12/11/16 – Bystanders

When I was in high school, I happened to read an article about Treblinka that blew my mind. It was in the Sunday paper magazine, so it was pretty detailed and had pictures and maps and such. Of course I knew the concentration camps existed, but that article was my first real exposure to specifics and facts. It was deeply disturbing to me. That really was the beginning of my interest in WWII.

I remember very well reading a superb biography of Edward R. Murrow in the mid-80s, (http://www.amazon.com/Murrow-Life-Times-M-Sperber/dp/055334384X/), which described him standing on the rooftops in London during the Blitz, broadcasting live to America with bombs falling all around him. He wanted to make sure Americans knew what we were missing over there. Murrow had worked with an activist group during the 1930s that helped get Jews out of Europe, seeing what was ahead for them. It was plain as day, if you were paying attention. It must have been horrifying to watch it all unfold from the sidelines.

I remember when I realized that all my adult relatives had been there for that. I was baffled and a bit dismayed when I realized that a desperate war had been raging for a quite a while with us sitting it out. In time I came to understand America’s reasons for this, but I never felt good about it. Everything we knew about Hitler and Germany was true before we joined the war. He was a monster and a murderer in 1940, while we were watching Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies.

We know everything we need to know about Donald Trump. Today. We did a year ago. We will a year from now.


In 1994, I was too deeply buried in work to pay much attention to the headlines about Rwanda. I read the paper every day and kept up with the news more or less, but I remember glancing at those stories and just moving on. It was just too much, too bad.

In 2004, the ten-year anniversary of the genocide was featured on some TV shows. I happened to watch one on PBS (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ghosts/) and it also blew my mind. I had never properly taken in the fact before that 800,000 people had been killed in just 3 short months. It was mind-boggling. I can’t really explain why, but I wanted to understand what happened, and so I read quite a lot about it, watched documentaries, etc.

And of course I thought about myself, back in 1994, folding up the newspaper and setting it aside, wondering why someone didn’t do something about those poor people. I have no idea what one could have done to try to stop the genocide in Rwanda, but then I also have very little idea what anybody could have done to alert the US to the situation in Germany in 1937.

I can’t judge anybody. I’m a bystander myself.

But I can learn from my experience and so can you. Experience has show what happens when good people allow bad people to operate freely.


I have never really been in this situation before; I am tremendously lucky to have been born, grown up, lived into my maturity at a time where our country was safe and sound. There are lots of people who’ve not had that experience, including our own parents and grandparents. So now here we are, for the first time in my lifetime, facing a serious threat. Yes, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis, yes, there were close calls during the Cold War, but never in my lifetime have we had to lay in bed awake at night fearing what might happen tomorrow. And what’s craziest of all, the threat is from inside our own country. Not ISIS, not Al Qaeda, none of the requisite “others” we are supposed to fear (yesterday it was Commies, today it’s Muslims). Not even someone with dark skin. The threat today is from our own home-grown garden variety rich white American asshole.

And so tell me. In what universe, in what dimension of reality would anybody have stood by while Russians manipulated our election if Hillary Clinton had won? Imagine if this had been revealed about Obama in 2012?

Where is the leadership? Has everyone in Washington become impotent? Does the prospect of Trump’s displeasure intimidate them all into silence? WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE? ANYBODY? Where are the adults?

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