Tuesday, March 3, 2015

World War II

This is the first post in a history series, discussed yesterday, to examine some of the moments where, perhaps, history "went wrong." The alternate title for this post was "Godwin's law."

Recent advice on Twitter for white women interested in supporting activism is to "stay in your lane." Years ago on my blogs, I would post about technologies for clean water and things that I thought - from my armchair in the United States - might help places like Africa. Since that time, I've learned a great deal more about the importance of culture, location, and tacit knowledge in designing appropriate solutions for global markets.

So this series, in particular, is targeted at my own people, white Americans. I have seen and heard the attitude of peers who didn't care too much about history, or who think that what happened in the past is over and done, and doesn't affect the present. I hope that this will help you to reconsider that position.

There are more recent moments that could apply. Chronologically, there are the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, post-9/11. If you really want to read about anti-terrorism politics, I recommend my sister's blogs (current and former). Much of her older blog was written during her deployment and later contract work in Iraq.

The other more recent historical shake-up was the fall of the Soviet Union and the 1990's post-Cold War era. Perhaps another week I'll start discussing that.

Trigger warnings apply to the text below the cut, for discussion of war and particularly the Holocaust.

Also, caveat: I am not a historian, and I have not examined many primary sources on this. The following perspective is largely written from textbooks and secondary / tertiary sources.

Many factors in World War II occurred in response to World War I. What I was taught in history class, was that WWI was a cluster**** of mutual support treaties, with no real "good" or "bad" side. That being said, my great-grandfather had emigrated to the United States from Germany before the War, and I've been told that he went into debt to buy enough U.S. government war bonds to prove his loyalty to his adopted country.

After the first war was won, the Allies sought to punish the losing side, with severe retaliatory trade and other penalties imposed on Germany and other losing countries. From the very beginning, German military officials planned to subvert the treaty. That also meant exploring and ultimately hiring civilians from the German rocketry club, namely one Wernher von Braun. [1]

It's difficult to say in Huntsville, AL, where Wernher von Braun is still remembered as a hero, but the history clearly shows that von Braun visited the underground Mittelwerk concentration camp, where the V-2s were manufactured.[1]

In one of my business classes, a student asked about a time before Hitler "went bad."  The New York Times is very clear, there was no "before" once Hitler came to power:
As early as 1933, at the start of Hitler’s reign, the Third Reich established about 110 camps specifically designed to imprison some 10,000 political opponents and others, the researchers found. [2]
Over the course of Hitler's reign, 1933 to 1945, researchers have now cataloged 42,500 gettos and camps.[2] The Daily Mail breaks it down thus:
  • 30,000 slave labour camps
  • 1,150 Jewish ghettos
  • 980 concentration camps
  • 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps
  • 500 brothels filled with sex slaves
  • And 1,000s of camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, 'Germanizing' prisoners or transporting victims to killing centres [3]
The Daily Mail article includes maps of Europe, and the locations of these camps and ghettos. [3]

So what does this have to do with me? With us?  My great-grandfather, in the World War II era, had died an American citizen. His wife was raising their four children on their farm in Indiana. My grandfather walked with a limp, remnant of a cyst that developed and was surgically removed when he was about 12. His older brother came down with jaundice, and was not drafted to serve in the U.S. military.

His cousins, though. They remained in Germany. At one time I had records of a cousin who served in the German Army, as a medical doctor. While I hope that was good... history leaves no doubt that many so-called doctors in Germany caused more harm than they cured.
"Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.
“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”" [2]
This post would not be complete without at least mentioning the concept of Superior Orders. The complexity and ethics of that discussion could be several posts, all on it's own... another time. For tomorrow, I want to continue working back in time to discuss the concept of "professional," as it applies to education and licensing of lawyers, doctors... and engineers.

"It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing." - Charles Aked [4]


[1] Burrows, William E.  "This New Ocean." Random House Books. 1998. pp. 74-107
This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age (Modern Library Paperbacks)

[2] Lichtblau, Eric. "The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking." New York Times. March 1, 2013.

[3] Bond, Anthony. Worse than the world ever imagined: True scale of the Holocaust revealed as it's discovered Nazis created 42,500 camps and ghettos to persecute Jews - not 7,000 as previously thought" Daily Mail.

[4] http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/04/good-men-do/