I happened to obtain a copy of Judgement at Nuremberg and, so, I naturally watched it. Who wouldn’t? Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell…and even a small role by an exceptionally young William Shatner. I had seen the movie once before, many years ago, and it was far better than I remembered. What I liked about it is that it didn’t just go for the easy take a movie like that could have. It showed the Germans as all too human. The speech by Schell portraying the German defense counsel pretty much summed up the attitudes of the War generation Germans who emerged from Nazism: boiled down, “if we’re guilty (but we’re really not), then everyone is guilty!”. At the end of the movie, with the Cold War dawning, Spencer Tracy’s character (he playing the chief judge) is urged by nearly everyone to just drop the matter – find the Nazis not guilty or, if guilty, impose mild sentences. None of that: they are all sentenced to life in prison. And he sentences them because evil must be opposed. Which is true. And in that is the real tragedy of the 20th century.
Because evil wasn’t really opposed. Not in any vigorous and consistent manner. The war against the Nazis was a spasm, not a determination. It was only because Hitler forced the issue that anyone fought him. Had he refrained from war in 1939, he would have lived on until his natural death. His regime would have continued. Everyone would have kept trading and negotiating with it. The internal inconsistencies of the Nazi regime might eventually have brought a crisis, but not for decades. Just as the internal inconsistencies of the Soviet Union yet allowed it to live 70 years. And even when Hitler forced the issue and the world went to war against him, it still wasn’t really opposing evil, because the USSR was in partnership in fighting Hitler. If you use one gangster to kill another, you really aren’t fighting against gangsterism.
It used to be that evil would be opposed. The Romans were bloody minded about the Carthaginians because the Carthaginians were evil. Cortez was in quest for gold and glory, but after he and his men found out what the Aztecs had been up to, it became war to the death, because the Aztecs were evil. These days, we barely recognize evil when we see it. Even in our use of the Nazis as the standard of evil, most of the people referring to the standard couldn’t tell you one thing about the Nazis – they couldn’t tell you why the Nazis were bad, that is.
But it is more than just Nazis. They are the exemplar of evil, and deservedly so, but its not like anyone is really trying to do Nazism again. I bring this up because right about the time I was watching Judgement, I saw this series of tweets from a Conservative hammering Tucker Carlson for pointing out that our Ruling Class is doing bad things. The basic thrust of the tweets is that if things are bad, it is because we, the people, made them bad. In response, I tweeted this out:
The outcomes we’ve been having for 60 years have not been the result of the free interplay of public actors. We’ve had things we never wanted imposed on us.
Did you ever vote to legalize abortion? To have millions of illegals here? To have big banks bailed out after they screwed the pooch? When did you pass judgement allowing functional illiterates to graduate high school?
You did none of these things. They happened without your permission. You were promised abortion would be rare: that we’d amnesty and that would end illegal immigration: you were told we’d get better education.
You think it was an accident that you got the opposite of what you wanted? An accident that you’ve got policies that are a negation of facts and logic? No: this sh** was intentional.
And now how do you propose to switch it back? To get a government that does what you tell it to do? By working with the people who, wink and nod, gave you what you specifically didn’t want? Wake the F up
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve long seen that Conservative on twitter and I think he’s probably a pretty good guy. Certainly very intelligent. But, like all too many, he doesn’t recognize evil when he sees it. Think about just one thing I said for a moment: functional illiterates are allowed to graduate high school. You know that shouldn’t happen, but have you realized that it is immoral to allow it to happen? That it shouldn’t have happened even one time? That anyone who allowed it to happen is worthy of severe punishment? And, yet, no one calls for the arrest of those who allow it to happen. We, in fact, have people who insist that we allow such people to continue to be in charge. No one would approve of an illiterate graduating…but, without any consent of anyone, it happens. How? I’ll tell you:
Because those in charge of the education system don’t have your priority in mind. To them, the education system isn’t to provide educated citizens. That takes effort and is a real pain in the neck. No: what those in charge have other priorities. First off, high pay for themselves. Hiring more people like themselves. Making sure no one ever gets rid of them. These are all far more important than making sure Johnny can read. Johnny is a gigantic problem. They’d like to not have him, at all; but that would rather expose the game. They used to flunk Johnny out, but that brought attention to the fact that Johnny isn’t reading. So, now, Johnny gets his diploma. Which action is evil – Johnny and the taxpayers are both being cheated. And the cheaters pass out the bogus diploma and collect the ill-gotten gains. This is what is traditionally known as fraud and theft.
But we don’t call it that. Because we don’t call anything by its proper name any more.
Part of the appeal, for me, of Donald Trump is his willingness to call things by their proper name. Even his gross insults are really no more than calling people what they are. It is this truth telling that makes him hated more than anything else. I remember how ballistic people went when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire”. The phrase was strictly accurate – no one in possession of their senses could argue otherwise. But people were furious that Reagan had said it. Why? Because he was committing that horrible sin (in modern eyes) of calling something by its proper name. That had to be nipped in the bud. Same thing when Bush called our enemies an “axis of evil”; remember how much people hated that, too? But such things were rare until Trump: he calls things what they are 20 times a day.
But we do have to get back to it. To call wrong things, wrong. To call evil people, evil. To refuse to voluntarily provide any power or prestige to those who make and do the wrong things. Only if we see evil and oppose it can it be stopped. We’ve been blind and silent about it for a very long time and so it has eaten very deep into our civilization. We still have, I think, time to purge it – but only if we see it and say it, first.