Today was a long German history lesson: the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. As I watched the commemorative service at the Bundestag in Berlin, I reflected on how technologically savvy humans had become at the onset of that war, what the enormous cost was of that war in lives and suffering, and how careful the reintegration process for Germany was. With an estimated 8 million German lives lost in that war (including 4.3 million soldiers, and 1.1 million who died as POW), the nation was divided, families separated, and the rebuilding process had to be intensively initiated. The nation was not destroyed despite the losses, but rather re-envisioned, its destructive path no longer allowed.
Seventy years later, many of us live in a world with possibilities. In those areas where violence still occurs, there remains the example of Germany’s rebuilding as a model for how to address problems: one does not destroy everything – rehabilitation is yet possible.
Today, sadly, we lost members of the diplomatic corps in Pakistan. In some ways, one understands that they are today’s front line against anything so horrific as what happened in the second world war. We will not have another such war. We will not have social forces define us to become monsters. We will not pick up weapons of destruction when conversations can influence. When governments turn against their own people (as Germany in fact had prior to the war) declaring war on some fraction of its population (the Jews, homosexuals, mentally handicapped, political people), one carefully assesses the situation, and tries to balance the government’s need for power, with the ability of all members of the population to have constructive participation and realization in society. One asks the question: does this happen in our own country?
I think that the answer is sadly and honestly yes, but not to the same extent as the catastrophe that happened with Germany and the Jews in WWII. One cannot have an event of that magnitude occur, with a response, without having oscillations in the system (that remain hopefully bounded to less catastrophic consequence).
We look to the Germans, the Jews, and the German Jews who survived in a moment of deep national and international introspection, and observe how far we have evolved in nonviolent problem solving. We note with great solemnity, that Germany, 70 years later, in fact, celebrated today’s anniversary – remembering the military defeat of its own country’s military so that destructive political forces could be dismantled and the country could be rebuilt. We know that the celebration must yet have been bittersweet, as those Germans that were lost in the war, were their grandfathers, uncles, fathers, and friends. We look to those diplomats in Pakistan whose lives we remember and honor as the 2 diplomats with the 2 diplomat wives whose lives were lost instead of the 50 million in the second World War. We tragically remember the 8519 who died recently in Nepal, noting the amazing rescues of a baby, and a 101 year old man. Their lives, yet so affected by poverty, and nonetheless valuable.
On the eve of the recent US court discussion of surveillance, one asks questions: one tries to understand the relationships between political oppression, poverty, and surveillance. One looks to do better on an individual level. One asks every person with power (such as government) to carefully assess the consequences of their actions and the path that their influence would guide those they influence. Does their influence create a system that will cost enormously and dearly to change if it hurts? We have come a long way.
Act with love. Every life matters. Every life is precious.