The American Reluctance to Fight Nazis

This piece also appears in the February 2017 issue of the monitor .

There is a righteous scene in the 1992 film Chaplin where a German diplomat with a swastika lapel pin greets the title character. When Chaplin responds to the man’s outstretched arm by saying “I’m sorry, I prefer not to shake hands with Nazis,” the other partygoers become embarrassed and apologetic. The exchange was invented for the film in order to represent Chaplin’s anti-Nazi position, but the situation that it represents is very real.

For at least the first five years of Hitler’s rule, American government and media largely downplayed the Nazi party’s militant anti-Semitism, and prior to the German invasion of Poland, the majority of the American public opposed accepting Jewish refugees from Europe. The growing atrocities of the German state were not entirely unknown however, and Jewish-Americans and anti-fascists had opposed Nazism from the beginning while mainstream America avoided the Hitler dilemma until the German conquest of Europe forced them to respond. For the majority of Americans, sentimentality and patriotism, rather than a disgust of white-supremacy and fascism, caused their hatred of Nazis.

In 1941, the United States officially began to fight against the Hitler regime for two basic reasons that coalesced with Germany’s Dec. 11 declaration of war—the Nazis were at war with our nation’s allies, and they themselves were an ally of Japan, who of course had just attacked Pearl Harbor. Additional anti-German sentiment derived from America’s horrific fight against the Central Power during the previous generation. If the American people and their government had been primarily interested in intervening against white-supremacist imperialism, then they should have tried both to undermine Hitler earlier and also to mobilize against their own violent Jim Crow culture.

Seventy-five years later, something very similar to Nazism is gaining ground throughout Europe and the United Sates as right-wing demagogues are summoning political strength from the pervasive fascism that fills their respective national boundaries. While millions are pushing back against the disgusting power-grabs of elites like Trump and Erdogan, the critical mass remains entrenched in the sentimentality and fear that entice nationalism. Whenever the refusal to stand for the national anthem offends people more than their government’s direct or indirect involvement in genocide and torture, then a body of people is embracing a superficial and nihilistic model of patriotism at a great cost to humanity and the planet.

In the 1930s, the Nuremberg Laws in Germany and the Jim Crow laws in the United States made Jewish and Black Americans, respectively, second-class citizens and facilitated widespread violence against them. While thousands of people lived in daily opposition to such oppression, hundreds of thousands remained ignorant, indifferent, or impotent to such atrocities, which allowed the oppression to grow into indescribable magnitudes of suffering. Now, as the U.S. executive publicly condones torture and bars refugees of the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II, the time has come for those of us who find resistance uncomfortable to acclimate to conflict and sacrifice and to help proliferate dissent. If we, along with our families, friends, and neighbors, overemphasize our personal legacies, then our collective human inheritance will become the ultimate tragedy. We must overcome reluctance in order to enact the freedom and security that we desire.

Coyote Underground

Coyote Underground is a short novella about a seventeen-year-old whose innocent interest in a group of anarchists leaves her guilty by association. Without any close alliescoy-cover-front at home, Coyote goes underground and attempts to traverse the state for the support of some new friends, but along the way her trouble grows worse. 94 pages // 4.25″ x 6.88″

Email eddiejenkinshernandez (at) gmail.com for information on purchasing a copy.

Russian Misdirection

The Russian state may or may not have tried to intervene to sway the recent election for Trump, and they may or may not possess an embarrassing sex tape of the president-elect that could be used to blackmail him. Although these may be legitimate concerns for U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate, they are not crucial developments. On the contrary, they are sensational diversion from more important political events.

If Putin directed Russian hackers to compromise the private emails of the Democratic National Convention in order to portray Hillary Clinton in a negative light, then his plan was not very effective since, after all, Clinton won by 2.8 million votes. But even if we assume that Russia interfered in such a way to nudge Trump to the victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, DNC email leaks make an underwhelming argument for Trump compared to the preponderance of reasons to have voted against the candidate. And while the “intelligence community” along with our political leaders has not yet presented any evidence of Putin-directed hacking of the Clinton campaign, the media has moved on to broadcast the even more specious narrative of Russian possession of an embarrassing sex tape of Trump that they could use as blackmail. The problem with this news story is that the “Russian Dossier” is admittedly based on hearsay and is thus totally unreliable.

When opponents of Trump claim that he is an illegitimate president because leaks of real DNC emails by the Russian state swayed the election, they are taking a flimsy and fallacious stance. The result of investing in the sensational position is that Trump’s proponents can dismiss the arguments as partisan whining. At the same time, there is ample solid ground on which to denounce the election, such as Clinton’s distinct victory in the popular vote, systemic disenfranchisement, and the refusal of key states to allow hand recounts despite voting irregularities. While spies and sex are alluring, serious efforts to express a democratic system demand honest and effective tactics.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the extent to which the Russian government may have tried to affect the election, nor should we underestimate the implications of a Trump-Putin alliance. My point is that media and intelligence organizations should research and scrutinize narratives of Russian collusion rather than occupy the headlines with sensational speculations. Finding a scapegoat for Trump’s presidency diverts attention and energy from the strength of American fascism which allowed him to emerge as a successful candidate.

When I’m Gone

This piece appears in POPs #1: Parents on Parenting, a zine edited by my friend Jonas and available from Pioneer Press.

The invincibility of youth is a cliché that I never fully celebrated in adolescence, but I did, nonetheless, become acutely aware of my own mortality for the first time when I was twenty-five. That was the year that my dad died from a rare form of cancer. He had been a strong and healthy man, yet his body succumbed to an ugly and tortuous disease. I was happy for his suffering to end, and of course I was sad in many obvious and nuanced ways that I won’t expound here. But one lesson I learned from watching my primary role model die at age sixty was that I will also die.

My father died in a crude and beautiful room in our house that he had hand-built from massive timbers, and eight years later my son was born in that exact same room. Raising a baby boy in the same house in which I had grown up made it easy to imagine that I had become my father and that my son was a new version of me. Such comparisons are both cutely sentimental and grotesquely patrilineal, but my thinking of distinct persons as multi-generational manifestations of some common narrative was an enticement of a kind of immortality, one that may have helped mitigate my opposite, predominant feeling for a while.

Not since the death of my father has any event or process so singularly invited the fear of death into my mind as the birth of my child because time seemed to be moving so fast during the first several months of his infancy. I suppose this is mainly due to the rapidity with which a neonate develops, but whatever the cause, the effect was that my life appeared like a video on fast forward. It was terrifying to feel that not only had the first thirty-three years of my life become a blur of memories archived on magnetic tape, but that the next few decades threatened to play even quicker.

So while I was laying against a stack of pillows and watching my infant son crawl around the rug and stick objects into his mouth, I conjured the syllogism:

 If time accelerates as I approach the end of my life, then at the instant of death I will perceive all of my life’s experiences simultaneously.

It’s a kind of Relativity, I guess, wherein reaching the time of death eliminates the perception of time itself. So there is a paradox that as mortality bears down on my terrestrial mindbody like a hammer against an anvil, I will perceive a sort of timelessness in death—maybe.

Anyway, that’s a hypothesis I would prefer not to test until the second half of this century, and in the meantime I have a more conservative approach to slowing down the unforgiving onslaught of entropy. If I reverse the direction of time in my if-then statement above, I might also contend:

If time decelerates as I move back towards my first breath, then at the moment of birth I perceived my lifespan as infinite.

It makes sense because when I was a little kid a half-hour seemed like a long time, and going back even further, a newborn waking alone in a crib, for example, can take no refuge in the possibility of being comforted soon, because it only perceives its present experience.

Now, I am absolutely certain that my life has no rewind button, but I know somebody who is young enough and new enough to our four-dimensional experience that “now” feels like a long time and “later” feels like eternity. At this writing, my son is sixteen months, and I am fortunate to be able to spend a great deal of time with him. Sometimes it seems tedious and frustrating watching a baby for several hours, especially when you have work to do around the house and errands to run and so on, but these long hours are a precious opportunity to suspend or at least slow down entropy. By relinquishing worries about the gutters and the dishes and the library books for a while and instead relaxing and just being with my son in the present moment, I can live a little bit in real time and delay the inevitable demise of my existence as I currently understand it.

Of course there’s one more, vital piece to this “be here now with baby” strategy. Whether or not it really affects my perception of time now or at the moment of my death, at least I will know that I enjoyed as much time with my son as I could during my life. Afterall, there’s something else I learned when my dad died, other than the obvious notion that I too will perish. It’s another cliché, but one that I would be foolish not to honor—that I won’t be able spend time with the ones I love when I’m gone. That I know for sure. Unless—just maybe—the instant of death brings the perception of simultaneity, then mortality may bring us all together forever.