Ilived for very many years in rural Vermont. I’d bought a long-abandoned, post-and-beam farmhouse on a third-class dirt road. The realtor was a German immigrant who’d come to Vermont with his wife and infant children just after the war. He suggested that I call a local builder, Bob, to inspect the house, which was superficially in dreadful shape, but the farm and basement were sound. Bob said he’d be glad to put it right, and he and his brother-in-law restored it to its 1805 perfection.
Bob’s family had lived through the war in Germany, and through the famine afterward, and through relocation in America, ignorant of the language. Bob taught himself carpentry and all the building trades, and became a much-respected member of the small town, where all of his contemporary men had fought against the Axis in World War II. His brother-in-law, Eric, had been in the Hitler Youth, and Bob was a glider commando in the Luftwaffe—the equivalent, today, of Delta Force, or the Navy Seals.
My family became friends with Bob, and his wife, Ilse, became a surrogate grandmother—or better, great-aunt—to my kids. His family was my first encounter with the German national character—hard working, honest, and uncomplaining.
Of course I was seldom unaware that the regime he had fought for was dedicated to the destruction of my people and my race (if Jews are a race … in any case, to my like). I asked Eric about the Hitler Youth, and he said that he’d missed one meeting, and was told by his group leader that, should he miss another, he’d be shot. And, Bob, and every other man of fighting age and ability, was conscripted, and what were they to do?
Just as Eric explained, and perhaps apologized for, his membership in the Hitler Youth, Bob would tell me that his father had risked his life saving a Jew of his acquaintance.
To both cases: perhaps, and perhaps not. I never met a German who had lived through that wartime period who did not share with me the history of his family helping the Jews. Putting aside the question of the stories’ truth, I was struck by their seeming necessity for the teller. The current self-protective rationale of the Nazi era invokes an occupation by the forces of evil, which they were mostly too powerless to fight. Most of the people who lived through it are gone, and their descendants are entitled to imagine a history with which they can live—neither absolutely false nor true, but one in which someone tried to act.
Over the last two years in America, I’ve witnessed our own forces of evil with incredulity, despair, and rage. Corruption, blasphemy, and absurdity have been accepted by one-half of the electorate as the cost of doing business; as has the fear this acceptance generates. Does anyone actually believe that men change into women and women into men who can give birth, that the Earth is burning, the seas are rising, and we’ll all perish unless we cover our faces with strips of cotton?
No one does. These proclamations are an act of faith, in a new, as yet unnamed religion, and the vehemence with which one proclaims allegiance to these untruths is an exercise no different from any other ecstatic religious oath. They become the Apostles’ Creed of the left, their proclamation committing the adherent physically to their strictures, exactly as the oath taken on induction to the armed services. The inductee is told to “take one step forward,” and once they do he or she can no longer claim, “I misunderstood the instruction.”
Those currently in power insist on masking, but don’t wear masks. They claim the seas are rising and build mansions on the shore. They abhor the expenditure of fossil fuels and fly exclusively in private jets. And all the while half of the country will not name the disease. Why?
Because the cost of challenging this oppressive orthodoxy has, for them, become too high. Upon a possible awakening, they—or more likely their children—might say that the country was occupied. And they would be right.
Gandhi said to the British, you’ve been a guest in our house for too long, it is time for you to leave. He borrowed the line from Oliver Cromwell, and it’s a good one. The left has occupied the high places for too long, promoting dogma even as the occasions for their complaint have decreased (what position is closed to people of color, or women? Inclusion in all levels of the workforce; preference in higher education, a seat in the cockpit, in the Oval Office, in a movie’s cast, or admission to an elite school+? And yet the vehemence of their protests has increased, progressing into blacklisting and even rioting by those claiming to represent “the oppressed.”
Old-time physicians used to speak of the disease “declaring itself.” History teaches that one omnipresent aspect of a coup is acts of reprisal staged by agents provocateurs of the revolutionaries, and blamed on supporters of the legitimate government. It would be a historical anomaly if we were not to see such between now and the midterm elections.
For the disease has declared itself, and we are not now in a culture war, but a nascent coup, with its usual cast of characters. The Bolshevists could have been defeated by a company of soldiers in the suburbs of Moscow, Hitler stopped at Czechoslovakia, and the current horrors confronted at the Minneapolis police station or a meeting of the San Francisco school board. But those tragedies, and our current tragedies, were not just allowed but encouraged to run their course.
Yet I believe there is hope for reason and self-direction. Hispanics in Texas are opposing the policies which have infested their state with the gang violence they fled in Mexico; Ron DeSantis and conservative Floridians have displayed irrefutable common sense, responsibility, and probity, opposing “critical race theory” and the sexual indoctrination of adolescents. Black conservatives, similarly, appeal to the reason of their historically reasonable community, to address the horrors the left has made of the cities. In San Francisco, a place where many of us left our hearts but the natives have historically surrendered their brains, the people voted to remove the wicked fools on their school board. And Bari Weiss founded a university in Austin, Texas, for the pursuit of free thought.
As Tennessee said, “Suddenly there’s God so quickly.”
This is a bit more than facetiousness on my part. I’ve found great comfort in the Torah, counseling Moses again and again, when he was reluctant to fight the power of the Egyptians, and unsure he could do it alone, that he would not be alone, as God would be with him.
What we are seeing through these brave dissenters is the wisdom of the Rumpelstiltskin story. The young woman marries a king who locks her in a cell until she is able to spin flax into gold. She despairs at the impossible task, until an elf shows up and says he’ll show her how. He does so. She asks how she can thank him, and he says all he wants is her firstborn child. And she must give him her child until, or unless, she figures out his name. She is terrified and clueless, but she knows she must try. Eventually, after committing to the task, she guesses his name. What prompted her, frightened though she was, to break the sick cycle? She would not visit her plight upon her child.
Now, the disease having proclaimed itself and its dangers having become clear, it is time for us all to overcome the occupation by standing up to those tyrannies under which we are not prepared to live.
Subscribe to Tablet Magazine
© 2023 FM Media Enterprises, Ltd.