify their actual use in armed conflict. Hence, warfare—from time immemorial the final merciless arbiter in international disputes—has lost much of its effectiveness and nearly all its glamour. The “apocalyptic” chess game between the superpowers, that is, between those that move on the highest plane of our civilization, is being played according to the rule “if either ‘wins’ it is the end of both”; it is a game that bears no resemblance to whatever war games preceded it. Its “rational” goal is deterrence, not victory, and the arms race, no longer a preparation for war, can now be justified only on the grounds that more and more deterrence is the best guarantee of peace.

She spoke of the world of warfare described by Clausewitz, and it’s changing nature.

“Even more conclusive than this simple reversal proposed by the anonymous author of the Report from Iron Mountain—instead of war being “an extension of diplomacy (or of politics, or of the pursuit of economic objectives),” peace is the continuation of war by other means—is the actual development in the techniques of warfare. In the words of the Russian physicist Sakharov, “A thermonuclear war cannot be considered a continuation of politics by other means (according to the formula of Clausewitz). It would be a means of universal suicide.”

History is replete with examples of nations advancing their political policy through war. In the United States, for most of our history, we have gone to war to defend ourselves and our principles. There were exceptions, Vietnam being the most obvious although a strong argument can be made against our Iraq incursion.

This is meaningless in a nuclear engagement. The war game scenarios contemplating the results of a nuclear exchange with North Korea are bleak at best, and cataclysmic at worst.

Millions of people will die. The long-term environmental, geopolitical, and economic effects are unpredictable. The conscience of the nations that launch missiles will be tested.

When we need the best and the brightest guiding the nation and making deeply considered and crafted decisions, we have a tweeting fiddler fueling the fire.

For my entire life, my generation and those who followed have lived in a nuclear-armed world. As a child, the most significant threat I feared from atomic weapons was Godzilla. If the godless commies in Russia or China attacked, I had only to duck and cover and wait for the recess bell.

Now I know better. Now I know that, while not perfect, brilliant minds have so far steered the world away from nuclear conflagration. We can only hope the “child care workers” known as the President’s advisers can keep order in the White House adult day care center.

Or will we tweet our way to living with killing millions of people because we lack leaders with imagination and conscience?

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The Great Myth: Religious Tolerance in America

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or abridging the free exercise thereof…”  So say the first words of the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, those words, in their practical application, have been twisted into a false interpretation of their intent.first amendment

In the United States, these words are meant to prevent abridging the free exercise thereof if it is a Judeo-Christian flavor.

If Ford Motor Corporation refused to allow women employees to drive to work, or buy Ford cars, because of an interpretation of the Quran, what would the reaction be?

If Amazon needed a husband’s approval for any purchase by a woman, what would the reaction be?

If the State of Rhode Island accepted the decree of an Imam on the divorce of a couple and deprived the woman of any child custody or financial support, what would the reaction be?

In the 21st century, our President interjects himself into the personal lives of millions of American women out of concern for “risky sexual behavior” using the cover of supporting religious freedom.

All that one must do is look at the list of organizations that support these latest Dark Ages policy pronouncements to understand the real motivation. These groups miss the days of Biblical imposed male dominance over women. They yearn for a time when men clothed in the robes of priestly garb decided what is moral. They crave the past heyday of influence they once held over American society.

This incestuous intermixing of Christian religious philosophy with secular government is more dangerous to our freedoms than any ISIS terrorist because it comes from within.

No President, in particular, this President, has any place deciding what is moral. Humans have an innate sense of morality. Our problem is we often lose sight in our quest for bigger and better things. Where we’ve failed is in setting examples of responsible behavior for our children. Much of the failure of moral behavior takes place in the halls of Congress and the White House.

Religion does not hold an exclusive on morality. Turning back the clock based on the false memory of a more moral past is self-deception. The purpose of these acts is garnering political support under the false umbrella of religious freedom. Allowing any religious group to set standards is dangerous. How moral was the Catholic Church when faced with the altar boy crisis? And how complicit was our government in ignoring such “moral” behavior?

I don’t watch many TV shows, but I’ve been intrigued by the show The Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith (pun intended) to envision an America where such a society could arise when backed by the power of government.

They would do it for our good because God told them so.

The history of moral standards by organizations, be it governmental or religious, is fraught with examples of disaster. Allowing companies to opt out of specific health care provisions under the guise of religious freedom is disingenuous. An ominous portent of sliding down a slippery slope to Theocracy.

What’s next? We can allow companies to end health care for people living with cancer. God gave them disease, who are we to cure it?

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A Time to Every Purpose

Several readers criticized the timing of a post I wrote the day after the latest mass shooting. Several felt the article was ill-timed and an attempt to politicize the event. Others thought I took advantage of the tragedy to promote an agenda.

Guilty on both counts.

As the news unfolded, the usual parsing of the event ensued.

Those who see gun control as the panacea screaming on one side.

Those wrapped in the Second Amendment on the other.

Some arguing we should wait for the facts to come out before we label this as a terrorist act or lone wolf as if this in and of itself would make it better.

What difference would any of this make except to allow the shock and anger to fade and America to slide back into willful ignorance of the violence within us?

Like it or not, a slight name and skin tone change would radically alter the national reaction. All of which speaks volumes about the realities in this country and our unwillingness to do something meaningful.

Gun control ain’t a solution, it’s an impractical and ineffective band-aid on a severed artery.

First, these harsh realities. There are over 300 million privately held firearms in the US (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf). For anyone to think there is any practical way to eliminate them is foolish and likely to cause more harm than good.

The Second Amendment, for all the criticism it engenders, does not kill people. Lawful gun ownership does not threaten America. The most significant risk of death from a firearm is suicide. This tragedy is compounded when the suicidal individual takes out others before turning the gun on themselves.

In the latest mass shooting, suicide ended the rampage.

If suicide is evidence of mental illness and a considerable number of mass shootings end in suicide, wouldn’t reducing the common underlying characteristic make sense?

America has a problem characterized by violence. Our society suffers more mass shootings (outside of civil war or combat) than anywhere else in the world. Firearms facilitate the problem, they don’t cause it.

As to the timing of my piece causing a few to react with anger, I offer this. If not now, when? When will we realize that mass shootings are the poster child for gun violence, but not the full story?

On October 1, 2017, fifty-nine people killed in Las Vegas made world headlines.

In Chicago, fifty-nine shot dead is called the weekend. One cannot help but wonder if the nature of the victims has an effect on the level of reporting.Chicago homicides

There is the more significant problem. Instead of targeting the symptoms, we must focus on the cause. Gang violence, drug dealing, and crime are all symptoms of desperation and ignorance. Until you treat the underlying cause, the symptoms will continue to flare up.

But in deference to those who say I wrote too soon, how about we do this? Let’s post signs around the country. Big, bold, flashing signs saying,

IT HAS BEEN XXX DAYS SINCE OUR LAST MASS SHOOTING.

Perhaps, we can also legislate a 7 day “waiting period” for articles discussing such matters. We can have a national moment of silent prayer to ask for no more such incidents. It might work this time.

Bless us, history, for we have sinned. It has been years since we made our last try at responsibility.

 

 

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Where’s the Anger? Where are the Tweets of Outrage?

A Shooter, by another name, would be a cry for action. Change Stephen Paddock’s name to Ibrahim Bin Laden and the entire country would be screaming for something to be done. There would be unity in attacking the terrorists. This terrorist looks back at us in a mirror.

Instead, we get this from the Twittering President. My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!

He joins a chorus of voices calling for “prayers for Las Vegas” when every single prayer to prevent such incidents failed.

And, of course, there is the usual posturing about the Second Amendment.

The problem in this country isn’t guns.

The problem in this country is ignorance.

Until we deal with the growing mental health crisis, the lack of access to health care, and the proliferation of an attitude that I can do whatever I want without consequences or consideration of others, we face more of the same.

Guns are merely the method of choice. Until we as Americans come to terms with our propensity for violence, nothing will change. Every prayer ever prayed, no matter how sincere or well-intentioned, is a Band-Aid on a severed artery.

 

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Anthem Protests and Weaponizing Free Speech

I find the dichotomy between NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem and the outcry of those offended by such actions to be troubling. I think some of those flag-waving patriots miss the contradiction.

first amendmentThey wrap themselves in a flag, raise the Constitution high in the air, and scream at what they perceive as an attack on America. They would substitute “Free” speech for “Free as long as it doesn’t say anything negative” Speech.

They’ve missed the point.

We have an all-volunteer military. Those who choose to serve, do. Those who choose not to, don’t. Neither choice gives one any more right to free speech or authority to deny freedom of expression to others.

Those who serve deserve our admiration and respect. Veterans put their lives at risk in service to the country. But you do not support those who defend our freedom by denying the exercise of free speech to others.

There is a simple explanation for why the players take these actions. Because it works. The issues they seek to point out exist, despite much denial. Suddenly many Americans are paying attention and, sadly, most are missing the point.

The other side of the story is that taking a knee for the time required to play the national anthem is hardly an act of bravery or conviction. It’s what these players do off the field to change things that matter. I think, from most of them, the best you’re going to get is this two-minute photo-op.

If they had the courage of their convictions, they’d refuse to play. Now that would get someone’s attention.

Which leads me to the Russians. You must admire ole Vladimir Putin. He and his cohorts learned lessons from the Cold War. They know challenging a vibrant, diverse, and innovative America is foolish.

They’d have to change that.

If the latest news is correct, they found a way to turn the best of America into a weapon. By perverting free speech through social media, they undermined the election process. Whether they directly conspired with the current President or not remains to be seen. I think it more likely, and more frightening, that they picked the candidate who offered the best chance for turning American progressivism into chaos and ran with him. They saw an opportunity to derail an unassailable America and set it to tearing itself apart. If the twittering tone-deaf tweets and operational disunity emanating from POTUS, the White House, and Congress is any indication, they succeeded.

The Russians weaponized free speech, pointed it at our hearts, and pulled the trigger.

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There’s No Crying in Baseball, There are Tears on Saturn

The Business of Baseball, not in the public interest.

Let me preface this piece by saying I enjoy going to McCoy Stadium to watch Pawsox Triple-A baseball. t533_main_logoYet, public investment into private business is fraught with risk. This is compounded by the incestuous nature of Rhode Island’s political machine.

To engage in such an investment requires transparency, openness, and an informed, involved public. Something our history says we haven’t always practiced.

It would be a shame if the Pawsox left Pawtucket. Forty years of history, memories of so many rising stars refining their skills, and the untold numbers of people entertained there over the years would be a tragic loss.

But baseball, despite the moniker of our national game, is a business. If this were a purely nostalgic emotional choice, the new owners would look for the best place to invest in a new stadium in Pawtucket. Instead, they are holding out the team as a prize to be bid on. They look to the state and the taxpayers to soften the risk.

Government is not equipped or designed for such investment.

There used to be a team called the Brooklyn Dodgers, under baseball’s expansion they moved to LA  and are now the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Washington Senators split into two new franchises; the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers.

No doubt the fans of the original teams mourned the change, but the teams did not ransom themselves to the highest government bidder. The team owners took the risk and reaped the benefit.

This concept of government/private partnerships is complicated. The potential for corruption high. The risk to taxpayers serious. Baseball, while still a favorite sport, is not THE most popular sport. To put public dollars into private business was not part of the purpose of government.  The government should ensure business practice is safe, legal, and ethical. Otherwise, it should stay out of the way.

I’ll miss Benny’s too, but tax dollars cannot be used to shift the tides of an ever-changing business world. Baseball and Benny’s are businesses, let the market make the choices.

Crying over a machine: the end of an Era 1997-2017

I realize most people may have missed this, but one shining example of what used to be the proud American space program died the other day.Casssini

The Cassini-Huygens Saturn orbiter died. Running out of fuel twenty years after its launch and thirteen years after it orbited Saturn, the probe sent the last of its millions of transmissions then burned up in the Saturnian atmosphere.

Many of the project scientists and engineers cried. I wonder if they were crying over the demise of the machine, or the knowledge that we’ve seemingly abandoned such efforts?

We have a country fixated on what kind of dresses the First Lady wears to view natural disasters, a President who is more concerned about comments by a sportscaster then dealing with major issues, and a culture that knows more about some B level star dancing with some relic from an old TV show than monumental accomplishments like Cassini-Huygens.

I recall watching every single launch of manned spacecraft in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember being glued to the TV when Neil Armstrong said his first words from the moon. Things that made Americans proud.

I wonder, given the state of our disregard for the value of science, if we’ll ever strive to achieve such goals again.

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