Fear Can Turn Us All Into 'Good
We Must Resist It
by Harley Sorensen
CommonDreams.org, April 29, 2002
One of life's mysteries, for me, is how
masses of people can do the incredibly cruel things they do. Individual
brutality makes a certain amount of sense in that it's limited
to one person. But mass brutality?
I think this subject first came to mind
after I read Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and William L. Shirer's
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, A History of Nazi Germany.
There was nothing in either book that
told me how such a highly civilized and culturally advanced nation
as Germany could sink to the level of the Nazis.
"How could that happen?" I
"What is there about the Germans
that allowed them to become the monsters they became? How are
they different than the rest of us?"
So I spent a month pondering the question.
The answer I came up with satisfied me
then, and it satisfies me still: There is nothing different about
the World War II Germans. What happened to them could happen to
anyone. It could happen to us. We are no better than them.
As Pogo so famously said (about pollution)
on Earth Day in 1971:
"We have met the enemy and he is
I'm reminded of all this now because
of the way we Americans blindly follow George W. Bush into battle
all over the world. We're fighting in Afghanistan for sure, probably
in Pakistan, in the Philippines, in Colombia, and soon in Iraq
if the signals we're hearing mean anything. I'm sure I've missed
other combat zones, and there is good reason to believe we've
conducted clandestine operations in Venezuela.
Similarly, our friends and allies in
Israel blindly follow the lead of the serial war criminal, Ariel
Sharon, by fighting and committing atrocities against their neighbors,
The formula to become a brutish leader,
as Jean-Marie Le Pen proved recently in France, is a two-step
process. First, you convince the masses they are in grave danger
(Le Pen used immigrants as his boogie man), then you promise to
That's exactly what Hitler did, and it's
exactly what Bush and Sharon are doing.
Generally speaking, people who feel fear
seem willing to throw away all their morals and principles. If
you don't believe that, go to the airport and watch thousands
of otherwise proud people line up like sheep to be publicly humiliated
in the name of safety.
But not everybody buys into the Save-Me-From-The-Evildoers
syndrome. To make that point, let me refer to a remarkable e-mail
I got last week.
It's from a Jewish man. I won't name
him, because what he said could cause him trouble.
"I am a 'recovering Jew',"
he wrote, "one who was born in the U.S. However, through
a series of events having mainly to do with (a) being indoctrinated
with 'Jewish values' in religious school, and (b) traveling to
Europe and seeing the concentration camps and then by overreacting
and immigrating to Israel, I came to the conclusion that religion
itself is responsible for more suffering than I could ever imagine
on my own."
"The absolute fact of the matter
is that I could never reconcile the fact that Jews would call
themselves special, while everyone else is different. Particularly,
I could not understand how these people could claim to speak
to The Almighty while declaring everyone else as somehow inferior,
in that regard at least."
"I learned that Jews have a glib
way of characterizing and stigmatizing other racial groups (as
though being Jewish is a race) by referring to blacks as "schwarzes"or
gays as "feygales"or non-Jews as "goyim."
In short, my U.S. citizenship and belief in equal rights conflicted
"Insofar as Israel is concerned,
I wound up on the West Bank in the early '80s, way before the
Intifada began. I remember Jews there referring to the Palestinians
as vermin and scum. The Jews boasted that the Arabs were there
to do the hard labor, like construction and cleaning, for little
money. Basically, I could not reconcile the fact that these people
who proclaimed their distaste for slavery could in fact be the
ones perpetrating it on others."
"I left Israel abruptly after only
a few years there. I had met Ariel Sharon personally. He loved
to visit the settlement where I lived because that is where his
power base is located. His good-old-boy network of Jewish hit
men and terrorists who boobie trap Arab cars and do hit-and-run
shootouts is located there, and sadly they derive a large portion
of their funding from Jewish groups located in the U.S. who receive
tax-free status here."
"The beef among Arabs, whether it
is Al Queda or Hamas, is that Israel has been labeled a democracy
by the U.S., and they have been labeled terrorists. This is not
about religion; it is rather about saying what you mean and meaning
what you say."
"Sadly, though, the foreign policy
of the U.S. is to recognize Israel's right not only to exist but
to intimidate the Arabs around them for the sake of putting them
on notice that if they ever decide to cut off the oil then Israel
will ally itself with the U.S."
"This is a game, and it is sadly
a game that has turned Jews into terrorists. Therefore, I decided
not to be Jewish, because I refuse to take part in this blood
for oil game. I believe in the right of all people to live in
peace, and insofar as that is concerned I have taken this position."
What I found most remarkable about this
letter is the writer's honesty. Too many American Jews, it seems
to me, march in lock step with the hardest of the Israeli hardliners.
It's the fear factor, I believe. They
go against their basic decent instincts and support a brutal regime
for fear of being criticized or ostracized as traitors. Peer pressure.
You see the same thing with Americans'
blind support of Bush's war policies.
"If you're not for us, you're against
us," Bush said, immediately making sheep out of otherwise
hard-nosed, independent-thinking Americans.
Driven by fear, masses of people can
do horrible things. Now is a good time to recall the admonition
of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said:
"The only thing we have to fear
is fear itself."
Roosevelt's warning was about the Great
Depression, but the words are appropriate now. Fear can turn us
all into "good Germans." We must resist it. We must
not let it turn us into sheep.
Harley Sorensen is a freelancer whose
work appears on sfgate.com on Mondays
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