Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Free Chocolate

I wanted to title this posting “Politics” but I know everyone is so tired of this election that you would skip any blog posting with a title like that. Please stay with me today. It’s not about US politics and it’s not even about current politics. It’s about what I learned about world history/politics while we were in Europe. And basically what I learned is that we haven’t learned anything.

We visited about seven very, very old cities. (Rome pre-dates Christ.) Some were big and massively historical and some were as small as a footnote in the history books. But they were all so much older than anything we have here in the US that I was constantly amazed at their age. And they all had about the same basic story. Through the stories our guide told we went back in time to when all politics really were local.

Towns usually grew up around a river or ocean because water was the best way to move goods and sell them. If you wanted a town to grow you needed a product to sell but also you needed a way to get it out to the buyers. So some enterprising guy would build a bridge across the river and charge a toll to use it. This guy would get incredibly rich off the tolls. Then another guy might build a second bridge to get a share of the money. Eventually one guy would burn down the other bridge so he could pocket all the money. With wealth comes power.

And with great wealth you are free to use it anyway you please. I learned that the incredibly wealthy people love to build things. We walked through countless cathedrals, palaces, museums and one massive beer hall—all built by the richest guy in town. All built mostly just to show off. Maybe the churches were built to impress God or perhaps atone for a few sins. Some of these guys were in the Bill Gates category of wealth and that’s where you get these magnificent cathedrals and art collections.

I came away with the understanding that some of the most magnificient buildings and works of art in the world are a result of one rich guy’s patronage. I kinda owe them a big Thank You for a lot of the things I enjoyed most in Europe.

But even wealth couldn’t stand up to power sometimes unless you knew how to use it. With wealth and power comes responsibility. Most of the wealthy guys tried to take care of their towns. The guy in Munich made nice to Hitler and as a result, Hitler took care of Munich as long as he could. The richest guy in Munich had made a difference—he bought them some time-- when he allied himself with Hitler.

On about the third or fourth day of the tour I learned “the Swiss had maintained such a strict attitude of neutrality that they turned away Jewish refugees at their border. No one bothered the Swiss as a result.“

I spent the rest of our two weeks trying to forget that phrase but I couldn’t. It came back to me almost daily. It came back to me when I stood in the square in Munich. And when I visited Dachau. And I think about it still.

The Swiss turned away Jewish refugees at their border.

What price do you pay for neutrality? Switzerland is just a beautiful country. And it has never been bombed. The people all seem very nice and their air is impeccably clean. There has to be a price, doesn’t there? Or is it a matter of survival, just doing what you have to in order to survive? Do we hide our religious icons like Sophie Fredrick did?  Go along to get along? Hold our breath until the war passes?

Where do we draw the line? Is the message today “Peace at any Price?”

I checked with Wikipedia and found out that 60 million people died in World War II. This was two and a half percent (2.5%) of the world’s population at that time, the greatest loss of human life in history. This number includes six million Jews. But it does not include the Swiss because nobody in Switzerland died. Because they were neutral. Because they turned away all the Jews at their border seeking refuge.

At what cost? What price does your soul pay for turning away people seeking safety?

Lives were saved in Switzerland by remaining neutral. By the war’s end six million Jews had died. Six million people who weren’t hurting anyone, weren’t in combat, just minding their own business, their only crime being who they were. The other 54 million were mostly young men at the prime of their lives or innocent civilians.

When do you appease and when do you fight? And is it ever worth it?

There has to be a price, doesn’t there? Something in my gut says there has to be but I can’t find it. What does Peace at Any Price mean?

No answers today, just questions. Next week we can talk about something more uplifting like the hurricane or the great plagues.

However, I do have a website to refer you to and a cool graphic from them:
Compassion Action Network





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