Let’s pause for a moment and reflect. To a large degree, the events of our lives shape who we are. We know this intuitively, but seldom do we stop to think about the actual relationship between those events and our attitudes and concerns. This particular blog entry is deeply personal to me, and thus to some extent, cathartic.
All of my life I’ve had a deep distrust, and, in fact, dislike of all authority figures. I freely admit that to this day when I see a policeman (or similar figure), although I know intellectually that he is charged with a difficult and often thankless job, my emotional response is almost always one of fear and loathing.
I’ve often wondered why that particular response is so deeply ingrained in my psyche. I’m a law abiding citizen, I strongly believe in contributing to the security and welfare of my country, and do so through the work that I’ve chosen to do. I pay my taxes, albeit grudgingly, and contribute to the public discourse. And yet, I’ve always felt a hair trigger away from rebelling and seeking my fortune in some lawless frontier. This dichotomy has often been a difficult one to manage.
My parents lived through the second world war. They were both too young to have participated, but they lived the better portion of their childhood through the event. My father on the American side, my mother on the German. My father’s older siblings all joined the armed services, he, since he was too young, stayed home and built models of airplanes that were used by the Army Air Corps to train pilots to recognize enemy aircraft.
Meanwhile, my mother spent her childhood fleeing from Russian soldiers, allied fighter aircraft, and countless other dangers to life and limb as she watched her country be systematically destroyed by the Allied war effort. Her father, my grandfather, was a colonel in the Luftwaffe. He flew missions largely on the Eastern Front. After the war he was tried as a war criminal, and narrowly escaped execution by the Russians. He passed away in the 50’s from a heart attack. I think by any standard, that is an awful lot for a young girl to live through.
My mother does not blame the Allies for these hardships. Make no mistake, she blames Hitler. She saw first hand what a socialist megalomaniac can do to a country. Her hatred for all things socialistic or totalitarian is palpable. When she was 25 years of age, she came to America and became an American citizen. And ever since she’s never avoided speaking her mind, often without regard to consequence, when the subject came near anything that smacked of oppression, repression, or authority without accountability.
During the war my mother’s aunt passed away. Her death certificate stated that she had died of a blood disease. Since that time the family was skeptical. She was known for speaking out against Hitler and his regime, and one day she simply disappeared. Some time later, my grandfather received the certificate.
Recently my uncle, still in Germany, decided to pursue the matter now that the archives were open. We now know what really happened to her. She was taken by the Gestapo, interned in a concentration camp and tortured. She finally died from a medical experiment that was conducted on her. She wasn’t Jewish or a Gypsy. She was a German citizen who had the courage of her convictions to speak out against her country’s regime and she paid the ultimate price for it.
In trying to come to terms with my feelings toward authority, I came to a philosophical accommodation. My belief is that it is a healthy practice for any citizen to regard all authority with a high degree of skepticism combined with a large dose of paranoia. I believe that such an outlook is in fact critical to guard against the sorts of things that my mother had to live through. To believe that “it can’t happen here” is simply the height of naive stupidity. The recent discovery of what actually happened to my great aunt has simply confirmed my commitment to that belief.
With this blog I have included a photo of part of my family. The woman is my great grandmother. The boy is my grandfather, and the young girl is aunt Martha. The photo was taken around 1912. When I look at that girl I see the face of my own daughter and I tell myself to always keep my dislike of authority in check, but never to let it die.