I received a comment the other day in response to my March 13th post featuring Paul Celan’s poem “Death Fugue.” It said something to the effect of “Hitler was great! You stink! Your blog sucks!”

Nazi Party rally 1934

The Hitler remark surprised me. It is somewhat amazing to me, although I don’t know why, that some 66 years later, this man’s name and legacy lives on. Yet, it does and today there are neo-Nazi’s all over the place. Fortunately, in small numbers: Yesterday, about 30 people showed up for a neo-Nazi rally in Claremont, California, just east of Los Angeles. Between 300 and 500 counterdemonstrators rallied nearby.

But neo-Nazi’s are not the only hate-groups out there, and sadly, according to what I have recently read, California has more hate groups than any other state.

When I was a kid, we used to play army. Actually, we played World War II and we fought Nazi’s. Let me tell you, in the annuals of kids playing army, few have ever been better set up than we were. Armed with Mattel sub-machine guns and outfitted with helmet liners, canteens, belts and other stuff we got at an army surplus store.  We dug a three-man foxhole in the back yard and used an old filing cabinet a neighbor had dumped in his back yard for a tank.

Our school in Wichita, Kansas had swastikas carved on the corners near the top. Obviously, it was built before the Nazi’s turned the swastika around and used it as their symbol. We thought having swastikas on our school  was kind of cool. In fact, we thought Nazi’s were kinda cool. I mean we knew they were the bad guys, although I don’t think we truly appreciated the evil they perpetrated. But you have to understand that the Nazi’s had neater looking weapons and uniforms than the Allies did. The SS and the Gestapo dressed in black, and there is nothing cooler than a black trench coat. Not to mention movies: the Nazi’s were without a doubt the greatest villains of all time. I mean those accents alone: “Ve have vays of making you talk.”

But in the end they weren’t as cool as our guys, because they were the good guys. When we played army, I was always Sgt. Rock (“Our Army at War” comics), my friend Dwight was Sgt. Fury (“and His Howling Commandos!” from Marvel) and my little brother was Sgt. Saunders (TV’s “Combat). We were tough. We were ready for action. We were cool.

Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury and Sgt. Saunders: The Triple Threat

Then one day, we decided there were better things to do than play army. There were Beatles records to listen to and girls to think about, the latter being a full-time endeavor by itself.

When I was in college I had a job where I worked next to a Holocaust survivor. I could not help but notice the number tattooed on her arm. Since then, I’ve read books. I’ve met more survivors. I know full well the evil the Nazi’s did.

Soldiers of the 101 US Airborne Division with a Nazi flag

So now, I have been an adult for a very long time and I don’t like swastikas. Whenever I step into a Buddhist temple and see them, I feel uncomfortable. I know the swastika is an ancient symbol meant to denote good luck, but seeing them displayed in a Buddhist setting seems to me, considering modern history, insensitive. They’re not necessary. They don’t have to be there. I wonder how Jewish people feel when they walk in and see them.

World War II was a classic battle between good and evil: one of the few times in history when war was justified. Yet, at the outset, the majority of Americans were reluctant to get involved. The idea of war literally had to be sold to the American public. Pearl Harbor sealed the deal. Ironically, after the war it seemed as though the U.S. was chomping at the bit to wage war.

President Barack Obama has received some flak for his reluctance to involve the United States military in yet another Middle East conflict. I support that reluctance. Critics say that Obama’s hesitation is a sign of weakness. I say it is a sign of strength.

Nazi’s do not always wear the same uniform. Sometimes they wear robes, sometimes business suits. Hitlers do not always sport Chaplin-like mustaches. Sometimes they wear a beard, or they are clean shaven, or they might wear funky headgear. They may not even call themselves Nazi’s. In the world today, we have more than a few little Hitlers. Their message is always the same: hate.

Unfortunately, the United States helped put some of them in power and kept them there. Getting rid of these guys is not so simple. It’s not black and white. Regardless of what our role in the past might have been, I agree with the notion that we don’t always need to take the lead and bear the heaviest brunt in taking them out. As it appears now, we are already overextended, so I think it is prudent to be cautious.

I am confident that Barack Obama personally has no use for dictators like Gadhafi. As far as I am concerned, our president is one of the good guys. I wish more people believed that. I am reassured to know that even in the face of great evil Obama is not as cavalier about sending American troops into harm’s way as some past presidents have been.

I’m not crazy about the No-Fly Zone. Not too crazy about Tomahawk cruise missiles being fired. At the same time, like everyone else, I have a strong suspicion that Ghadafi is crazy and he’s killing people, so perhaps it is the only way.

Still I wonder . . . is this some collective karma that keeps repeating itself or is it only history? How many times do we have to keep repeating this exercise . . .

Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.

– George Orwell

Hitler and Mussolini were only the primary spokesmen for the attitude of domination and craving for power that are in the heart of almost everyone. Until the source is cleared, there will always be confusion and hate, wars and class antagonisms.

– Jiddu Krishnamurti


9 thoughts on “Sunday

  1. I fought the Nazis as a kid too, David. You bring back memories! I’m one of those in favor of intervention in Libya. I was distressed we took so long to enter the fray, but in retrospect, Obama was right to use diplomacy to get Arab League and UN support before getting involved. I know that no one knows the long term consequences of this action for good or ill. The Japanese have a saying “Everything is Uncle Sai’s horse,” which means we never know whether actions will be for good or ill. Historian’s joke “Was the French Revolution good or bad? It’s too soon to tell.” Our intervention may yet turn sour, but I believe that to sit back and do nothing when we had the capacity to try to help was a worse alternative. The Benghazi revolution is a light of hope in the world. I couldn’t bear sitting back watching those heroes and their families slaughtered by a man who is clearly a psychopath. Of course, watching my own bloodthirsty reaction on hearing French Mirages and American Tomahawks had taken to the air was disconcerting to my Buddhist inner observer. I admit to a more than passing desire to see Gadhafi strung up in the public square by this toes or privates. Oh well, more time on the cushion ahead. Guess I’m not Enlightened yet.

    1. I think we are still fighting them, Seth. I am one who tends to believe that Buddhism is a powerful anti-dote to hate and terror and that as Buddhists we are peaceful warriors fighting the fight to make this a better, saner and more harmonious world.

      And as both a Buddhist and a pacificist, I feel that military force should always be the last resort, after all other options have failed. If that is the case here, then, as you suggest, it would be unforgivable to stand by and do nothing.

      I thought it was wise to get the Arab League on board before taking action, too. However, this morning I have noticed that the Arab League is not too happy with the airstrikes. They wanted a no-fly zone not bombs. Apparently there have been some causalities so far. It does make you question the wisdom, if that’s what it is, of killing civilians in order to protect them. I hope mine is a short-sighted view and there is a “method to the madness” and that the use of military force will brief and further causalities few.

      Not enlightened yet? I can get you there, and unlike Genpo and some of these other guys, I am cheap. Only $5000. Check or money order. 30 day money back guarantee. I call it Bag Mind. And I have a catchy slogan: Enlightenment? In the bag!

  2. David,

    Another ex-Nazi fighter reporting for duty. My childhood war games were complicated by the fact that my mother’s Mennonite heritage made me both German AND Russian — a Nazi/Commie two-fer. Was constantly getting “shot” on the playground…. I’m Kansas City to your Wichita, and I saw lots of swastikas in my neighborhood, both as architectural flourishes and as graffiti.

    I’ve been watching BBC online coverage almost nonstop since the coalition planes took off, and I think it’s influencing my mood. The Brit correspondents ask military officers STUPID questions they OBVIOUSLY can’t answer, over and over… and the accents start to grate on the nerves, with all the talk about the “noy-floy zoyne”… and why are we so concerned about them Libyans anyway?… I’ve stepped away from my morning cruise through Buddhist blogs, out of fear that I will find myself exploding at some self-styled Buddhist who wonders how we can have a battle between good & evil when we’re all one, mannnn?…. Immersing one’s head in war news seems risky for my efforts to maintain compassion, and compassion is hard enough already.

    It’s probably time for a walk in the sunshine.

    1. Maybe we should start a club . . . Ex-Adolescent Nazi Fighters of America or something . . .

      When I watch British programs, I almost always have to use the closed captioning because I can’t understand half of what they are saying. CNN has populated their anchor teams with a number of Brits lately. I dunno . . . one thing I like about CNN is they try to give minority anchormen and anchorwomen some significant airtime, especially African-Americans. Maybe these Brits have more expertise on the current situation.

      News of any kind these days does nothing to help my blood pressure . . . all the more reason I suppose for us to calm our minds . . .

      1. The news: Yes, it’s inherently a blood pressure-raiser. I’ve spent most of my working life writing/editing newspapers, and a story like this gets my adrenaline going regardless of the facts. The news in general seems more & more to force me to re-examine my reactions to it.

        I walked in the sunshine, looked at Pike’s Peak for a while & pulled myself back together for the moment.

        – Gadhafi, his sons and all his followers are living out an extraordinary kind of suffering at the moment. So I can manage at least a kernel (insert smiley face here) of compassion for their side.

        – One can/must have compassion for a mad dog (it’s not his fault); the dog must be shot; and those two statements are not mutually exclusive just because the dog and I are one. (I don’t have a scriptural foundation for the above, but that’s how I see it.)

        Funny thing. It’s easier for me to find some compassion for Gadhafi than for certain US political figures who (maybe) never killed anybody.

  3. How can you say don’t worry, be happy after all that doom and gloom? Today life is beautiful? It’s raining cats and dogs outside!

    I’m just kidding. I love the rain. It is beautiful today.

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