Generals, billionaires, along with the Alt-Right, are marching into the administration of our country. Smelling the political air, this essay made its way to the surface.

Running With Iron Heels

This past spring I was camping and hiking in the Taconic range with a good friend. We walked and talked while soaking in the beautiful terrain of those green mountains.

Such excursions are important. They transport us physically. They also transport us mentally. The humdrum of everyday life fades as rolling hills and valleys come into view.

We are lucky in Connecticut. Beautiful, green woodlands, rivers, and an ocean surround us. We can choose the company of beautiful, caring people.

What can slip by almost unnoticed is that others are out there. They have a different view of what surrounds us. They see ugly everywhere.

African Americans are shot down, with regularity, in our streets. Some see injustice, others see genetics. Some see the continuance of hundreds of years of oppression and struggle. Others let fear consume them.

Fossil fuel pipelines ram through lands, from New England to Indian sacred spaces. Some see centuries of stealing land, religious violations, environmental degradation, and fight-back. Others see maintaining a lifestyle. More dangerously, the 0.1% sees major profits threatened with protests of the former.

Bombs are dropped an ocean away. People migrate. Some see state terror, a humanitarian disaster, and struggle. Some hear only “terrorists” and seek revenge.

People see, and maybe feel, these differences. The “others” handle them in different ways. A peek into our family’s 20th century histories may elucidate some of this. Let’s try mine.

In 1907, two sets of people made there way from the Apennine mountain range above Naples, Italy, to the USA. One, the Ciarlone’s, had a business orientation. The other, the Iannielli’s, was among the vast peasantry of those times. In relative order, the Scarpitti’s and Summa’s completed each set of the pairings. Children arrived, eight to be exact, from each pairing. Included among those offspring were my parents.

Why did my grandparents leave their homeland? After all, it’s not an easy do. Ever get that uncomfortable feeling when away from the familiarity of home? That sense of place comes into play. No. Not easy.

As a youngster, I asked that question. My maternal grandmother gave me a hint with a wonderful Italian inflection and waving an open hand in the air. It consisted of two words. “The Kaiser!”

That two-word answer and the move across the big pond took a bit of time to grasp in any full way. My experiences on the home front during the U.S. War in Vietnam helped. (For more on those experiences see

https://www.createspace.com/4330714

 

Later I got an assist from famed biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Here’s what I learned.

Before World War I (1914-1918), Vernon L. Kellogg was an entomologist (insects) at Stanford University, California, a pacifist; he became an official in Belgian relief work. In this capacity, he somehow ended up being among the German high command, including the Kaiser. Wilhelm II was the last Emperor (Kaiser) of Germany and King of Prussia (Parts of Germany and much land heading eastward).

Many of the German officers were involved in higher education before the war. They saw the war as a natural outgrowth of human behavior. These officers saw natural selection, a la Charles Darwin and evolution, as dictating violent competition among peoples.

The group of people representing the highest evolutionary stage, in their minds Germans, would prevail. Kellogg was so sufficiently horrified that he abandoned pacifism and supported the war against Germany as the only way, in his considered opinion, to stop them.

What Kellogg stumbled on here is one of the best examples of the perversion of evolutionary theory. It resulted in a crude form of social Darwinism. In other words, war erupts from our DNA.

We now know that redivision of the world for colonial plunder was a driving force for both sides of those wretched trenches. In other words follow the money, or better, the profits. When normal politics could not settle differences, war followed.

History had more to unfold, especially in Germany. In the years following World War I, much of the above crude social Darwinism became incorporated into Nazi ideology with a vengeance. That ideology, mixed with racism, ran amuck with extreme nationalism.

The Nazi Party actually started in the mountains of Germany in the 1920s. They nurtured a crude form of nationalism born of the disaster of WWI, social Darwinism, and with a questing religious fervor. The crash of 1929, unemployment and disgust with “big” government brought them into the cities and looking for a savior. They found Adolf Hitler and bankers willing to solve problems with an iron heel. WWII followed.

 

There is a fundamental difference in the mindset of the groupings of people mentioned at the beginning of this writing. Some hope to peacefully and thoughtfully grabble with war, racism, environmental degradation, and the injustice of it all. Others? They run with iron heels.

Politically, one outlook says let’s protest nonviolently, dialogue, and peacefully negotiate. The others say let’s protest violently, take people off voter roles, and stomp on those fighting injustice with that iron heel, including the use police/military force.

The iron heels, the fascist axis that took state power in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, were defeated in WWII. Its cost was 60 million lives and many fragmented ones. But hints that the outlook guiding those iron heel states had penetrated the USA were around us. The twin ideological weapons of fascism were at work.

The Soviet Union, an ally and friend during WWII, quickly became labeled an enemy, then later an evil empire. Anyone remotely associated with the recent ally was considered part of the “red menace” and a spy. U.S. State institutions pursued communists with a vengeance as well as others interested in peace and social justice.

Japanese living in the USA, and Japanese Americans, were treated differently from German and Italian immigrants. Internment camps were set up. (Don’t miss this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc ) African Americans remained under intense segregation, with lynchings and other violence visited upon them.

 

Let’s go back to bucolic Connecticut. We bathe in the suave of greenness. We need the caressing arms of nature. We need the company of caring people. The point here is that we can’t get lost in it.

We have to engage other outlooks. Some don’t want the iron heel approach to solve problems but don’t see the danger. We need to revisit the 1920s and 1930s, and shake out the causes, and lessons, of WWII.

There is hope all around us. We do have to take the time to see it. I met a welder recently who had drawn healthy lessons from her work experiences. She adamantly opposed Trump.

A fisherman once told me, “they make you not want to care.” This woman went in the opposite direction. She cares. My hiking friend ventured to Ohio to block Trump mania. We have to find bits of caring among our people and help develop a willingness to fight for caring core values.

We are going to need to put that caring into action. Too many times we didn’t do that when the Obama Administration, and also peoples’ movements, made forward-looking decisions e.g. halting the X-L Pipeline. When that same administration brought backward proposals to the table, as they did in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, a confusion and paralysis followed.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about?” Then ask yourself, “How do I show it?” It means getting outside of our comfort zone.

Here’s two ways. Go out and talk to those who did not vote, those who voted for Trump, and those coming of voting age. Use history, especially intertwined with personal stories, in a calm explanatory way. Then gather with like-minded friends and those who are learning.

We need to walk the talk.

P.S. My Grandmother (Scarpitti/Ciarlone) didn’t totally escape the discrimination meted out during WWII. More on that with the next blog.