Read your history to understand the present

By Tim Henney
Reader Contributor

For those disposed to intellectual exploration in a time of national emotional havoc, a recent Reader issue offered a timely recommendation: read, or re-read, William L. Shirer’s “The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich.” It was written by a man who served 35 distinguished years as a foreign correspondent, war correspondent, author and historian. A self-scribbled note on the title page of our copy recently reminded my 1957 bride and me that we acquired the book in 1960, when first published.

Our home was a log cabin on Mohawk Trail in PInes Lake N.J. and we had begun to construct a fledgling library along with a family. Shirer’s scholarly, 1,143-page epic was a Book Of The Month Club charter member of our bare bones book collection. It is no walk in the literary park, but if one wants to know, in horrifying detail, what can happen to a nation, to a people, to a culture, when they bend to a despot masquerading as a leader, one might consult Shirer.

If you want the same terrifying tale but 16 years fresher I suggest  John Tolan’s two-volume set, “Adolf Hitler,” (published in 1976 following his Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Rising Sun:The Decline And Fall Of The Japanese Empire”). For those who prefer their history with less heft and newer still, Ian Kershaw’s “Hitler,” published in 2000, depicts in 841 graphic pages civilization’s near destruction by Nazi Germany.

Many leading critics of the day found Kershaw’s “Hitler” even superior to Shirer’s massive work. I’d be pleased to lend the above to any curious reader. So would the world’s best library, coincidentally and conveniently located in Sandpoint.

But why should one bother? Well, the guy named advisor in chief to our new con man-in-chief sounds so much like Heinrich Himmler in his hateful, nationalistic pronouncements it’s starting to feel like 1930 all over again. Personally, I  suspect this creep wears jackboots. And the guy handling White House press relations? Sounds suspiciously like a Joseph Goebbels wannabe (“You miserable media people actually prefer facts to fake facts? We’ll tell you what you need to know. We don’t like you”). And when the new con man-in-chief’s cabinet member generals start wearing dark glasses to meetings we gotta problem. Oops, they’d be despots and dictators, not Nazis. There’s a difference?

To say nothing of the Big Oil-lovin’, climate change-denying new energy poobah from Texas, who’s finest trait is that he’s a lot like George W. Bush — except, as someone famously said, not as smart. Or the new guardian of our environment from Oklahoma who thinks science sucks, wants to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency and is in the pocket of the infamous Koch brothers. Naturally, he’s the new EPA boss. And the proposed new education czarist? She never attended public school, but she’s a billionaire. And a big contributor to the con man- in-chief’s recent campaign. Just as dangerously, pantywaist Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his Senate toadies are making sure all this occurs. Have we gone nuts?

It’s going to be a bumpy, scary ride. But let’s not just hold on and hope. Protest hikes are a start, but much more must be done. And soon. Otherwise we might awake one morning to find that, like November of 1938, Kristallnacht thugs have busted windows and burned books with impunity. In fact, by tweeted executive order.

German Jews? American Muslims? Readers and thinkers? Who cares? The gullible, intimidated Germans couldn’t imagine such terror. One madman made it happen.

Tim Henney retired in 1986 as corporate public relations director of “the old” AT & T in New York City when it was parent company of the erstwhile Bell Telephone System. He claims he never did understand how the telephone worked.

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