News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A look at the human race you might not want to see

Seventy years after the end of World War II,  the French are releasing documents of the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazis during their occupation of France.  Some people, the New York Times account reports, have looked at the documents for evidence of how their relatives resisted the Nazis, only to find that they were, in fact, collaborators.  For those people who believed that their heritage was one of heroic resistance to the perpetrators of the Holocaust only to find from documents that was not so, it is a wrenching time.  

The Scandinavian countries produce stories about their resistance to the Nazis.  Many such stories are true.  But so are stories about those who collaborated with the Nazis. Those stories of collaboration and intense fascist hatreds in part of the Swedish population, for example, were revived when the late writer Stieg Larsson launched his millennial trilogy  with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Although a fiction, the book portrayed and presented a reality not often confronted.

As an undergraduate at a college with Swedish Lutheran origins, the stories of collaborators and sympathizers with the Nazis were familiar to me.   Some of the professors and students--World War II veterans on the G.I. Bill were on campus--warned that some professors had racist sympathies that tended toward Nordic purity.  The response by the majority of the professors and students was not to mention those partialities.  The idea seemed to be that if they were ignored, they would go away.  But  racial hatreds are like the shingle virus that is left in the body from chicken pox.  They lie dormant but can break out with a virulence after decades.

We've found that out when Barack Obama became president.  Tea Partiers produced posters of him as a witch doctor.  Racist jokes circulated through their e-mails.  And those who had been restrained from displaying racial hatreds became emboldened.  They could put a facade of political disagreement over their expressions of racist hatred, but the pretenses are belied by the intensity of the hatred.  

The advent of Donald Trump has encouraged people to express themselves more directly, and while journalistic analysts attribute the hatefulness to the frustrations of a middle class under attack,  many of his supporters are giving true voice to hate-based philosophies and attitudes.  

Places such as Grand Forks, North Dakota, a fairly peaceful university town, have felt the effects of America's contemporary racism.   Grand Forks has a contingent of Somali people, and a restaurant run and patronized by Somalis was fire-bombed earlier this month.  At a public hearing on race relations, one citizen said,  “We don’t need to learn about the cultures these refugees left behind.  Another said with others applauding in agreement, "This town’s built by white people.  Not by blacks. Not by Mexicans. Not by Indians.”

That fire-bombing was a part of what is America's Kristal Nacht.   The questions are how many Americans can see their fellow citizens for what they are, and if and how they will react? 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States