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Sunday, 12.11.05: How Much Public Courage Do You Have?

I'm thinking about courage.

Looking around, I see lots of people with a ton of personal courage. Crap happens. They get up and do what they gotta do. As Robert Frost said, there's usually "no way out but through."

We could wake up and find ourselves in 1930s Europe.

But what about public courage? With Dick Cheney in charge of insuring our government can torture people, with the Patriot Act (and possibly our future Supreme Court) insuring the erosion of privacy, with George Bush thinking he was anointed by God... it's not too far-fetched to think we could wake up and find ourselves in 1930s Europe.

What would you do if neighbors were pulled from their homes by armed government officials and were never seen again? Would you...

(a) Start asking a lot of loud questions?

(b) Join an underground resistance movement to overthrow your government?

(c) Try to become as invisible as possible so that no one knocks on your door?

Admit it. Most of us would choose (c).

In the 11/28/05 New Yorker, Louis Menand writes a review of Tony Judt's "Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945." It's mostly the tale of how Europe rose from the ashes of World War II. But he does address how quickly Europe collapsed in the face of fascism.

In every occupied country except Denmark, local officials had lent a hand in, and Gentiles had shut their eyes to, the deportation, and eventual extermination, of millions of Jews... Soon after Germany was defeated, a Myth of Resistance sprang up in the formerly occupied countries... and for many years it successfully obscured the truth about wartime life.

Am I even aware of how many Moslem families live quietly nearby? What if men in black suits began taking them away -- just as quietly? Would I do much more than whisper something to the local newspaper?

It's easy to think about public courage in the bright light of historical documentation. It gets fuzzy fast when you're living it. Everything is shaded, relative. "How much freedom (or privacy) are you willing to give up for security?" We hear that question all the time. But how much of someone else's freedom are we willing to give up so that we are not inconvenienced?


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