Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 03.20.17
Just Outside Washington


Resist. Now.

As some of you know, I went to high school in Germany as US military dependant, arriving there in June of 1948. The damage from WWII was starkly evident -- think of the pictures of Syria you see, on steroids. I once visited a residential section of Hamburg that had been firebombed; nothing burnable was left and the bricks from the houses had exploded from the heat, resulting in a brick-red sea as far as one could see.

Millions of people had fled from the east and were living in 'Displaced Person' camps near us with militarized DPs in grey uniforms keeping order. Many more impacts of the war were visible on cities and the people.

These and other experience raised the question in my mind that I have wrestled with ever since: how could an educated, accomplished and cultured group of people go off the deep end and essentially destroy Europe?

In my reading to answer the question, I found and read some of historian Timothy Snyder's works. Recently, he published a small book, which addresses the question but from the preventative perspective and written for Americans. The book, On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century, lays out lessons, which based on his study; apply to us Americans in our current situation of great inequality (10 percent of the people own 75 percent of the wealth).

As Snyder points out, using the examples from history, inequality generates instability in democracies and provides the grievances that facilitate populist dictatorships; fascism in Europe is only one example.

Snyder's first lesson in resisting dictatorship is: Do not obey in advance. He points out that we, as social animals, tend to 'go along to get along.' In Germany, when the Nazis began to mistreat the Jews, their neighbors first turned away, then decided the Jews deserved mistreatment and then piled on.

We can draw parallels in the U.S. in our treatment of Muslims and Afro-Americans.

None of us are immune; remember the Stanford prison experiment, which was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment showed that randomly selected students would assume negative behaviors found in both prison guards and inmates when that was requested of them.

Snyder's point in Do not obey in advance is do not adapt to developing negative social behaviors -- Resist.

We saw resistance at the airports when President Trump issued his order barring Muslims from entering the U.S.

In Snyder's other nineteen lessons, he advocates individual resistance, not armed resistance but democratic social resistance. examples include resisting fake news, reduction of professional standards, degradation of language, etc

On Tyranny is worth the read because contrary to the title of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel about fascism taking over America -- It Can't Happen Here -- it can happen here.