Liberty or Death

“Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third…may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!” -Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry is my fifth or sixth great-grandfather.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I take his words, “give me liberty or give me death” very seriously. Thanks to the guys at Ranger Up, I now have several articles of clothing with the “liberty or death” mantra emblazoned on them. Soon I will have several of his infamous quotes tattooed on my body as a testament to my belief that I, as a free American, should be ready to give all to defend our freedom. What leaves me dismayed is that far too many people in today’s society have come to see such displays as a form of extremism.

It’s the Tea Party affiliation, you see. What they fail to understand is that their despising of my beliefs is no more serious than it was in Patrick Henry’s day. When my famous ancestor hoisted the Gadsden flag above his home, it was just as controversial then as it is now for me to put on a baseball cap with the same logo on it. There were people in 1773 who were just as vehemently against his talk of revolution as there are now who label me an extremist. I, like him, have also been branded a traitor for saying that my rulers have seriously overstepped their bounds.

He was a member of the Sons of Liberty, an organization of patriots who fought for the independence of the Colonies when their status as loyal citizens of the British Crown was repeatedly assailed and their freedom threatened. It is unknown if he was there, but it is believed that he stood alongside his friend and fellow patriot Samuel Adams when the Sons dressed as Indians and invaded the ships in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773 to dump taxed tea into the ocean. He was an elected member of the First Continental Congress. He spoke and wrote ferociously against the British incursions into the Colonies to restrict speech and confiscate weapons. On March 23, 1775, he spoke before the Virginia House of Burgesses in an effort to convince them to raise a militia to defend against escalating encroachment from the British. It was during this speech that he said, “is life so dear, or peace so sweet, to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me – give me liberty or give me death!”

He served as a colonel in the 1st Virginia Regiment during the Revolutionary War, often defending stores of weapons and gunpowder. He first refused to support the ratification of the Constitution because it gave the federal government too much power; he also worried that the office of the President could devolve into a de facto monarchy. As he watched the horror of the French Revolution unfold, he also worried that too little power in the hands of government could be just as bad. He knew that a balance needed to be struck and, in the end, he joined the Federalists with Washington.

My concern today is just as real as his was during the founding of this country. Too little power could reduce the people to a rabble. Too much power, however, has turned the Presidency into the beginnings of a dictatorship. So-called Representatives pass laws that apply only to the citizenry, carving niches for themselves in the balance of power. Crony capitalism has flourished, leaving special interests on both sides of Congress capable of buying new laws, more funding, and higher taxes. What’s more, the people have realized that they can vote themselves money – and citizenship is no longer seen as a privilege that must be earned by either birth or work and respect. The America that my spitfire of a Scottish fifth great-grandfather fought to free and struggled to help grow is going down the very path that he and his compatriots feared.

Just like him, I have been dumped by liberals into the category of an extremist – by the angriest, I have been called a traitor. For agreeing with both Henry’s and Jefferson’s assertions that revolution is sometimes a necessary evil to protect our freedoms, I have been called dangerous. Like him, though, I don’t want to fight. I merely recognize that I may have to only as a last resort, and that is was sets us apart. Liberals think everything needs to be a fight, including their fight to end our rights to arm ourselves.

I have hope for my country. I have hope that the liberals who seek to destroy our rights and the social conservatives who seek to turn us into a theocracy will eventually cancel each other out, but I know that isn’t likely. I hope that I’ll never have to fight against my government, but they increasingly leave me little choice. I hope that we’ll be able to coexist, but I realize that more and more I’m one of few that really cares about actually living in peace and tolerating those who disagree.

I am a natural born citizen of the United States. I am a free woman, descended from one of the men who fought for our rights. I will not give up my freedom for anything – not even peace. I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees. Liberty or death. I will not live as a victim, a serf, or a slave.

The Sunflower

With Rosh Hashanah coming up, I decided to do something a little different.

One of my rabbis suggested a book to me recently that has really caught my attention. I read the entire first portion in a couple of hours. Written by Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower tells the story of one of the most captivating moments of the famed Nazi hunter’s life. While he was held for work in the Lemberg prison camp near the town where he had grown up and gone to school, Simon (who when the war broke out had been an architect) was taken to work in the nearby army hospital. His first day working in the hospital, he was summoned to the bedside of a dying SS man who confessed a horrible crime and then said he needed the forgiveness of a Jew. The edition that I now have has the 98-page story followed by 53 different authors answering Simon’s moral question: what would you have done?

Before I read that section, I’m going to write what I would have done.

In my studies of Shoah – the totality of what the Nazis did – I have often thought about what life would have been like for me if I had been there. It would not have mattered that I was highly intelligent; intellectuals among the Jews and other undesirables were a favorite of Nazis to slaughter. It would not have mattered that I was a musician; they were only kept alive long enough to entertain the SS troops, and as soon as it fit some commandant’s fancy they were killed. It would not have mattered that I was a writer; it likely would have made me even more of a target to ensure I wasn’t able to tell the world what the Nazis had done. The only thing that would have mattered is whether or not I was a Jew. Or a Gypsy, a homosexual, or some other poison to their “master race”.

First they would have taken my identity. Then they would have taken my dignity. Then they would have taken my sense of humanity. They would break me before killing me for the mere amusement of it. Living every day with the fear of serious harm or death, what would I do if faced with a dying SS man begging me to forgive him for things he didn’t realize he would have to do when he volunteered?

I would not have made it to that point.

I am not now and have never been the type to be subservient in the face of oppression. Were any man to make the attempt to take me from the business I had worked so hard for, much less force me from my home, I would have fought to the bitter end. I would have died rather than live as less than a third-class citizen, a human with no identity and no rights. I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.

Were I to survive, and a Nazi ask my forgiveness afterwards? Knowing what he had done to my family and our people? No. I would not have forgiven him, and anyone who suggests that Simon or any other Jew should forgive the Nazis is too arrogant to see the reality of what the survivors faced.

I have no problem calling such a stalwart belief arrogance. The Jews’ motto today is Never Again. No matter how much we know about what the Nazis did, there are still those (far too many, in my opinion) who deny that it happened. Far more actually continue to blame the Jews for all of the problems of the world – the very attitude that ended in the wholesale slaughter of six million Jews to begin with. Jews have been blamed for orchestrating 9/11, pushing George W. Bush into war with Iraq, and spreading the AIDS virus. You’re more likely to wake up to find your car or house spray-painted with hate messages if you’re Jewish than if you’re black or Hispanic.

Yet despite how many people across many different races (30% of blacks and 35-40% of Hispanics, in fact) hold views that are unquestionably antisemitic, Jews don’t riot or accuse entire races of practicing apartheid. Instead, we bend over backwards to make peace – even when the people who hate us riot in our neighborhoods and injure and kill us and never apologize for what they’ve done.

No, I wouldn’t have forgiven him. Anyone who believes that I would have had some kind of moral responsibility to forgive needs to imagine themselves hiding in a sewer to avoid the death squad before preaching. That is a fate I would not have been capable of abiding, and I would not dare ask any man, woman, or child who has endured those things to forgive the animals who committed them.

Forgiveness has limits. It is the deeply personal choice of the individual who has been wronged. Refusal to forgive does not mean that I intend to harm that person; it only means that I want the world to remember their acts so they are not repeated.

Just Following Orders

I am a Jew by choice. I was not born Jewish, I chose them as my people. I am an American, ready to give up everything I have to protect our freedom. I come from a long military history, and even though I was outed and sent home before I could actually serve, I am still a part of my family’s military story. I still embrace my Irish, Scottish, and German roots – but I am proud to be an adopted Jew.

You can imagine my shock and disgust, then, upon seeing this image in my Facebook timeline. It was proudly posted by one of the many military groups I belong to.

gruntworks

If you know anything about history, Erwin Rommel was arguably the best military commander – Field Marshal – of Nazi Germany’s military. He fought in WWI, and when Hitler rose to power he was so enamored of Rommel that he made him the War Ministry’s liaison to Hitler Youth. Rommel, at one point, pushed for more military training for Hitler youth. He was good friends with Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels and commanded Hitler’s personal escort during the invasion of Poland, later leading security for Hitler on multiple occasions. During the invasion of France and Belgium, he was supposed to be in the rear, but he ended up in the front (likely by his own design), leading the attack. He led German forces in the North African theater, aiding the Italians against the British. Hitler so loved the man that other Nazi military commanders hated him.

According to the history that I know, Rommel refused orders to kill civilians. If that is true, fantastic – but considering how close he was to Hitler, you cannot convince me that he didn’t know what the Fuhrer was all about. It has been claimed that he was involved in Operation Valkyrie, the plot to assassinate Hitler; what I have read, however, says that Rommel knew about the plot and offered to stay silent but was never involved because he believed that an assassination would make the situation worse. In the end Rommel was given the choice to either take a cyanide pill and end his life or fight charges of treason, see his wife and son suffer and be publicly executed. I honestly don’t think Hitler would have publicly executed him. He knew that Rommel’s outing as a traitor would have damaged the public’s perception of their Fuhrer and possibly emboldened any future endeavors to end the Reich. That is merely my opinion, but it is an educated one.

In the more than two thousand comments posted on the image above, one thing was repeated constantly, by soldiers in our military: Rommel was a brilliant tactician and therefore should be respected.

Yes, he was a genius as a tactician. So much so that he was the one military leader later saluted by Winston Churchill. I can accept, even agree with, teaching his knowledge and actions in military academies (particularly West Point). I can see showing respect for one’s enemy as a true soldier. I cannot, however, accept posting a quote like this one as something to live by – even for 11B or the Marine Corps.

Regardless of what one may think of Rommel as a soldier, he was still a Nazi. He may have later come to dislike Hitler’s methods but there is little I can find to like about a man who was that close to the author of genocide. I cannot believe that he didn’t know what Hitler and Goebbels believed and what they wanted to do to the Jews and all other “undesirables”. As close as he was to that circle, I cannot believe he wasn’t antisemitic, regardless of whether he agreed with the methods being used to implement the “Final Solution”.

He may not have been Hitler himself, but being a respected soldier and leader does not mean a killer should be given a voice. One must ask how many of Rommel’s troops did murder undesirables under orders. To say that a man is “just following orders” when he commits such an act is a massive cop-out, a weak argument used by cowards and killers alike to excuse barbarity. It is just as wrong today, for the soldiers sent to Leavenworth for carrying out an illegal order to kill all Iraqi men of military age, as it was for the Nazis who rounded up and exterminated my people – and the ones who approved by remaining silent.

Don’t Tread On Me

On July 2, 1776, 56 unruly subjects of King George III signed a treasonous document. For more than five years they, along with many of their neighbors, had tried (to no avail) to convince the King that taxation without representation was wrong in the face of English Common Law. The King had responded to their attempts at negotiation with further attacks on their rights – along with more taxes.

The Declaration of Independence was, in reality, a last-ditch effort to stop the King and Parliament from trampling the basic freedoms of their colonial subjects. The King claimed that colonists owed England for protection during the French and Indian War (the colonial theater of the Seven Years’ War). In truth, the war hadn’t been fought simply to protect the colonies. It had largely been waged to stop the French from settling in the areas surrounding the British Colonies. It was an expansionist war, meant to secure future settling rights for the British. The colonists fought in that war, too – they didn’t have to, but they did it as loyal subjects of the Crown.

England was responsible for her own debt. They were unwilling to shoulder it, so taxes were levied in the Colonies without giving them a say in the decision. Colonists were, understandably, royally pissed off. Demonstrations were held. Colonists refused to pay the taxes. In frustration, King George sent more troops – who promptly began violating colonists’ rights as they tried to enforce the King’s edicts.

Colonists were forced to quarter British Regulars. Those that owned businesses were forced to give food, clothing, arms, ammunition, and other material aid to Regulars without any form of compensation. As the conflict worsened, the British started confiscating guns from the colonists to stop them from fighting back. It was all for the common good, of course.

The actual Revolution was a hard-fought war to secure the rights and freedom of a new nation. Those who supported the rebels – or the Patriots, as they called themselves – were branded traitors.

Now, 237 years later, we face similar intrusions on our freedoms. Rather than taxes for a war, we are told that the cause is charity. Those who don’t have as much need help, they say. Don’t question whether they are actually in need – that’s offensive. We are told that it is unfair to have more, and if we do we should “pay our fair share.” Benjamin Franklin warned us that a government big enough to give us everything we want would be powerful enough to take everything we have. The warning has been forgotten.

We’re being told that we shouldn’t want to enforce immigration laws. We shouldn’t limit people who want to come to America – they tell us that these poor immigrants only want to work. Again, we’re not allowed to question the motives of those coming from other countries. Ignore the ones who deal drugs, kill cops, and rape teenage girls…after all, they might have been good people if only we had given them legal status. It’s heartless, they say, to force people to pass background checks just to come to America.

Now that our freedoms are being stripped away, the Gadsden Flag – the yellow banner bearing the coiled snake with the words “don’t tread on me” on it – has once again become a rallying point. It is every bit as controversial now as it was back then. Power has corrupted our lawmakers; they pass laws that most haven’t read and don’t understand. They pressure each other into passing them by using emotional arguments void of any semblance of intellect. They vote themselves pay raises they haven’t earned and many hold office until they die.

Our Republic has turned into a de facto dictatorship. The leeches on our society have grown to such numbers that it is no longer abnormal to see complete idiots in public office perpetuating the lie that the government is there to provide. Celebrities use their power to pressure the public into accepting further attacks on basic freedoms in the name of the common good – just as evil and wrong now as it was in 1773, when the Sons of Liberty threw the tea into Boston Harbor.

The reason for the snake on the Gadsden Flag was simple. A rattlesnake is a defensive but deadly animal. It won’t strike unless threatened, but if it must strike, it can kill. The parallel is just as necessary now as then.

We will not give up our guns. We will not allow any more intrusions into our private lives. Basic freedoms will not be trampled in the name of the common good any longer.

DO NOT TREAD ON ME.

Never Again

According to Christian scriptures and doctrine, Jesus was the Son of God. He was a deity in human form. Even scripture teaches that He could have taken Himself down off of the cross – but He chose not to. If you’re a believing Christian, you are taught that the only thing that saves you from your sin is the sacrifice that Jesus willingly made through His death on the cross. Jesus’ death was necessary to atone for sin. Nobody killed Him; he went peacefully even though He could have come down with little more than a fleeting thought. Within the first few decades after Jesus’ death the new Christians were mercilessly persecuted, often being killed in every imaginative manner the Romans could conjure.

Strange, then, how Christians could become the most vicious of persecutors. To this day, Jews are the most persecuted culture in human history. While today it is largely Sharia-ruled Muslim nations that persecute the most, for a very long time Christians committed the worst crimes of all against them.

It was actually the Romans who began the trend. After the Jews of Judea – then a Roman province – revolted against Roman rule and took back some control in 70 AD, the Legion sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Over a million Jews were killed, while nearly 100,000 were either imprisoned or forced into slavery. Sixty years later the Romans were banning all vestiges of Jewish faith – the Torah, the High Holy Days, circumcision, eating unleavened bread, everything even remotely Jewish became illegal. By the time Constantine became the emperor, Jews were not allowed to be Roman citizens. Later, Theodosius ordered the destruction of all synagogues.

By about 610 AD, serious persecution began in Spain. All Jews in Europe were to be forced to be baptized as Christians (this resulted in Sephardic Jews, those forced to convert who secretly refused to give up their Jewish beliefs and roots or those later expelled for their refusal to convert). Jewish children age 7 and over were taken from their families and forced to be educated as Christians. In 855 AD, Jews were exiled from Italy. In 1092, the First Crusade began – and Jews were a secondary target of the Crusaders. Under the long-held belief that the Jews had murdered Jesus – which was the reason why the persecution continued even after the Romans legalized Christianity – Jews were slaughtered by Crusaders making their way to the Middle East. In 1146, the Second Crusade began with French Fr. Rudolf calling for the extermination of the Jews; a few years later, King Philip of France confiscated all land owned by Jews, banished them from France, and forced them to sell their belongings as they left. In England, King John did worse – he reclaimed Jewish land and burned their homes down to make sure they couldn’t return.

The Spanish Inquisition began in 1229, and all Jews were to either convert or leave. As the Inquisition progressed the Pope ordered priests to begin torturing Jews who refused to convert. In 1290, King Edward I (famously known as Longshanks) expelled all of the remaining Jews in England. In 1298, a six-month-long pogrom was carried out in Bavaria and Austria; all Jewish communities were leveled and 100,000 Jews were killed. In 1306, King Philip IV carried out another expulsion, sending over 100,000 Jews fleeing France with nothing but the clothes they wore and enough food for a single day. In 1348, the Bubonic Plague – known then as the Black Death – spread throughout Europe like wildfire. Jews were accused of starting the plague by poisoning wells. Thousands of Jews were burned at the stake, with the worst single slaughter being 160 Jews forced to dig their own mass grave (an act the Nazis would later repeat) before being burned alive in it.

Over the following centuries, millions of Jews were tortured, mutilated and murdered during cruel pogroms. Jews were banned from owning land and barred from most respectable professions – at one point the only profession Jews could legally enter was banking, leading to the now-famous Jewish proficiency in handling money and negotiating rates. Jews were banished from Poland, Portugal, France, and every other country in Europe at some time or another. Christian hero Martin Luther was famous for his seething hatred for the Jews – he wrote multiple pamphlets suggesting that Jews be rounded up and executed and their homes razed to the ground. The Nazis later used Luther’s teachings to excuse their actions when dealing with religious leaders who objected to their ideology and methods.

By the mid-1700’s, severe Antisemitism had spread to Russia and pogroms began there as well. In the 1800’s, Pope Pius IX called for the ban of Jews in the Vatican to be enforced anew. By the end of WWI, the Jews were being accused of all kinds of nonsensical things, from betraying Germany to loss in the Great War to hatching a secret conspiracy to dominate the world by forcing Christian nations to go to war with each other. Then came the Nazis and Shoah.

Today, large groups of people all over the world decry Israel as an apartheid state. I never learned anything about the realities of being Jewish throughout history in school; I had to teach myself. Even now American churches don’t talk about what Christians did to the Jews for centuries. They’ll talk all day about the Muslim persecution of Jews in the modern age, but they often won’t face what supposed believers subjected them to since the early days of their faith. Liberal Christians won’t even agree that Israel has a right to exist and to defend herself.

What else do you expect a culture to do when every nation in the world makes clear that they don’t want them? What do you expect them to do after they spend centuries living in fear of torture, exile, or death simply because they are Jewish? When you cruelly persecute a people long enough, they’ll eventually be willing to do just about anything to finally have peace – even if it means taking back a sliver of land that they haven’t inhabited in eons and forming an army to defend it. Yet despite the constant hatred and abuse, the Jews have still tried desperately to live in peace. They have only fought as a last resort, when talks fail and all that is left is to flex their muscles to show that they will not be bullied. That is the meaning of the national motto, “Never Again.”

Never again will we hide who we are. Never again will we be forced from our homes for no other reason than the fact that we are Jews. Never again will we be forced to denounce the God who has believed in us even when we didn’t believe in Him. At the same time, never again will we stand by while one group victimizes another simply for being who they are.

The next time you want to accuse the Jews of being unfair, consider this history. Meditate on the fact that they have suffered for innumerable generations the kind of cruelty and indignity that was never even shown to slaves. They have brought life to a lifeless strip of useless desert that the Arab Muslims never cared about until the Jews wanted it. They have shown kindness to all people, including the sick children of their enemies. I have more respect for Benjamin Netanyahu than I have for my own President, and it takes a lot of effort to make that happen.

The Decline of Nazism

I think it’s fitting that I post the fourth installment of my series on Nazism on Yom HaShoah – the day of remembrance and mourning for those lost in Shoah (the Holocaust).

By the time war broke out, life for Germans in Germany had become relatively nice – at least in comparison to what it had been like in the years following the Treaty of Versailles. The war effort required work from all who were able. All Germans were promised a home, a car, and an annual vacation. Those deemed a threat to the Aryan race, however, suffered horrors that the rest of the world only heard whispers of for many years. In 1941, the wearing of a yellow Star of David with “Jude” embroidered on it became compulsory for all Jews in German-held territories. Ghettos were being emptied, the Jews inhabiting them sent to concentration camps. Those capable of working were led through gates topped with the now-infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes You Free”) sign. They would live a miserable existence where they would have their heads shaved, their possessions stolen, an inmate number tattooed on their forearm, and starvation coupled with brutal manual labor.

The rest would be stripped and marched into what they were told would be a shower. Instead they were gassed to death. Still others would be forced to dig their own mass grave before being lined up and shot. The wholesale extermination of the Jews, along with Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals and other “undesirables”, was in full swing by 1942. An extremely anti-Jewish museum exhibit was displayed in Paris in 1941.

On the war front, Hitler had sent the Luftwaffe to bomb England in preparation for an invasion. He was intent on taking England. At the same time, Adolf Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, but he had no intention of keeping it. He hinted long before the pact was signed that he wanted to take the Soviet homeland, in part because he believed they were ruled by Jews (never mind the widespread pogroms in the Soviet Union). When Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania joined Hitler’s Tripartate Pact, he finally felt ready to mount a major assault on the frigid Soviet nation. He sent five and a half million troops, half a million heavy armored vehicles and three-quarter million horses.

Hitler had no intention of making Napoleon’s mistake – being defeated by the horrid Russian winter. He ordered his mass offensive to begin in May 1941 (it was pushed back a month when his greed for land led to Nazi invasions in Greece and Yugoslavia). While the Wehrmacht’s first strike was devastating to the Soviets, Nazi generals began fighting over which target was more important. The Nazis advanced 600 miles into Soviet territory and took over three million prisoners by November 1941. They were looking into Moscow when the infighting reached a fever pitch. German supply lines were nearly broken and winter was setting in – their troops were not prepared for the extreme cold. After the first major blizzard, on December 5, Soviet forces mounted a counterattack. German heavy equipment was useless in the sub-zero temperatures. The counterattack was devastating to the Germans.

Two days later, the Japanese bombed the US Navy at Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan as a result, and four days after the bombing Hitler declared war on the United States. He was still living in denial that Germany could win with her military stretched so thin; fighter planes that could have turned the tide against the Soviets had already been shot down over England. After the defeat at Moscow, fighting ground nearly to a halt. Hitler was able to re-supply his troops and send reinforcements.

While he was trying to hold up the offensive in Russia, he had given up on invading England. He had a new threat: the United States. His declaration of war was all America needed to finally join British forces in helping occupied Allied territories to beat back the Nazis.

Hitler began to get frustrated with how slow his victories were beginning to go, and after the Germans were defeated by the allies at El Alamein, Hitler took complete command over his armies. His astounding overconfidence in his own military “expertise” became the beginning of his downfall – as his decisions became more erratic and losses became more common, he started to panic. The Battle of Stalingrad in January 1943 became such a breathtaking loss that Hitler nearly lost his mind. He all but became a recluse. He still had absolute faith in his own genius, and he refused to give up despite searing losses continuing in Russia.

He began to realize the end was more than mere rumor when Allied forces invaded Sicily in July 1943. The Germans realized another crushing defeat at Kursk and went into perpetual retreat from the Eastern front. Then, intel reported a huge buildup of British and American forces in England and word that Allied forces were planning an invasion somewhere on the coast reached Hitler. Germans were still living in denial thanks to the press only reporting what Hitler’s propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, allowed them to report. They had no idea that the Nazis were genuinely afraid for the first time.

The Nazis refused to give up. While average German citizens were busy supporting the war effort through recycling and working in industrial plants to produce U-boats, jet fighters, Panzers and small arms, Nazi commanders were still confident that they would win the day. They still refused to send women to work in the plants; their place was in the home, giving birth to and raising good Aryans. Citizens in occupied countries were forced to dig defensive Earthworks (massive trenches, concrete and steel barriers to stop troop carriers and tanks). The desire to exterminate the Jews saw Nazis continuing to work them to death deliberately, the need for laborers be damned.

The first bombing runs on Germany had begun in 1940, although they weren’t as effective as they would later become. The Allies realized that bombing just a factory or a base was little more than a minor setback – they needed to take out the workers, too, and in 1942 RAF and USAAF squadrons began carpet-bombing entire German cities. Kiel was bombed in May 1943. Hamburg was bombed in July 1943; 30,000 died in the bombing raid and subsequent firestorm. Every German city that hosted anything resembling a war supply factory or warehouse was bombed regularly. The raids first inspired action and organization, but within a year they had begun to falter under the psychological strain.

On the ground, the Americans, knowing full well the legend of General George S. Patton, sent him to Northern England as a distraction. They were gambling that Hitler would find out about Patton’s location and concentrate his forces away from Normandy, and the ruse worked. On June 6, 1944, after days of bombing from the air, landing forces poured ashore at Normandy while newly-formed parachute infantry regiments dropped troops behind Nazi lines in occupied France. The sheer numbers of American troops that survived the assault and the mass amounts of heavy armored equipment left German troops in awe, wondering what possessed Hitler to declare war on a nation that could muster this kind of response.

The Allies gained a crucial foothold in France. The German war effort was nearly irreversibly damaged. The Soviets were pushing back from the East, and Allied troops had begun to press in from the South, taking oil fields in Iran. A pall was cast over the Nazis.

The Reign of Nazism

When the Wehrmacht entered the Rhineland to re-take it, most were not armed. Due to a shortage of troop vehicles many rode bicycles. Hitler’s rearmament project was just getting started. While his shift of economic focus had been completely diverted to the military, the move was only a temporary fix. Construction projects were expensive, both in material and labor costs, and they created jobs; they couldn’t be put on hold. Soldiers needed to be paid, too, as did party members. Hitler’s plan was to expand Germany on a grand scale – that would generate quite a bit of revenue.

He suggested an “Anglo-German Alliance”, inviting Italy, Britain, France, Poland, China and Japan to sign the Anti-Comintern Pact. Only Italy and Japan signed the Pact. I think Hitler made the offer knowing full well that European nations would refuse; upon their refusal, he publicly stated his aim of Lebensraum, or “living space” for the German people. The pact strengthened ties with Japan and ended German support for China (whom Japan was trying to conquer); as a result, Hitler lost essential raw materials that China produced.

The issue didn’t faze him. On March 12, 1938, Anschluss was declared, and Austria was reunified with Germany. Hitler also wanted the Sudetenland – another “buffer zone” set up by Versailles, one that was home to a large number of ethnic Germans. A secret political plan to excuse military action against Czechoslovakia, which governed the Sudetenland, was hatched, but it was summarily canned when Hitler realized that he was still dependent upon oil imports and Britain’s superior navy could bring those imports to a grinding halt if he was too aggressive too soon.

The French and British were so averse to the idea of going to war again that they were willing to do anything to end it before it began. While Hitler’s plant in Sudetenland stirred up trouble on the ground, Hitler met with British PM Neville Chamberlain, French president Edouard Daladier, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in Munich on September 29, 1938. The Czechs were deliberately left out of the Munich Summit. Chamberlain returned to London declaring “peace in our time,” holding the Munich Agreement aloft.

Hitler, meanwhile, was publicly disappointed that Germany didn’t have an excuse to declare war. His rearmament began faltering for lack of raw materials, particularly iron. He finally cracked and cut the military budget, but he refused to sit still for long. On March 15, 1939, Hitler invaded and conquered Prague. The Allies condemned him again, but refused to do anything tangible. The British vowed that Poland was their line in the sand and any German effort to invade would be met with military resistance.

Hitler took it as a challenge. He signed a non-aggression pact with Russia to set the stage for war and ordered the invasion of Poland (what most don’t know is that the pact also included a promise to split Poland between Germany and Russia, securing Russian military assistance). France and Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, but did not actually respond.

While all of this was going on, a plan to systematically rid Germanic Europe of the Jews was being put into place. Hitler was merely one man in a historic string of hardline anti-Semitic Europeans (to include Martin Luther), but he was the culmination of beliefs that the Jews were responsible for all of the world’s ills. Whereas political enemies and “moral” enemies (particularly homosexuals) were seen as salvageable, Jews were race enemies and – along with Gypsies and Poles – to be eradicated.

Dachau actually opened in 1933. At the height of the Third Reich, some 42,000 concentration camps were being operated, primarily in Germany, Austria and Poland. Shoah (literally “The Calamity”, known to most as The Holocaust) did not begin with a bang; rather, it began with a slogging gait, slowly introducing injustice after injustice until it became an act of pure horror. In April 1933, Jewish businesses were boycotted. Throughout that year, Jews were banned from nearly every respectable profession in Germany – law, medicine, and agriculture chief among them. Hereditary Health Courts were set up to order the sterilization of “undesirables”, mostly those who had physical or mental impairments.

In 1935, Hitler passed the “Blood Laws”. They stripped Jews of German citizenship, barred Jews from marrying non-Jews, and forbade German women from working as maids in Jewish households – in essence, they deprived all Jews of any semblance of civil rights. In footage from Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew), Hitler gives a speech in which he says, “if international-finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed once more in plunging the nations into yet another world war, the consequences will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.” Jewish scholars began leaving in droves around this time, with the upper- and middle-class Jews hot on their heels. Despite the globally-recognized persecution of Jews in Germany, the 1936 Olympic Games were held in Berlin.

On November 7, 1938, a Jewish teenager named Hermann Grünspan walked into the German embassy in Paris and assassinated Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath in retaliation for the persecution of some 12,000 Polish Jews in Germany (they had been forced from their homes, herded onto trains and forced back to Poland, only to be left in the snow when the Polish government refused to allow them entry). The act was used as an excuse to take more drastic action. Almost immediately, a wave of new pogroms now known as Kristallnacht began; by the end, 7,000 Jewish businesses had been vandalized, every synagogue in Germany had been either badly damaged or destroyed, and an estimated 100 Jews were dead (although the true figure is unknown). It was also used as an excuse to ban Jews from owning any kind of weapon, particularly firearms (which the Nazis required registration and permits for anyway, and now knew where to go to collect them).

Jews were forced to wear a yellow cloth badge in the form of the Star of David so that good Aryans would know whether to have civil dealings with them. Many tried desperately to leave, but with most countries enacting strict laws to halt the flow of Jewish immigrants, it became increasingly difficult. With the opening of Dachau, Jews in German-held territories who gave any excuse at all were sent to concentration camps. In 1940, they were relocated to ghettos while their homes were given to German citizens.

In April 1940, Hitler invaded Denmark and Norway. A month later he took France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The British, having realized that they should have acted long before this point when Winston Churchill had first warned them, invited Churchill to be the PM and began fighting the Nazi onslaught. Hitler badly wanted to take England and ordered London to be firebombed when the Luftwaffe failed to upstage the Royal Air Force. He asked Russia for help, but Stalin’s emissary refused. Hitler quietly ordered a plan to invade Russia for their insolence.

He didn’t know it, but he had just sealed the fate of the Third Reich. The rest of the world feared that they would never defeat him. Nobody knew where this massive conflict would go.

The Rise of Nazism

Here is Part II of my five-part series on Nazism and how it still poses a danger.

When the NSDAP became the second-largest party in German politics in 1930, Reichswehr officers were banned from membership in the party. In September 1930, months after massive NSDAP wins, two Reichswehr officers were arrested and tried for being members of the party (which they did not deny). Adolf Hitler made a highly-publicized appearance as a defense witness at the trial. He promised that the NSDAP – the Nazis – were not an extremist organization and that they only sought to enter politics through legal means. He calmly expressed a desire to respect the laws of Germany. By now, Mein Kampf had been released in full and had become wildly popular among the working poor.

President Paul von Hindenburg had appointed Heinrich Brüning as the chancellor. The pair had begun to form a plan for staving off the economic depression that had upended German recovery – ruling by emergency decree, they had decided to enact a series of massive spending cuts that were extremely unpopular with poor and middle-class voters (and, unwittingly, set the stage for what was to come). Despite their unpopularity, the austerity measures were put into place, cutting wages for government workers (including laborers), welfare benefits for the unemployed, and raising taxes on those who made more. To say that Brüning was unpopular is a spectacular understatement – he was generally hated.

The growing dissent among the people made it all but impossible for Hindenburg to combat groups such as the Nazis and the various German communist parties.

Hitler, however, was not a citizen of Germany yet and couldn’t run for public office. An associate came up with a solution to this; on February 25, 1932, the Nazi interior minister of Brunswick appointed Hitler to the Reichsrat (the German version of the House of Representatives – the Reichstag was essentially the German version of our Senate). Shortly thereafter, he unsuccessfully ran against Hindenburg in the presidential election. The defeat was by no means a resounding one; not only did he win a sizable portion of the vote, Hitler also established himself as a force to be reckoned with in German politics. During the election, he promised peace while at the same time promising to end the ongoing humiliation that was the Treaty of Versailles.

The German government was still in disarray, though, and a group of highly-powered and wealthy Nazi party members, along with certain well-known businessmen who had given money to Hindenburg, wrote a letter begging him to appoint Hitler as chancellor. While many other wealthy German citizens and politicians mocked Hitler (calling him “the Bohemian Corporal” behind his back, referencing his lack of an education and his military service being his only real claim to fame) and admonished Hindenburg not to give the man any power, Hindenburg reluctantly agreed to appoint him as the chancellor in the hopes that the position would stop him from running in the next election.

Hitler was no simpleton, education lacking or not. He knew that the arrangement was meant to be temporary and he had no intention of giving it up; he insisted on Nazi members Wilhelm Frick and Hermann Göring being appointed with him to positions that gave them command of most of the police throughout the country. Hitler then convinced Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and hold elections – the plan was cut short when, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag burned to the ground. I agree with Nazi historian William Schirer that Nazi party members set the fire so they could use it as a rallying cry (I would suggest his book “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”).

The day after the fire, Hitler used his power to suspend all basic rights and allow indefinite detention without just cause or a trial. He immediately ordered the roundup of all known and suspected communist party members and the Nazis gained nearly half of the seats in the new Reichstag – not enough for a majority. It required that he be somewhat diplomatic, but he still managed to ban several members of another party. Then, on March 23, 1933, a vote was held on the so-called “Enabling Acts”. The acts would give the Nazis what amounted to absolute power for four years, even giving him the ability to alter the German constitution without a vote. Hitler needed a two-thirds approval for the acts to pass, so he made a promise he had no intention of keeping – he promised members of the Center Party that president Hindenburg would still have his veto power. He continued to promise peace both to his opposition and to the people.

With crowds outside the Kroll Opera House screaming warnings that what was going on was a major threat to Germany, Hitler was set up as the Fuhrer.

Immediately, Hitler began to dispose of any who either opposed him or gave him reason to believe they would eventually oppose him. All non-Nazi political parties were banned. Trade unions, which he had expressed such love and respect for in Mein Kampf as essential to protecting German workers, were disbanded and a centralized Nazi group set up in their place (the German Labor Front). By July 14, 1933, the Nazis had complete control. SA leaders, sensing danger in Hitler’s control, attracted too much attention and after just one year in power Hitler had them rounded up and shot. He still promised peace.

Then, Hitler had the Reichstag pass a law that would combine the office of the chancellor and the president upon the death of Hindenburg. The law was a violation of the Enabling Acts, which barred Hitler from making any changes to the office of the president (it was one of the few things he wasn’t allowed to do), but that didn’t matter with the Nazis in control. Coincidentally (or not), Paul von Hindenburg died on August 25, 1934. There was now no legal means by which he could be removed from power.

With the SA now morphed into the SS (Schtuzstaffel, or Protection Squadron), Hitler could silence all opposition. He made his intention to re-militarize Germany known by ordering military leaders to have the Wehrmacht ready for war by 1938. When two high-ranking officers immediately objected, the SS invented evidence of prostitution and homosexual acts to have them removed. Shortly after Hindenburg’s death, Hitler appointed an economic minister whom he ordered to prepare the economy for war as well.

In need of money, Hitler ordered all enemies of the state to be arrested and their assets transferred to the Nazis. He ordered construction to begin on a mass scale, intent on showcasing the greatness of Germany. Unemployment dropped drastically as rearmament and major construction projects began in the lead-up to war. He continued to make promises that while he was going to end the de-militarization of buffer zones set up by the Treaty of Versailles – particularly the Rhineland – that his intentions were completely peaceful.

While he promised peace in public, behind closed doors he was planning Anschluss (making Austria part of Germany again) and ending the restrictions on the German military and arms imposed in Versailles. In March 1935, after yanking Germany from the League of Nations, Hitler announced the Wehrmacht would expand to 600,000 troops. He also announced the founding of the Luftwaffe and the expansion of the navy. One year later, in March 1936, German troops moved into the Rhineland. Britain and France did nothing but protest. Still, Hitler promised peace.

The rise of Nazism was complete.

The Birth of Nazism

A couple of years ago, I began a series based on a very long college essay I was writing. I decided to start over…here is part one of five.

Young Adolf Hitler was an artist. Most people who don’t follow history closely don’t know this important fact about the man. When he was a teenager, his father insisted on sending him to a technical school so he could learn a trade skill that would make real money; Adolf, raised by a very strict authoritarian father (Alois) and an oversympathetic, doting mother (Klara), deliberately failed at school in his teen years in the hopes of forcing his father to enroll him in art school.

We all know now that his drive was fruitless. Adolf was Austrian and he grew up with friends who believed that Austria belonged to Germany. German nationalism was strong in the run-up to WWI. Only after his father’s passing did Adolf finish school and he only passed by the skin of his teeth – he still wanted to be an artist, and his mother supported his ambition. He ended up living as a bohemian in Vienna while he attempted to gain acceptance to the Art Institute of Vienna. Twice he was turned down because he didn’t have the “aptitude” for painting. By 1909 he’d been selling watercolor landscapes to tourists in Vienna for four years and was living in a homeless shelter. In 1913 the government finally turned over his father’s estate and Adolf moved to Munich.

Adolf’s Austrian citizenship was set aside when he volunteered to join the Bavarian army in August of 1914. He was made a messenger (a job that was extremely hazardous at the time) and was highly decorated – earning the Iron Cross, both second- and first-class, along with the black wound badge. He was wounded at least twice during his duties. When the Germans surrendered in 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles was signed, Adolf was enraged. During speeches later in his career he proclaimed that, as he lay in a hospital bed blinded by mustard gas, he knew that he would be the one to liberate Germany.

He knew that his career options were nonexistent, so he stayed in the army for the newly-formed Weimar Republic. In 1919, he was assigned to infiltrate the Deutsch Arbiterpartei – or the DAP, in English the German Worker’s Party. It was an anti-Weimar socialist organization formed to represent the working poor and push socialist ideals. During a meeting one evening, Adolf got into a row with a member who suggested the unthinkable: Bavaria separating from Germany, forming with Austria and creating an entirely new country. DAP founder Anton Drexler was so impressed with Adolf’s oratory skills that he immediately offered the young soldier membership in the party. Adolf left the army and joined in 1920.

He rapidly rose to a leadership position. His public speaking skills were so natural that he was described as “mesmerizing” and “hypnotic”. The year he joined, Adolf changed the name of the party to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsch Arbeiterpartei – the NSDAP, or the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. The very first syllable is pronounced “Nazi”.

And so, anti-communist socialism became an officially-recognized political party in Germany.

Adolf the artist designed the new NSDAP logo, a swastika – a symbol commonly used by many cultures prior – in a white circle superimposed on a red background. In just one year Adolf had brought a few thousand members into the ranks, but in 1921 a small but vocal group within the leadership attempted to oust him as the party leader. Adolf angrily resigned; the group knew that without him, they would disintegrate, so they offered him anything he wanted to remain. He insisted on being the Fuhrer, the only recognized leader of the NSDAP. His wish was granted. He also formed the Sturmabteilung, or SA – the NSDAP’s “stormtroopers”.

In 1922, reparations payments as ordered by the Treaty of Versailles helped cause the hyperinflation of the German Mark – German paper currency essentially became worthless, at around 8000 Marks on the US Dollar. This further angered the NSDAP, which now commanded a force of thousands of members alongside thousands of SA to do Adolf’s dirty work. Since the Weimar Republic couldn’t get France, Britain, and the US to accept paper Marks anymore, the French moved in and occupied the Ruhr to ensure that reparations were being paid in goods – specifically coal and industrial materials produced in German factories. It got worse when the workers in the mines and factories went on strike; the government printed more money to keep paying the workers.

Germany had descended into economic chaos. In 1922, while Germans were taking wheelbarrows full of worthless Marks to the food lines to buy basic items, Italian fascist Benito Mussolini etched his name into the history books with his March on Rome. Adolf Hitler, growing ever angrier at the state of his beloved country, was taken by Il Duce – so much so that he decided to emulate his actions. On November 9, 1923, Adolf ordered 600 SA to surround the Bürgerbräukeller, a beer hall in Munich. Weimar state commissioner Gustav von Kahr, who had refused to entertain the notion of including Adolf in any new government and laughed the man out of his office, was speaking to a crowd of about 3,000. He dramatically marched into the auditorium surrounded by 20 of his NSDAP associates, fired a round into the ceiling and proclaimed that the government of Bavaria had been taken over and nobody was allowed to leave.

The Beer Hall Putsch ended the next morning after a mass crowd of 2,000 couldn’t figure out exactly what to do and were scattered by a force of only 100 soldiers (incredible considering that most of the rioters were former soldiers themselves). Adolf was taken into custody two days later, and on April 1, 1924, a judge eternally sympathetic to the cause of the accused in his courtroom sentenced Adolf to a measly 5 years. He only served eight months. The Putsch may have been a technical failure, but it ended up being a massive propaganda victory for the NSDAP. Adolf’s prison guards showed him respect and even pledged loyalty to his cause. It was during his imprisonment that he dictated Mein Kampf to Rudolf Hess.

On December 20, 1924, Adolf walked free. He didn’t receive the hero’s welcome he expected; during his incarceration, the economy had greatly improved and politics had become far less violent since workers did not feel nearly as put upon. What’s more, the NSDAP had become a banned organization in Bavaria and Adolf himself was barred from public speaking. He refused to give up, though. In January 1925, he promised government officials that he would only seek political power through honest public elections. He was hoping to have the ban on the NSDAP lifted, although he still wasn’t allowed to speak. Instead, Mein Kampf was published, and in 1925 the first volume was published to wide praise from the general population. He and his associates moved to Northern Germany to re-found the NSDAP. Joined by a group of highly skilled community organizers, Adolf Hitler went to work slowly working his way into government – he had realized that a sudden takeover would never be tolerated.

Then came the Great Depression. In October 1929, the US economy crashed and sent the still-recovering German economy into a tailspin. Millions lost jobs. President Paul von Hindenburg began ruling through emergency decrees. Adolf and the NSDAP, long telling the people that the Treaty of Versailles had been grossly unfair, found their stride during this time: they promised to end the promises of Versailles and renew pride in Germany.

In 1930, NSDAP members – all previously unknown to the public – won 107 seats in the Reichstag. The rise of Nazism had officially begun.

The Rise of Nazism

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post that I had intended to become a three- or four-part series. I got busy and forgot about it. Click here to read the original post. Here begins the second.

People who decry the comparison of Iraq to Nazi Germany frequently point out that Saddam was not a major superpower like Hitler was. The problem with that statement is that Hitler wasn’t, either, when he started out.

Simplistically speaking, most Americans are taught that the assassination Archduke Franz Ferdinand (then the heir to the throne of what was then Austria-Hungary) by a Serbian separatist named Gavrilo Princip was what sparked WWI. That was merely one of the many causes. Several of the countries in mainland Europe, Northern Africa and parts of the Middle East had been losing stability in their own regions for quite some time. Both Germany and Austria-Hungary vied for more territory, as did Russia, and the Ottoman Empire bristled at the thought of being divvied up by larger powers to the North.

An arms race between Germany and Britain, along with the beginning of “trench warfare” made the Great War the bloodiest in world history. When Germany refused to stop attacking non-military ships on the naval front, they knew that America would get into the war, so they made a bid to Mexico to join the war; they promised to give Mexico the Southeastern states, from Texas to California, in exchange for going to war with the United States. Despite public knowledge of the Zimmerman Telegram that made this widely known, Americans were still against our involvement. Had we not gotten involved Germany would have handily overrun Europe. Once America got involved, Austria-Hungary knew they were all but finished and quietly started seeking a truce. Germany responded by taking them over.

In just over a year of American involvement, the War finally ended. The Ottoman Empire was completely dissolved, resulting in a large swath of Mideast territories that were governed by Britain. The Treaty of Versailles split Austria and Hungary and placed sole responsibility for the war’s effects on Imperial Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II was supposed to be tried for war crimes, although the trial never began. There was to be no rebuilding of Germany. She would not maintain her dignity; the extreme reparations to be collected from the newly-formed Weimar Republic effectively stripped the German people of dignity and the German Mark became almost worthless (those reparations included more than just money – Germany paid in quite a few ways, including handing over the trademark for Aspirin).

The Germans had quite a lot to be pissed off at by the time Hitler the war hero got involved in politics. While government officials and the ruling class, who held most of the power, viewed Hitler as a rabble-rousing thug, the middle class and the poor saw him as their savior. It didn’t help that Paul von Hindenburg publicly claimed that Germany didn’t lose the Great War to actual defeat, but to so-called “right-wingers” – among them Bolsheviks and Jews – who effectively stabbed Mother Germany in the back.

Hitler rode that sentiment to power. Once Nazism took hold, it exploded in popularity. There were millions of good Germans, but none of them stood up to the Nazis. The Treaty of Versailles gutted Germany’s military; the army was to have no more than 100,000 troops, they were banned from developing new weaponry, and the navy was reduced to a handful of ships and absolutely no submarines. Territory on both the East and West ends of Germany was taken by the Allies as buffer zones. If Germany tried to enter those areas – the Rhineland (defended by France) and Upper Silesia (defended by Poland) – the Allies were to immediately crush the German forces. Keeping all of this in mind it was hard even for good Germans to argue with Nazi propaganda.

While Nazism was on the rise in Germany, Hitler dreamed of finishing the Kaiser’s job and making Germany a massive superpower that ruled all of Europe. He wanted to annex Austria (a concept known as Anschluss), but his propaganda was first aimed at regaining territory that the Germans viewed as having been stolen from them. In 1936, Hitler sent German troops to re-militarize the Rhineland. German troops didn’t have tanks – most of them were either on foot or on bicycles, and most of them weren’t armed, but he wanted a dramatic show of power so the world would know that Germany was back. The French simply watched and did nothing with twelve whole battalions parked on the other side of the Rhine.

This emboldened Hitler. Two years later, Anschluss was carried out. The Allies were worried, but not worried enough to use force. Hitler started stomping his feet over the Sudetenland, a small patch of land that had been given to Czechoslovakia; the Allies secretly met and agreed (without consulting the Czechs, mind you) to give the Sudetenland back to Germany. Hitler smiled and then attacked the rest of Czechoslovakia, taking it over very quickly.

The Allies still didn’t want to go to war. Hitler was not making his aims a state secret, but nobody wanted to fight. They kept thinking that if they just talked enough, Hitler would agree to peace. Neville Chamberlain returned from the Munich talks, held the signed Munich Agreement aloft, and proclaimed, “peace in our time!” Winston Churchill was trying to warn everyone in British parliament that Hitler would never stop and war was inevitable; for that crime, he was expelled from parliament.

The Allies promised Poland that they would fight at all costs to protect Poland from Nazi Germany. Then, just after being named TIME Magazine’s “Man of the Year”, Adolf Hitler ordered the takeover of Poland. France and Britain discovered then that Germany, which they thought had been all but de-fanged and unable to carry on a war, had been secretly building its arms and troop numbers.

All of a sudden, beliefs that peace was possible dissolved into the reality that war was upon them.