Thursday, March 3, 2016

The book thief

About a week ago, I was a substitute teacher for an American Government class at a local high school. The “project of the day” was to watch a video titled “The Book Thief”, which I was unfamiliar with. I’m normally not a fan of showing movies to fill class time, but I found myself being drawn into the story - and wanting to see more.

The film was released in 2013, and was based on the 2005 novel of the same title. After its release, the book was on the New York Times best seller list for over 230 weeks.

The film follows a young German girl named Liesel Meminger, who was adopted in 1939 in Nazi Germany by the Hubermann family. Although I’ll eventually find a way to watch the movie in its entirety, I picked up the book a few days ago at the local library.

After watching at least a portion of the movie, I came to the realization that there are a LOT os similarities between our current American society and Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s. Here are some examples:

1. The German economy was booming.

With the assistance of the Bank for International Settlementsin Basel, Switzerland (which still exists today) Nazi Germany was able to deposit gold looted from occupied territories, which allowed them to support their economy AND pay for armaments. It is estimated that Germany expropriated over $600 million in gold from occupied territories. More information about the Bank of International Settlements can be found in the book “Tower of Basel”, by Adam Lebor

2- Intolerance for “the other”.

Religious intolerance was very widespread in the country, fueled (in part) by Henry Ford’s publication of “The International Jew” in the early 1920’s. Although Jews were the principal victims of this intolerance, gays, gypsies and Catholics also were subject to persecution. The Nazis also weren’t fond of children and adults who had mental or physical disabilities, and instituted a program called Action T4 in October of 1939. Under the program, 70,000 people who were considered “unfit” were murdered during the two years that the program was in effect. When the public became aware of the program, public protests came from a variety sources, but the Catholic church was eventually the most successful in having the program stopped.

3- Germany had a sizable number of wealthy industrialist who controlled the economy.

A large portion of the industrial production of the country was in the Ruhr valley, which produced coal, steel and chemicals. Members of the Reich bank actually sat on the board of the BIS (see above)

4 - Book burnings

The Nazis became determined to eliminate publications that were considered subversive or representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. The books that were targeted were Jewish pacifist, classical liberal, socialist and communist. Most of the books were burned in May of 1933, when 25,000 volumes were torched, but a smaller number were also burned later in the same year.

5 - Germany was led by a madman who was elected to office.

Hitler lost the 1932 Presidential race to Paul von Hindenburg, who appointed Hitler to the position of chancellor in early 1933, After the death of von Hindenburg, Hitler was elected as the President on August 19, 1934. A short time later, he decided that he wanted to merge the offices of President and Chancellor, which would increase his power. Although the merger required the vote of the public, nearly 90 % of the voters approved it, which officially made Hitler the dictator of Germany.

Now, let’s connect the dots …………………….

1 - The American economy is booming.

With a GDP of over 17 trillion dollars the United States has the largest economy in the world, and China is a very distant second. The GDP of the European Union is actually slightly larger than that of the United States, but it is made up of the production of 28 members countries.

The Dow Jones Industrial average is higher than it has ever been. It’s currently just under 17,000, but was over 18,000 in May of 2015. In addition, the unemployment rate is now 5.5%, and a local station is selling a gallon or regular gas for $1.19.

2 - Intolerance of “the other”

Muslims, Mexicans, blacks and gays have recently come under attack, both verbally and physically. In August of 2015, former KKK leader David Duke said that Donald Trump was "the best of the lot".

3 - The United States has a large number of wealthy industrialist who control the economy.

America has more billionaires (536) than any other country on Earth, and China is again a distant second, with 213. For the third year in a row, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world.

Some of America’s billionaires are using their wealth to improve our society, and Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg are the best examples of “doing things the right way”. However, not all the guys with money are improving our society.

84 year old Rupert Murdoch is worth $12.4 billion. He owns News Corporation, which includes FOX “news”, which has been a very disruptive force in our society. He is currently in the process of divorcing his third wife, and plans to marry Jerry Hall (former girlfriend of Mick Jagger) sometime this summer.

The Koch brothers inherited their wealth from their father Fred, who made a lot of his fortune by building oil refineries for the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. He later was one of the founding members of the John Birch Society. His sons, David and Charles, now run Koch Industries, and are worth $41 billion each. Early in 2015, they pledged to spend $900 million on politics, with $300 million earmarked for the 2016 elections. They fund a wide variety of conservative organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the Goldwater Institute, and they provided organizational and financial support to the Tea Party, whose views are nearly identical to the views of the John Birch Society.

One of the major problems facing the word today is global warming, but the oil and gas companies are fighting to maintain the status quo rather than subsidizing clean energy. Not long ago, the six major international oil companies reported a combined profit for the QUARTER of over $50 billion, their highest profit ever. The companies also are helped by subsidies from the world’s governments (taxpayers) that average $5.3 trillion a year .

Now that a barrel of oil is selling for less than $35 (lower that at any point in the last 10 years) their profits have slipped, but they can still afford to buy a few politicians.

The United States has one of the highest rates of gun homicides in the developed world, but money from the NRA and other groups have prevented any meaningful action being taken at both the Federal and state level.

Gun manufactures earned a profit of $1.5 billion in 2015, and gun and ammunition stores posted an additional profit of $478 million. Sadly, gun executive say that mass shootings are good for business and stock prices. Black Friday of 2015 resulted in the highest number of background checks 185,345) ever recorded by by the FBI. The previous record (177,170) was set shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut.

4- book burnings -

Germany, of course, is not the only company that has encouraged book burning, a practice that dates as far back as 1600 B.C.. Surprisingly, there HAVE been some book burnings in America:

In 1948, children in Spencer, West Virginia and Birmington, New York publicly burned several hundred comic books.

During the McCarthy era, the United States government ordered its overseas libraries to remove books that advocated communism. Not surprisingly, some of those book were burned.

In 1954, the government destroyed six tons of material that had been published by noted psychiatrist William Reich.

In 1966, a number of states in the Bible Belt ordered the destruction of records, books, magazines, posters and memorabilia that had been produced by the Beatles, after John Lennon said that the Beatles are more popular than Jesus.

In 2006, churches in Alamogordo, New Mexico and Charleston, South Carolina ordered the destruction of Harry Potter books.

In 2010 and 2012, copies of the Koran were burned in a variety of American cities , which led to the murder of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

America also has a long history of BANNING books that at least some folks consider to be subversive. The books on the list include “Tarzan of the apes”, the American Heritage Dictionary, the Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank), Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Twelth Night (William Shakespeare), Charlotte’s Web, and the Harry Potter series.

5 - America elects a madman

Don’t panic. We haven’t done that yet, but it IS possible. Donald Trump (who is uniquely unqualified to be President) captured 7 states on Super Tuesday, and will very likely be the Republican Presidential nominee.

As time goes by, you may want to read the book, or view the movie, of “The Book Thief.”

Whatever you do, though, be sure to vote in November.

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