Thursday, March 25, 2010

Applaud Silently. Round Up All the Gypsies.

SherWords almost never gets political. Lord knows, the blogosphere has plenty of outlets for that sort of stuff. This venue is for other things, usually.

But once in a while, political things become just too damn overwhelming to ignore, and today is one of those times.

We are squirming now in a time when our federal politicians are locked in a "partisan" (read: tribal) battle so polarized that a man of massively-verifiable patriotism and honor is called a "nigger" and is spat upon, that congressmen's relatives are targeted with threats of violence, and that a national political figure can "target" foes on her website with gunsight crosshairs without censure from those who might benefit from her excess.

We are, in short, in a political time of grade-school intellect armed with automatic weapons.

We are also in a time of blind hatred of those who have reasoned opinions that are different from ours. For those of us who have been alive for more than six decades, that mix of attitudes and approaches is frighteningly familiar.


When I was in college in the 1960's, Eric Andersen was a musical icon right up there with Bob Dylan. I remember with sharp brilliance his "Today Is the Highway" wafting from dormitory windows in the spring of '66 -- but he sort of submerged after that spring of thirsty boots.

He went his way, and I went mine.

Three decades later, I re-discovered him. His career had been a middling one in the interim, but his life had proceeded in its own unscripted way, primarily in Europe. There, he had witnessed, with an American perspective, the insidious and virulent ways in which hatred can recapture its past triumphs. He wrote a number of songs that attempted to rip the masks of respect from hate.

And this is the most powerful of them, I think:


The rain falls down in Amsterdam the streets are wet and black
Midnights like November by the glow of a cigarette.

The girls on hash in station square looking stupid from the drugs.
When Marlene heard the boots march there were reasons to be dumb.
Shiny helmets in the shadows,
Those trains that left at night,
Those hiding in the cellars, those eyes afraid of light.

Something 'neath the border's poured poison in the well;
The creature has uncoiled and is crawling up from hell.

Here comes 1914,
Those cattle cars and yellow stars...

It's right back to the roots,
It's movin' in the open with a snarl and a growl,
The cages have been broken and the beast is on the prowl:

Fire bomb those houses, burn those refugees,
Be the crowd and do your work
Applauding silently.

Round up all the gypsies,
Go sell them on the trains.

Can't you smell the smoke now,
Drifting through the rain?

Jews, better draw your curtains,
You better lock your doors up tight.
They're snarling up in Rostock in the beer hall belly nights.
The Fourth Reich's coming now baby,
They're writing out the page in Rome, Berlin, and Stockholm...

The beast has left the cage.

Here comes 1932, here comes deja vu.

Those cattle cars and yellow stars --

Was there someone that you knew?

It's right there in the open -- somethings smelling bad --
The cages have been broken and the beast is a running mad --
Those canals and cozy houses,
Those reflections in the light,
You can almost feel it moving,
The monster in the night.

It's looking with its yellow eyes;
It's out to settle scores in the dim medieval distance.
Feel it breathing down your pores.

In Salt Lake City and in Rio
The beast can smell the flames.
It's faxing hate out in Marseilles, typing out your name --
You can hear the windows shatter as the time is drawing near:

Kristall Nacht come to town,
Welcome back to the house of mirrors!
The fire and the armbands and the iron arm salutes
Pointing to the scapegoat:
Was it me or was it you?

It's right there in the open --
Don't just stand there hoping --
The leashes have been broken
And the dogs are on the loose.

Now I have been here thinking how lucky I have been:
I never touched the barbed wire, never saw the money grin,
No rifle ever smashed my face, no bare electric shock...

But I'll confess up
All I know who I am and who I'm not.
To see retired killers is to see the lion yawn.
The skinheads do their dirty work for the cloak and dagger pawns,
The dark eyes will be waiting there
When the borders they are crossed.

So keep your filthy swastikas and shove your iron cross.

Here comes 1914,

Those cattle cars and yellow stars,
It's right back to the roots,
It's out there in the open,
It's crawling on the move,
The cages have been broken and the beast is on the loose.

Can't you smell the blood now,
Can't you smell the truth?

And the rain falls down in Amsterdam.


Mike Peterson said...

I've been tempted to go over to the library and look in the papers to see with what language those good ol' boy politicians denounced things like the beatings of the Freedom Riders, the bombing of the church, the murder of Viola Liuzzo ... I don't think the haters will get the majority they had in Germany, though there may be a Kristall Nacht in our future, but I do not think it's unrealistic to fear that we'll find some bodies buried in earthen dams, before sanity is re-established.

They denounced Janet Napolitano for suggesting that right-wing terrorism was a threat. Will they step forward and prove her wrong, or sit back and let their fan club prove her right?

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

The venom that has come out recently took me by surprise and it probably should not have. I thought i had a handle on the forces dividing the country into such extremes, but i reconnect with old schoolmates and find educated, well-read people into a paranoia thing that seems genuinely psychotic to me.

It's happening to people i don't expect it to happen to. I don't understand anything, and that's when it gets very scary because it's hard to pull the source up into the light when it's so obscure.

ronnie said...

From outside we watch with increasing despair. A not-insignificant proportion of your population seems to have literally gone mad.

I find myself waiting in dread for the domestic terror attack (a la Oklahoma City) that I worry is inevitable.

The worst part is I am unsure how the decent, compassionate majority can turn this around and get back to something like "normal".

Oh well. You survived the civil war, and the civil rights war. I guess you'll survive this too.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Not everybody survived those, ronnie. And, whether or not I like another side's views in those conflicts, those conflicts were at least about something.

This eruption of bile and hatred is about... what, exactly? Insurance regulations?

It appears to be hatred and fear and aggression for its own sake, an eruption of anger simply because... well, simply because.

This may get to be really, really ugly. Today, Sarah Palin and her myrmidons occupied a little town in Nevada because the Senate majority leader's FAMILY lives there -- that's not a great thing to do in a not great place to do it for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is this: trying to intimidate decision makers by proxy is a tactic that's already been patented by the mob.

And the mob -- the Mafia, Cosa Nostra, whatever -- is looking ever more respectable in comparison, ain't it?

Dann said...

I post the following with a great deal of trepidation. Sherwood has done a great deal to earn my respect over the years. I would not want to waste that over any political issue.


Is everyone on the American Left an anarchist thug? Do they all want to use chemical warfare on their political opponents? Do they all want to smash the windows of busloads of those that hold different political beliefs? Are they all likely to empty garbage containers in the streets, break storefront windows, and vandalize police cars? Are they secretly plotting the fire bombing of their political opponents? Are they just waiting for a chance to drop 50 pound bags of sand onto an interstate highway that is filled with their political opponents?

Absolutely not!

Might some of the hyper-charged rhetoric of the leaders of the left motivated those sorts of over-reactions?

Surely that is so. At it was then, so it is today.

No one's hands are clean on this issue. Comity has been eroding throughout my lifetime courtesy of leaders and polemicists from both sides of the aisle.

Wait a few years and the outragers and outraged will change places. The only difference will be the date on the calendar. The only way to make it stop is to see our own outrages through the eyes of those with whom we disagree.

I am scared when I stop to wonder exactly how much of this our country can take before it falls apart.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Your trepidation was unfounded, Dann. As usual, we have more agreement under the surface than our outward differences might imply.

I fervently hope that you are right when you say, "Wait a few years and the outragers and outraged will change places. The only difference will be the date on the calendar." What's going on now with the loonies seems very different, though, much more like what Eric Andersen sang about than the standard "left-versus-right" theatrics.

As I say, I hope you're right and I'm wrong.

Dann said...

Surety of foot usually comes after the step, Sherwood! [grin] Thanks very much just the same.

I don't know how optimistic I am about all this. I'm really kind of concerned. It seems that our nation is separating into two camps that have two, largely mutually exclusive ideas about how much government it too much.

I want things to end well, but until we begin to hear one another, I don't see how that's going to happen.


CJ said...

It is with a little fear and trepidation that I wade in among the intellectuals that write and read this blog, among whom I am not a peer. You have every right to use this blog for what ever purpose you see fit, that's the point of a blog I think. But I always enjoyed the warm fuzzy aspect of viewing the photos and comments. Bringing in politics changes that. I do want to make what should be an obvious point. Every group, right, left, green, conservative, liberal, whatever, attacts a fringe group of wacko's. I guess they are protected under the constitution to be wacko's. But they do not reflect the views of the tons of the more moderate members of the group. I have heard some suscribers to your camp (one we both know) say some really hateful things about people who believe differently. I do know I am glad we live in a place where we can have this kind of discussion and I hope we will all fight to protect that. Carolyn

Sherwood Harrington said...

Carolyn, I'll just refer you to my interchange above with my friend Dann, a smart conservative Marine, who made much the same point that you do. (You might enjoy his blog, by the way -- there's a link to it on my blogroll at the right side of my blog's screen.) I'll also repeat that I hope that the two of you are right, that the current lunacy is just normal battiness.

I do take a little bit of exception to the idea that I subscribe to a "camp," though. If that's where I am, it's mighty lacking in s'mores.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Re Dann's blog (to Carolyn): It's the link that begins "Give me liberty or give me Todd..."

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Fringe extremists have for sure been part of the process forever. My fear is that they are getting a greater sense of their own legitimacy from the attention, and the adulation they're getting on both sides. When a major network, followed by many columnists and talk shows, implies that your histrionics are heroic ... and then, their political opposites, while not approving, still seem to make you a major player, it's hard not to feel empowered, and like you've got a blessing to take your actions to a higher level. Let's hope not.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Excellent point, Ruth. Thanks.