There is little doubt if you and I would have grown up in the south as part of the white race before the civil war — you and me, Republican or Democrat, all of us — we would have fought for and supported the confederacy.
This also applies to everyone currently passing judgment on the Confederate battle flag, Confederate soldiers and slave owners in America’s infancy.
Even if we would have disagreed with slavery we would have fought for the south.
Before the war between the states, citizens were more loyal to the state they grew up in than the United States. In fact before 1861 the two words “United States” were generally used as a plural noun: “the United States are a republic.” After 1865 the United States became a singular noun.
General Robert Lee is a good example. His loyalty was with the state of Virginia. If the state of Virginia had not succeeded from the Union, he would have been a general for the north.
The same can be said of Nazi Germany. Unless you were a Catholic Priest in Germany during World War II chances are you would not have resisted the Nazi movement.
In a YouTube video from 2018 eminent physiologist, Jordan Peterson relates how we need to read history from the viewpoint of the perpetrator to understand our history, and in also understanding ourselves.
In the video, he relates a story from the book “Ordinary Men” by Christopher R. Browning. It’s the study of a group of German policemen who were sent to Poland after the invasion of the Wehrmacht — Hitler’s army.
These policemen were sent to patrol an area of Poland. They had been working in law enforcement before Hitler came to power and were not yet indoctrinated.
Browning documents how these men — who for all intents and purposes were good people — went from being the guy next door to someone who could take naked pregnant women out in the field and shoot them in the back of the head.
This did not happen overnight and it did affect them. They became physically ill during the process of transformation. But they did transform into evil men.
Peterson relates, “unless you read history and identify with the perpetrators you don’t understand history at all. If you grew up in Nazi Germany the statistical probability is overwhelming that you would have been a perpetrator. Most people think they would have rescued Ann Frank. Those people are very, very, very rare.”
Peterson went on to say, “You don’t have the strength of character to be good unless you understand what kind of monster you can be.”
As an aficionado of history, this statement hit me hard. I have read several books describing the horrors of the German concentration camps. I have read stories recounting the cruelties that man has done to his fellow man. But, like most people, I relate to the victim. I have never put my feet into the shoes of the evil-doer.
Why should I? I consider myself a decent loving person who would never commit those horrific acts.
This is s harsh lesson. But, when you understand this about yourself you can relate to the flaws of historical figures that are being demonized today.
It has been said that if we are removing statues of imperfect people then all statues should come down except for those of Jesus Christ.
In Bill O’Reilly’s book “Killing the SS” he tells the story of 82-year old Elfriede Huth Rinkel’s arrest in San Fransisco, Calif. in 2004. Elfriede was an SS guard for nine months at Ravensbück — a German concentration camp exclusively for women. In her early 20’s she was at the camp when the greatest number of murders and atrocities were committed.
After the war Elfriede left Germany and immigrated to the United States. In San Fransisco she met and married Fred Rinkel, who also escaped Germany, but for different reasons. He was Jewish. They were married for 42 years before his death.
After her arrest and deportation, Elfriede’s neighbors described her as a “sweet lady” who “cared about other people.” In a previous life she was probably a murderer.
History is there for us to learn from. We need to stop judging historical figures from our perspective because thereby the grace of God go I.
If you want to watch Peterson’s YouTube video the title is “History Describes You.”