Editor, The News:
Many years ago, when I was young and in school and learning about the Second World War, I remember being profoundly confused at how such an atrocity could have happened.
How could regular, average people have passively stood by while millions were murdered?
I think I am finally beginning to understand.
In the 1930s, average people in Europe and North America were struggling with an economic downturn. There was wide-spread poverty and disorder in the streets. People supported populist movements, whose leaders promised a return to stability and security.
At the street level, big burly young men in brown shirts helped granny cross the street and drove the beggars away and made sure no degenerates bothered the little girls.
Entrenched political and media structures – from Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to the New York Times – vacillated. They didn’t believe the truth was as bad as the rumours were suggesting.
They said that once Hitler and Mussolini had real power they would tone down their rhetoric and govern pragmatically.
And, besides, maybe a dose of discipline would do the rabble some good and bring back respect for authority and a proper work ethic.
At least the trains are finally running on time, right?
We all know how that worked out.
Right-wing populism is back in the U.S. and Britain, and looks likely to win elections in many countries in Europe.
Just like in the 1930s, these people justify their actions by claiming that they are simply concerned community members helping to maintain public order. They disavow accusations of racist motivations, despite the symbolic connotations with which they proudly cloak themselves.
I now understand how it happened. They let these people take over, first at the neighbourhood level, then as local politicians, then as party leaders and elected officials and cabinet members and bureaucrats.
The movement quickly became so powerful that it was impossible to stop.
Lest we forget.