"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
– Lord Acton
"Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
– George Santayana
History supports the two well-known quotes above. Two points need to be clearly included in discussions about them, however.
1. Power means “the ability to cause people to do or not do” what the one exerting power wants. Humans only have two options for exerting power over other humans – mental persuasion or physical force.
2. Before anyone can remember something they must first experience or learn it.
Hitler’s rise to power destroyed German democracy. In order to understand how “absolute power corrupted absolutely” in the process, it is essential be aware of “the past” that caused Germany to fall.
When Hitler came to power, the Germany population was 94% Christian – 40% Roman Catholic and 54% Protestant – Nazi Germany had a larger Christian population than the United States of America. Germany was a democratic nation with a 94% Christian population! Keep in mind that neither democracy nor Christianity prevented the events that combined to bring down the German nation. Notice how quickly things changed in Germany, realizing that social media did not exist then. Thing that took weeks, months and years back then to happen, take place in hours, days, weeks and months today.
● February 1932 -- German President Hindenburg (85 years-old) reluctantly agreed to run again and announced his candidacy for re-election. Hitler decided to oppose him and run for the presidency himself. "Freedom and Bread," was the slogan used by Hitler
● April 10, 1932 – In a runoff election Hitler received 13,418,547 votes (36%) and Hindenburg received 19,359,983 (53%) and was elected by an absolute majority.
● January 30, 1933 – President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.
● February 27, 1933 at 9:00 pm -- The building housing the German parliament, the Reichstag, began to burn.
Who set the fire that night in Berlin? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that “this spectacular act of terror” initiated “the politics of emergency.”
Gazing with pleasure at the flames that night, Hitler said: “This fire is just the beginning.” Whether or not the Nazis set the fire, Hitler saw the political opportunity: “There will be no mercy now. Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.”
● February 28, 1933 -- A decree was issued that suspended the basic rights of all German citizens, allowing them to be “preventively detained” by the police.
● March 5, 1933 -- On the strength of Hitler’s claim, that the fire was the work of Germany’s enemies, the Nazi Party won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections.Police and the Nazi paramilitaries began to round up members of left-wing political parties and place them in improvised concentration camps.
● March 16, 1933 -- The new parliament passed an “enabling act,” which “allowed Hitler to rule by decree.”
● August 2, 1934 -- Hitler replaces the offices of chancellor and president with a single dictatorial position by declaring himself Führer ("Leader") of a new German Reich – the Third Reich.
● May 8, 1945 -- The signing of the German Instrument of Surrender that ended World War; “The German Government and German High Command, recognizing and acknowledging the complete defeat of the German armed forces on land, at sea and in the air, hereby announce Germany's unconditional surrender."
Germany then remained in a state of emergency for the next twelve years, until the end of the Second World War. Hitler had used an act of terror, an event of limited inherent significance, to institute a regime of terror that killed millions of people and changed the world. Estimated total German population losses (in 1937 German borders) directly related to the war range between 5.5 to 6.9 million persons.
Anthony J. Sciolino, a retired New York State Family Court judge and a graduate of Columbia University and Cornell Law School, wrote the book The Holocaust, The Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences. He also holds a master’s degree in theology from St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry and is an ordained Roman Catholic permanent deacon. The following are his very important and researched words:
Nazi terrorism alone did not induce ordinary people to become complicit in mass murder. It was Christianity’s long history of Jew hatred. It was anti-Judaism that enabled Christians to assent willingly to Nazi eliminationist anti-Semitism. Among the causes of the Holocaust are:
● An evil, amoral, and charismatic leader.
● Chaotic post-WWI conditions.
● Popular discontent.
● Masterful use of propaganda.
● A brutal totalitarian regime (intolerant central government).
● State sponsored terrorism.
● The fog of war - diminishes cultural taboos (theft, torture, rape, murder).
● Sadism (enjoyment in being cruel).
● Careerism (values success in career above all else).
● Anti-Judaism (religion) / anti-Semitism (race).
● Fear of Judeo-Bolshevism (Jews are driving force behind Communism).
● Extreme nationalism / patriotism.
● Paralysis of will.
● Unquestioning obedience to authority.
● Lack of moral guidance.
● Failure of conscience.
● Widespread culpability, complicity, and indifference.
Sciolino uses the quotes below from Edmund Burke as reminders for readers.
When bad men combine, the good must associate;
else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
Nothing is so fatal to religion as indifference.
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