By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
At exactly 11 o’clock on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918, the Great War of 1914 came to an end. By the time the Armistice was signed, more than 10 million had been killed. Most military scholars agree that 6.8 million men died in combat and another 3 million-plus from accidents, disease, or in POW camps.
During the war, there were two major fronts: the East, where the Russians and Germans fought, and the West, in Flanders and Northern France. Before the war destroyed the landscape, the fields looked like a van Gogh painting, filled with flowers, cows, and shafts of wheat mixed in with red poppies. In 1915, John McCrae published the most famous poem of the war: In Flanders Fields. In time, every school child memorized the poem that began:
In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row…
The British Legion chose the red poppies as the symbol of remembrance, fabricated out of wire and red paper. They were first worn at the first Armistice Day and ever since.
The first Armistice Day was commemorated Nov. 11, 1919, at 11 a.m. in all Allied capitals amid hushed crowds, bells ringing out the hour. In towns and cities, large and small groups of veterans and their fellow citizens gathered around make-shift memorials to mark the hour. Nearly all of the veterans wore their uniforms, their chests decorated with medals. In the United Kingdom and its possessions, they called it Remembrance Day. It was called Armistice Day in the United States until changed to Veterans Day in the 1950s to honor all who served in later conflicts.
The reality of the loss was everywhere to be seen: women in mourning dresses; fathers with black armbands mixing with veterans horribly deformed, many in wooden wheelchairs or on crutches with missing limbs some with faces so disfigured that they wore masks; those whose lungs had been poisoned by gas, still coughing.
The bodies of those who fell in battle were collected and many put in temporary grave sites near where the battles were fought. Families were given the option of having the remains sent home or buried in Europe. It was a painstaking task; often, the remains had to be exhumed. Of the 116,708 soldiers who died as part of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, 30,921 are buried in Europe.
The bodies that were returned home were buried in local or military cemeteries. In the inter-war years, memorials were built and erected in many towns and cities. In 1921, Congress created a single memorial in Arlington National Cemetery on the property once owned by General Robert E. Lee. In France, the bodies of four unknown soldiers were exhumed and brought to a small chapel. A U.S. soldier was handed a bouquet of white roses and asked to place it on one of the four coffins. The one he selected was sent to Arlington and placed in an above-ground sarcophagus made of white marble: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 1931, a more elaborate tomb replaced the original and after World War II, several additional tombs were added, and today the memorial is known as the Tomb of the Unknowns. Each Nov. 11, a solemn ceremony is held, with the president placing a wreath on the tomb. It is our most sacred ground, guarded day and night by special service personnel.
Today, as we approach the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I not one service person remains. The last American, Frank Buckles, died in February 2011 and the last Brit, Harry Patch, just three years ago, victims of what Lincoln called “the silent artillery of time.”
On Nov. 11, the Keuka College community will gather at the World War II memorial that stands near Hegeman Hall. It was dedicated May 9, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. It was a gift to the College and community from the students in the History/Political Science Club. On one face of the monument, all of the theaters of war are listed; on the other, a testament to the Keuka College nurses and the program created in the darkest days of World War II. Nursing graduates have served in all wars since the founding of the program. A few yards away is another small monument remembering the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Rising above it is an oak tree, the symbol of the College.
On Nov. 11, the College will remember all who have served our nation and continue to serve. We will also remember the 124,913 Americans who are buried overseas. A formation of veterans from the local VFW will fire their rifles at the end of the commemoration just as veterans have since the first Armistice Day in 1919.
We must take time to remember and honor all of those who served and continue to serve on land, on the sea, and in the air. We also must remember those who are still in the line of fire— in Afghanistan and other regional conflicts. When our service personnel return home, many will return to civilian life as they knew it. Others will enter college and will be welcomed as students on our campus, the two World War II monuments reminding them that Keuka College has always been a welcoming community.
There is also one final nugget from our past, namely, the Field Period program, which was, in part, created in 1942 so some of our students could help bring in the harvest since “the boys” were overseas.
By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
Conventional weapons—most in accord with the rules of war and Geneva Conventions—have killed millions on an unimaginable scale. In the Syrian civil war, an estimated 125,000 people have been killed by conventional weapons; 1,500 died from gas poisoning. Yet, gas and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are prohibited by international law for use on the battlefield or against one’s people.
At the root of the prohibition against unconventional weapons is the long-held belief that WMDs are a departure from the norms of war, a cruel and inhuman way to kill either a handful of people or millions. Soldiers and civilians have conditional protection against conventional weapons. This is not the case with WMDs. When sarin-loaded missiles struck a suburb of Damascus, the civilians had no protection. Death by gas is a horror in its own constellation.
In late April 1915, French and British troops were defending the medieval Flemish city of Ypres. For the second time, the Germans had mounted a massive assault; the first attack, in October-November 1914, failed. Amid the German shelling, which filled the air with grayish-black smoke and the smell of spent gunpowder, yellow clouds appeared. The French troops were the first to inhale what was soon known as chlorine gas. They started to cough their lungs out, which were filled with blood. Disoriented and blinded from the chemical mix, many of the defenders were dead in minutes, others suffered agonizing death. Clouds of German-made gas followed the air currents. The British and French soldiers dropped like flies. An estimated 6,000 were killed; those who initially survived died a horrible death in field hospitals. Survivors had to live with scarred lungs and many were blinded. Others went insane or endured a lifetime of deep depression, in those years dubbed the “shell shock” syndrome.
World War I claimed the lives of nearly 15 million soldiers on all fronts and left more than 20 million wounded and maimed. Of those killed, roughly 90,000 died from gas poisoning and 10 times that were disabled. As we remember the Great War, the slaughter that took place at the battles of the Marne, Verdun, and the Somme are recalled with horror. A generation perished. But we will recall the Second Battle of Ypres with a special horror since a chemical weapon was introduced to the battlefield for the first time.
When the war ended in 1918, the Allies dismantled the German military machine and the gas- filled artillery shells were dumped into the Baltic Sea. In the inter-war period, military planners went to work developing technologies and new inventions that would permit mobile warfare. But gas was deemed taboo and in 1925, the Geneva Convention banned its use on the battlefield and the ban was later extended to its use against civilians. Later, biological and bacteriological weapons were also banned.
The prohibition against the use of gas has been violated, but fewer times than most people believe. While gas may have been used in the fog of war on many occasions, the evidence reveals that the Italians used it in the African Campaign in the 1930s, the Japanese in China prior to and during World War II, the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1970s, Saddam against the Kurds, and most recently, Bashar al-Assad in the brutal Syrian civil war.
Hitler did not open his huge stockpile of chemical weapons on the battlefield during World War II. But this was not the case when it came to the Jews and others the Nazis deemed “life unworthy of life.”
By Professor of History Dr. Sander Diamond
We learned from Edward Snowden’s illegal and unprecedented breech of national security that in the name of national security in the Age of Terrorism, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) most sophisticated computers have been collecting and storing nearly all of our electronic communications.
The magnitude of this Congress-approved project (named Prism) is so great that it can only be expressed in numbers beyond our comprehension and will soon be stored in a building complex larger than a shopping mall. The NSA hopes to ferret out nuggets of information which, after analysis, will thwart another terrorist attack in the post-9/11 environment. We have been assured that the NSA’s program has already been successful in preventing new attacks. We have also been assured that the NSA and other agencies that share this information are not reading our mail, so-to-speak, unless there are red flags that indicate the planning or coming execution of an assault against the United States or its allies. We have been asked to trust the government that this information will remain secure and sacrosanct.
While millions of Americans find this more than mildly distasteful, they are willing to give the government a pass since the events on that pristine morning in the late summer of 2001. Others believe that what the NSA is doing is in violation of the Fourth Amendment which, in part, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated… but upon probable cause…” This is at the heart of the ACLU’s legal challenge to the NSA’s program. What is being done in peacetime in the name of national security may in time be argued before the Supreme Court.
Governments have known a great deal about their people since the advent of civilization. Moses was commanded to tally up the Hebrew’s Twelve Tribes (the Priestly tribe was exempted) as they walked to the Promised Land. What Moses was ordered to do was very precise: “Take a census of all the congregations of the people of Israel, by families, by father’s houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head…”
In our promised land, local, state and federal agencies have been collecting information for 237 years. In general, the courts have upheld the right of the government to collect data. Throughout our history, many Americans have had a deep suspicion of government and carefully guard their privacy. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to ensure that the new government did not abuse its powers, and that our inherent rights were protected. In wartime, these rights were not suspended but laws were passed to ensure the security of the nation. During the Civil War telegraph lines were tapped
It is unlikely surveillance will end in an age when the United States is a prime target for attacks of all kinds. In a word, this is the future. However, the government has to do far more to allay the suspicions of its people. Merely saying “trust us” is not enough. For starters, multi-layer firewalls have to be put in place to make certain that hackers and foreign governments do not gain access to our private worlds. The government should stop out-sourcing the collection of data and must do a better job of vetting its employees. The Snowdens and Private Mannings of the world are not fighting for our freedoms.
It is also time for Congress to place time limits on how long information can be stored; deleting information after a reasonable amount of time unless a person(s) or group(s) have been red- flagged under the probable cause mandate in the Fourth Amendment. And, Congress has to be pressured to make certain that the litmus test of probable cause is adhered to.
By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
The Middle East has long been the epicenter of complex problems that wash like waves into other regions. No different than his predecessors as far back as Truman, President Obama is faced with a complex nexus of interrelated problems and hard choices.
The Arab Spring has brought with it change, much of it unwelcomed in Washington. Under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, the future of Egypt is uncertain. An Iran armed with atomic weapons is a dismal prospect. Yemen is in disarray, al-Qaeda doing its usual destructiveness. The prospect of an independent Palestinian State on the West Bank has moved to the back burner. The Sinai has fallen into total disorder. Hamas and Hezbollah will surely take advantage of the region’s problems, each being fed by Iran.
And then there is Syria, which presents an unimaginable host of problems that can destabilize the region even further. Much of Syria is in ruins, its ancient cities along the coastline demolished by the Bashar al-Assad regime’s air force, tanks, and fighting between paramilitary units and the regular army. Syria is sinking as a nation and the ability of its leader to rule over what was Syria two years ago is limited. But al-Assad still has a monopoly of power. He is being resupplied by the Russians and the Iranians, using Hezbollah fighters to put down the Opposition in the most brutal way.
Barring a bolt out of the blue, Syria is shaping up as the greatest foreign policy challenge of Obama’s presidency. One suspects his humanitarian instincts push him in one direction, his geo-political instincts in another.
After two wars in the region, he is mindful of the perils of getting involved in a civil war. In the words of The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, “If you torch it, you own it.” After a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is the last thing Obama wants. However, if the U.S. continues to stand on the sidelines and wait to see how the crisis unfolds, Obama will be accused of being heartless or too tepid.
Like many, Obama would like to see al-Assad pack and leave, but if he falls, the gates of hell will open in a region not known for moderation. There is the fear that once al-Assad is gone, Syria could be dismembered, further collapsing into chaos with Hezbollah moving into its western and southern sections, which Israel would not tolerate. Given the prospect of Syria falling into total chaos, dismembered, or worse, one has to question if some of Obama’s advisers want al-Assad to leave anytime soon.
Obama may be taking a leaf out of the Israeli handbook on the region: better the devil you know that the one you do not. If al-Assad emerges relatively intact and manages to reassert control, it will take years to rebuild a broken Syria. From a humanitarian point of view, this is hard to swallow. But it just may be a very hard reality, a bitter pill. As one Israeli said, the choice is between plague and cholera, both horrific but at least we know al-Assad, so-to-speak.
Letting the situation play itself out, standing on the sidelines may be the best choice, however distasteful. But al-Assad has to be put on notice: opening your arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and committing genocide on an unimaginable scale would be a game changer.
By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, Professor of History
At approximately 8:50 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, the first of two planes slammed into the World Trade Center. The Age of Terrorism had arrived on our shores. On April 15, we were once again reminded that despite our best efforts to insulate ourselves from terrorism, we live in an age where our safety is conditional.
The perpetrators of the Boston attack, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were born in Chechnya, which is located in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. Exactly when and why the older brother, Tamerlan, became a terrorist is a key element in the investigation. What we do know is Chechnya and Dagestan are the epicenters of Islamic Jihadism in the region. Their geography places them closer to Tehran than Moscow to the far north. During the Second World War, when the fate of Russia was conditional and the Battle of Stalingrad was raging in the winter of 1942-43, Moscow alleged that some in Chechnya were on the wrong side. Their punishment was collective. Stalin uprooted them and shipped them to Siberia only to return in the 1950s. Decades later, when the USSR imploded, Chechnya attempted to leave the Russian Federation and an insurrection was put down with the full might of the Russian military. Chechnya terrorists responded by blowing up a subway train in Moscow while the so-called Black Widows seized a theater with 800 people in it and threatened to blow it up.
Meanwhile, in the years that followed, some of the people of Chechnya and Dagestan have turned to Islamic extremism. Perhaps Tamerlan was predisposed to the Jihadist mindset before he arrived on our shores, concluding that however different Russia and the United States are, they share a common hatred of Muslims. Others suspect he was in contact with the Islamic extremists and was, in the words of the FBI, radicalized during a six- or seven-month stay in the region not long ago. We also know that his computer is filled with materials downloaded from radical Islamic sites, so perhaps he and his brother were radicalized on the web. Whatever the case, one does not become a terrorist overnight.
By the same token, terrorist acts are not spur-of-the-moment decisions. In the case of the Boston bombers, they bought fireworks, dismantled them and used the black powder to build bombs. They also planned to use pipe bombs in Times Square. For seasoned terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda with its numerous so-called franchises, leaders place a high value on bleeding their victims in the financial sense. For bin Laden and his cohorts, Sept. 11 was a nickel-and-dime operation. What we have spent repairing the damage and trying to protect ourselves for future attacks is beyond comprehension. The Tsarnaev brothers spent perhaps $200 building the bombs. When the cost of finding them, the commerce lost in Boston for several days, and the hospital bills are finally added, the total will be staggering. Given the cost of health care, the $20 million fund that has been established to help cover hospital expenses for those injured may be peanuts, barely making a dent in the final tally. For many of the survivors, the costs of restoring their health over a lifetime will also be staggering. As for the coming trial of the younger brother, the cost will be in the millions.
What appears to link all terrorists is a deep hatred of their perceived enemies and what they represent. For them, killing is a perfectly rational act in keeping with their religious or ideological beliefs. Their victims, not them, are the incarnation of evil.
By Sander A. Diamond, Professor of History
In the 1960s, British comic Peter Sellers starred in a farcical film, “The Mouse That Roared,” a comedy about a mini-nation that somehow acquired an atomic bomb.
Fifty years later, we have a case of life imitating art. North Korea is a roaring mouse. Labeled “The Hermit Kingdom,” a description that conforms to its isolation from the main current of world events, it is a totalitarian regime led by Kim Jong-un, the proverbial loose cannon.
The entire North Korean economy supports the military establishment, a serf-like labor force confined to collective farms and factories. Here, weapons are produced and exported overseas. While other communist states such as Vietnam and China have enjoyed prosperity, North Korea remains poor. Just across the 38th parallel is South Korea, where a population of 49 million enjoys a high standard of living, the average per capital income being $28,000.
Though smaller than Mississippi, North Korea is armed to the teeth with an unknown number of atomic bombs and the ability to deliver them. The image it projects in countless propaganda clips seen on TV in recent days is a leaf out of another age. In the old Soviet Union and Mao’s China in the 1950s, we saw generals, chests filled with medals in off-green uniforms, clapping and shouting in unison when their venerated leader appeared. Today, we see Kim Jong-un looking down in a Red Square-type setting on his troops, 1.1 million in all, as they parade past followed by Soviet-style missile carriers and heavy guns, the types the Russians used in the siege of Berlin in April-May 1945. Even the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, has the stamp of the old USSR: high-rise buildings the Russians used to call Stalinist Modern.
Although North Korea is modeled after the world of Stalin and Mao, it differs from its ideological mentors in one very significant way. In the USSR and China, leaders began their careers in the nascent years of the revolutionary movement and those who followed worked their way through the ranks of the party bureaucracy. North Korea is ruled by a dynasty established by the current leader’s grandfather, who began his career as a revolutionary and came to power in 1945. When he died, his son assumed the leadership of the state and the party and recently, the torch was passed to his son.
The entire world is trying to divine the intentions of the new 28-year-old leader who talks about war as it if was a parlor or video game. Whether all of the blustering and military action is being used to consolidate his grip on the military power or pry economic concessions from the United States, no one can say with certainty since few people outside “The Hermit Kingdom” know exactly what is going on behind the drawn curtain. Here, the ghost of Stalin is alive and well.
Short of a highly unlikely military coup, we have to take Kim Jong-un at his word. And if and when this crisis passes, we can expect Kim Jong-un to repeat his antics again. At 28, he has a lifetime ahead of him to threaten the world.
By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
In the coming weeks and months, much will be expected of the new pontiff, not only as the faith’s religious leader but also as the Church’s CEO. There is no question that he will quickly start to address most, if not all, of the church’s most public problems and by doing so be seen as a reformer.
While he will address the internal and external problems in the church with grace and speed, other issues presented by the modern world will challenge core teachings. In Europe and the United States, a significant number of Catholics have pulled away from the Church or have abandoned it altogether. In France and Germany, attendance is at all time lows. Each person has his or her own reasons but a large number disagree with the Church’s positions on the ordination of women, gay marriage and the call for the marriage of priests. Still others believe that Rome is a relic of the past, and Papal authority on social issues is as outdated as the power of the divine right of kings and queens. These are core issues, but Rome has never been swayed by democratic voting, so-to-speak.
In keeping with the tradition of his namesake, Francis will continue to wash the feet of the poor and the sick, but on core issues he will not wash away the core teachings in favor of modernity. Many will be disappointed by his decisions, others will applaud them, and still others will point to the Vatican as a dated relic from the past. And others could care less.
But a distinction has to be made between Catholic doctrine and our interest in it as evidenced by the number of people who watched the election of the new pope. No different than the monarchy of the United Kingdom during the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary on the throne and the interest in the sex of Kate’s forthcoming first child, the Vatican knows how to put on a great performance and herein is to be found the interest for many people. Both institutions take the long view. They know that whatever is commanding our attention in the political and economic world will pass. They will continue long into the future.
In the tradition of St. Francis, we may see Pope Francis appeal to his flock and billions of others to arrest the further destruction of the environment, which has accelerated on his continent, leaving its rain forests and indigenous peoples under threat. There is no question that if his good health continues, he will be a world traveler in the tradition of John Paul II. Perhaps using the prologue of St. Francis and his Order, he may well capitalize on this tradition and conjoin it with a heightened emphasis on the poor in a world now looking at 8 billion people and perhaps leveling off at 10 billion. A trip to Brazil had already been announced. We may also see him in Africa, where the Catholic population is growing with great speed and in some regions under threat.
Reaching out to other faiths may also be on his emerging agenda. A trip to Israel is a certainty, no different than his two predecessors. Whether he will visit the Islamic world in this time of rapid change and turbulence is hard to predict. Many Christians have left Iraq while 2.2 million remain in war torn Syria and more than 8 million still live in Egypt. Here he will need his diplomat hat, which appears to be in keeping with his personality.
All of this is a tall order for a man of 76. Even popes have their limitations as we saw with his predecessor. Seventy-six is not the new 42.
By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
This year marks the milestone anniversaries of seven events that changed our nation and the world, altering the lives of the witnesses and all that followed.
The Battle of Gettysburg (150 years), Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg (150 years), the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president (80 years), Dr. Martin Luther King’s defining oration in Washington, D.C. (50 years), and the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas (50 years) helped define the American journey and continue to impact our lives. Adolf Hitler’s ascension to power (80 years) and the Battle of Stalingrad (70 years) altered the course of world history in ways that were unimaginable at the time.
On Jan. 31, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. Within a year, he consolidated his power, the Third Reich was born, and the course of world history was soon to take a different course.
Three months later, FDR stood on the steps of the Capitol and was sworn in as president in the midst of the Great Depression. Unlike Hitler, who told the German people that the depression was caused by a great conspiracy, FDR told our nation that “all we have to fear is fear itself.” FDR led the the nation through the darkest days of the Great Depression and World War II. Rarely has there been a sharper contrast between good and evil, between all that was embodied in FDR and what Der Führer represented.
In the annals of military history, there are battles that turn the tide of warfare. In World War II there were two: D-Day, June 6, 1944 and the Battle of Stalingrad, which came to an end Jan. 31, 1943 with victory by the Red Army. It was after Stalingrad when Hitler acknowledged to his close associates that the war might not end as he imagined.
In World War II, it was Stalingrad and D-Day June 6, 1944. This year we will commemorate the 150th anniversary of a battle that took place in Gettysburg, from July 1-3, 1863. The hilly landscape, with outcroppings of rock and names like Seminary Ridge, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Ridge, became a killing field. When it ended, 56,000 were dead or wounded, and Lee’s shattered forces retreated to Virginia. The tide of war had turned and when it ended in April 1865, more than 750,000 men had died, according to recent estimates.
The battlefield was dedicated Nov. 19, 1863, with the grave sites still fresh and much of it still littered with pieces of weapons of war. The words delivered by President Lincoln that day transcend what occurred on that blood-soaked battlefield, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
One hundred years later, on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, the embodiment of youth and vigor, was shot and a few minutes after 1 p.m. the nation and the world were in a state of shock as they listened to the report from Parkland Hospital. After JFK’s death, American politics and foreign policy moved in a different direction. We are left to only speculate what would have happened had he been elected for a second term.
Four months earlier, on Aug. 28, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the mall and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In the shadow of Lincoln, he called upon the nation to complete its work, the promise of equality for all 100 years after Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The Civil Rights Movement had moved to the top of the nation’s agenda.
We can never forget the evilness of Hitler, but as we stop and commemorate so many defining events this year, we should be thankful that each generation brought forth people like Lincoln, FDR, JFK and King who in word and deed gave us a better world. Their monuments are less in stone than in ourselves.
An opinion piece by Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
It has been 80 years since Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of the ill-fated Weimar Republic by its aging president, Paul von Hindenburg, a much venerated general who stopped the Russian advance into Germany in the fall of 1914. The old gentleman thought little of the man the papers once dubbed “The Bavarian Corporal,” whose face was known to millions through countless public speeches and National Socialist of Nazi campaign posters that dotted the very troubled German landscape. When asked what he thought of Hitler who was a message carrier or runner in the trenches of France during the Great War, Hindenburg responded, “Under the Empire, I would not have appointed him a mailman.”
Hitler’s appointment set into motion a train of events that changed the world in ways unimaginable on Jan. 30, 1933: the creation of the most brutal dictatorships in history; the Third Reich; the mass extermination of two-thirds of European Jewry; a war that cost the lives of an estimated 56 million people, including more than 30 million in Soviet Russia and at least 20 percent of the population of Poland; the United States emerging as a superpower after 1945; the Cold War; atomic bomb; radar; and near total destruction of Germany, both its physical and moral ruination. Eighty years later, the system he created, Hitlerism, is a synonym for evil, while Auschwitz, not the Reich, is his monument.
In the eight decades since Hitler came to power, he and the Germans have been put under a microscope in an effort to understand how a nation descended into such darkness. Most agree that Hitler seized upon the major currents of his era, when the Germans believed they had been cheated out of victory in the Great War. He used traditional German idealism, and its militarist and authoritarian traditions, to achieve his ends. This being said, his most recent biographer, Ian Kershaw, whose massive two volume work is the gold standard, believes a question still remains: How could a self-styled messiah, an ill-educated beerhall demagogue who was initially dismissed as an oddity come to exercise unlimited power over a well-educated nation known for its poets, thinkers, and scientists in the middle of the 20th century? Some scholars argue that he expressed the deepest desires of his people who were willing to look away when the terrible secrets were revealed. Others maintain he was an aberration. The answer is found somewhere in the middle.
Today, Germany is open and democratic, its rebuilt parliament’s glass dome symbolizing its openness and transparency. Germany is the economic engine of the European Union and led by its first female chancellor, Dr. Merkel. But Hitler and Hitlerism will always be with the Germans and the world and fortunately, we have not tried to bury the past. Instead we have derived lessons from it. The Holocaust Museum and Memorial in Washington is far more than what its name implies. In central Berlin, the recently opened Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe and other memorials are daily reminders of what was set in motion Jan. 30, 1933, the extant concentration camps sitting silently as reminders of what humankind is capable of doing.
For many people, Jan. 30 will just be another day, marked by a small article in the media. But some—the Germans, Israelis and World Jewry—will look at it differently. Old black and white images from a film taken Jan. 30, 1933 revealed the future. In one window, a joyful Hitler can be seen looking down on a Nazi-organized, torch-lit parade. In the other window, Hindenburg, his face frozen. Perhaps Paul von Hindenburg saw the future and had to know there was no turning back. A year later he died of old age and shortly thereafter, his beloved army took a personal oath of loyalty to the Bavarian Corporal, now Der Führer.
By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
By the time the Civil War ended in April 1865, the North and the South lost more than 750,000 men, according to a recent study. In the North, the first national cemeteries were carefully laid out to contain the fallen; Gettysburg the most visited nearly a century-and-a-half later. Here and in other cemeteries, each state has its own monuments.
But in small towns and cities, citizens wanted to memorialize the war in their town squares. One of the first catalogues made this possible; it featured a full host of memorials. Some had a single soldier with rifle in hand, others were more complex and expensive with statues of soldiers, sailors and marines. On the stone pedestals, one can read the raw statistics of the number of townspeople who served and the number who did not come home. It is in these numbers that the full scope of the Civil War is revealed—a battlefield roughly the size of Western Europe. Once delivered, the monuments faced south.
While some of the metal statues were made in other states, most came from foundries located in Connecticut. By 1900, nearly all were in place in little towns like Newtown that dot the northern landscape.
It was in Newtown where a 20-year-old local resident broke into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 and slaughtered 26 people, including 20 children, and then took his own life.
While the nation will move on, we know that the families, their friends, neighbors, and relatives will always have a hole in their hearts that will never heal. In time, perhaps, the people will find a fitting way to memorialize what happened, but it is too soon to think about. If and when this time arrives, just as the State of Connecticut’s foundries turned out memorials that captured the essence of the Civil War, someone will come up with a design in metal or in stone that will appropriately memorialize this profound tragedy.
In a state that has been the home and birthplace of so many people who have captured the high and low points of the American journey—what writer Arthur Miller did for the theater, what painter John Trumbull did to capture on canvas the American Revolution and the faces of the Founders, and what Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote before the Civil War— someone will emerge with the imagination to capture this heart-wrenching event. Perhaps a harbinger of this is to be found in the Hebrew chant of mourning sung by a local Rabbi and the profound grief expressed by President Obama, lost for words with tears in his eyes. Time and distance are needed.
A more immediate monument on the national level should not be made from stone and metal. We are in need of new laws and the enforcement of older ones that control and regulate easy access to weapons used for the domestic mass destruction. Congress has to balance the rights of gun owners with the inherent right of the American people itemized in the Constitution to expect far more than conditional safety in our malls, shopping centers, streets, movie theaters and, as we learned Dec. 14, our schools. The response is not to be found in the use of armed guards in the schools, let alone arming the teachers. The time has come for soul-searching and action to arrest this senseless pandemic of gun-related violence by rampage killers. The nation is in need of a restoration of civility in the political arena to accomplish this goal. This will hopefully create a common good; doing away with the belief held by some that they need weapons used by armies to protect themselves.
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