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News ::
The 'Good Germans' (english)
22 Mar 2003
Bill O'Reilly said the good Iraqi people are responsible for Saddam Hussein as the German people were responsible for Hitler. What is the responsibility of good Americans?
Good Germans

I remember learning as a child about how American soldiers who liberated areas of Nazi Germany around the concentration camps would gather up the good German citizens and force them to take a tour of the death camp that operated in their back yards. I was reminded of this recently while watching a PBS documentary that showed film of one of these tours. The good German men and women were shown filing through the camp, walking past piles of rotting emaciated corpses. The narrator told us that the women would turn their heads away and cry out that they didn’t know, that this wasn’t their fault. Some would faint.

And I remembered how as a child I wondered how the good people of an advanced, civilized country could have stood by and let bad men like take over their country. Now, sadly, I begin to understand. As I wrote this, Bush was giving his 48-hour cowboy ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.

“We didn’t know” the women in the documentary said. “You should have known”, I thought as a child.

I quote now from a letter Bill Moyers wrote, where he in turn quoted the Fox network’s Bill O’Reilly:

“In the aftermath of 9/11 Bill O’Reilly from his battle station at Fox was calling for the United States to ‘bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble, the airport, the power plants, the water facilities, the roads.’ He went on to describe Afghanistan as ‘a very primitive country’ and to say ‘taking out their ability to exist day-to-day will not be hard. Remember the people of any country are ultimately responsible for the government they have. The Germans were responsible for Hitler, the Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians but if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period.’"

According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) O'Reilly added that in Iraq, "their infrastructure must be destroyed and the population made to endure yet another round of intense pain.... Maybe then the people there will finally overthrow Saddam."

Well. I cannot advocate what are very specifically war crimes under the Geneva Convention, as does Mr. O’Reilly, but he does have a bit of a point about how the people of any country are responsible for the government they have. Do not we, as Americans, citizens of what many of us believe is the greatest democracy in the world, have at least as much responsibility for the government we have as the Afghani’s and Iraqi’s have for their governments which resulted, at least in some measure, from our global chess games as well as their choices as citizens? And so I guess we are all responsible for Bush?

Just before Mr. Bush’s cowboy speech I heard a sound-bite on the television from a man on the street who talked of the difficulty in knowing what is the right course to take with Iraq and concluded that we just have to trust that our leaders are doing the right thing. And if our leaders are doing the wrong thing, then what? Is this man as responsible for not knowing as the good German women who fainted at Jewish corpses were responsible for not knowing? As responsible as Mr. O’Reilly says the good people of Afghanistan and Iraq are responsible?

Mr. Bush’s war started without the massive “Shock and Awe” attack on Baghdad, but since starting to write this, it has come. However well “Shock and Awe” (Blitz und Krieg?) works in terms of pinpoint accuracy and effective intimidation will no doubt be debated. If, as in Hitler’s early conquests, invasion continues to go relatively “easily” remains to be seen. But if despite Mr. Bush’s stated concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people there is collateral damage to Iraqi civilians, should good American citizens like the man in the sound bite be forced to tour a Baghdad hospital and have a close-up flesh and blood view of what “collateral damage” looks like when it happens to little girls and boys and women and old men? Should good American citizens like you and me be forced to view up close what depleted uranium contamination and sanctions and lack of medicine and lack of food and lack of clean water did to children in Iraq for eight years on President Clinton’s watch while we as a nation allowed ourselves to join the sick obsession with Clinton’s sex life to the exclusion of almost anything else?

Moot questions. We won’t have our forced tours. At least not any time soon.

I got into a debate about Mr. Bush’s war with a friend, and after I expended all my ammunition about how none of the Bush/Powell/Rumsfeld/Rice/Wolfowitz untruths put forth as justification for war held water, she said that it was just refreshing to have a leader who actually believed in God, and that we needed to pull together and ask our Lord to guide him to do the right thing.

Earlier I had read some quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson. In one of them, troubled slaveholder Jefferson says “Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Justice woke up finally for slavery. In his second inaugural, Lincoln spoke of that justice in the midst of the slaughter of the civil war: “Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsmen’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid with another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’" Paybacks are hell, are they not?

President Bush no. 41 and Mr. Bush no. 43 have both been fond of comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler. Saddam Hussein is, indeed, not a nice man. As a casual reader on the Middle East, I learned that in the mid- 1980’s. (And if I knew it then, did Donald Rumsfeld not know it when he went to make nice with him in 1983?) His role model was Stalin, not Hitler, but no question, Saddam Hussein is not a nice man.

I don’t compare Bush to Hitler. For one thing, the aging frat-boy had no long-considered roadmap for his mayhem like Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” (although the writings of his “posse” invite comparison- see the and the latest issue of Mother Jones for coverage of the warhawks’ 30 year old plan for invasion.)

But I wonder if the important comparison with Nazi Germany involves not Saddam Hussein and Hitler, but rather the good Germans and the good people of America. If the Bush doctrine is as wrong as it seems to be to me, how responsible are we? Should we stop our dissent once the attack is launched, because our troops are in harm’s way? Would that really be a service to our fellow Americans in uniform and in danger? Should Germans have withheld dissent after Poland was invaded? The good Germans pretty early on had much to fear as consequences of dissent. We good Americans still have (I assume, I hope!) the freedom to speak up. Is this just an exercise for those who like to dissent, or an obligation for every one of us?

I haven’t verified it, but I end with another quote attributed to Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free… it expects what never was and never will be.”

Indeed, Mr. Jefferson, I tremble for my country.

Albert Likona
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