Last spring, in the face of virulent racism in this country, I started rereading Daniel Goldhagen’s provocative bestseller, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Published almost 20 years ago, it explores how ordinary Germans “came to be such potential willing mass killers and how the Nazi regime tapped this disastrous potentiality.”
Goldhagen argues convincingly that the German’s thoroughly anti-Semitic attitude, which led to anti-Jewish measures, legislation, persecution and finally, incarceration and death in concentration camps, had grown unabated for hundreds of years. Anti-Semitism did “not appear, disappear, then reappear in [German] society”; it was always present.” The Nazi’s simply tapped into the hate.
The parallels to the United States’ unique brand of racism are pretty obvious. There is no evidence the beliefs, which allowed, accepted, and condoned the theft of this country from its original inhabitants and the theft and enslavement of peoples from another continent have ever fundamentally changed.
It’s why the politics of fear and division offered by our 45th president have been so successful.
Last weekend, once again we saw the results of extreme and persistent prejudice when ordinary Americans brutally implemented an illogical, illegal and immoral immigration order. The order, which, apparently, was not reviewed by other government agencies, did not come with instructions for the people responsible for its enforcement.
And so a Somali women traveling with two small children with U.S. passports was threatened, harassed, handcuffed while officials tried to coerce her into signing papers that would send her out of the country. During the 18 hours she and her children were detained, they were not fed or allowed to get food.
I’m sure those officials will defend their actions saying they had no choice. But they did…and they chose to act with no compassion.
This is how ordinary people become accomplices to atrocities.
In the days to come, Americans will have ample opportunities to choose compassion over unquestioning compliance…what will you choose?
Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked