On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler killed himself in a bunker, along with his wife of two days, Eva Braun. Reports suggest both of them took a cyanide pill to avoid being captured by Soviet troops who were moving in on their position, and Hitler finished the job on himself with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
As Hitler exited stage left, his dreams of a master race and the future of the Nazi movement left with him. World War II ended less than six months later, and all the fire that Hitler had sparked with his rhetoric-laced speeches and writings — and blitzkrieg assaults on neighboring countries — evaporated into dust.
How did Hitler lose the momentum and, ultimately, the war?
Well, my grandfather played a part. As did, most likely, at least one of your relatives. And those old men you see in the aisles at Hocker’s, wearing those hats commemorating their units or the ships they rode into battle? Yeah, they did, too.
In fact, much of the planet stood together, united in disgust over Hitler’s plan for a “master race,” the murder of approximately 6 million Jews, the attack at Pearl Harbor and the “conqueror” behavior of the “Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis.”
More than 60 million people reportedly died in World War II — approximately 3 percent of the world’s population — and more than 400,000 Americans gave their lives. There are countless stories of young American men lying about their ages to enter the war, women enlisting to aid the cause, and the skies raining confetti in New York City when the war came to an end. This was a big war, and in many historians’ eyes, it was the classic battle of “good versus evil.”
So, how in the world are we where we are today?
People were showcasing swastikas and chanting white-supremacist filth as they marched through the streets with torches in hand last weekend. It was not one nut-bag organization, mind you, but several groups of people coming together to promote a separatist cause.
In the United States of America.
The results were nothing but predictable. Counter-protestors arrived in droves to speak out against racism, the two sides clashed violently over and over again, and tragedy struck when an alleged racist boot-camp washout from Ohio plowed his car into a sea of counter-protestors and killed a 32-year-old woman. Two Virgina State Police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while they were assisting in the mayhem below.
Which begs the question: Why are Nazis still a thing?
I happily embrace freedom of speech. My entire professional career revolves around that beautiful amendment, and I believe in my very core that we strip away enormous pieces of humanity whenever we attempt to take away a human being’s right to free thought and expression.
That being said, when people assemble with torches like they’re hunting down Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, and they wear the swastika ensignias and shields, and openly carry weapons, I suggest that free speech is not on their menu as much as creating mayhem and flat-out “picking a fight.”
It’s perpetuating hate, and every incident that springs out of their operations should instantly translate into a “hate crime.” It’s like robbing a bank — if you go in with a mask on your face and demand money, and the teller dies of a heart attack, it doesn’t matter if you pulled a gun or not. Your actions murdered someone.
Plain and simple.
I don’t lay the blame at President Donald Trump’s feet. Nor do I blame violence and looting at Black Lives Matter protests or inner-city Chicago murders on Barack Obama. But I will be quick to suggest that both men could have done more to try to pull people together with their platform, even though I can’t imagine any real impact they could have had, if I’m being completely honest.
We have deep-rooted problems that have been around for as long as we’ve been around. The end of the Civil War did nothing to end racism, nor did integrating our schools or military. The Irish and Chinese who came to this country looking for a better life were ostracized, belittled and beaten, and we see the same thing today with people from south of our border, and Muslims leaving whatever horrible situation they find themselves leaving to come here.
It’s not like racism is unique to the United States in any way. There has been slavery, genocide and generally-disgusting behavior on our planet since the dawn of time. We don’t celebrate our differences as much as we identify ourselves by sharing characteristics with one another — and then we attack others for having different characteristics.
But America was supposed to be different, wasn’t it? We were the “melting pot,” the land of opportunity. But we could never quite overcome the reality that we are a nation of people, and people have a tendency to screw things up whenever given a chance.
Republicans were not to blame for last weekend’s violence and ugliness, and Democrats weren’t to blame for a deranged person opening fire on a group of Republicans playing softball.
Hate’s to blame, and in the end, hate will be our ultimate downfall.