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July 4 triggers uneasy feelings

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Thursday, June 30, 2016 1:45 PM

In Bayfield we take great pride in our Independence Day activities - the Lions Club breakfast, the parade that's grown too large to go around twice, the park activities, the fireworks that are pretty darn good for a little town.

I have a long-time hang-up about the 4th of July: I take seriously the ideals it celebrates, such as individual freedom coupled with civic responsibility, the opportunity to advance economically, freedom of religious practice and expression for all religions, the right to due process, and lots more.

I have serious emotional distress when events in the real world make a mockery of those ideals. This is one of those years, but not the first. The following excerpted column first appeared in the Times in June 2004.

Monday was Memorial Day, a time to remember the sacrifices of our troops then (D Day in WWII) and now. But there's another thing that should never be forgotten - how Hitler came to power in the 1930s.

He used a "terrorist" attack, the burning of the German parliament building in 1933, to create fear and take ever more power. He used it as an excuse to begin his campaign against a non-Christian minority group. The first detentions started almost immediately.

Hitler quickly got the cowed or patriotism-inflamed parliament to pass an internal security law to fight terrorism by suspending free speech and privacy rights, and the right of habeas corpus (so people could be locked up without filing charges or showing evidence).

He set up an internal security department whose agents came to be known as the SS. Any dissent or criticism of the regime became unpatriotic or worse.

It turned out to be incredibly easy, because people were afraid. They were in desperate economic conditions because of the Depression and sanctions imposed on Germany after World War I. They were looking for someone to blame. They went along with the doctrine that any criticism of the government was unpatriotic.

After the Allies beat Germany, the question was asked of regular Germans, what were you doing when all that happened? Were you a good German patriot who actively helped the Nazis, or did your patriotism involve looking the other way? Or did you dare to speak out against it?

How soon we forget.

Americans comfort themselves with the belief that it could never happen here. Why not? All it takes is an uninformed and apathetic population, people who want to take ever more power, and an ethic where the ends justify the means.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, followed by two terms as President of the United States. He said, "Without exhaustive debate, even heated debate of ideas and programs, free government would weaken and wither. But if we allow ourselves to be persuaded that every individual or party that takes issue with our own conviction is necessarily wicked or treasonous, then indeed, we are approaching the end of freedom's road."

How easily we forget.

I'm thinking that one of our readers back then was very upset with my suggestion that what happened in 1930s Germany could ever happen here. This election year, we see it happening right before our eyes.

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