Friday, August 18, 2017

Now Is Not the Time for Punching Nazis

I don't know why my grandfather went off to fight in Europe, or anything specific about what he did when he was there—he didn't like to talk about it and died of cancer before I got a chance to ask him—but I like to think he went to stop a megalomaniac and his Nazi compatriots' evil, racist plan to eradicate the Jews.  

If there ever was a time for punching Nazis, that was it. 



And my grandfather was a gentle, thoughtful man—the sort of man who would see the threat of Hitler and the Nazis and the need to stop them. 

So it's possible that this is why he went to war... but perhaps not all that likely.

Antisemitism was extremely widespread in the United States at the time, after all, and it's doubtful the average American would have willingly gone to war for the good of a people group they generally disliked and mistreated, themselves. Far more reasonable to believe they went (reluctantly) to war because they felt that they were threatened (see: Pearl Harbor). 

And although the ugly revelations that the war forced into the popular consciousness did a lot to expose the ugliness of the Nazi way of thinking, most Americans didn't stop using Jews as their primary scapegoats until the '50s, when the commies arrived to be the next catch-all villains. Circle the wagons, boys, and lynch anybody wearing the color red!

Did the Nazis go away? 

Of course not. As long as there are people in the world, the core idea that creates Nazism will still be with us: the idea that my cluster of people is better and more human than your cluster. This idea is as enduring as cancer and just as difficult to get rid of. It creates identity by exclusion, and at its worst, it insists that other people aren't just inferior, they're categorically different to the point where it's okay to do anything you'd like to get rid of them—even treating them like animals.

Setting aside for the time being the egregious cruelty of our culture's treatment of animals, I would like to suggest that punching real-life Nazis or advocating for their punching in the self-aggrandizing, low-risk echo chamber of social media is not just wrong and unkind, it's also ineffective and helps to create more Nazis as surely as drone-bombing poor people in the desert is a great way to make more of that other sort of terrorists.

Now, most of us aren't Antifa activists willing to use preemptive violence on Nazis. 

But what we have proven time and again is that when we're afraid of something, we're more than willing to look the other way or to holler unthinkingly into the slacktivist internet void, while violence and abuse continue. We're the ones who maybe grumbled about the growing Police State after 9/11... but not so loudly that it would stop them from torturing potentially innocent people without the due process of law. 

The government's made of good American people, right? 
And good American people wouldn't torture anyone unless it was super-duper necessary, right???

We were scared, so we looked the other wayand basically any way in which there weren't any mirrors.

Express your opposition. Fine. 
Express your anger. Great.

But don't forget to pause, reflect, and make a real plan for real resistance.

There may come a time when there is a clear, moral choice in front of us: a moral imperative to once again take up the tools of violence against violent men. To do what my grandfather did and go Nazi-punching. I want to remain open to that possibility, despite the fact that history has taught me to be suspicious of "clear moral imperatives" and to know that we are far more likely to be violent out of fear, cowardice, and self-interest than anything else. 

But this one thing is clear: now is not the time for punching Nazis. 

It is not the time for the indiscriminate and often unjustly meted out violence of online vigilantism. It is not the time for doxxing and assaulting Nazis, not, primarily, because those things are illegal (law and justice being only tenuously parallel, at best) and often misfire, but because we actually need to win.

It is always the right time for resisting Nazis. But we cannot effectively resist Nazis (or anyone who says that anyone else is inferior and can be treated poorly because of it) without the sort of reflection that leads to calm, selfless, and above all humble action, guided by an unbreakable kindness.

Yes, kindness.




And what is kindness? How does kindness show itself?

Kindness is firm and unflinching. It doesn't make a hero of the man who punches a Nazi or even the one who makes himself more anxious and less effective by boldly posting his indignation on Facebook. Instead, kindness makes a hero of the sort of men and women who in the '50s and '60s offered firm resistance not only to the active and passive racism of segregated America, but also to the impatience of those who advocated taking up violence against this racist country itselfburning it to the ground. 

Yes, internet, I'm suggesting that this is not the time for taking as our hero my crack-shot Army officer grandfather, but rather the men and women who had no Facebook wall to type at and so were forced to stand up and be counted in a real and costly way—to put their very lives on the line for their dream of a better, kinder world. The people whose hope for a better world and faith that humanity could transcend all this violence led them to the sort of peaceful resistance that's the only path to peace. Because make no mistake: War can stop one tyrant, but it is never the path to peace—it only feels like that in the short term.

Now is not the time for punching Nazis, because punching Nazis is too easy. It is perhaps a bit more cathartic than the piffling fart of a (possibly self-congratulating) Facebook post, but it does not require nearly enough of us, and it doesn't really work. 

What is more important: to be seen as Righteous by other people, or to finally see an America where scapegoating of any kind is quickly called out for the Evil that it is—where gentleness and humility become the publicly extolled virtues they never yet have been?

Now is not the time for punching Nazis, and I pray that time never comes. But for now, let's stop following the Outrage News Cycle and instead become more aware of the racism, violence, and cruelty happening all around us every single day. Let's stop being surprised by Evil and start admitting that it is everywhere, running even through our own twisted little hearts. Let's resist that Evil by first admitting that we are as susceptible to it as anyone, and then by linking arms and standing against it, no matter the cost.

Let's notice the casual racism that continues to keep people of color in bondage
Let's think about the ways in which our own indifference allows so many kinds of injustice to continue.
Let's ask ourselves how we can step beyond internet indignation to effect real change.

Because until we do that we will always be punching Nazis, and we will never be at peace.

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Thanks for reading! 

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