The End of the Innocence
"After the war starts, you anti-war demonstrators are going to support our troops and our president, aren’t you?"
unidentified "coed" student
Oakland University teach-in on the war with Iraq, March 10, 2003
"In February 1943, after Stalingrad, the whole mood in the Führer’s bunker changed very suddenly."
Traudl Junge, former personal secretary to Adolf Hitler, in the 2002 movie Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary
Traudl Junge (literally "youngster," auf Deutsch) was 22 years old when she won a typing contest in Berlin. "Fortunately," she says 60 years later in her filmed interview/ confession, ("or unfortunately, as things turned out"), the prize was the opportunity of working at Hitler’s side until the end of World War II. She says she was feeding the Goebbels’ six young children butter and marmalade sandwiches for lunch at the very moment, almost three years later, when she heard the fatal shot that ended her boss’s immeasurably and incomprehensibly evil life. A wide-eyed, innocent young woman had wanted to be a dancer in 1942. That girl didn’t know about the reality of her employer’s acts. Many years later in the 1960s, when books like The Diary of Anne Frank were published in Germany, the 81-year old woman on camera learned some hard lessons. Mesmerized in a crowded movie theater as her very personal and political life story unfolded on film sixty years later, I thought "Thank God for the sixties."
What is happening in America today? An almost unbelievably fresh-faced naiveté and utter sincerity seemed to be fairly bursting out of the voice and demeanor of the young Michigan college student quoted above. From all appearances she couldn’t even imagine any other possible position, after the president announced that the war had "begun," than "support our troops." Today she must be almost exactly the same age as Traudl Junge, when the latter accepted her prestigious position as Hitler’s new stenographer. She was responding to the presentation that Wayne State University Professor Fran Shor and I had just given at the Oakland University "dialog" on the then-impending US invasion and intensified bombing of Iraq. Fran talked mostly about the current US government neoconservatives’ lust for conquering an empire. I focused on the burgeoning international peace movement. We both tried to answer her short, momentous question. Then she immediately walked out of the large, crowded room, so there was no opportunity for any further dialog with her at that time.
What is happening in America today? It seems to me we are collectively facing a loss of innocence. Our innocence was carefully cultivated by the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush’s father. Their top officials are now in charge again, rampaging toward a fundamentalist "rapture" bathed in the blood of their countless victims. Or perhaps we are on the cusp of a comprehensively militarized, one-party corporate national security state. Maybe both a loss of innocence and a pre-fascist state. This government’s top officials, like good National Socialists, seek to totally identify the interests and affairs of the nation with their personal political ambitions. They seriously threaten to drag the rest of us into the abyss.
Under Dubyah’s father and his cowboy/actor role model Ronald Reagan, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Elliott Abrams and their ilk carefully prepared their wars to avoid excessive American bloodshed. Now the Rubicon has been crossed. We’re not in Grenada any more, Toto. Their Boy Emperor has begun to use the word "sacrifice" in public. At the very bitter end, with Russian artillery shells slamming down on the 8 foot thick concrete above their heads in the Führerbunker, Goebbels’ doomed little Helmut heard the shot from the other room and exclaimed "That was a direct hit."
"Better stop children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s goin’ down." Indeed.
Sometimes People (and monsters named Dick, George, Donald, or Adolf walking the Earth in human form) will say one thing, but do another. Their words "Operation Iraqi Freedom" lead directly to their barbaric acts. Starving and incinerating little Iraqi children. Sending barely older American youngsters thousands of miles away to kill and die for an empire. We started to lose our innocence Big Time – on September 11. The mega- billion dollar military psyops – endlessly repeated "God Bless America" and "United We Stand" – helped preserve our sense of innocence, very imperfectly but providing some sense of comfort if we just remained unthinkingly loyal to the leader of the nation.
Gulf War II turned from Gulf War I into Vietnam, less than 72 hours after the "tip of the spear" crossed the Kuwaiti border. Now we can see. Not only wasn’t it about the laughable, utterly fabricated "threat" Saddam posed to us before we invaded Iraq. Not only wasn’t it about the elusive weapons of mass destruction that Blair has been bemoaning, and the UN has been wrangling over, for months. Not only wasn’t it about liberating the Iraqis, many if whom are fighting their US "liberators" with suicidal fury. No, it was and is about getting the soldiers and the American People to acquiesce in a bloody, imperial oil war. The Marines in Iraq now have a perfectly common sense credo, based on the terrible position they have been put in by their leaders: "Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet." The perfect start for a campaign to democratize the Arab world.
"Hitler would always say, ‘Trust me, don’t even think about it, I’ll take responsibility,’" The widow Junge reminisced. "That’s the evil, when the whole Volk surrender their conscience to the will of a single leader." Now it is again about an enormous, insane project of barbaric acts. Employing 21st century mass slaughter technology against the People of Iraq (like the People of Afghanistan before them) to conquer and occupy Arab oil lands, to project US power throughout Eurasia, and to achieve permanent full spectrum dominance of the world. We can partly see it on TV even through the garbled nonsense of the networks’ promotion of the war. And it is literally, truly a matter of absolute life and death for many, many of our fellow human beings, including for many of our fellow Americans.
Consider the simple fact that a conservative, suburban commuter college like Oakland University even hosted a teach-in about the war with Iraq, in that era of previous human history three weeks ago, before the doctrine of preventive US war against allegedly terrorist-associated Arab evil was fully set in motion. By far the majority of this war’s consequences are still unknown. Yet even "before the war" hundreds of these relatively innocent young American students in a very mainstream institution were already discussing the demerits of the Perle/Cheney/ Rumsfeld/ Wolfowitz war policy. They had to reschedule the "dialog" from late February, so they could find a fairly conservative professor to present the US government’s perspective. Isn’t the very occurrence of such an event in such a setting, compared to Cold War McCarthyism and the relatively much later organizing of the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, in and of itself a sure sign of some metaphorical "loss of innocence" affecting the whole American Volk?
We know what genocide and aggressive war are. We learned about them in the history books. Now we have seen them in nearly real time TV, and they are likely to continue for some time, because there is no power on Earth sufficient to immediately control or recall the violent forces that have been set loose. Some of us won’t admit it is genocide yet. Some of them won’t admit it ever. Frau Junge never did talk explicitly about what happened to the six doomed Goebbels children who’d recently moved into the bunker to be near Uncle Hitler (presumably they were given cyanide in the pretext of a "vaccination"). The filmmakers didn’t ask directly about that. Some things, under some circumstances, you just can’t talk about.
Hundreds of thousands of young Americans are now committed to an extremely risky, "desert lite" battle plan. At least one suicide bomber has already killed several of them. There is an almost universally recognized probability of further deadly terrorist attacks, directed largely against these now-vulnerable, heavily armed Americans, and probably against other targets of opportunity as well. We are gradually losing our innocence about what George W. Bush’s government is really doing to the world in our name. Our economy is stumbling. "The system" again, as in the Vietnam era, faces the distinct possibility of losing the loyalty of a generation of young People whom its leaders seek to use as pawns in their obscene and mass-murderous geopolitical power game.
Figure out where you stand regarding the Mobilization to End the War in Iraq (Iran, Syria, North Korea etc.). Please help. Don’t surrender your individual conscience. If you are scared and overwhelmed, recognize that this is a rational response to evil government policies. If you want to beat up anti-war protestors you probably stopped reading before you even started this essay, but if not please ask yourself why you feel that way, and whether it may be partly because America is losing its innocence, and we are living in a pre-fascist state.
If you think that the fact the nation is at war means that the People must automatically obey whatever the government leader says, please ask yourself why. Stop and think about where political authority supposedly comes from in our democracy, where the first 3 words of the nation’s constitution are "We the People." Turn off the damn TV and search the internet for information about the war with Iraq. Question authority. Read A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. Noam Chomsky’s bestseller 9-11(or just about anything else he’s written). For an understanding of the roots of terrorism and the evils of imperialism, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Go to a teach-in, public meeting, or demonstration, and stick around to share your thoughts and feelings with your fellow citizens and others. After you lose innocence, accurate information becomes much more useful and important. It serves as a kind of "force multiplier" against politicians’ and corporations’lies.
After you lose innocence, you need morality to guide your actions. America has lost its innocence. America needs morality to keep the Bush administration from hauling it into a Führerbunker. America needs its young People to lead it back to sanity, democracy, freedom and social justice. Again. Thank God for the sixties.
TOM STEPHENS is a lawyer in Detroit, Michigan. He can be reached at lebensbaum4@earthlink.
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