Personal Essays

Playing On Our Fears – How Could We Let It Happen?

I talk about fear a lot on this blog – helping people overcoming a certain type of fear is its purpose, after all. 

What few may realize is how damaging fear can be on a larger scale. Not just to individuals, but to entire nations. 

This is a personal essay I wrote in light of recent events. Yes, it’s political. Yes, please feel free to discuss it – in a civilized manner. No, trolls won’t be tolerated. 


We Germans don’t use the word ‘dictatorship’ lightly, believe me!

Our history won’t allow it. Our legacy forbids it. And yet the dreaded D-word has begun to encroach on our lives again to the point where some of us feel the need to speak out.

Because it’s an undeniable fact:

All around us, democracies are slowly, insidiously being turned into dictatorships. Hungary, Turkey, Russia. Modernized versions, but dictatorships no less.

They look something like this:

Everybody is included in elections. Nobody is shot in the streets. The dissatisfied may leave the country. But the judiciary no longer passes independent judgement. The media grows less and less truthful. Public contracts are given to political allies. Tax authorities examine critics of the system more closely and more often. Corruption becomes normality. Rules are bent, news is manipulated, and parts of the elite are ensnared in complicity.  

Now I fear, it may be happening to the leading country of the free world, which was once a shining beacon of hope for all those oppressed and huddled masses. A country I have lived in and admire greatly. A country which has been the embodiment of democracy for centuries.

I’m heartsick to see that very democracy being dismantled piece by piece, and shocked at how fast it is happening. Freedom of speech and the press is already under siege, lies are twisted into ‘alternative facts’, and the biggest liar and fear-mongerer of all is installing his allies in pivotal positions.

And yes, it’s true, I’m not a citizen of that particular democracy. But no, that doesn’t mean I can’t have or shouldn’t voice an opinion. Free speech isn’t an empty concept just yet, and this is, after all, the most powerful nation in the world I’m talking about.

A nation with access to nuclear weapons, and a narcissistic, short-tempered, spiteful child with his thumb on the button. A child who, in a few short years, threatens to reverse all the values, principles and morals of the modern world, which our ancestors and elders – and even we, today – have fought and died for over painstaking centuries.

And this from the leader of the country that once stood for those values above all others. A country that acts as a role model for many others on the basis of those values. No wall can be built high enough that developments in the United States won’t affect other countries as well.

So yes, it does concern me.

It concerns me that history seems to be repeating itself.

I was asked once, by a US-citizen, how my grandparents and great-grandparents couldn’t have seen the Nazi-regime coming. How could they have let it happen?

The question is a testimony to the blight on our history, to the guilt we as a nation still carry, to the legacy we will likely never be able to fully shed. Again, believe me when I say that I, as a German, do not draw these parallels lightly or easily. But I, as a German, would also be remiss if I ignored the lessons my history has taught me and pretended to not know the answer to the question of how people could have let such atrocities happen.

The answer is simple: they were afraid.

Afraid of unemployment and starvation in the aftermath of World War One.

Afraid of the smart people who had more money and understood the bank system better than they.

Afraid of more war, of losing more loved ones, of not being able to feed their families.

Hitler promised them an end to all their fears.

He promised employment – and delivered.

He promised unity – few could rally the masses like he.

He promised security – those who unconditionally did his bidding got it.

Which is why few voiced doubt when he appointed himself president as well as chancellor.

Why the German government crumbled when he enforced The Act – a law which gave him the freedom to act without parliamentary consent and even without constitutional limitations – under threat of Nazi-force.

Why few dared oppose him when he abolished and outlawed all Non-Nazi parties.

As T.S. Eliot said:

This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper.

By the time there were enough people to protest and unite against these machinations, Hitler had effectively nullified and outlawed any leverage they might have brought against him. They had no bang left to stop what was already happening.

People who were suspected of opposing views  – and I’m not even talking about Jews here – were spied on, persecuted and purged. They were no longer safe in their own homes.

Hitler had utilized the people’s fears, turned those fears against them and shredded the system of freedom and security, turning it into one of oppression and fear stronger than the people had felt it before.

And that, dear reader, is what makes me uneasy. That we will let our fears overwhelm our better judgement and listen to the lies and empty promises born out of contempt for that which is different and a lust for power and riches. That those lies will be turned against us. That we may realize it and react too late. That by the time all our eyes are opened, our only resort will be violence.

When Hitler was appointed German Reichs-Chancellor, the editor in chief of the Berlin Daily Newspaper, Theodor Wolff, wrote: “It may be true that a silent submissiveness is being enforced. That every outspoken impulse is being suppressed in this country that was once proud of its liberty of mind and word. But there is a certain threshold of violence that will never be crossed.”

How wrong he was.

Do we really want to be the ones who let history repeat itself so easily?

Do we want the question to be not “how could you have let this happen?” but “how could you have let it happen again?”


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