The Dark Beneath

If any one of these groups–the British, the Jewish, or the administration–stops agitating for war, I believe there will be little danger of our involvement.
           Charles Lindbergh- September 11, 1941

“The Jew is the world’s enigma. Poor in his masses, he yet controls the world’s finances. Scattered abroad without country or government, he yet presents a unity of race continuity which no other people has achieved. Living under legal disabilities in almost every land, he has become the power behind many a throne. There are ancient prophecies to the effect that the Jew will return to his own land and from that center rule the world, though not until he has undergone an assault by the united nations of mankind.”

Henry Ford, The International Jew 1922

Help desk

In 1939, Sen. Robert Reynolds of North Carolina (who ran his own anti-Semitic newspaper, the American Vindicator), proposed bills to end all immigration for five years, declaring in a June 1939 speech that the time had come to “save America for Americans.”

“America First” has been a rallying cry throughout the history of the US.  Of course, what was always was meant was “My America First”.  The Puritans didn’t want Quakers, even hanging some who proselytised.  William Penn had to acquire a new colony for them to settle.  Catholics were only welcome in Maryland, and so forth.   Native Americans and Africans were rarely considered as human.   As the nineteenth century progressed with immigrants needed as a work force, Catholic Irish were vilified, as were Italians, Greeks, and then those from Eastern Europe.  There were a number of Chinese exclusion acts up until the 1930s.  But, throughout Western history, the canary in the coal mine of intolerance has been the Jews. 

This seems to be a feeling always lurking beneath the surface of society.  Years ago, when I was in grad school, I was called for jury duty.  I took a copy of “The History of Christianity” to study. A sweet woman in her fifties came up to me and said, “I think it’s just a miracle that Christianity has survived all those persecutions, don’t you?”  I considered.  “Well,  I answered. “It’s more amazing that Judaism has survived.”

Her whole face changed. Her eyes narrowed; her mouth twisted; her skin  grew red.  It was like watching the Slythereen pull off their masks to revert to alien form.

“You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” she accused.

I answered without thinking because my conclusion had been based on scholarship, not religion.

“No,” I said. “I am an historian.”

She vanished.  But I was shaken by her transformation and wondered how many other kindly people in the room harboured such a clear hatred of those not like them.

I started thinking about the icons of American culture who also were strong anti-Semites.   We have already seen a rise in the desecration of Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, with discrimination becoming more blatant.

My greatest worry is that it never stops with the Jews.  That’s just the beginning.  All the racial, religious and social bigotry that lies beneath the surface starts oozing to the top.  Fear may resurrect feelings that always lay beneath or even create them as people search for a scapegoat. 

Since I’m also staying home, which I enjoy, I’ll post tomorrow on Lindbergh, Ford and other American role models who also had dark sides.  Their beliefs had a disproportionate effect on the rest of the country.

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6 Responses to “The Dark Beneath”

  1. hunterson7 Says:

    So at what point, if any, does nationalism and cultural solidarity exist safely?

    • Sharan Newman Says:

      I suppose one can be proud of national and cultural heritage without becoming a fanatic. I think that imposing one’s beliefs on others and, of course, cultural and physical genocide is taking it too far.

  2. DebDag (@DebDag) Says:

    I’m so glad you’re posting again, Sharan. I’m looking forward to reading your next one.

  3. Karen Obermiller Says:

    Isn’t that what early grade school bullying (or neglect) is about? The fear of anyone different? It grows up doesn’t it.

  4. Gerald OConnor Says:

    @hunterson7 When teaching about nationalism, I often find it useful to compare or juxtapose it with the concept of patriotism. I call nationalism “patriotism on steroids,” and often use the following quote from George Orwell’s essay “Notes on Nationalism” to illustrate my point: “By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

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