We live in strange times. It crackles in the air. Every generation in every country probably thinks that their strange times are special. And yet, I feel that had anyone been asked in the 1910s, 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on in nearly every decade, they would have said the same exact thing.
When I think about the rise of Hitler and fascism in Germany, the slow tide that became a tidal wave of hatred, those who were first disliked, then unwanted, and finally annihilated mostly watched and waited for the swell to dissipate. Swells generally do. And we all ride the waves of the strange times. What culminated with the Holocaust was a particularly tall and strong wave, which sucked humanity into it and left behind a haunting wake. But waves are a part of life and we usually choose to ride them rather than stand to face them and risk getting tumbled. Of course, people get tumbled anyway.
Okay, enough of that wave metaphor. (My goodness, a whole paragraph!) These meandering thoughts developed out of a brief discussion with my father after reading an op-ed in the New York Times about voter turnout. The sad percentages of young people who, for whatever reason, didn’t vote was disheartening. Perhaps some of them are now joining marches and signing petitions and calling their representatives–too little, too late. Perhaps some of them remain ignorant and indifferent. I don’t mean to be judgmental because many who don’t vote have what they consider to be very valid reasons. But I can’t help but wonder about those who do nothing, who ride the wave without ever saying, “Wait, something isn’t right here” and “What can I do?”
And that conversation, and bit of depression about the current general state of the world we live in, brought to mind Martin Neimöller’s often-cited words, frighteningly pertinent again.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
People are starting to speak up. It’s beautiful to see. But not enough, not yet.
And while I’m on the subject of other people’s wise words, we can go a little further back in time and end with those of Edmund Burke (an Irish political philosopher from the 18th century probably most known for the following quote often bandied about in various contexts):
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.