Like all civilized people, I have been sickened today by scenes of neo-nazis marching with torches through the beautiful college town of Charlottesville, Virginia. As well as being the home of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville is a quaint old town in its own right that’s worth a visit, and I recommend in particular The Nook diner on East Main Street.
This should, of course, be a time when the large majority – regardless of political stripe – can come together in complete agreement that there is no place in America, or anywhere else, for this anachronistic, hideous bullshit that we should by now have stamped into oblivion. But, incredibly, there are some people – including some in the White House – who appear unable or unwilling to grasp what is happening and speak clearly about it.
So, let me give those people a hand, by making three short and straightforward points that should be unnecessary but, sadly, are not.
Hate is not a political opinion, it’s a disease
An acquaintance here in the DC area told me recently, during a discussion about white supremacists trying to use colleges as a platform for their agenda, that it was important to listen to all sides of an argument. This is both superficially attractive and insidiously dangerous. It is, indeed, important to hear and understand a range of political opinion. Our inability to do that successfully is without doubt behind a good deal of the polarization that currently grips the US.
But not everything is a political opinion. Did the allied governments of the 1930s look for opportunities for polite debate with the Third Reich on the finer points of white supremacy or ethnic cleansing? Those that attempted such have rightly been damned by history as appeasers of fascism. In fact, of course, the allies spent both blood and treasure in huge quantities not on understanding nazism but on obliterating it.
It is not a legitimate political opinion that some races are more “pure” than others, any more than it is a legitimate scientific opinion that the earth is flat. (Or, indeed, that the climate is not changing.) Our universities do not entertain flat-earthers posing as scientists. Why, then, should they entertain racists posing as politicians?
The sort of racism we have seen spewed onto the streets of Charlottesville today is not the product of considered political thought. It is the product, pure and simple, of ignorance. It can and must be defeated, by education, by the enforcement of the law and, ultimately, by the encroachment of reality into the simple minds of its pathetic proponents.
There is no point in winning wars, if we subsequently behave as though we lost them
My parents grew up, in England, while the Third Reich was bombing British towns and cities on a frequent basis. My father’s family sheltered a young evacuee from London, during the period when women and children were forced to escape from the blitz.
Many years later, I had the opportunity to serve for a year (albeit as a civilian) in Afghanistan. Every day that year, the first thing I did each morning was to attend a meeting at which a military officer read out the details of NATO service men and women who had been killed or injured the previous day.
Whilst the Taliban might not at first glance appear to be a similar enemy to the Nazis, they certainly had some things in common: both were socially backward, both were violent and, crucially, both used twisted logic to argue that some lives are more valuable than others.
Even those who haven’t had the dubious privilege of seeing conflict at close quarters understand that war is dangerous, tragic and costly. To allow the sick ideologies of our enemies to live on after we’ve defeated them is nothing short of an insult to those who gave their lives to secure our victory.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
Those are the famous words of Edmund Burke, the Irish politician who became a member of the British parliament.
John F Kennedy used to favor a similar quote, which he had borrowed from Dante’s Inferno: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in time of moral crisis, preserve their neutrality”.
It will have warmed the hearts of many people to see, on today’s news, scores of protestors – both ordinary local residents and members of the clergy – taking the considerable risk of turning out on the streets of Charlottesville to stand up to the neo-nazis. How could they do otherwise? No civilized person who had understood the words of Burke and Kennedy would be surprised by anyone feeling compelled to oppose such bile.
And yet, not for the first time, the current POTUS, when given a perfect opportunity to speak clearly on these issues, failed spectacularly to do so, in a way which is shocking but not at all surprising. As the news came through that there had been not just skirmishes but three deaths, Trump’s feeble and deeply equivocal statement condemned violence “on many sides”.
That response is an utter disgrace. To speak about the local Charlottesville residents and their faith leaders as part of the problem – as much as the white supremacists who had travelled into the area with the express intention of creating mayhem and spreading hatred – demonstrates yet again his total lack of fitness for the office, as well as his moral bankruptcy.
The fact is that decent, civilized, right minded people – regardless of political stripe – have no choice but to stand up to this evil. In his unwillingness to oppose white supremacy, and his unbelievable decision to appoint some people of that ilk to his administration, the current president appeases neo-nazis and allows them to pretend that their hatred is a legitimate political position. It is not.