2/2/17: I wrote this post two months ago. I re-post with this new preface because this happened last week (from Washington Post):
Trump tweeted on 2/2/17:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
November 23, 2016
If you were born in the late 1940s or in the 1950s, I’d like to ask you to do a patriotic act this Thanksgiving and beyond. Tell young people what Nazis are.
I was speaking to a student of mine, a very bright and nice young guy about 25 years old or so. Well I wasn’t really speaking to him. I was caught up in one of my standard rants where I explain why I believe that voting for Trump was an immoral act independent of political beliefs, or social, economic or educational attainment.
When I got to the part about the unforgivable moral outrage of the despicable Trump campaign, and how I will never forget that ugly campaign season and the permanent harm it inflicted upon this country, I mentioned in passing “the Nazi, Steve Bannon.” The young man earnestly attempted to correct me. “Oh no. Bannon’s no Nazi.”
“Yes, he is. He used to head up Breitbart that site that publishes that Alt-Right crap.”
“Breitbart isn’t so bad. The Alt-Right is just a source of a certain kind of conservative opinion. It’s good to get all these political points of view out.”
I then told my young friend that my repulsion to the Alt-Right was generational. He looked at me with a very sincere curiosity. One thing I’ve learned on this teaching gig is that young people really want to listen to us. We had something that they didn’t have. The wisdom of our parents. And the wisdom of our parents’ generation.
I was born in 1955. One of the first things that I remember looking at was a photo of my father in his World War II United States Army dress uniform. Like all little boys, I looked up to my Dad and one thing that I knew about him very early on was that he was honorably discharged from the United States war effort against Hitler. He used to tell funny stories depicting himself as a coward figuring out ways to avoid combat. But they were just funny stories. He showed up for his country — and he was an immigrant that came to the U.S. when he was seventeen and was drafted two years later. He gave four years of his young life to participate in the huge collective fight against Hitler. He was in the Ordinance Corps and spent the war far behind enemy lines. My father wasn’t called upon to be particularly heroic. He had those funny war stories. No tales of tragedy or glory. But he was decent. That was the impression that I got of my Dad fighting Hitler with those millions of other guys. He was a good man. He stood on the right side of things. It felt good to know that my Dad was good.
So its kind of in my DNA to see that Nazism is not in the equation of human goodness. My father introduced me to movies and TV. He loved sports and “the shows.” When you are born in 1955 and you watch a lot of movies and TV, you see a lot of images of Nazis as bad guys. Early on it was action flicks like The Great Escape but a little later it was serious message pictures like Judgement at Nuremberg. That particular movie is probably the first place that I heard about the Holocaust. It shocked me.
As I got a little older, Mel Brooks taught me a lot about Nazis. I fell in love with his movies. Hilarious! I got the defiance in Mel Brooks’ lampooning of Nazis (and show business!) in The Producers. Jewish people suffered a particular brutality at the hands of Nazis and Brooks’ movies hilariously showed that they weren’t going to let it ruin the rest of their lives. I admired Mel Brooks’ bravery and refusal to accept bitterness. His work made a huge impression on me.
When I was growing up Nazis were deserved social outcasts. I told my student an anecdote I’ve written here before. I was raised in Rochester, N.Y. There was a rundown area of town where prostitutes walked streets and pushers pushed drugs and Nazi motorcycle gangs hung out in illegal after-hours clubs. Nobody from my middle class suburb wanted anything to do with any of those people. There was a guy who lived across the street who was a big shot in the local Mafia. Everyone looked down on that guy. He didn’t want anything to do with Nazis. The word pariah could’ve been coined for these losers. You had to have a screw loose to want to have anything to do with trash like them.
There was a TV show that came on very late at night in the early 1970s, The Joe Pyne Show. Joe Pyne was kind of a forerunner of the kind of agitated confrontational talk that we get a lot of in the media today. He was for the Viet Nam War, and generally conservative on most issues, but was a big booster of labor unions. He was seriously wounded while serving with the Marines in World War II. After the War, he lost part of a leg to a rare form of cancer.
Pyne had something on his show called “The Dock.” Extremists of all kinds would appear in this kind of witness stand in the middle of the studio audience where they literally stood as if they were waiting for a verdict to be rendered upon them. They would offer crackpot views and Pyne would verbally attack them from an elevated desk on a stage ten yards away. Pyne often had Nazis on the show. The Nazis were booed like World Wrestling Federation villains.
I had the opportunity to hear Nazis expound upon their ridiculous, crazy, ugly and disgusting viewpoints on The Joe Pyne Show. And to hear a World War II veteran eviscerate those viewpoints and the persons that put them forward. Joe Pyne, who was a sensationalist and far from admirable in may ways — he was kind of a disc jockey who got out of control — taught me that Nazism was evil and that its proponents have something wrong with them. Nazis are weird people with sick psychological compulsions — perverts really.
Joe Pyne’s sideshow undesirables had the same views of white nationalism and racial superiority as the Alt-Right movement does today. The individuals of the Alt-Right movement have the same twisted sicko tendencies as American Nazis in the 1970s. Today however, this trash philosophy and the deviant Nazi personality are just part of the world of interesting ideas and minor celebrities for young people to try out online.
I wrote a post just yesterday making fun of Alt-Right/Nazi ideology and its adherents. I provide a link for the post here. Usually people don’t read the links embedded in essays but I really think it makes sense to do so with this piece. The description of the contemporary Alt-Righters fits the 70s American Nazis and vice-versa. The detail that I point out could help you jog your own memories and impressions of Nazism and the grave and paradoxically silly threat it presents — and then of course help you pass what you know on.
We have to let these kids know what we think of Nazism and Nazis. We have to tell them our stories of Post-War Nazi sightings.
We have to tell them more stories in general.
Kids really like us. They like us much more than they like Breitbart. They only read Breitbart and other stuff like it because they are searching for us. We have to teach them how to be Americans — and just how to be men and women — the way our parents and their generation taught us.
Wisdom is passed down and we need to pass it down right now. It’s an emergency. The young are hungry to connect with us. We have something they never had. The Greatest Generation raised us.
My young friend listened to some of my stories and asked a question. “Is Steve Bannon really a racist or is he just selling the Nazi ideology to make money?”
“What difference does it make?” I answered. “Either way, he is justifying the horror of deporting 2 million Mexican undocumented aliens — and that’s just one violent crime of mass proportions for starters. Do you realize what a horror show that deportation program would be in its execution? If you don’t watch Schindler’s List.”
Schindler’s List is a movie made by a baby boomer who wanted to pass on what his fathers taught him, Steven Spielberg. Schindler’s List was made in 1993. Spielberg has done more than his part. We have to pitch in with our stories too — everyday. A great film every once in a while won’t cut it.
Our national and personal histories are so important right now.
The World War II generation is almost all gone. We have to teach what they taught us. Or we will have to live the lessons of World War II all over again. Or our kids will. Only this next time, America will star in the role of Nazi Germany. And Breitbart and Bannon and Trump will steal young people and manipulate them to be in service of all sorts of perversions, largely because we didn’t sit down and talk with our young adult children. Our descendants are begging to spend time with us.
Copyright 2017 Richard Thomas