Someone carves a swastika into a school desk or draws one inside a textbook. They don’t understand the symbolism. They don’t understand the horror, the pain, the death, that was brought about as a result of that symbol. They’re just trying to be edgy.
Youth of all stripes make the news when they joke at doing the Nazi salute or dress up in Nazi costumes, even those in the public eye like Prince Harry take their turn at parading around the costume. To them it’s just a joke. They never experienced what it was like to face a world where Nazis didn’t just exist, but wielded terrifying power.
It isn’t long before comment sections explode with the use of racial slurs. Words that were considered egregious social faux-pas are used like common expletives. They’re just kids enjoying the power of anonymity. They’re basement dwellers making themselves feel better by pretending to more power than they have and living fantasies of superiority.
Two years ago, the world watched in horror as the frontrunner of the American Presidential Election runs on rhetoric evocative of Hitler. He unironically called for a registration of all Muslim people in America. He employed racism and xenophobia to build fear of the “other” while at the same time offering promises of security through isolationist policies. He promised to make America Great Again, while his various suggestions made is clear that by “Great” what he meant is “White”.
Still people made excuses. He will never win. He is inflating his rhetoric to play to his supporters, he doesn’t actually mean it. He’s a fool and will never go through with what he’s saying.
After he won, the changes were swift. Hard won protections for LGBTQ peoples were clawed back.
Almost immediately he began deporting anyone he deemed unamerican, closing the border to legal visa holders, to some American’s born overseas, and so on. Even after his executive orders were struck down by the courts, many border services continued to enforce them giving lie to the idea that they were “just following orders.”
Under his leadership, border patrol began severely restricting access to the US even to Canadians, blocking those known to object to Trumps policies, blocking anyone who has used marijuana or has a prescription, and so on.
He began arresting refugees and asylum seeker, locking them up as if they had broken the law. As though looking for sanctuary from tyranny and war, from persecution, were crimes against the state.
Across the continent, droves of white men march behind Nazi flags and other white supremacist symbols and slogans. Their right to do so defended as free speech.
An overmilitarized Police force roams the streets, murdering citizens without consequence – as though it is reasonable for a grown man trained in weapons to fear a child playing in a park. As though there wasn’t a clear racial bias in who is deemed too scary to be left alive.
His dehumanizing rhetoric turns desperate people fearing for their lives into criminals, into animals, not persons but Illegals.
His next terrifying step was to pull terrified children from their parent’s arms, separating families, and locking them up in hastily set up detention facilities. Many of these facilities are not adequately set up to house people humanely. Children are kept in cages. Many are drugged to keep them complacent. Infants are left to care for infants, while staff looks on unconcerned. Still others are taken to adoption homes and rehomed with “good Christian families” in a move distressingly reminiscent of the thousands of children kidnapped under Lebensborn.
With each tolerated step the situation worsens. Within less than two years of Trump’s election, children are being detained at facilities not suitable for human habitation. Another name for those are Concentration Camps. The fears of every person who watched Trump’s election have been realized and we wait in horror to see what the next step will be. Because there WILL be a next step.
There is a common psychological manipulation tactic known as Foot in the Door. Basically, in getting your target to accept one idea, it makes it infinitely easier to get them to accept the next one. On a lower level it is used by car dealers and realtors to sell their wares. On a larger scale, it is used by tyrants to gradually decrease freedoms till they’re all stripped away and no one fully remembers how.
It works a lot like boiling a live frog. If you drop the frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. The trick is to slowly raise the temperature so the frog doesn’t notice that he is being cooked to death. Similarly, governments intent on authoritarianism don’t start with death trains and gas chambers, with closed borders and declarations of war.
This is part of why arguments or platitudes about how “it’s not that bad/it could be worse” can be so dangerous in a political contest. It’s why justifications like “they shouldn’t have been breaking the law” are so insidious. In accepting these horrors, in accepting that there is any kind of justification for these actions, you are setting the stage for worse to come.
The argument itself only goes to demonstrate the subtle ways in which ideas can be accepted without even realizing it – consider this – seeking asylum, seeking safety for themselves and their children is not an illegal act. Not ethically, not legally speaking either, and certainly not at the time that these children were being forcefully separated from their parents and relatives. Yet you’ve let yourself accept the idea that it is.
What’s more, you are accepting the idea that a parent’s theoretical wrongdoing is somehow justification for punishing the child. For imprisoning human beings, let alone children, in conditions that if they were used to house animals would spark instantaneous retaliation from White America akin to the reactions to the killing of Cecil the Lion, or the vet who shot a cat with an arrow.
During the Holocaust, the Nazis didn’t just wake up one morning and round up all the Jews and send them to the Death Camps. It was a gradual build up that restricted things like migration, what they were allowed to do business wise, what they had to wear. It was a gradual restriction of freedoms, a gradual separation from the general citizenry.
As each step was accepted, the next one became that much harder to avoid, that much harder to fight against. This very idea is immortalized in the famous poem:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” –
Quotation from Martin Niemöller on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
With the child who doesn’t understand the significance of the swastika, or the impact that seeing it has on people who remember? Why not? Why was it allowed to become something people did to be edgy? Why were the Nazis allowed to become a cartoon of evil rather than a lesson and warning?
With the internet commenters: Why is the first this reached for when granted the power of anonymity racism? What does it say about what lurks just below the surface of our society. What does it say about how our society reaches for power and superiority.
What happens when those children grow up? If these ideas are tolerated, why do we expect them to drop these ideas one they’re adults if they’ve never been given reason to?
What we as society are silent about is what we give consent to. It’s what we allow to happen.
It’s not like these current events are unprecedented in US history either. For all that people might claim that “this can’t happen here” internment has happened before. In World War 2, Japanese-Americans were interred in prisoner camps. The laws that led to internment were further never officially overturned – granting even in law the possibility for it to happen again.
Thousands of Native children were kidnapped by the government and redistributed to white families in an effort to do through rearing what they had been unable to do through mass murder events – destroy Native communities and eliminate them. Canada also participated in these same acts, so it would behoove us to take warning of our own ability to fail morally.
Even before these more recent removals, a close examination of Child Protective Services and their tendency to remove children from homes show a clear racial bias – with white families often given the benefit of the doubt where PoC families are punished.
What crime, if you committed, would you accept your children be imprisoned for? What crime of your parents’ would you accept being imprisoned for?
What atrocity will you finally draw the line at?
We are at this exact moment watching children being imprisoned in Concentration Camps. The new Executive Orders don’t actually reunite families but rather fast track the removal process. There is no such thing as neutrality in the face of evil. Children are being kept in Concentration Camps, in our backyards – how will you be remembered by history? As keeping silent or as speaking out?