The next destruction that we tolerate could easily be the last!
When I lived in Italy during the late ’50s, I was confronted by a question: How had Mussolini come to power? When I lived in Germany after that, the same question arose as to Hitler. Neither of these men had previously been figures with high public profile, enormous political power or national acclaim. Once in power, of course, they wasted no time in grabbing full control of their countries. The result was fascist and Nazi tyranny, and, of course, World War II. There was a meeting one night in Bad Nauheim where the outcome pushed old Chancellor Hindenburg out and put his nominee Adolph Hitler in the crown position of chancellor. As the war had been a prime part of my younger days, I, having served in the military for some five years, had a strong curiosity to learn why ordinary people could give up all their freedoms to the dictators Mussolini and Hitler. I was not totally surprised when I found that no German I ever got to know was admittedly pro-Hitler.
We hear in our democratic land that people get the government they deserve. This fact is often unnoticed when an uninformed and one-sided majority takes over and assumes command.
I personally fought against the Germans in World War II. Their top leaders were a band of unprincipled scoundrels and the world soon paid the price for its short vision. An almost disarmed America was in no condition to make any opposition of much worth. We had not sufficiently learned that military unpreparedness is an invitation to bad guys and invites attack.
The fact that Hitler was tied up for about a month overrunning France, and that he was bombing England nightly, plus the blessed width of the Atlantic Ocean, gave a totally unprepared America just enough time to shift its enormous economic productive power into wartime weapons. I remember in my last year at Harvard and having already volunteered in U.S. Navy, that my pals and I opined that Hitler had finally “bitten off more than he could chew” and his fate was sealed even though we might have to fight him for quite a while.
Great Harvard professor George Santayana had long since reminded us that “those who have not studied the past are doomed to repeat it.”
In our very unsettled present, George Santayana words demand some very serious attention. I believe that most of my fellow Americans are fully conscious of the perilous times we are in today. Plenty of guys in my generation were in World War II and can hardly forget it, but we are only human beings and are concerned with enjoying the normal pleasures of peaceful American life in the 21st century.
I often have the feeling that the warnings are out there and if we don’t heed them we are truly inviting big troubles again — “once bitten, twice shy.” For a reason that I have never quite understood, I have observed when singing abroad that our great, generous, unselfish America is somehow universally disliked. We live in a much greater “one-world” situation today, and extensive travel is quite common and fast-moving, with people world-wide. One rarely meets people anywhere who have not traveled far. Travel itself is a first-hand lesson in history, and we assume, broaden people’s knowledge of places they have been and how other nationalities and civilizations have evolved.
One would have to be quite naive to believe that our present times are unlike earlier times, but the laws of cause and effect are incontrovertible. Disquietude is much in the air today and I do not have the comfortable feeling that we, as a people, have reached a level where all will remain safe and sound.
The destructive forces that are universally available are now making small and big countries alike closer to even, since each is capable of destroying the other. The next destruction that we tolerate could easily be the last! Is enough of the present human race going to remember Santayana’s words and realize that we are in the midst of writing a drastic chapter in human history?
Too bad Mr. Santayana isn’t around to help convince us all that we can’t carelessly embrace terrorist destruction — not even another “Trade Center encounter.”