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Perspective: A lack of context


I have had an overriding question that I can’t seem to find the answer to: Why does history either repeat itself, or at least sometimes rhyme? Then I discovered Andrew Nagorski’s 2012 book, Hitlerland, which covers American eyewitness accounts of the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Needless to say, it’s been a disconcerting, but necessary read. And I also think I found the answer to my question.


The answer is creating national contexts that would help all us navigate solving big problems based on facts and free from ideology. One of those contexts needs to be how to preserve a democracy. For example, what happens if we don’t know the difference between electing those who want to govern versus those who simply want to rule for ruling’s sake? How does mass manipulation work? What’s the danger in using scapegoats? What happens when we allow the distorting or disregarding of facts? How do we respond when someone claims to have easy answers for all ailments real and imagined?


Author Sinclair Lewis was disturbed enough after both spending time in Germany and picking up on right-wing trends in the U.S. to publish his novel, It Can’t Happen Here, in 1935. The novel’s anti-hero is Berzelius Windrip, who claims to have all the answers to economic troubles and engages in race baiting. Once in power, Windrip abolishes Congress, and then uses “Minute Men,” the equivalent to Nazi Brownshirts, to quell any resistance or dissent.


We can’t allow ourselves to be fooled: it can happen here, but only if enough of us are willfully ignorant enough to let it.

Andrew Nelson has been involved in public education in northern Illinois for more than three decades.