"Each occasion is worse than the last . . . but only a little worse"

"Milton Mayer went back to Germany after the war to interview the citizens who were once his friends, to ask how it could have happened. His friend the baker explained, "One had no time to think. There was so much going on."
People reported that they had become separated from their government with every new crisis or reform. Gradually they accepted decisions made in secret because they trusted Hitler and others who they felt knew more than they did."

In trying to explain to the congregation I am serving why I went to the YearlyKos convention last month, I struggled to put the explanation into the right context. Do I find the words of a great thinker? one of the luminaries of our tradition? something from scripture? Then it dawned on me. I turned to the "book" Facing History and Ourselves which is essentially a curriculum about the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. The book grew out of a project conceived by history teachers who found general curricula on the subject lacking. They wanted to teach about more than the "facts" and the gruesome stories that have been told. They wanted to delve deeply into the human psyche and take us along on the journey. They wanted us to really understand how this could have happened then, and how people who consider themselves smart, well educated, acculturated, fair minded, and even tolerant now could allow such a thing to happen today.

Facing History is now a foundation that continues the work. Immediately following 9/11 they posted lessons for schools and communities to use to try to thwart what eventually took hold in our country.
The words quoted here are from a section of the book explaining what it was like in Germany. It framed the sermon well, but it also needs to stand on its own for the lessons we are NOT learning, God help us.

A man named Milton Mayer went back to Germany after the war with the mission of better understanding how the country he loved could have turned so evil. He interviewed people he knew and wrote a book,
They Thought They Were Free in 1955 which was published by the University of Chicago Press.
"One doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even talk alone; you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' Why not?-Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty."

So what is the great shocking occasion we are waiting for? Weren't the revelations about the torture at Abu Ghraib enough? What about Extraordinary Rendition? Perhaps Presidential Signing Statements should provoke outrage? Don't mind having your phone conversations tapped ? What about leaving people on the roofs of their houses while the President has some birthday cake with John McCain? Not enough to be shocking?

"Men like me. ..are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Neimoller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something-but then it was too late."

Ah yes, Pastor Neimoller. His quote has survived the test of time, but all too few know that he was quite the anti-semite. He wrote this

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the
social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the
trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

He remained silent because he did not feel threatened. He would be OK, it didn't matter that others weren't as long as he was safe. It is, after all, easy for us all to feel the same thing. We don't need to stick out necks out for other people. Best to take care of ourselves.

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, 'everyone' is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, 'It's not so bad' or 'You're seeing things' or 'You're an alarmist.' "And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh- pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.

Pessimistic, neurotic, tin foil hat wearers? No, everything is just fine. after all,

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds of thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes millions, would have been sufficiently shocked-if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in '43 had come immediately after the 'German Firm' stickers on the windows of non- Jewish shops in '33. But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D."

'And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon . The burden of self deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying 'Jew swine,' collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in-your nation, your people-is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way."

"A little boy, hardly more than a baby saying Jew swine." How about grown adults publishing the name and address of a family that brought suit against a public school in Delaware that was promoting Christianity resulting in the family having to sell their house and leave town?

Are we shocked yet?

If not, what will it take?