Friday, October 24, 2008

History Lesson

Those of you who know me personally know that I'm an avid reader. No matter how busy or chaotic my life is, I always make time for reading. Right now, I'm reading The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick (HarperCollins, 2008). This is the story of a forger, Han Van Meegeren, who used the turmoil of WWII and the greed of Hermann Goering to perpetuate a fraud: forging Vermeer and tricking not only the Nazis, but also the world.

While at the Lexington Sheepdog Trial this past weekend, I came across the following passage in the book. Okay, I'll admit that this was new information to me--I like history, but it was never my focus in school. So as I was reading this footnote, I couldn't help but think how apropos it is for political issues today.

"It was in a conversation with Gilbert* in Goering's jail cell, on the night of April 18, 1946, that Goering offered what became a famous observation of mass psychology: 'Why, of course the people don't want war,' he said. 'Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.'

Gilbert remarked that in a democracy the people have a say in the decision to go to war. 'Oh, that is all well and good,' Goering replied, 'but voice, or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for their lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.' "


*G. M. Gilbert was an Army captain and psychologist who interviewed Nazis at Nuremberg in an attempt to understand their motivation.

Hmmm...it seems that our political leaders really have learned from history--just not necessarily the lessons we might have liked them to learn.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Riddle me this:
First we hear how dumb the Republicans are- you know, Bush can't speak, or read. Then we hear how intelligent they are- they STOLE two elections- doncha know? Tell me, what is it? I just can't WAIT for Mr. Obama to take office and wave his magic wand, and POOF, world peace, uplifted economy, no unemployment, no more war, and no more election stealing, and well, it shall all be so magically wonderful. Can't wait! I think I'll quit my job now, because I just KNOW that everything will be okay.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

Hmmmm...why so much anger and invective, anonymous person? If you want to have an actual discussion the least you could do is come out of hiding and let us know who you are. I thought about deleting your message, but the inanity of it really reflects on you and what you stand for, so I'm leaving it here. Besides, no one's forcing you to read what I write.

(Deleted and reposted so I could correct a spelling error.)

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

Julie, I really appreciated the quote, and agree it sheds a lot of truth on how we got to be (war-wise) at the moment. The anonymous commenter reminded me of a truism I often think of: "The truth needs no such spirit to defend it." I'm not naive enough to think that there is a "good" choice in this election or any other; with the way elections are run and funded now, we must always work hard to figure out the lesser or least of the evils.

P.S. One of my favorite bumper stickers is "When Clinton lied, no one died." Clinton shouldn't have lied and his personal morals stank, but why has no one tried to impeach Bush for the bigger consequences of HIS lies?

Rachel said...

Julie - Not sure where that first comment came from...well, I have my suspicions but that was quite rude.

Anyway, the last quote reminded me of a excerpt from Fahrenheit 911 where Michael Moore went to Capitol Hill and asked the politicians if any of them would like to send their kids into the Iraq War and not one of them answered that they would. Yet, they (or a majority of them did anyway) voted for the war.

Hope to see you soon.

Rachel