Remember Kristallnacht, And Why Should I Even Have To Write That?

kristallnacht

On November 9, 1938, in an event that we now recognize as the beginning of the Holocaust, Hitler’s  Nazis began their campaign of terror against Jewish people by destroying their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. The violence, which continued through November 10 and was later dubbed “Kristallnacht,” or “Night of Broken Glass,” left approximately 100 Jews dead, 7,500 Jewish businesses damaged and hundreds of synagogues, homes, schools and graveyards vandalized. About 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, with many of them sent to concentration camps for several months until they promised to leave Germany.

The November 7 murder of a German diplomat in Paris by a 17-year-old Polish Jew became the provocation for the Kristallnacht attacks. On, 1938, Following the episode, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ordered German storm troopers to carry out “spontaneous demonstrations” against Jewish citizens, with local police and fire departments ordered not to interfere. Terrified by the sudden outpouring of official hate, some Jews, including entire families, committed suicide.

In a clear demonstration of the state of German ethics and justice at the time, Nazis blamed their Jewish victims for Kristallnacht and fined them 1 billion marks (or $400 million in 1938 dollars) for the low-level diplomat’s  death. This allowed the government to seize Jewish property and any insurance money owed to Jewish people for the destruction. The Nazis then enacted policies and laws that excluded Jews from all aspects of public life.

Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “The Forgotten Meaning of Labor Day”

The 1894 Pullman strike

It may be hard for Americans to get inspired to celebrate Labor Day for what it is supposed to honor, especially with teachers unions working to keep America locked down and students barely educated in pursuit of a partisan political agenda, and pro athlete unions bullying sports leagues into ruining their product by turning them into political propaganda vehicles, and the postal workers union partisan bias eroding trust in the upcoming election. Nonetheless, there is a good reason to celebrate Labor Day.

This Ethics Alarms post from 2012 explains what that reason is.

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

Today labor unions are controversial, and with good reason. Many of them have been run as criminal enterprises, with deep connections to organized crime; many operate in a blatantly coercive and undemocratic fashion. Union demands and strong-arm tactics, while providing security and good wages to members, have crippled some American industries, and limited jobs as well. Today the unions  get publicity when one of them tries to protect a member who should be punished, as when the baseball players’ union fights suspensions for player insubordination or even drug use, or when school districts are afraid to fire incompetent teachers because of union power, or when the members of public unions protest cutbacks in benefits that their private sector counterparts would be grateful for. It is true that today’s unions often embody longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer’s observation that  “Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business and ends up as a racket.” *

That not what Labor Day honors, however. It is celebrating the original labor movement that began at the end of the 19th century, and that eventually rescued the United States from an industrial and manufacturing system that was cruel, exploitive, deadly and feudal. Why the elementary schools teach nothing about this inspiring and important movement, I do not know. I suspect that the story of the American labor movement was deemed politically dangerous to teach during the various Red Scares, and fell out of the curriculum, never to return. Whatever the reason, it is disgraceful, for the achievements of the labor movement are every bit as important and inspiring as those of the civil rights movement and the achievements of our armed forces in the protection of liberty abroad. Continue reading

Armistice Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/11/18: Pettiness, Tit-For-Tat, And Fake All-Stars

Good Morning!

Why Nora Bayes? Let me tell you a story…

I learned about Nora Bayes (1880-1928) while mounting a production of a “lost” musical, George S. Kauffman’s Hollywood satire “Hollywood Pinafore,” which was essentially a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Nora was mentioned in a laugh line in the script, so the 1941 show assumed that the audience knew who she was. I had never heard of her, so I did some research. She was a fascinating character, and a huge vaudeville and Broadway singing and comedy star, household name huge. “Over There” was one of her biggest hits; another was “Shine on Harvest Moon,” which she wrote with her second husband (she ultimately had five), Jack Norwith. He also wrote “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” another Bayes standard. According to one online biography, Bayes Bayes “provided some flamboyant, indeed extreme, examples of the broad social changes happening in the United States in the early twentieth century, namely the questioning of traditional roles for women as well as the challenges to male political and economic power that marked the women’s movement of the time.”

I almost wrote about her in April. As regular readers here know, I believe it is the our duty to honor the memories, accomplishments and cultural influence of past figures in American history, because the more we remember, the more we learn, and the wiser and more ethical we are. Somehow Nora Bayes, famous as she one was, had been in an unmarked grave for 90 years.  On April 21, a group of Nora Bayes enthusiasts placed a granite headstone over her plot. The New York Times told the strange tale here.

Now I think of Nora Bayes every time I hear “Over There,” “Shine on Harvest Moon,” and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Maybe you will too.

1. Truth in labeling. Major League Baseball has sent a team to Japan to play a series of exhibition games against a Japanese All-Star team, reviving a long-time tradition that had been suspended for several years. As you may know, the U.S. was critical in introducing baseball to Japan, and sent several major stars there to help get the sport established. Playing in Japan is mostly a lark for the American players, but the games are taken very seriously by the Japanese. In the first two games, the MLB All-Stars have lost, greatly pleasing the locals.

I don’t begrudge the Japanese fans their David and Goliath fantasies, but calling the U.S. team “All-Stars” is misrepresentation. For example, one of the pitchers who got clobbered in the last game, a 9-6  contest that began with the Japanese team jumping out to a 9-0 lead, was a Red Sox pitcher named Brian Johnson. I like Johnson, a crafty swing-man who had some good moments last season, but he’s a lifetime 6-6 pitcher who was left off the Red Sox post-season roster, and will have to battle to stay in the majors next season. I know you can’t sell tickets if the U.S. team is called the “All the players we could talk into coming to Japan Team,” but that’s what it is.

2. Tit for Tat  may be funny, but it’s not ethical. Representative Dan Crenshaw, the veteran who was mocked last week on Saturday Night Live for his disfiguring war wound, appeared on the show last night to mock the appearance of his tormenter, Pete Davidson. Crenshaw was unusually poised for a pol on a comedy show, and the bit successfully got Davidson and SNL, which had been widely criticized for its nasty routine, off the hook. Clever. Successful. Funny. Still wrong, however. This represents an endorsement of Donald Trump ethics, as well as the endlessly repeated rationalization for the non-stop ad hominem attacks the President has inflicted on him daily by the news media and others. The President famously—infamously around here—has always said that if you attack him, he’ll attack you back harder. His haters argue, in turn, that their tactics are justified by his. This is how the culture got in the escalating spiral to Hell it is in. I don’t blame Crenshaw: if he hadn’t accepted the invitation to get funny revenge on Davidson, he would have looks like a petty jerk. Nonetheless, he has now officially become part of the problem, not just a victim of it.

3. Stop making me defend President Trump Dept.  You see, I am kicked around on Facebook for not just falling meekly into line and declaring that everything Donald Trump does is an outrage and proof that he should be impeached. I tell you, it’s tempting. The mass bullying campaign to herd everyone into the undemocratic effort to overthrow an elected President using relentless criticism and flagrant double standards has been effective in stifling others, and it also serves as a kind of mass cultural hypnosis. I don’t like defending Trump. He is doing serious damage to his office, as are his unhinged foes, who are apparently willing to destroy the nation, democracy, and the Constitution to “save” it from him. But I will not be intimidated out of pointing out the revolting pettiness, hypocrisy and unfairness of his critics. Two examples surfaced yesterday. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/4/17: Labor Day, Google Being Evil, Antifa, And Hollywood

Good Morning!

1.Happy Labor Day! My dry cleaner has a sign out that reads, “Happy Labor Day! Support Our Troops!” Now, any day is a good day to support our troops, but I strongly suspect that this is an unfortunate example of our increasing cultural and historical ignorance (ignorance that the war on statues and memorials will exacerbate, and that’s the intention). No holiday is more misunderstood than Labor Day, and the news media barely makes an effort to remedy the problem.

Ethics Alarms explained the history behind the holiday in a 2012 post that began,

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

The post is here.

2. This is traditionally a big movie weekend, but it has already been declared a dud. Hollywood is having its worse summer in more than two decades.  Conservative commentators have speculated that one reason is that Hollywood’s loudly and obnoxiously proclaimed contempt for about half of its potential audience—you know, The Deplorables–has alienated a significant segment of the market. That would be nice, since Hollywood has traditionally been a unifying cultural force rather than a divisive one, and this might shock Tinsel Town into getting off its high, blind horse and doing its job. I doubt it, though.

Astoundingly, the public is not yet sick of super hero movies, one of the few genres that continues to do well at the domestic box office.  I wonder when the public will figure out this is partially political indoctrination by the Hollywood Left too: super heroes don’t use those evil guns. They just kill people with their innate powers, or, as in the not-bad NetFlix/Marvel series “The Defenders,” in ridiculously long, drawn-out martial arts combat sequences that resemble ugly dancing more than real fighting. Some of the heroes are bullet proof, however.

The flaw in this anti-Second Amendment propaganda is that real people do not have super powers, and there aren’t any super heroes running around protecting them. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of This Day, July 2: The Inscription On the Monument To The First Minnesota Regiment At Gettysburg National Battlefield Park

first-minn-fort-snelling

 “On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse. As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves and save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy. The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time and till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position and probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line and no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed and wounded.”

On July 2, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 262 Union soldiers in the First Minnesota Regiment rushed—which apparently specialized in desperate fighting-–to throw themselves into a breach in the Union line at Cemetery against a greatly superior force, knowing that they were almost surely to die. 215 of them did, but the regiment bought crucial minutes that allowed reinforcements to arrive.

It is perhaps one of the most inspiring of the many acts of courage that day, the second day of the battle that changed the course of the Civil War. I first wrote about the sacrifice of the First Minnesota five years ago, here.

Let’s try to remember.

(A recommendation: Sometime between July 1 and the Fourth ever year, we always watch Ted Turner’s excellent film, which also has one of my favorite film scores.  It  helps.)

“Justice for the Nicholas Brothers”…Again

Sometimes it all seems worth it.

Yesterday, late at night, I received an e-mail from a music teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Connecticut. He had introduced his young students to great musicians of the past, such as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and arouse their admiration and excitement when he showed them videos of The Nicholas Brothers. Recently he came upon my post on Fayard and Harold from 2012, and felt compelled to write me agreeing with my lament that such miraculous performers could be so forgotten today because of their marginalization by the film industry and society. He wrote…

“We have most definitely talked of racism but I now want to read the class your article and get the feedback. Your article is succinct and eloquent.  Your article assessment is sadly true. My goal is not necessarily to revive the Nicholas Brothers:  it is to kindle in each of the kids in the class the spirit of excellence that each of us has and to let nothing stop us from reaching the top.”
To be honest, I had forgotten about my post about remembering the Nicholas Brothers. I checked: the post has only been read by about a thousand visitors since I wrote it; if my objective is to keep the legacy of these amazing dancers alive, it’s probably time for a re-post.

At the Sun Valley Lodge, there is a television station devoted to playing the 1941 film “Sun Valley Serenade” on a loop. It is a genuinely awful movie, starring John Payne of “Miracle on 34th Street” fame, Norwegian ice skater Sonia Henie, and Milton Berle, although it does show the famous ski resort in the days when guests used to be towed around the slopes on their skis by horses. Last time I was in Sun Valley to give a presentation, I watched about half the film in disconnected bites, since I never can sleep on such trips. This time I finally saw the whole thing. At about 3 AM, as Glenn Miller was leading his band in the longest version of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” in history, Fayard and Harold Nicholas suddenly flipped onto the screen, and “Sun Valley Serenade” briefly went from fatuous to immortal.

If your reflex response to that last sentence was “WHO??,” you are part of the reason for this post, and also in the vast and deprived majority of Americans. As I circulated among my future audience of lawyers and their spouses yesterday morning, happily informing them that the terrible movie playing around the clock in their rooms included the dance team called “the unforgettable Nicholas Brothers” in more than one tribute, I learned that none of them had any idea what I was talking about, and many of these individuals were old enough to have been able to see Fayard and Harold in a theater. The Nicholas Brothers were, you see, the greatest tap-dancers who ever lived, and the most amazing dance team that ever will be. Continue reading

“Camp Kill Jews” Ethics

And they say “Washington Redskins” is offensive.

"What a charming name! What does it mean in your language? Oh...wait, WHAT???"

“What a charming name! What does it mean in your language? Oh…wait, WHAT???”

From Spain comes the news that the town of Castrillo Matajudios, which literally means “Camp Kill Jews,” has voted to change its name after 400 years. This appears to be part of Spain’s recent, rather belated, I would say, efforts to acknowledge and express regret to Jews for the persecution they endured during the Spanish Inquisition.

Strange as it seem, the current name probably came into being not to denigrate Jews, but to protect Jews in the town who had officially converted to Catholicism under threat of torture and death. As such, it is a piece of history, and the words convey information about the town, the country, and the people who lived there, not a slur….except to someone who knows nothing about the town.

I’m not aware of a perfect analogy for this situation. It has some similarities to the plight of the towns of Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, named for a famous and long-gone hotel in the area, and the Amish community of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, named when a common uses of that term conveyed “fellowship.” In a  parallel universe where political correctness was dictated by social conservatives rather censorious progressives, these towns might be getting coercive signed letters from Republican Senators “suggesting” that they change their names to something less offensive, even though, as with the Redskins name, history and context would be lost. Continue reading

November 9-10, Kristallnacht, And The Duty To Remember

Auschwitz

This is the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. Had you forgotten? Did you even know? If you weren’t looking in the right places, it would be very easy to miss the fact that these are days to remember—that we have a duty to remember.

In 2009, citing the cultural importance of another date in November, one that is going to be much commemorated this year (being the 50th anniversary) but that was barely noted four years ago, I said…

“Apart from national holidays, there are not an overwhelming number of calendar boxes that citizens of the United States should pause and think about every year. July 4. September 11. December 7, when America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. June 6, D-Day. We can argue about others, but there should be no argument about November 22. It was a sudden, unexpected tragedy that scarred a generation, and it changed the course of  national and world history in many ways.

“Year after year, Americans know less and less about their own country. This makes us incompetent in our civic duties, infantile in our understanding of America’s role in the world, stupid and apathetic on election day, and patsies for our supposed elected officials, who can tell us lies about our country’s mission and heritage as we stand nodding like cows. Most of all, it makes us disrespectful of the brave and brilliant men and women who built, sustained and defined the United States. College graduates go on “The Jay Leno Show” and shamelessly identify the faces on Mount Rushmore as the Marx Brothers or the Beatles, and giggle about it as Jay rolls his eyes. This is becoming the standard level of American appreciation of the nation’s past.”

In holding close critical events affecting the rest of the world, we are even worse, as the overwhelming ignorance of this date shows. If July 4, 1776; September 11, 2001; December 7, 1941, and November 22, 1963, are moments in history that all of us should remember, honor and think about because we are Americans, November 9 and 10th present the same obligations because we are human beings, and citizens of the world. Continue reading

July 2, 1863: When 262 Minnesotans Saved The United States Of America

Officers of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment

Officers of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment

For the last two years, I have posted here about the courage and sacrifice of the men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg. There was more than enough of those qualities, on both sides, to go around that day, and unless you are in the vicinity of that lovely and unbearably sad little Pennsylvania town, it isn’t just the brave Minnesotans who are neglected, but all of the participants. Yesterday was July 1, the anniversary of the beginning of the battle in 1863, and there was scant mention of it in the media. After all, there is the Zimmerman trial, and outrage over Jennifer Lopez accepting a million dollars to sing “Happy Birthday” for a brutal dictator, and whether movie viewers will flock to see Johnny Depp play Tonto. One of the few excellent acknowledgements of the date and its significance was by CBS, which also featured the famous feature on the battle published years ago by the Saturday Evening Post. 

In an ambitious mood, I once resolved to find a different group of battlefield heroes from that day to feature every July 2, the messiest, most important pivotal of the battle that itself has been overshadowed by the tragedy of suicidal Pickett’s Charge on July 3. But I have neither the historical research skills nor time to do justice to such a task, though the injustice of so many forgotten heroes is great. It is best to allow the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment, who obeyed a desperate order to fill a breach in the Union line, knowing that it meant almost certain death,  “to gain a few minutes’ time and save the position and probably the battlefield,” to stand for all of them.

As for me, I’m going to watch, once again, Ted Turner’s excellent film Gettysburg, and play its soaring score in my home and my car. We have a duty to remember, and honor, every moment of those three days in July, 150 years ago. Continue reading

The Forgotten Meaning of Labor Day

Do you know who this is? You should! It’s Labor Day, dammit!

Labor Day commemorates one of the great ethical victories of American society, and not one in a hundred Americans know it. Labor Day marks the end of summer, and a time for retail store sales, and the last chance to get away to Disney World, but few of us think about the real meaning of the word “labor” in the name, and how it is meant to honor brave, dedicated men and women who fought, sometimes literally, the forces of greed, political influence, wealth and privilege in this country to ensure a measure of safety, consideration, fairness and justice for the hardest working among us.

Today labor unions are controversial, and with good reason. Many of them have been run as criminal enterprises, with deep connections to organized crime; many operate in a blatantly coercive and undemocratic fashion. Union demands and strong-arm tactics, while providing security and good wages to members, have crippled some American industries, and limited jobs as well. Today the unions  get publicity when one of them tries to protect a member who should be punished, as when the baseball players’ union fights suspensions for player insubordination or even drug use, or when school districts are afraid to fire incompetent teachers because of union power, or when the members of public unions protest cutbacks in benefits that their private sector counterparts would be grateful for. It is true that today’s unions often embody longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer’s observation that  “Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business and ends up as a racket.” *

That not what Labor Day honors, however. It is celebrating the original labor movement that began at the end of the 19th century, and that eventually rescued the United States from an industrial and manufacturing system that was cruel, exploitive, deadly and feudal. Why the elementary schools teach nothing about this inspiring and important movement, I do not know. I suspect that the story of the American labor movement was deemed politically dangerous to teach during the various Red Scares, and fell out of the curriculum, never to return. Whatever the reason, it is disgraceful, for the achievements of the labor movement are every bit as important and inspiring as those of the civil rights movement and the achievements of our armed forces in the protection of liberty abroad. Continue reading