Hope and Courage

How "hope" has been used as a weapon

Humanity has an awesome, unprecedented and inescapable responsibility to ensure that the Earth remains beautiful, pristine and inhabitable for future generations of all species. Modern technologies must be carefully scrutinized to promote only those without adverse social, cultural or environmental impacts.

The Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy (the "Hau De No Sau Nee"), whose practice of democracy inspired some of the U.S.'s "founding fathers," especially Benjamin Franklin, state that

"Our society is based on a principle that directs us to constantly think about the welfare of seven generations into the future. Our belief in this principle acts as a restraint to the development of practices which would cause suffering in the future."
Akwesasne Notes, ed., "Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau De No Sau Nee Address to the Western World," (Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1978), p. 93; see also Jack Weatherford, “Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World,” (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988), pp. 135-150

In contrast, industrial society's many toxic technologies will impact on the seven thousandth generation unless we develop a sustainable lifestyle and somehow detoxify our lethal legacies of radioactive and toxic wastes. This is mandatory for protecting the biosphere's integrity, our beautiful but threatened planet. Humanity is at the most crucial crossroads in our species' history: we are killing the planet for greed and short-term profit with increasing speed and efficiency; yet unprecedented numbers are beginning to understand the imperative for changing course. We have the technology and ability to use non-toxic technologies, including agriculture, energy and materials, eliminate poverty in its many forms and cure preventable disease. So far, no country has decided to chose this alternative vision to the industrial state, although some have taken significant steps toward this shift. Whether we win our war against the Earth or sign a peace treaty with the planet will probably be irrevocably decided in the next decade or two.

Humans have the most dependent babies of any species, we don't have thousands of babies (a strategy of many species to ensure survival), we don't have built in toxins to prevent being eaten (like the salamanders), porcupine quills, the smell of a skunk, we can't fly or run faster than predators. But our species does have the Big Brain that we have used to perfect our cooperative abilities over the eons. Now, we face the choice of socially evolving or perishing, and the fate of the other species on Earth is probably also dependent on how well we cope, since a violent crash of industrial civilization would probably result in nuclear war over the remaining resources. What an amazing time to be alive -- perhaps the most critical focal point for determining the future of life since the comet smacked into the Yucatan and wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

One day you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all
When you're lovers in a dangerous time
-- Bruce Cockburn

It's a cruel, crazy, beautiful world
-- Johnny Clegg

"Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. Therefore one who has love, courage and wisdom is one in a million who moves the world, as with Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi."
-- Ammon Hennacy, "The One-Man Revolution"

"The opposite of hope is not despair, but action."
-- Sam Smith

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. ....
Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.
-- Robert F. Kennedy
University of Cape Town, South Africa
N.U.S.A.S. "Day of Affirmation" Speech June 6th, 1966

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.
-- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Harvard University address (1979)

Only the small secrets need to be protected. The big ones are protected by public incredulity.
-- Marshall McLuhan

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.
-- Mark Twain

Some people always expect the worst, spreading fear of doom and destruction, and often use fear to exploit others. Some people are rosy optimists and never acknowledge evil if it doesn't affect them. Others see the corruption and evil in the world and bravely act with great hope and optimism to oppose its spread. Those individuals who change crisis into opportunities for transformation and achievement are the hope of the world. Hope acts like a spiritual magnet which draws inspiration from Higher sources. Hope is not an emotional attitude, but a clear intuitive knowing that recognizes good can triumph when charged with courage and unshakeable determination.
-- Corinne McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson, "Spiritual Politics: Changing the World from the Inside Out," (Ballatine Books 1994), p. 192

The healing of evil can be accomplished only by the love of individuals. A willing sacrifice is required. I do not know how this occurs but I know that it does. I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others - to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken - to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world.
-- Dr. Scott Peck

As Vaclav Havel once said, he had encountered two types of people during his long years as a fighter for human rights, a prisoner and eventually Czech president. There were "those with the soul of a collaborationist and those who were comfortable denying authority."
A shameful cop-out, Zim Independent, by Allister Sparks

The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those who have not got it.
-- George Bernard Shaw

If you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be a romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist.
-- Quentin Crisp


This Season's Cicadas
by Albert Bates

I have reached a realistic assessment of our prospects and decided its all over but the graduation party. It is no fault of our generation — the species was flawed to begin with. We are linear thinkers with opposable thumbs. How lame is that?

It is ironic that Alfred Russel Wallace was right in a sense but had the timing wrong when he wrote in the seminal essay on evolution he sent by packet boat from the Malay Archipelago to Charles Darwin in 1858:

“The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow.”

The flaws of homo sapiens sapiens only manifested their self-extinguishing potential when played out against the backdrop of planetary homeostasis manipulation. In so doing, our species broke with Wallace's assumption that there is a fail-safe mechanism in nature that would prevent bad apples from spoiling the barrel. At 6 degrees, 12 degrees, or 24 degrees warmer, all possible and even inevitable scenarios now, although perhaps centuries distant, it seems unlikely lifeforms much higher than thermophilic bacteria will survive on our desert world.

One delightful irony I noted in the talk I gave at the Forest Council is that in sending probes to Mars in search of extraterrestrial life, we inoculated Mars with microbes from Earth. A billion years from now, something may come of that.

FolkWax Is Sittin' In With Bruce Cockburn
By Bob Gersztyn
November 2006

War is hands down one of the single biggest destroyers of environment that humans have come up with. It may be more localized than some of the other effects that we've had. In an area where fighting is taking place with modern weapons, the environment is going to be destroyed, period. I mean that's what happens. People, places, and animal habitats get burned, bombed; everything gets upset in that kind of setting. The thing is where the urge to fight seems to be an inescapable part of human nature, as much as the urge to love each other.
We have this schizoid thing going on where, on the one hand we're capable of envisioning the great glories of a loving world and the benefits of being respectful and kind towards each other, and yet we don't seem to be able to stop killing each other at the same time. That's why I say it seems to be an inescapable part of our nature. I've said this before, kind of with respect to the last album, not Speechless, but You've Never Seen Everything. It seems to me that when I wrote the songs on that album that we were in a race between the discovery of the true, for whatever better way to put it, cosmic connections that exists among us all and between us and the environment that we live in, the planetary system that we live in, etc. There is a race between the recognition of those things and the innate urge to self-destruct, and there's a lot of human behavior, a lot of the big strokes and big decisions are being made by people who are acting in service of that self-destructive urge.


What I see happening in the face of all this darkness is something new in human spirituality, openness, some sense of our common destiny. We’ve got to keep nudging ourselves in the direction of good and respect for each other.
-- Bruce Cockburn

from 1991

Ram Dass: When I think about where the culture is, what's feeding the continuity of the culture we're in that denies this reality, the whole urban power of the intellect kind of preoccupation--will it take incredible crisis to awaken that consciousness or can you see it seeping in from the edges?

John Seed: I think the problem with trauma is that at the moment things seem so precarious for the Earth that if the traumas that we've already had aren't sufficient, then I'm afraid that any trauma that would be sufficient would also be lethal. For instance, the Director General of the United Nations Environment Program, Dr. Mostafa Tolba, says in his introduction to World Conservation Strategy that at the current rate of destruction, "we face by the turn of this century an environmental catastrophe as complete and as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust."

And this is echoed by many scientists. So if this is true, that in the next ten years or so this will take place, it's hard to imagine any trauma sufficient to turn the huge inertia of this whole way of being around that wouldn't also just be a death blow to the planet. So then if not that, what can we hope for? And the only thing is something that I sort of feel ... It seems I have been evolving on this planet for four thousand million years. I've looked at the evidence, and it seems that as a creation myth this has advantages over an old man with a white beard creating everything six thousand years ago, or even a turtle with all of this growing on its back. The composition of my blood, and the relationship of that to the composition of sea water four hundred million years ago when we left the oceans, the whole growth of the human fetus with the vestigial tail and the gills, so, so many clues indicate that this is actually a true story of where we came from. And if that's the case, then I have been successful through all of that time. That whole road is littered with the bones of those who couldn't adapt, who couldn't adjust to the crisis of their time, whatever it was. But somehow I feel like we have this perfect pedigree, and that we must have some hidden resources that we're not aware of yet. And what could trigger us off so that we begin to identify with that larger body of ourselves rather than merely this tunnel vision that we have now, looking only at this very immediate time? So in the end nothing but a miracle would be of any use at this time. When you look at the rate of destruction, whether it's of the rainforest or the ozone layer, the climate, all of these things that are happening, and if you were to multiply all of the efforts of conservationists by a factor of ten or even a hundred, it wouldn't be enough. So there's nothing on the horizon that can help us, you know.

And so then you think well, what kind of a miracle would that be? Well, it would be a very simple one, really. All that it would need would be for human beings to wake up one day different than they were the day before and realizing that this is the end unless we make these changes, and then deciding to make the change. That doesn't seem like a very likely thing to happen, but on the other hand the whole road that we've traveled is so littered with miracles that it's only our strange kind of modern psyche that refuses to see it. I mean the miracle of being descended from a fish that chose to leave the water and walk on the land--well, anyone with a pedigree like that, you can't lose hope.


A Natural History of Peace
By Robert M. Sapolsky
Foreign Affairs
January-February 2006 Edition

A popular scientist says that contrary to past beliefs, humans are not 'killer apes' destined for violent conflict, but can make their own history.

Beyond Stones & Bones
The new science of the brain and DNA is rewriting the history of human origins.
By Sharon Begley
Newsweek, 3/19/2007

" ...Afarensis women and men stood three to five feet tall and weighed 60 to 100 pounds. They had small teeth good for fruits and nuts, but not meat. (The available prey was enough to make one a confirmed vegetarian: hyenas the size of bears, saber-toothed cats and other mega-reptiles and raptors.) That suggests that early humans were more often prey than predators, says anthropologist Robert Sussman of Washington University, coauthor of the 2005 book "Man the Hunted." The evidence is as stark as the many fossil skulls containing holes made by big cats and talon marks from raptors.
The realization that early humans were the hunted and not hunters has upended traditional ideas about what it takes for a species to thrive. For decades the reigning view had been that hunting prowess and the ability to vanquish competitors was the key to our ancestors' evolutionary success (an idea fostered, critics now say, by the male domination of anthropology during most of the 20th century). But prey species do not owe their survival to anything of the sort, argues Sussman. Instead, they rely on their wits and, especially, social skills to survive. Being hunted brought evolutionary pressure on our ancestors to cooperate and live in cohesive groups. That, more than aggression and warfare, is our evolutionary legacy.
Both genetics and paleoneurology back that up. A hormone called oxytocin, best-known for inducing labor and lactation in women, also operates in the brain (of both sexes). There, it promotes trust during interactions with other people, and thus the cooperative behavior that lets groups of people live together for the common good...


SAM SMITH - Here's one reason Barack Obama talks so much about the audacity of hope: his policies are so meek.

For example, he is clearly afraid to get anywhere near single payer healthcare so he comes up with a plan where the federal government would subsidize the auto companies' healthcare in return for more fuel efficient cars.

Aside from the fact that this is in opposition to far wiser efforts to disassociate healthcare from the work place, aside from the fact it is a corporatist policy that makes government even more a hostage of industry, aside from the subsidy to General Motors and its ilk, Obama not only is afraid of challenging the health insurance industry, he wants government to help further fill its trough. Although less bizarre than Hillary Clinton's 1990s health plan, there is no justification for it other than pure political convenience.

If this is the best he can come up with, there's good reason he's taken the easy way out and applied the marketing principles of Tony Robbins and Marianne Williamson to a political campaign. Having gone through eight years of EST with Bill Clinton and almost that much of AA with George Bush, we should be burned out on psycho-therapeutics as opposed to physical reality but sadly many are taken in by Obama's covert message that if you trust in hope you don't have to worry about the details like pensions and healthcare.

There are several problems with this.

One is that no one has presented the slightest evidence of why Obama's hope and faith is better than that of any of the other candidates.

The second problem is that hope is not audacious at all. Audacious would be doing something now, audacious would be taking a personal political risk because the country needs it, audacious would be saying something unconventional because the conventional is killing us. Audacity is not turning one's back on present needs and praying that the future will straighten it all out.

One of the best kept secrets in America today is the extent to which hope and faith are being used as seedy substitutes for action and reason. Too often, hope is a form of postponement and faith a substitute for action or facing the truth.

As they say in the 'hood, hope don't pay the cable.

And as Tijn Touber has noted, "If you hang on to hope, you'll always have to wait" and "waiting makes you passive."

Thus, someone like Obama functions as a political sedative. His message is that we don't have to worry so much about what's happening because we can let the future handle it.

This is not audacious; it's either a con or cowardice.

May 14, 2008
Legendary Author Gore Vidal on the Bush Presidency, History and the “United States of Amnesia”

AMY GOODMAN: What does “amnesia” mean to you? And how can—
GORE VIDAL: Well, it means what it literally means: people with no memory.
AMY GOODMAN: How do think that can be defeated, conquered in the United States?
GORE VIDAL: Well, it’s won. I don’t see how you’re going to defeat it now. People would forget to defeat it. ....

AMY GOODMAN: Do you hold out hope right now?
GORE VIDAL: Well, what hope?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s what I’m asking, if you have any.
GORE VIDAL: No, not much. You know, Benjamin Franklin, after the Constitution of 1789 was ready to—was being voted on, actually, in Philadelphia, he was leaving the hall, and he had been warned—the people running the Constitutional Convention, they knew he was very sharp-tongued and he was not an admirer of their works. He thought they were naive. He thought they were missing the point. He had read Aristotle, who explains how every republic has gone crashing. And he was leaving the hall, and an old lady that he knew said, “Well, men, what are you giving us?” He said, “Well, we’re giving you a republic, if you can keep it.”
Well, there were three or four boys who had been assigned to follow him around and make sure he didn’t say anything embarrassing to the people. Well, he went right around saying exactly what he wanted to say. So the kids sort of cornered him on the way out to the street, and they said, “Why do you take such a dark view of the Constitution? It’s the best work of some of the best people in the United States. Why are you so skeptical?” And he said, “Well, Aristotle or indeed history tells us that every republic of this nature has failed because of the corruption of the people.” And he stepped off the stage.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to happen right now?
GORE VIDAL: It’s happened. We’re broke. Do you follow television, as they find out we’re running out of food? That’s never happened in my lifetime.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there’s a way to fix this?
GORE VIDAL: A crash will do it. But that’s pretty extreme.


Joe Bageant | March 7, 2008 | Category: Letters from readers
Why bother to sign Declaration of Defeat?



Joe Bageant | April 4, 2008
The Audacity of Depression
Rage fatigue, plastic dirt and happy hour in techno-totalitarian America

... And like whoever else wins the presidency, Obama can never acknowledge any significant truth, such as that the nation is waaaaay beyond being just broke, and is even a net debtor nation to Mexico, or that the greatest touch-me-not in the U.S. political flower garden, the "American lifestyle," is toast. But then, we really do not expect political truth, but rather entertainment in a system where, as Frank Zappa said, politics is merely "the entertainment branch of industry."

Still, millions of Americans do grasp at The Audacity of Hope, a meaningless marketing slogan of the publishing industry if ever there was one. At least it has the word Audacity in it, something millions of folks are having trouble conjuring up the least shred of these days. And there is good old fashioned "Hope" of course -- that murky, undefined belief that some unknown force or magical unseen power will reverse the national condition -- will deliver us from what every bit of evidence indicates is irreversible, if not politically, then economically and ecologically: Collapse.

note: "Global Research" promotes the idea that Peak Oil is not real and highlights some of the false claims about 9/11, but this article is excellent


The Post-Bush Regime: A Prognosis
By Richard K. Moore
Global Research, December 27, 2007

Only when you have reached that deep level of hopelessness, where you see no avenue of escape, can you clear your mind enough to begin to see where the real problem lies. The real problem lies, my friends, in the fact that you and I have nothing to say about how our societies are run. Any one of us has more sense than the people who are running things, and we certainly have our fellow beings more at heart. Our problem lies in our own powerlessness, leaving power in the hands of those who always abuse it, in one way or another, in one age after another.

Our challenge as a sentient species, and our response if we seek to do anything about the growth-thru-genocide agenda, is to begin to empower ourselves, us ordinary people, without reference to the useless political process. How to pursue our empowerment must be the aim of our investigations, and pursuing that empowerment must be the point of our activism.

"'Hopelessness' is one aspect of mental distress. It is often derived from unfulfillable, rather than from merely unfulfilled, desires and wishes focused on impossible aims. It diminishes with the development of capability to change aim. Its counterpart is not just 'hope' but enthusiasm and zest."
-- Barbara Betz, M.D. International Journal of Psychiatry. May, 1968



OptimismPositivity, Hope, Purpose

The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.
-- CG Jung

The information we are promoting is decidedly not pleasant or reassuring. Much of it can be shocking, frightening, and depressing.
There may seem to be no justification for hope or optimism when faced with fanatical authoritarian leadership, environmental catastrophe, and a brainwashing corporate-controlled media. We live in a world that definitely seems to be getting worse rather than better.
But there is a way by which facing these daunting realities we can reach new levels of clarity, optimism, and purpose. We know--we’ve been through it personally. By coming to understand the nature of our predicament, no matter how dire, we have taken the first step towards doing something about it.
Action, facing and addressing things rather than running way from them, is the heart of optimism. You will notice that many people who are actively involved in trying to change the world have a sense of inner strength and hope.

It's my feeling, one that swings between conviction and wild hope, that we're at a point in species consciousness where we're about to grasp both the importance and rightness of helping the planet heal the injuries we've mindlessly inflicted. It's tempting to think of [environmental] restoration as a new genre of the healing arts, but in fact we have hardly begun to wash the wounds, much less address the psycho-social pathologies and self-destructive contempt that fuel the affliction. In caring for the Earth, we may heal ourselves, but at present the art of restoration is more janitorial than medicinal. We've made a mess of creation, and now we need to clean it up.
-- Jim Dodge, "Life Work," Whole Earth Review, Spring 1990, p. 3

We humans are manufacturing several city-busting nuclear weapons every day. We are destroying an acre of life-giving forest ever second. New evidence of the danger we pose to ourselves appears daily. But what gives me hope is the obvious, growing, worldwide determination to change our ways, and soon.
-- Carl Sagan, "Five Years On Planet Earth--And Beyond," Parade, April 30, 1989, p. 18


10 Feb 2006 | filed under spirit
Navigating the collapse of civilization: a spiritual map
by Carolyn Baker, Ph.D.


Killing Hope, Enlivening Options
by Carolyn Baker


Letting Go of Hope
By Margaret Wheatley
t r u t h o u t | Perspective


Orion Magazine
May - June 2006
Beyond Hope
by Derrick Jensen

"Frankly, I don't have much hope. But I think that's a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth."



Author Derrick Jensen Pacifists, Hate Mail, and the End of the Industrial Economy
By Zoe Blunt

Deep ecology author Derrick Jensen discusses bringing down western civilization and reactions to his latest book Endgame: the Problem of Civilization.

False hope is one of the things that binds us to unlivable situations. That's one of the reasons why, like I mentioned earlier, that at every step of the way it was in the Jews' rational best interest to not resist [the Nazis]. There's a false hope that if they just go along, they won't get killed. And my mother – one of the reasons she stayed with my father is because of the false hope that he would change.
And what are the false hopes that bind us to this system? I mean, does anyone really think that Mac-Blo is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone think that Monsanto is going to stop Monsanto-ing because we ask nicely? Oh, if we could just get a Democrat in the White House, things would be okay!
I was bashing hope at a talk I did a couple years ago, and someone in the audience interrupted to shout out, "What is your definition of hope?" I didn't have one, so I asked them to define it. And the definition they came up with was that hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.
But I'm not interested in hope. I'm interested in agency. I'm interested in us finding what we love, and figuring out what it will take to defend our beloved, and doing it.


No Change for me: I want Bills
US Election Circus Awash in Cliches


.... I don’t endorse Ron Paul, or Dennis Kucinich, or anyone else involved in this farce. Neither will have much effect on a system so rotten and rigged as to make real change anathema to the system, and therefore out of bounds for polite discussion. And before the cynics call me cynical, I believe firmly that hope springs eternal, and that true and lasting change is the only real hope for our country and our world. It is the peddling of false hope that constitutes a war crime. Both the Japanese and Nazi empires peddled such hope to the end, and had their people firmly convinced that victory was around the corner. So perhaps I’m still a bit naïve after all. Still, and contrary to experience, I continue to be shocked at how brazen the agents of the system will be in their attempt to drive citizens toward the cattle chute of ideological pablum. And until Americans shake off their political rufinol and realize that the excluded candidates speak for them more often than the approved ones, we can forget any improvements to a system driving us into bankruptcy and financial slavery: the only real change we can count on is the dwindling few coins that jingle in our pockets.

© 2008 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to danielpwelch.com.

Hope and the Holocaust: the Nazis used hope as a weapon

In 1941, the Nazis invaded Lithuania, imprisoned the Jews of Vilna into a ghetto, and started killing thousands of them in a pit outside of the town. After a while, a woman managed to stagger back to the ghetto after only being wounded at the shooting pits. The doctor who treated her became convinced she was telling the truth, and tried to warn the rest of the community about the fate the Nazis had in store for them. He found it extremely difficult to persuade people - not because they'd done any research of their own to discredit the story - but because psychologically it was too difficult to cope with, and therefore denial was used instead to get through the misery of their daily lives. Needless to say, everyone was eventually killed save those who hid or fled to the forests. This story is from the book "Treblinka" by Jean-Francois Steiner.

"I have been aware for decades of Albert Camus's insistence that we be neither victims nor executioners, that we avoid institutions and actions in which these categories come into being. ... Camus in fact learned his original lesson from participating in the anti-Nazi underground. ... we are capable of acting on it, however imperfectly -- capable of learning from carefully examined past evil."
-- Robert Jay Lifton, "The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide," Basic Books (1986), p. xiii

from the book Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally, regarding the refusal of the Judenrat (Nazi installed Jewish Council) in the Krakow Ghetto to disclose to their fellow Jews their knowledge of the Belzec death camp:

"It was no use bringing such tidings to the Judenrat. The Judenrat Council did not consider it civilly advisable to tell the ghetto dwellers anything about the camps. people would merely be distressed; there would be disorder in the streets, and it would not go unpunished. It was always better to let people hear wild rumors, decide they were exaggerated, fall back on hope."


Emanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto

"I am deeply convinced that even today, when the meagre remnant of the Jews of Warsaw know about Treblinka, there are still hundreds and perhaps even thousands of people who nevertheless believe in the bogus reports about an alleged children’s camp. Thus just a few days ago, rumours circulated about 2,000 children who had returned from Treblinka. I believe that years after this war ends, when all the secrets about the death camps have long been exposed, wretched mothers will continue to dream that the children torn from them are still alive somewhere in the depths of Russia...”


On 31 August 1941, before the ghettos were established, Abba Kovner, a young Jew, witnessed an Aktion commence, as a result of which 2,019 Jewish women, 864 men and 817 children were taken from Vilnius in trucks to Ponary and murdered. Nobody knew of their fate until on 3 September 1941, a dishevelled Jewish woman arrived in the city. She spoke to a doctor, Meir Mark Dvorjetsky. Wounded, she had escaped from Ponary. It was not a labour camp but an extermination site. The woman was alive because men were shot first. Only by being amongst the last to be shot and thus not covered by the bodies of those already dead or mortally wounded, could a person survive.
On 1 September 1941, 4,000-5,000 (3,700 - according to EK3 chief SS-Standartenführer Karl Jäger) Vilnius Jews were herded together by the Germans. An endless column walked through the nocturnal streets. Nearly nobody knew what would happen to them. One day later, on 2 September 1941, the witness Sakowicz saw them arriving at the Ponary killing site. Only two girls survived this massacre by crawling out of the pits: the 16 years-old Pesia Szlos and the 11 years-old Judyta Trojak.
After 3 September 1941, six survivors are known to have crawled out of the pit alive. All of them were girls or women. Dvorjetsky related the woman’s story to a gathering of Vilnius' Jews. They refused to believe him, accusing him of panic mongering. The Aktion continued for four days, resulting in 8,000 deaths.


Testimony from the Eichmann trial

Attorney General: When you came there, did you know what was the place you had arrived at?
Witness Lindwasser: No. I knew it was Treblinka, but we did not know the purpose.
Q. Had you heard about Treblinka in Warsaw?
A. We had heard about Treblinka.
Q. Did you know that Jews were being exterminated at Treblinka?
A. We did not believe it.
Q. You did not believe it. Why?
A. Why? This would, perhaps, be difficult to answer. Possibly, it is an individual matter for each person. One simply could not grasp that such a thing was possible - actual extermination. Rumours reached Warsaw that the Germans were sending people out to work. And simply, it was better to cling to this idea.

from the fourth leaflet of the White Rose (German student group that dared to publish leaflets about the Holocaust, 1942)

"With total brutality the chasm that separates the better portion of the nation from everything that is identified with National Socialism must be opened wide. For Hitler and his followers there is no punishment on this earth commensurate with their crimes. But out of love for coming generations we must make an example after the conclusion of the war, so that no one will ever again have the slightest urge to try a similar action. And do not forget the petty scoundrels in this regime; note their names, so that none will go free! They should not find it possible, having had their part in these abominable crimes, at the last minute to rally to another flag and then act as if nothing has happened!"


second leaflet of the White Rose, 1942

Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them - or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought. Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cried out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at least start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this "government" which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty! It is not too late, however, to do away with this most reprehensible of all miscarriages of government, so as to avoid being burdened with even greater guilt. Now, when in recent years our eyes have been opened, when we know exactly who our adversary is, it is high time to root out this brown horde. Up until the outbreak of the war the larger part of the German people were blinded; the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect. But now, now that we have recognized them for what they are, it must be the sole and first duty, the holiest duty of every German to destroy these beasts.


[-] Jerry McManus on May 5, 2008 - 3:59pm | Permalink | Subthread | Comments top
All sounds good. Only one thing in the way. Us.

This has all been written of, theorized about and sincerely pondered for at least 40 years.

Thanks for bringing that up, I had much the same reaction.

This is going to sound monstrously off-topic, but bear with me. There was a show on PBS the other night that dramatized the miraculous escape of two men from Auschwitz during WWII. After several days of severe hardship they managed to make it to the border and freedom, wherepon they immediately set out to warn the nearest Jewish council of what was happening in the death camps, something the Nazi's had largely been able to conceal through deception.

The reaction? No one believed them. The deportation of the Hungarian Jews went ahead as scheduled and 100's of thousands were sent to the gas chambers, choosing to believe instead they were only being relocated to work camps despite having been warned of the truth.

Similar stories have been told by other survivors in the camps who tried to warn people even as they were being herded naked into the "shower room", and they too were met with disbelief.

Even today, aid workers who have witnessed the death, er, I mean the refugee camps in Africa have found that they cannot talk about their experiences for more than a minute or two before their friends politely change the subject.

What's my point? If the truth is too terrible to hear, it's simply part of human nature to deny it. The ghastly and horrific prospect of the human population crashing and billions dying due to depleted resources, wasted soils, poisoned air and water, and devestated ecosystems has been clearly articulated for several decades now, but what do you know, no one wants to hear it.


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[-] teoc on May 5, 2008 - 4:23pm | Permalink | Subthread | Comments top
Thanks for that, much more eloquently profound in a blood freezing kind of way.

Denial is a powerful part of the human mind.

We are all frogs sitting in the proverbial pot of water that is being brought to a boil and this fact has been brought to our reptilian attention for at least 40 years in various persuasive and popular venues.

It is like the story about the frog and the scorpion looking for a ride across the river...well you know the story. The punch line/death scene comes with the scorpion having stung the frog is asked by said frog, "Why did you do that now we are both going to die!" To which the scorpion says "Couldn't be helped, it's in my nature."

I guess some of us have the nature of frogs and some of us have the nature of scorpions and so far the scorpions among us would seem to have the upper hand.

But I am rooting for my fellow frogs to pull it out in the final inning—can't be helped it's in my nature.

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[-] Carolus Obscurus on May 5, 2008 - 4:25pm | Permalink | Subthread | Comments top
You are monstrously on topic, actually.

There a still a handful of diehards who don't believe that Jews were murdered en masse during WWII -- and a very large number who don't believe that the Ukrainian famine ever occurred, or that there was an Armenian Holocaust. Etcetera. And yes, it's part of human nature to deny these realities.

No problem -- when I hear the word Africa, I reach for my remote control. I switch channels. That's the big question: if millions die in a famine, and the media are there to cover it, and you change programmes once you hear the A-word, did that famine really happen?

Ask a philosopher....


The hope that kills
Despite the madness of war, we lived for a world that would be different. For a better world to come when all this is over. And perhaps even our being here is a step towards that world. Do you really think that, without the hope that such a world is possible, that the rights of man will be restored again, we could stand the concentration camp even for one day? It is that very hope that makes people go without a murmur to the gas chambers, keeps them from risking a revolt, paralyses them into numb inactivity. It is hope that breaks down family ties, makes mothers renounce their children, or wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands kill. It is hope that compels man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation. Ah, and not even the hope for a different, better world, but simply for life, a life of peace and rest. Never before in the history of mankind has hope been stronger than man, but never also has it done so much harm as it has in this war, in this concentration camp. We were never taught how to give up hope, and this is why today we perish in gas chambers.
-- Tadeusz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

For purposes of defense, reality can be distorted not only in memory but in the very act of taking place. Throughout the year of my imprisonment in Auschwitz I had Alberto D. as a fraternal friend: he was a robust, courageous young man, more clearsighted than the average and therefore very critical of the many who fabricated for themselves, and reciprocally administered to each other, consolatory illusions ("The war will be over in two weeks", "There will be no more selections", "The English have landed in Greece", "The Polish Partisans are about to liberate the camp," and so on, rumors heard nearly every day and punctually given the lie by reality). Alberto had been deported together with his forty-five year old father. In the imminence of the great selection of October 1944, Alberto and I had commented on this event with fright, impotent rage, rebellion, resignation, but without seeking refuge in comforting truths. The selection came, Alberto's "old" father was chosen for the gas, and in the space of a few hours, Alberto changed. He had heard rumors that seemed to him worthy of belief: the Russians are close by, the Germans would no longer dare persist in this slaughter, that was not a selection like the others, it was not for the gas chamber, but had been made to choose the weakened but salvageable prisoners, in fact like his father, who was very tired but not ill; indeed, he even knew where they would be sent, to Jaworzno, not far away, to a special camp for convalescents fit only for light labor.
Naturally, his father was never seen again, and Alberto himself vanished during the evacuation march from the camp, in January 1945.
-- Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, pp. 33-34.

The hope that sustains
Let me see your arm....Hmmm....Your number starts with seventeen. In Hebrew, that's "K'Minyan Tov". Seventeen is a very good omen...
(He was a priest. He wasn't Jewish--but very intelligent!)
It ends with 13, the day a Jewish boy becomes a man...And look! Added together it totals 18. That's "Chai", the Hebrew number of life. I can't know if I'll survive this hell, but I'm certain you'll come through all this alive!
(I started to believe. I tell you, he put another life in me. And whenver it was very bad I looked and said:"Yes. The priest was right! It totals eighteen.")
Art Spiegelman, Maus II, p. 28.



Gusta Draenger's incentive to continue to resist was the legacy the Jews would leave for future generations. She and other resistance members envisioned the historical significance of their sacrifices:

What normal thinking person would suffer all this in silence? Future generations will want to know what overwhelming motive could have restrained us from acting heroically. If we don't act now, history will condemn us forever. Whatever we do we're doomed, but we can still save our souls. The least we can do now is leave a legacy of human dignity that will be honored by someone someday. 101

Zivia Lubetkin had similar source to draw from. She wrote In the Days of Destruction and Revolt:

There wasn't much hope, but people believed in what they were doing. Young people, together, somehow are not afraid. It was absolutely clear to us that if we did nothing, the entire Jewish community of Poland would have been murdered without having uttered a cry of protest. This realization gave us strength and not simply kill ourselves in despair." 102