Binary Disasters

Disasters are very rarely binary. Tragedy is very rarely binary. Very rarely do the terrible things that happen to us, the terrible things that happen to humanity, begin “full on”. This can be said of fascism.

I have a friend whose parents were Dutch. They lived through the horrors of the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. I asked him what he thought of the recent resurgence of the far right and fascism, worldwide. His response was to retell some of the stories his parents told him about what it was like to live under Nazi occupation.

The message was obvious. What is happening now is nothing like what happened then. I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to start an argument. I also wanted to process his response, to think it through. It wasn’t the first time I had heard such a response, but it’s different when it comes from the lips of an old friend.

My first thought was this, “You’re not disagreeing with me, my opinion is irrelevant. You are arguing with other survivors of the horrors of Nazi Germany.”

My next thought was this. Disasters are very rarely binary. They are very rarely “full on” or “full off”. The fascism in Europe that led to WWII and The Final Solution didn’t begin with the invasion of Poland and the extermination camps. It began long before that.

Fascism began with the demonization of “the other”, not just Jews, but intellectuals, homosexuals, people with disabilities, the Roma, and the list goes on. It began with blaming fake enemies for real problems. It began first with an erosion of democracy, followed by it’s complete destruction.

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