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First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Pastor Martin Niemoeller.

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A Memory Upgrade for America - Monday, August 30, 2010 at 00:01

 

A Memory Upgrade for America

David C. Stolinsky, MD
Aug. 30, 2010

Recently I upgraded the memory on my computer. It runs Windows Vista and was slow with only 1 gigabyte of memory. I had been told that 2 gigabytes were the minimum for optimum function, but I was lazy. Inertia is a property of matter, but regrettably it is also a property of people. Finally I upgraded the memory to 2 gigabytes. Everything is faster, including word processing and Web surfing.

Human beings are not computers − except for bureaucrats, that is. But if we stumble along with inadequate memory, everything we do is less efficient. In particular, our knowledge of the world around us − the human equivalent of Web surfing − is seriously impaired. And in a dangerous world, that can be fatal.

People learn from the past in order to avoid danger in the present. But if they learn nothing, or if they learn the wrong lessons, they can’t avoid danger.

World War II.

Hitler took power when Germany had been weakened by economic and social disorder. He rebuilt its armed forces in violation of the treaty that ended World War I, and the “world community” did nothing. He reoccupied the Rhineland, and the “world community” did nothing. He seized part of Czechoslovakia, and the “world community” did nothing. He grabbed the rest of Czechoslovakia, and still the “world community” did nothing. Finally he invaded Poland, and even then, the “world community” did nothing. Only Britain and France did something − they declared war. The bloodiest war in history had begun.

From this, some people learn that evil should be stopped when it is still weak, or it will have to be fought after it has grown strong. But other people learn that violence is always wrong. To paraphrase Dennis Prager, some people learn that we should fight evil, but other people learn that it is evil to fight, thus paving the way for the next Hitler.

If you doubt this, observe people’s reaction to Iranian leader Ahmadinejad’s threat to wipe Israel off the map and then bring down America, while Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Some people want to stop him. Other people want to appeal to the “world community,” which means to do nothing – and wait for the fireballs and mushroom clouds.

McCarthyism.

Senator Joseph McCarthy held hearings to expose communists in government. He exposed some communists, but he was more successful at self-promotion. A conservative friend of mine never forgave him for giving anti-communists a bad name.

McCarthy claimed he had a list of 205 communists in the State Department. No doubt there were communists in the State Department, but McCarthy never produced his list. “McCarthyism” came to mean making accusations without proof.

From this bad example, some people learn to back up accusations with evidence. But other people learn to follow the bad example. A colleague of mine called Rush Limbaugh a “fascist.” When I asked what Rush said that was fascistic, my colleague answered with a snort. He felt no obligation to support his charge. The same man called me a “Nazi” for not condemning the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

A former friend said she could no longer have dinner with us, because I was a “Nazi” for supporting our war against terrorists. I knew a black conservative who had been called a “Klansman.” Conservative talk-show hosts are called similar terrible names. After the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton blamed them for inciting violence, also without giving a single example. That’s pure McCarthyism.

The blacklist.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood maintained a blacklist of suspected communists. Those on the list could not work. From this episode, some people learned never to blacklist anyone for suspected political beliefs. But other people learned to use the same methods on suspected conservatives.

Sharon Lawrence is an actress who had a starring role on “NYPD Blue” and appeared in 37 films and TV shows. But her career was interrupted when her photo appeared on the same page of People magazine as a photo of President Bush. The stories were unrelated – the photos just happened to be close to each other.

Lawrence is a Democrat. But Hollywood moguls assumed she was (horror!) a Republican. She received hate mail. A producer said, “I have to ask, are you really a Republican?” This occurred in a production meeting and had negative employment implications.

Ms. Lawrence had to inform her colleagues and “friends” that she was really not a Republican. Whether this campaign was successful is still in doubt. I don’t recall seeing her on TV lately.

The Los Angeles Times carried an opinion piece by Peter Mehlman, a TV writer and producer. He complained that his last name was the same as Ken Mehlman, then chairman of the Republican Party. Peter felt it necessary to state, “I am not, and categorically deny ever having been in any way, related to Ken Mehlman.”

His denial was eerily similar to the denial required of suspected communists who were hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In order to work again, they had to proclaim before the cameras, “I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party.”

Peter Mehlman was trying to avoid Sippenhaft, the Nazi practice of punishing the relatives of those who were accused of disloyalty. Communists used similar tactics. He had to publish an article in a leading liberal paper, so prospective employers would know he was innocent of the crime of being related to a Republican.

During World War II, an American was found with the name Hitler. Reporters asked him why he didn’t change his name. He replied, “Let him change his name!” Back then, we were Americans, not wimps.

Mehlman then wrote an article claiming that George W. Bush was worse than Hitler or Stalin. Did Mehlman actually believe this nauseating libel? Or was he trying to impress his colleagues to get work? In either case, what does this say about Hollywood?

Censorship.

Robert Avrech is an Emmy-winning screenwriter who lost two jobs. The first script was rejected because it depicted terrorists as extremist Muslims rather than as right-wingers. He was told that showing terrorists as they really are would be “insensitive.” His bosses confused sensitivity with dishonesty. In Avrech’s words, “The political divide in Hollywood is now being felt in the most important quarter: the war against Islamic terrorism. Basically, Hollywood denies that such a war exists.”

The second script was rejected because Avrech refused to depict a Rush Limbaugh-like character with a pack of defamatory lies. Once again, his work was rejected for being too truthful. As he says, “When I confront these people with the truth, they look at me as if I am some visitor from some foreign planet. Which I guess I am.”

For years after 9/11, Hollywood was silent about our war on terrorists. When Tom Clancy’s novel “The Sum of All Fears” was made into a film, the terrorists who explode a nuclear bomb at the Super Bowl were transformed from extremist Muslims into European Nazis. That’s Hollywood’s idea of courage – ignore current enemies, and concentrate on enemies we defeated in 1945. It’s much safer that way.

But now, Hollywood finally is making films about the war. We see “Syriana,” which shows Americans as murderous money-grubbers, while the only sympathetic character is a Muslim suicide bomber. We see “In the Valley of Elah,” which shows a young soldier who returns from Iraq and is murdered. The film implies that he was murdered because of his service. In fact, veterans have incarceration and suicide rates similar to nonveterans. We see “Lions for Lambs,” which shows blacks and Hispanics going to war, while white boys stay home. This isn’t true. It is a lie left over from Vietnam.

TV shows like “Law and Order” and “Law and Order, SVU” neglect ordinary criminals to show U.S. troops returning from Iraq as homicidal crazies or suicidal misfits. This is another lie left over from Vietnam.

But where are pro-American films that show our troops’ heroism? “The Hurt Locker” stands out as an exception. If the government refuses to allow certain types of films, it’s called censorship. If Hollywood refuses to make certain types of films, it’s called artistic expression. But the result is the same.

Finally, we have Democratic proposals for the “Fairness Doctrine.” This would require radio talk shows, which are mainly conservative, to be monitored so that equal time would be given to liberal opinions. The effect would be to end political talk shows. Of course, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN and National Public Radio, which are overwhelmingly liberal, would continue unchanged. And the Internet could be regulated as well.

Tyrants use censorship to suppress “wrong” ideas. From this, some people learn to oppose censorship. Other people learn to use it.

In the end, what we learn from history reveals more about us than it does about history. It reveals our own biases − or those of our teachers. For example, any informed person would read our founding documents and conclude that America is grounded on religious principles. Not everyone is well informed, however. Far from it.

What we need is a memory upgrade.

Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: dstol@prodigy.net.

www.stolinsky.com