This month, Turner Classic Movies offered an array of award-winning films. The movie that caught my eye was “Judgement at Nuremberg,” a 1961 movie that won 11 Oscars.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the film. “Judgement at Nuremberg” focused on the war crimes trial of surviving high-ranking Nazi officials at the hands of the Allies at the end of World War II.
At the time I tuned in, Burt Lancaster, as Herr Janning, was beginning his eight-minute soliloquy about why he was guilty, why all of the defendants, and the German people also were guilty. Herr Janning was a composite character of German judges who served the Nazi regime.
Herr Janning (Lancaster) begins by telling us: “There was fever over the land. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within.” Maybe the torn elements of democracy had to do with obstructionists who had no ideas of their own, except for hanging on to power. Maybe they were politicians who believed their jobs rested on ousting the opposition and not doing what was right for Germany. Maybe there were conspiracy theories that felt threatening to the German public. We can only surmise. Still, the script was prescient.
In quoting the movie dialogue, “[Adolph Hitler told us] ‘Lift your heads. Be proud to be German. There are devils among us, communists, liberals, Jews, gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed,’” and, we can assume, Germany will be great again.
Those were among the big lies told by the Nazis. Blame others for your personal depression. Blame others for your personal economic circumstance.
I am sure you understand, in a contemporary sense, the idea of hating liberals and Jews. Just think of the constant Republican whine or the white supremacists at Charlottesville. Further updating the dialogue to today, we blame Asian-Americans for the coronavirus and add a dash of Black Lives Matter for rending the fabric of American society. Maybe we can make America great again by celebrating the traitors who lost the Civil War and maintaining their public statues.
Let’s not forget the tense exchange between Dr. Anthony Fauci and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, about supposedly taking away American Freedoms through shutdowns during the height of the pandemic.
One thing I inferred from the character of Herr Janning was the phoniness of officials hiding behind the government machine. Think about Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama, who appeared in a video telling the Jan. 6 insurrectionists to “take names and kick ass,” but had the good sense not to march on the U.S. Capitol with them.
That brings us up to date with the America First Caucas proposed by Reps. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. and Paul Gosar. R-Ariz., that now finds itself in limbo. The Guardian labelled the proposed caucus a first look at American fascism.
Herr Janning goes on to talk about how the Germans gave in to what they wanted to believe. The Nazi answer was scapegoating. Of course, some Germans believed the rhetoric. They were, at best, ill-informed. Herr Janning, however, tells us to ask about the Germans who were informed and who were smart. What caused them to support the Nazi movement?
The movie script tells us some of them believed that Der Fuehrer was just a passing fancy. Hitler would fade away while they made money and a name for themselves. So, some were profiting under the Nazis, and some allowed themselves to become selfish under the banner of Nazi propaganda. However, if you think Herr Janning, the war criminal, nailed it by revealing their selfishness, you would only be partially right.
What Herr Janning failed to add to his description of the German intelligentsia was that their treason to the ideals of democracy also involved cowardice. Their selfishness led to cowardice. Those who knew better were cowards, afraid perhaps they wouldn’t be reelected.
We can only project their motivation based on our current experiences.
The news has reported multiple times that certain Republicans in Congress were tired of Donald Trump’s behavior behind the scenes, but they were concerned about losing the next election. They were cowards. They feared they might have to get real jobs outside of the government. Maybe they would have to go back and live in their small towns and work in a factory, be a server or go into the mines.
Some have spent their professional lives living off the government. Surely, you couldn’t expect them to stand on principal like Sens. Mitt Romney, Richard Burr, Lisa Murkowsky, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Pat Toomey, and Ben Sasse. The House members deserving mention for standing on principal are Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Tim Rice, Dan Newhouse, Anthony Gonzalez, Fred Upton, Jaime Beutler, Peter Meijer, John Katko and David Valadao. Those 17 elected officials risked their political and post-political careers. They maintained their standards. They maintained the very essence of what it means to be an American by doing the right thing.
The Germans had their share of political cowards who supported big Nazi lies for personal reasons. Now, the question is who among American elected officials deserve, metaphorically, their own trial at Nuremberg in 2021 for supporting big lies?