Will our history repeat itself?
Published May 18, 2023
By Lib Campbell
Recently we had the opportunity to spend nearly two weeks in France. From Paris, we sailed on the Seine to Caen and the United States Cemetery in Normandy. This trip has been a long-time dream realized for Tom, who is a World War II buff. He loves reading about Churchill and Roosevelt, Eisenhower and all the Generals and the thousands and thousands of soldiers who on D-Day landed on Omaha Beach as part of an offensive to stop the Nazis from dominating Europe.
The Museum for D-Day is in Caen, France. Pictures and stories fill the walls. One of the etchings I found engraved into the stone said this: “This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unmerciful harshness.” As cruel as these words are, it is not surprising that they were spoken by Adolf Hitler in 1941. Unmerciful harshness was the hallmark of his plan to annihilate Jews in Germany and France, and to bully and bash his way to the English Channel and beyond. Cruelty was his game; charisma was his instrument of coercion.
Almost ten thousand young Americans are buried under white crosses and poppies in the American Cemetery at Normandy. A generation of potential lost because a despot stoked fear and division, crafted ideologies of White supremacy, and amassed enough angry people to do his bidding with unbridled mercilessness.
It is moving and painful to see the pictures tell the story of great sacrifice and great loss. Omaha Beach at low tide is wide and beautiful, but underneath the ocean and the sand is blood and sunken ships, and thousands of men who never even made it to shore.
Approaching Memorial Day, a day of remembrance and thanksgiving, it might be time for a sit-down reflection on where we are as a culture, who we are as a people. Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch did not start this; they may just have poured gasoline on it.
Fear and hate are part of the human condition. Fear of Jews. Fear of Immigrants. Fear of anything or anybody who is “other than me.” Stoking and gaslighting, especially when the stoking is done from the top of the ladder, is what riles the angry and fearful. When the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, current Lieutenant Governor (and Governor wannabe) Mark Robinson, or media people with power like Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones, and Rush Limbaugh fill the air with vile rants, they do not stir authentic patriotism, they stir hate. Their speech also justifies ugly behaviors, slandering, defaming, belittling, and denigrating. Such discourse also fuels violence. Harmful words destroy lives; they also can tear our republic apart.
Maureen Dowd in the New York Times asserts that, “Patriotism is no longer a premier American value.” We all need to consider if this is true. After all, there are Republicans who still say the mob who stormed the Capital on January 6, 2021, were patriots. So, what are the values of the patriot? I think it has to do with holding the constitutional ideal of liberty and justice for all as a core value, one to which we live in covenant to assure. Freedom and justice are a fundamental value.
A patriot will sacrifice “self” for the common good. Patriots do not live a “my way or the highway” life. There is compromise, grace, mercy at the core of every action, for every action is done for the good of all.
If the best days of America are behind us, and if you are OK with that, so be it. In my heart of hearts, I think the opportunities of building a more perfect union are before us. We need to clean out the ugliness before it completely corrodes us and find a way to lift each other up and build that shining city on the hill that once was dreamed. Working to ensure freedom for all is our calling.
Normandy and Omaha Beach are a reminder that once upon a time, in the not-so-far distant past, there was a man, Adolf Hitler, who accrued great power for the purpose of ensuring a white majority dominated the world. He was vocal and demonstrative in conducting “unmerciful harshness.”
Seems that we stand at a fork in the road. Surely, we will choose what is right and just and good. Surely, we cannot let history repeat itself.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader, columnist and host of the blogsite www.avirtualchurch.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com