Category Archives: Telling the Truth

Can Bishops Avoid A Stalemate?

In the game of chess that is being lived out within Nicaragua right now, the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church has been visible and active as a mediator between the demonstrators and President Daniel Ortega.  That role has persisted this week, even as the violence continues and, with time, both sides seem to have become even more intractable.

The country at large has become less navigable as increasing numbers of roadblocks have cut off nearly all travel, even through the most roundabout means.  (You can see the map of blockades as of June 7 here.)  Aside from the inconvenience created within a country where travel between points A and B is already a challenge, the roadblocks hinder the delivery of harvests to markets.  That’s a significant economic threat to rural producers and to commerce in general.  Of course, if the harvests cannot be sold at market, borrowers will face defaults on loans they may have taken to plant and grow the crop.  Default with an organization like WPF may result in a renovation of terms; default with a commercial lender may result in the loss of property or other pledged assets, the country-in-crisis notwithstanding.  So any thoughts about the demonstrations and disruptions being limited in impact to Managua or the universities are simply incorrect: this is a dangerous national matter.

The Bishops have sought to be intermediaries, to neutralize the rhetoric and to seek common ground as a starting point for discussion and resolution.  But that has proven to be far more difficult than simply occupying a referee’s chair.  The initial national dialogue which has sought traction under their guidance featured an angry interruption of Daniel Ortega’s opening comments by student leaders.  Mr. Ortega himself has been absent from subsequent efforts at dialogue.  The violence around the country has continued and grieving is once again a national pastime.

Most recently, the Bishops have sought to meet with President Ortega to formally make request on the most pressing matters fueling the demonstrations, as follows:

We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, as mediators and witnesses to the National Dialogue, inform the Nicaraguan people that after listening to several sectors of national and international society, we are asking the President of the Republic of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega Savaadrea, for a meeting to deal with the issues so indispensable and essential for our country, concerning justice and democracy, on which peace always depends,  with the purpose of assessing in the plenary session of the Dialogue the helpfulness of carrying it forward.

This meeting has been accepted by the President, it will be tomorrow Thursday June 7 at 3:00pm in la Casa de los Pueblos.

After that meeting, we will be reporting to the national and international community about the dialogue. For that reason we are inviting the press to a conference at 7:00pm on that same day in the Our Lady of Fatima seminary.

We ask our faithful to intensify their prayers for the success of that conversation.

In our office, Wednesday June 6, 2018, Year of the Lord.

THE BISHOPS CONFERENCE OF NICARAGUA

The meeting was held, and a second communique from the Bishops was issued yesterday:

We the Bishops of the Bishop´s Conference of Nicaragua communicate to the Nicaraguan people, that we have finished our conversation with the President of the Republic.

We have done it as pastors of the people of God who have entrusted this to us seeking new horizons for our Country.

The dialogue with the President happened in an environment of serenity, frankness and sincerity, where we set out to the President the pain and anguish of the people in the face of the violence suffered in recent weeks, and the agenda agreed upon in the Plenary of the National Dialogue on the democratization of the country.

We have handed him the proposal that brings together the sentiments of many sectors of Nicaraguan society, and expresses the longing of the immense majority of the population. We are awaiting his response in writing as soon as possible.

Once the President of the Republic has responded to us formally, we will call for a meeting of the Plenary of the National Dialogue to assess that response and therefore the feasibility of continuing the National Dialogue.

In the Seminary of Our Lady of Fatima, on the 7th day of June of 2018, Year of the Lord.

[Bishops signatures follow]

What the Bishops have succeeded in doing is to have tried again to formally focus the issues requiring address.  Amidst the chaos and the shouting and the allegations and realties of the past weeks, at some point the process of address must begin.  The Bishops have presented the President with the issues and an opportunity.   The chessboard presents a lot of moves by both sides.  The Bishops hope not to be used as mere pawns….

I Wonder What It Was Like

Hav you ever had a moment when you were reading about something historical and wondered to yourself, “I wonder what it was like to have been there?”  In the years that I have worked for Winds of Peace, I have often asked myself that question about the period of the revolution.  When we visit partners to the north, Mark will occasionally comment about the intensity of the war in that location, as a footnote to Nicaragua history.  Invariably, I’ll look around at the lush beauty of the countryside and wonder how this rain-forested land could ever have served as a battleground.

That same phenomenon is happening with the protest movement taking place in Nica over the past month.  It is an historic moment of importance, when a significant representation of the population stood up to its authoritarian leaders and said, “Enough!”  And they have done so with complete directness-  not just through media quotes or a coward’s tweets- but in the faces of the president, the vice president and all the authority that they command within the country.  And though I’m not in the country at present, I feel as though I’m in the moment, as I receive updates and articles from my colleague Mark, who is in the middle of history there once more.

Today, I have received a link to the opening of the national dialogue between the protesters and the government.  The video is in Spanish, but it doesn’t matter; Mark has provided some translation and context.  But more importantly, even without understanding the language, we hear the passion, the outrage and a soulful outpouring of emotion from one of the protest leaders, Lesther Aleman, who actually interrupted the president’s opening comments of the dialogue.  What follows is a link to the video and translation of what was said, including the words of a fellow protester.

WORDS OF LESTHER ALEMAN,REPRESENTATIVE OF THE 19TH OF APRIL UNIVERSITY MOVEMENT, UCA STUDENT, INTERRUPTING DANIEL ORTEGA´S FIRST WORDS AT DIALOGUE

The speech can be seen here: https://youtu.be/g_wixJb2Elg  It is worth watching to see the emotion and the context. The Bishops have just given permission to President  Ortega to give some opening remarks – the first one to speak – and he is shouted down by the students as Lesther takes the floor. Here is what Lesther says in English, so you can understand the video:

“We are not here to listen to a speech that we have heard for 12 years, President, we know the history, we don´t want to repeat it, you know what the people are, where power is based? In the people.

We are here and we have accepted being at this table, with all due respect for you, to demand that you right now order the immediate end to the attacks that are being committed in our country. Now if there were a Ministry of the Interior, we would denounce this to that minister. But you are the Supreme Chief of the National Police and the Army of Nicaragua. That is why we ask you right now to order the end of these attacks,  repression and murder of the paramilitary forces, of your troops, of the mobs of government followers.

You know very well the pain that we have experienced for 28 days, can you all sleep peacefully?  We have not slept peacefully, we are being persecuted, we are students.

And why am I talking now and why did I take the floor away from you? Because the deaths have been on our side, the disappeared, those who have been kidnapped are from our side; we are the ones affected.

Today we are asking you. This is not a table for dialogue, it is a table to negotiate your departure, and you know this very well, because it is the people who have requested it.

All this sector is here demanding that you as the supreme leader of the police order an immediate cease fire, immediate.

Bishop Alvarez experienced it and many priests continue experiencing it.

Who can we ask? Is there another person I can ask to order this to end? Because if it were in my hands, I tell you that since the 18th I would not have permitted it.

A month! You have ruined the country, it took Somoza many years, and you know this very well, we know history, but you in less than a month have done things that we never imagined and that many people have been disillusioned by this, by these ideals that have not been followed, those four words that you swore to this country to be free and today we continue with the problem, today we continue subjugated,  today we continue marginalized, today we are being mistreated. How many mothers are crying over their children, sir?

Vice President, you are a mother and you know grief very well. Because talking at us at noon every day, you are not going to extinguish that grief.

The people are in the streets, we are at this table demanding the end to the repression.

Know this; Surrender to all these people! You can laugh [refering to Edwin Castro, who had what looked like a smirk on his face], you can make whatever face you want, but we ask you that you order the ceasefire right now, the liberation of our political prisoners.

We are not going to negotiate with a murderer, because what you have committed in this country is a genocide and that is how it has been described”.

The speech ended with students yelling, “they were students, they were not criminals”, in reference to what the Vice President and First Lady called the students in one of her noon broadcasts.

Later on, when called on, another student leader, Victor Cuadras, spoke these words:

“Even though Mr. President denies the suffering of the people, in Nicaragua there are more than 68 mothers who are crying for the suffering of their children. There was a mother who in 1972 wrote a poem that is called, “Christmas Song”, that mother had lost one of her children and this is the same feeling of all the mothers who today are suffering on seeing their children murdered.”

The poem was written by Rosario Murillo when she lost her firstborn in the earthquake.

Victor used their time then to read the poem:

CANCIÓN DE NAVIDAD
Yo camino hoy
con el dolor del parto en cada paso
con el vientre rompiéndose
y los pedazos de madre
volando sobre espacios vacíos
yo camino gimiendo
apretando en mis manos los barrotes
apretando los dientes
mordiéndome la lengua
Voy vestida de barro
voy cubierta de piedras y de tiempo
tengo cara de asombros y cabellos de fuego
llevo el dolor del parto en cada paso
siento al hijo que brota de la sangre
siento la piel colgando
tengo las venas en un solo nudo
hay un hijo derramado en la noche.

In the end, Lesther took the floor again and said these words:

“President Ortega, with respect, we go back to the same, do not leave here, nor anyone move from this table, until you, as a man with the level of comandante, order again a cease fire, what you said was not convincing to us and is not going to convince the police. Do you know how long it is going to take us to respect someone in a uniform again? It is going to take us a long time, because they are murderers, because they have killed us and they continue killing us, that is why we ask that you be presentable as a full comandante, that you get up and give with your voice the military order for a cease fire, for the nights when the mobs attack, the civilian police we now know about, the future is uncertain, the Sandinista Youth has weapons, we are not inventing the dead, you do not leave here until you do this, this table was for this”

They also read out loud a list of all the people killed in the protests, with the students yelling “Presente” after each one. This was in response to part of Ortega´s intervention where he asked for a list of those students alleged to have been killed or arrested by the government.

It’s an important time in this small country where WPF has worked for more than 30 years.  It’s one of those moments in history that may well be played back over and over, as a significant moment of change in that country’s journey.  It’s worth noting, even if it doesn’t appear in the evening news.

Hear it.  Experience it.  The dialogue resumes tomorrow.  This is what it was like to have been there….

 

 

 

Pushing Back

The tensions have not diminished.  The rhetoric has not cooled.  The confrontations have not stopped.  The misrepresentations have not ceased to confound and anger.  But in an age of “alternative facts,” pictures can and do speak louder than words.

It was not that long ago that a certain politician set the tone for his presidency by claiming that the crowd on hand to observe his oath of office was the largest in history, and much greater than his predecessor.  The pictures said otherwise.

In Nicaragua, some of the voices of government claimed that last Wednesday’s demonstration was not significant in terms of numbers.  But after one look at the video footage below,

one would have to conclude that, regardless of denials, the turnout and the outrage expressed against the Ortega government is significant, indeed.

Truth is always a slippery treasure to hold on to.  But misrepresentations and outright lies never diminish the truth, they just hide it for a while.  Nicaraguans are apparently raising their voices in volume perhaps not heard since the days of the revolution.  The truth may be inconvenient for some, but it is no less the people’s reality….

 

Creating S***hole Countries

I’ve continued to think about the comments made last week by the President of the U.S.  Even though he later denied some of the words attributed to him, and two of his most ardent supporters stated that they did not recall his use of the words, there seems to be little doubt about what was actually said and why.  The entire episode was astonishing to those with any sensibilities, regardless of political affiliation.

But my own reflections on the matter shifted to the countries in question, the ones which were denigrated so graphically by the leader of the free world.  What’s the possible basis for such demeaning remarks?  Are these nations really so awful?  And if so, why?  I suppose that, by comparison, Nicaragua might be one of those countries which the U.S President had in mind: it’s the second-poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere (next to Haiti), has a history of internal conflicts and dictatorships, contributes to both legal and illegal immigration to the U.S. and has sustained a strained relationship with U.S. administrations for decades.  With that in mind, I considered the circumstances that might have led countries like Nicaragua, Haiti and the African nations to be held in such contempt by the wealthiest country in the world.

At least in the case of Nicaragua, the beginning of their modern-day difficulties date back to the 1850’s invasion of that country by invasion from the U.S.  Over subsequent decades, the North American neighbor alternately funded insurrection, invaded with U.S. Marines, supported a generations-long dictatorship of oppression, illegally funded a war against a duly-elected Nicaraguan administration, ignored a World Court penalties of $6 Billion for their illegalities, consistently and forcefully interfered in elections and has recently threatened legislation to eliminate U.S. remittances to Nicaragua families.  In sum, it has been an excellent recipe for the creation of a troubled existence.

In Haiti, the early troubles inflicted by the U.S. were quite similar to the incursions in Nicaragua.  On July 28, 1915, American President Woodrow Wilson ordered  U.S. Marines to occupy the capitol.  Forces were instructed to “protect American and foreign” interests.  The U.S. also wanted to rewrite the Haitian constitution, which banned foreign ownership of land, and replace it with one that guaranteed American financial control.  To avoid public criticism, the U.S. claimed the occupation was a mission to “re-establish peace and order… [and] has nothing to do with any diplomatic negotiations of the past or the future.”  Within six weeks of the occupation, U.S. government representatives seized control of Haiti’s custom houses and administrative institutions, including the banks and the national treasury. Under U.S. government control, a total of 40% of Haiti’s national income was designated to repay debts to American and French banks.  For the next nineteen years, U.S., government advisers ruled the country, their authority provided by the United States Marine Corps.  The U.S. retained influence on Haiti’s external finances until 1947.  It was a good way to subdue a culture, an independent economy and self-determination and to ensure their third world status.

For the African continent, the litany of U.S. interventions and self-serving intrusions is far too long to even summarize here.  Africa is a big place, and nearly every one of its fifty-four countries has experienced U.S. interference at one point in history or another.  But the following description of cause-and-effect, excerpted from an article by Mark Levine at aljazeera.com provides some context for current reality:

Traveling across Sub-Saharan Africa it becomes a truism—but nonetheless in good measure true—that the areas where the region’s much-celebrated recent growth is most evident are precisely where people are able to create local markets largely outside the control of corrupt government and private elites. But the large-scale and still expanding militarisation and securitisation of US policy makes the development of such truly free-market mechanisms that much more difficult to realise, precisely because the strengthening of capacities of militaries and security/intelligence sectors invariably strengthens the power of elites and states vis-a-vis ordinary citizens, exacerbates economic conflicts and inequalities, and strengthens the position of those groups that are violently reacting to this process.

The poverty which continues to envelop much of the continent is the result of far more  than just the meddling of the United States.  But the U.S. footprint is present in both actions taken and assistance NOT rendered; if these constitute s***hole countries, perhaps they are perceived this way because we in the U.S. have chosen to see them and respond to them in that way.  After all, no less than the U.S. President has identified them as such.  (I think the President is unaware of the fact that earliest humans emerged from Africa.  Not Europe.  Not North America.  Not Norway.  But Africa.)

The unfortunate truth for many struggling nations is to be found in the poor-man-crawling story:

A wealthy man was walking on a city street, preoccupied with cell phone and important connections.  His preoccupation resulted in a collision with a somewhat disheveled and homeless man walking in the opposite direction.  The poor man fell down, momentarily stunned by the contact, but immediately reached out to gather up several of his belongings which had been knocked from his hands.  The wealthy man, perturbed at the mishap and the dropping of his own phone, retrieved it brusquely and then observed the poor man on hands and knees, salvaging his few possessions.  As he walked away indignantly, the wealthy man observed, “It’s disgusting to see the way these vagrants crawl our sidewalks.  The police should do something about them, to make the streets safe for respectable folks.”

Where there is hunger and thirst, need and distress, poverty and injustice, there are reasons for it.  And sometimes the reasons lie at the feet of those who are not thus afflicted.  S***hole countries, if they actually exist, may well be the result of outsiders who have created them….

What Lies Beneath

I’ve been reading an absorbing article in the June issue of National Geographic Magazine, entitled, “Why We Lie.”  I’m going to guess that it might be the most widely-read article that the magazine has ever published; as the article posits, we all lie, and  the title draws us to want to understand ourselves a little better, since most of us regard that characteristic as a negative.  (Why do I choose to do that, anyway?)

The article is fascinating and full of the reasons and motivations for our lies.  (Gosh, it even makes me feel bad to write that line.)  Some of our deceptions are protective, some are ego-driven, some are avoidance-based and some are even altruistic: lies intended to help someone or avoid their discomfort.  (Can I claim ownership to this category as my only source of lies?)  It turns out that we all have dishonesty built into our makeup.

“Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at.  We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends and loved ones.  Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.”

Wow.  I never realized the extent of the dark deceit that surrounds each of us.  Certainly, I acknowledge the ubiquity of lies in everyday life: (does “fibs” make that sound less awful?).   Advertisements promise results that could never be true, tabloid magazines publish stories with no semblance to reality, political pundits dish out speculation and innuendo without any basis in fact, and social media simply multiplies the problem.  But, within our own circle of family and friends?  (I wonder now whether those kind words about my sweater were sincere or sinister?)

The reality of our lying makes working in Nicaragua even more difficult than it might otherwise be.  Already, I must navigate relationships and circumstances through translation and my North American eyes.  Now, in addition, I read that there are also untruths being spoken, even if for the very best and most reasonable of reasons: hunger, shelter, health, life itself.  I’m not naive; I am well aware of the frequency of exaggeration and overstatement by people in dire need of assistance, financial and otherwise.  But reading an entire article about it underscores what has been mostly an uncomfortable subtext.  (Truth be told, now, it feels more omnipresent and, somehow, more problematic than before.)  Should the possibility of half-truths suddenly feel more offensive insulting or more threatening?

I’ve thought about that and decided that the answer is likely “no.”  If the article in National Geographic is even close to being accurate, we’ve all been subject to speaking and hearing lies during our entire lives.  There is nothing new happening here, only some data to confirm it.  It’s a bit like enduring a destructive overnight storm and awakening in the morning to read details about what you have already personally experienced.   (I swear, the hail stones were the size of melons!)

But there’s another reality which mitigates any sense of wrong that I might feel after being lied to.   When someone utters an untruth, often he/she is the one who is most hurt by it.  Lies can be like items posted on the Internet, in that they never really go away.  (All lies should be marked as spam.)  They continue to exist, hiding in memory until the moment when they can cause the maximum in embarrassment  and loss.  Falsehoods diminish who we are by eroding our credibility, our connection to truth, and to our own self-worth.  And those erosions hurt.  A deliberate lie to someone else is also a lie to ourselves, made even worse because we know the truth.  The conflict is, ultimately, wrenching.  (Is this why on some days I don’t feel as well as on others?)

We each have little in this world that is truly ours.  (What about my guitars?)  Material items come into our lives, and then they go.    The people in our lives enter and exit.  Always.  We take nothing from this world but our own integrity and sense of honor, two matters about which we can attempt to lie to ourselves, but without success.  It’s true in politics, in business, in farming, philanthropy and any other endeavor we can imagine.

I doubt that reflections here will have much impact on people in their day-to-day correspondence with each other; as the article observes, it’s “in us.”  But like any nagging habit, we can work on it.  We can make it better.   Ultimately, our well-being is built upon what is real, and whoever we are, truth will out….

 

 

 

 

What’s the Matter With Kids These Days?

We had an update from the Indigenous youth of the north on my most recent trip to Nicaragua.  Meeting with this group is always an excitement.  They can be as shy as their parents’ generation can be, especially during first-time encounters, but there is an underlying energy and freshness about the youth.  Maybe it just goes with being somewhere between 16 and 30 years of age.  (I really hate to even write that suggestion down, because if it’s true, where does it leave someone like me?)

There are lots of things to like about the members of NUMAJI:  in addition to the aforementioned energies, they are organized, they take their organizational responsibilities seriously, they are constantly seeking ways in which to grow- both organizationally and personally- and they are undaunted by the societal forces which seem to conspire against their quest for independence and preservation of Indigenous tradition.  It’s easy to root for underdogs.

Like their young brethren in most other countries, the members of NUMAJI carry a bias toward “rebellion.”  Not physical confrontation, but a desire to go their own ways as compared to their elders.  The irony for this Indigenous group of youth is that their rebellion is aimed not at abandonment of past ways but at preservation of their heritage, “the Indigenous patrimony.”  It’s in danger of extinction due to passage of time, loss of youth to technology and migration, local and national governments which prefer not having to deal with the reality of Indigenous traditions and rights, and other Indigenous voices which speak about the artifacts of their heritage as being for sale.

This group of young people has been through a lot.  They first came together under the recognition that they needed and deserved a structure in which their voices might be heard by their elders; sometimes elders have a difficult time ascribing value to their eventual successors.  Next, they waded into the swamp of forming themselves into an association, a process which is as long as it is daunting, and especially for the uninitiated.  They face the scorn of many elders who view the association as too inexperienced and too young to be of importance.  They battle the entrenched and politics-driven agendas of some Indigenous and municipal community “leaders,” for whom an association of independent thinkers and actors constitutes a threat to established order.  In short, there are few resources on which to rely as they defend their heritage and birthright.

Except in the case of their work.  As we listened to the issues faced by the youth- many of whom are still in their teens- I was struck by the content of the proposal they made for association work in the coming year.  I wonder where else I might hear youth discussing issues like: internal and foreign migration; the need for development of greater emotional intelligence as a personal development strength;  the impacts of “adultism;” confronting child abuse; writing the statutes and administration of a legal association; or preserving and protecting archaeological sites when municipal and national authorities demonstrate little interest in doing so.  These are not matters of pop culture or social media, but rather, the very real issues of an entire Indigenous people being met head-on by their youth.

It’s an uphill battle, at best.  Maybe NUMAJI will be able to sustain itself through sheer force of wills; young people often have that capacity.  Alternatively, the obstacles may prove to be more than even an energized group of committed youth can withstand.  But either way, this group has educated and experienced itself in ways that will serve its individual members well in the future, whatever that may hold.  Good character and personal courage are qualities that are always in demand and short in supply.

When we left the meeting, I noticed that I actually stood a little straighter, taller than when I walked in….

 

 

The “Poverty” Here at Home

 Most folks with whom I talk about Nicaragua know very little about it, neither its history with the U.S. nor its current status.  The country is seemingly just too small and insignificant to bother about. But every once in a while, I encounter someone who has read about it or traveled there, or perhaps completed some sort of service work among the poor.

When acknowledging my own work with Winds of Peace Foundation, it’s among that latter group that I might detect a certain condescension about the plight of Nicaraguans, and especially their government.  The general impression of many is that the poverty in Nicaragua is the by-product of a corrupt and self-serving government, and that if more democratic principles were followed, Nicaraguans could be better off than they are today.  To that view, I most often respond with, “It’s complicated.”

So when I read the following article, I immediately thought about those who would over-simplify political realities anywhere, and maybe especially is a land called the United States of America.

Recently, I’ve been rereading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” In this political season, William L. Shirer’s mammoth history of Hitler’s Germany seems a useful guide to how a skilled demagogue can seize and destroy a great nation.

Hitler’s rise, as narrated by Shirer, was the triumph of an unlikely messiah — “the man with the Charlie Chaplin mustache, who had been a down-and-out tramp in Vienna in his youth, an unknown soldier, the somewhat comical leader of the Beer Hall Putsch, this spellbinder.” How did this preposterous upstart bend one of the most cultured of nations to his will?

He did it partly through the ballot box. In the early 1930s, Hitler’s National Socialist Party, the Nazis, rose through a series of free elections. It never won a majority in any of them, but emerged as the strongest of several parties in the Reichstag, or parliament. Hitler then connived his way to the office of chancellor, or prime minister, playing on the vanity, foolishness, ambition and greed of non-Nazis to outmaneuver them all.

“No class or group or party in Germany could escape its share of responsibility for the abandonment of the democratic Republic and the advent of Adolf Hitler,” Shirer wrote. “The cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it.”

Hitler never got more than 37 percent of the vote. “But the 63 percent of the German people who expressed their opposition to Hitler were much too divided and shortsighted to combine against a common danger which they must have known would overwhelm them unless they united, however temporarily, to stamp it out.”

 Hitler’s rise owed everything to the 1929 stock market crash and the global Depression that followed it. Under the Republic, Germany had begun to recover from its defeat in World War I. Then, suddenly, “millions were thrown out of work. Thousands of small business enterprises went under.”

According to Shirer, Hitler “was both ignorant of and uninterested in economics. But he was not uninterested in or ignorant of the opportunities which the Depression suddenly gave him. The suffering of his fellow Germans was not something to waste time sympathizing with, but rather to transform, cold-bloodedly and immediately, into political support for his own ambition.”

Hitler played on this in the 1930 election, when the Nazis became the second biggest party. “To all the millions of discontented, Hitler in a whirlwind campaign offered what seemed to them, in their misery, some measure of hope. He would make Germany strong again … stamp out corruption, bring the money barons to heel (especially if they were Jews), and see to it that every German had a job and bread. To hopeless, hungry men seeking not only relief but new faith and new gods, the appeal was not without effect.”

Hitler needed money and he turned his charm on the “politically childish men of the business world.” Communists and socialists were strong and feared by business leaders. “They may not like the party’s demagoguery and its vulgarity, but on the other hand it was arousing the old feelings of German patriotism and nationalism. It promised to lead the German people away from communism, socialism, trade-unionism and the futilities of democracy.”

One of these “futilities,” Shirer wrote, was a polarized and paralyzed parliament, “breaking down at a moment when the economic crisis made strong government imperative.” Even the democratic government had begun ruling by decree.

 Actually, the Republic had pampered the businessmen, bankers and landowners. Despite this, “with a narrowness, a prejudice, a blindness which seems inconceivable, they hammered away at the foundations of the Republic until, in alliance with Hitler, they brought it down.”

Hitler also courted the army, still stung by its defeat in the war, and promised it new power in exchange for its support.

In this way, Shirer wrote, Hitler, “a leader of the lower-middle-class masses, rallied, in addition to his own followers, the support of the upper-class Protestants of the north, the conservative Junker agrarians and a number of monarchists.”

In 1932, Hitler ran for president against the octogenarian Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. “He flew from one end of Germany to the other. In the first campaign, he had harped on the misery of the people, the impotence of the Republic. Now he depicted a happy future for all Germans if he were elected: jobs for the workers, higher prices for the farmers, more business for the businessmen.”

“In the Third Reich,” he promised, “every German girl will find a husband.”

 He finished a strong second in a three-man race. Then, in a parliamentary election, the Nazis became the largest party, with 230 out of 608 seats. From this base, he played his enemies against each other and then persuaded the weary Hindenburg to make him chancellor.

Shirer wrote: “In this way, by way of the back door, by means of a shabby political deal with the old-school reactionaries he privately detested, the former tramp … became chancellor of a great nation.”

Shirer, who published his book in 1960, was a Chicagoan and former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He was writing about Germany, not his own country. Because, as we all know, it can’t happen here.

(Richard C. Longworth, a former chief European correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, is a fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune.)

It’s an article worthy of our undivided attention, a perspective reflective of the truth that there is more than just material poverty that can infect the human condition….

 

My Close Personal Friend

I have a friend who is very close to me.  He reads every one of the observations posted here and has done so since I began the practice in 2007.  Sometimes he likes what I have written and sometimes he does not, but he is never shy about letting me know what he thinks, one way or another.  Thus, there are days when I’m glad that he reads my reflections and other days when I’m not.

I guess I experienced one of those latter occasions last week.  He challenged me on my tendency to write these essays in terms of “we” and “our,” whether referring to Winds of Peace or to the population at large. He wondered if I shouldn’t make my challenges more personal.  “Not everyone is the same,” he reminds me, as if I didn’t already know.  I responded by defending my practice in the name of anonymity and inclusiveness: if readers might be touched in some way or possibly see themselves in the words, they can choose to take them to heart or not.  If they don’t identify with what I have to say, they can at least understand that I haven’t attempted to indict or accuse anyone.  If the shoe fits, it’s to be worn.

Of course, my friend raises the idea from the perspective of one who might not recognize himself as someone who could benefit from greater introspection.  If he did so, he’d be grateful that I write for the broadest audience in order to preserve anonymity.  But taking his challenge to heart, I decided to offer some observations about his own circumstances, to be as direct and personal as I can be.  Naturally, I will not go so far as to use his name.  That way, maybe others will identify with my descriptions of him, while at the same time his privacy will be preserved.

He is a generous fellow, kind to family and friends and quick to offer smiles and greetings to strangers.  Yet  I think he has adopted a rather miserly perspective when faced with bigger issues, like homelessness or global and local hunger.  He gives, but given his circumstances, he could do so much more.

He can be moved to tears and express emotion at injustices and will often rail loudly against the powers and circumstances that conspire to marginalize vast segments of the world’s population.  But I have noticed that he is equally quick to turn away from such realities in an effort to insulate himself or numb the emotions.  He can become curiously inert.  He is an eager onlooker but reticent participant.

He has spoken loudly in criticism of the power of the wealthy and the inordinate influences that such people exercise in nearly every venue of life.  I have frequently reminded him, however, that on the “global wealth continuum,” for every person on that scale above him at whom he points in judgement, there are many more looking up and pointing at him, as well.

He speaks often about the disparities of education, opportunity and material success.  I have even heard him speak to audiences on such topics; he can make a convincing case about the dire impacts of such gaps.  Yet from my own perspective, his life is one that has been earmarked by education, opportunity and success, realities undeserved but which he has never eschewed.

He is a “green” guy, having embraced lots of evolving technologies for renewable energy in his home and transportation.  I admire that in him, but the size of his home(s) and the comforts with which he has surrounded himself perhaps belie the depth of his commitment. More modest accommodations might be more convincing.

He attends church regularly.  I think that’s a good sign, one that suggests a search for grounding and meaning beyond himself and the unknowns which characterize life.  I also happen to know that he is relatively inactive in church affairs beyond the weekly service itself, perhaps another expression of insulation and independence, or maybe just another symptom of a stingy soul.

Well, I have been more than personal in my reflections here.  I could say more but I do not intend injury with my comments.  In responding to him in this way, I simply want to offer a juxtaposition of perceptions regarding someone I care about, a fellow who, like most of the rest of us, tries but falls short of who and what he could be.  I’m sure that I’ll be the first to know his reactions to all of this.  I suspect that he will mirror my own observations.  And I’m sure he’ll have some words for me….