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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

As Predicted: Armchair Warriors Have Failed Us



I'm disappointed in my fellow Americans.

But even more than that, I'm just flat out surprised.

I am painfully aware that most Americans are ignorant of history. Few people seem to have any idea of where we came from. Fewer still can identify patterns from the past and apply them to the present or future. 

It's a glaring problem with real-life consequences every day.

History is not just memorizing facts: It's about having a historical consciousness--it's who we are, where we came from, what we are all about and what we mean (and have meant) to each other. Our awareness is pretty abysmal.

Those who do study history are often fed the narrative of the Empire, which is missing an awful lot, to say the least. It is also chock full of inaccuracies (otherwise known as lies). All you have to do is check out Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States to realize our basic understanding of history has all the structural integrity of Swiss cheese.

Most history textbooks read more like a propaganda tool than an educational endeavor.

But I always thought there was at least one thing we wouldn't get wrong.

There was at least one thing that couldn't possibly happen here in the USA--we've actually been warned about it thoroughly and consistently, and we've been educated on it well enough.

If America has anything, it has an army of armchair warriors. You know the type: Middle aged white guys who saturate themselves with regular doses of World War II documentaries. They are fixated on the carnage, the death tolls and the heroic and not-so-heroic deeds of yesteryear. These guys can narrate every step of the rise of the (evil) Nazi empire followed by the banding together of the (good) Allies--the latter crawled out of the Great Depression to overcome the Axis powers in the 'war to end all wars.'

It's the stuff of legends. 

It makes a man salivate just hearing about it, Amen?

[To be correct: The 'war to end all wars' was actually World War I. But we didn't learn the lessons of that war so we had an even bigger 'war to end all wars' about 22 years later. I digress.]

You see, there's a reason why the History Channel is commonly referred to as the "Hitler" Channel.

This cornerstone of cable TV is packed with almost non-stop WWII footage, re-enactments and talking heads with glory stories of triumph and tragedy. It's enough to get those middle aged guys to feel a little bit of adrenaline and sexual excitement from time to time. Call it a "war-gasm"--it's truly satisfying. And they don't even have to actually leave the comfort of their armchair and actually take any risks to do it.

The USA is awash with poor misconceptions of history. It's easy to see how we would be vulnerable to making any number of catastrophic policy decisions based on how poorly we understand how the world has arrived at this moment--and we certainly do make those mistakes over and over again.

But out of all the things we suck at, it always seemed there was one thing we would not screw up: 

We would see the rise of a Hitler-esque leader from ten thousand miles away and stop that person cold at the first resemblance of a Nazi salute.

Yet, the very people who have been immersed in these documentaries as an utter lifestyle . . .

Who have furniture-sized World War II commemorative books on their coffee tables . . .

Whose kids buy them "The Complete Rise and Fall of the Nazi Empire" on DVD for Christmas . . .

These are very often
          the very same people
          who very well plan
to vote for Donald Trump come November:

Enraged, disaffected white guys.

They shrug their shoulders at Trump's many guffaws, his whipping up of crowds into a hysteria of rage and near-constant demonizing of immigrants and Muslims.

[Note: It does not take a PhD in History to realize that "immigrants and Muslims" sounds eerily familiar to Hitler's "Jews and Gypsies."]

I'm not saying that Trump IS Hitler. There are differences. But let's not get so hung up on the differences that we fail to see in Trump the makings of the biggest mistake our country could ever make. Whether he's "more like a poor man's Mussolini" than "a Hitler protégé" is a nuance we can debate at a later time. The fact remains: He IS a demagogue. And he is playing right out of the Nazi playbook to a tee. We don't know what he would do as an elected leader, but any student of History--or the History Channel--should be well aware of the colossal mistake of feeding Trump and his movement.

Demagogues are leaders who manipulate people through their prejudices. They usually have a violent, authoritarian style and openly mock attempts to bring educated nuance to complex issues.

Trump is following the simple formula of a demagogue:  Take a population that is discontented due to their falling standard of living. Drum into them the message to be constantly afraid and to blame their problems on some already-marginalized, already-poor groups (usually groups who have little to nothing to do with their falling standard of living). Then tell them you are the strong, authoritarian daddy-figure who's going to whip the world back into shape.

You know:  Like in Hollywood. In the voice of movie preview guy Don LaFontaine: "The world is in shambles, chaos is in order... but ONE MAN will rise up to save the world . . ."

Armchair warriors can't differentiate very well between Hollywood and history.

Getting the poor whites to blame the poor blacks is the oldest trick in the book. The status quo keeps using it, though, because it's the damndest thing: It just keeps working.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It bears mentioning that fear is often the way that companies market to you. For example, in the days of rising gasoline costs and climate change, marketers have convinced a large swath of the US public to own gas-guzzling, expensive SUVs for all their "off road" adventures (of which these armchair warriors have few). It's not a sensible purchase. SUVs are hyped to make you feel powerful, even though you are clearly not powerful if you are so easily manipulated into emptying your wallet for something as ridiculous as an SUV. It's the illusion of safety. It's fear. It's allusions of power. See my last post about the reptilian brain for more on this.

History is full of demagogues. For the life of me, I can't understand why the human race has not yet figured out a way to stop this phenomenon. Trump is only a very recent incarnation of something the human race has been through time,
     and time,
          and time,
               and time again.

But then again, we'd all know that if we knew history better.

***

My logic comes full circle as I have to admit: It's my own ignorance of history that causes me to be surprised by this:

Don Henley sings:  Armchair warriors often fail, and we've been poisoned by these fairy tales.

This isn't the first time that armchair warriors have let us down. Their starry-eyed glory lust has led many of their young sons to debilitating wars and their nations to ruin. Armchair warriors, armchair quarterbacks, armchair theologians--weighing in on the struggles of someone else's life from the insulated comfort of their suburban living rooms does not make for the best judgments, to say the least. A good shepherd ought to smell like the sheep, says Pope Francis.

If you find someone who demands harsh treatment toward immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT community or anyone--odds are it is someone who has little personal knowledge or experience of that community.

Armchair warrioring is a losing proposition.  Proof: Even after their endless hours of Hitler-a-thons, they couldn't even get the Trump situation right.

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