The Congo’s Hidden “Holocaust”

We all know of the Holocaust and the 11 million Jews who were killed by Hitler. Many of us know about the Armenian genocide which took place during WWI – over two million Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontic Greeks were killed during that time. Unfortunately, these were not isolated incidents in the history of humanity, and I have just learned about yet another mass murder. This particular slaughter of people was not a genocide but rather an indiscriminate killing for the sake of prophet. It occurred over a hundred years ago in the area we now call the Congo. These evils came from the most unsuspecting country – Belgium. The nation of waffles and Brussels sprouts – has a hidden history which not many people know about. To learn how Belgium terrorized the Congo, I read King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild. The real villain in this story is not Belgium but rather Belgium’s King – Leopold II.

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King Leopold II was viewed as the world’s greatest African philanthropist. His generous donations to the continent and his desire for funding scientific explorations were proclaimed across Europe as progressive measures to bring civilization to the savages. Unfortunately, there was a hidden objective in Leopold’s philanthropy – he was collecting as much research as possible so he could found his own colony. In the 19th century, Africa was a piecemeal conglomerate of European colonies – England, France, Germany, and Italy all claimed a portion of the raw material pie. Leopold had a small country complex – Belgium was nowhere close to competing with the big dogs regarding intercontinental control. Nevertheless, the King of a country the size of Maryland was able to weasel his way into Africa. He performed this feat of diplomatic chicanery by founding his own company which was designed to provide humanitarian needs for the newly discovered Congo. This company had its own flag and was technically independent of the Belgian government – allowing King Leopold complete control. The other European forces permitted the company to control the Congo with the aim to promote free trade while preventing major disputes between land-hungry countries. In short order, King Leopold II confiscated all of the native’s property for his “state” and began exploiting the virgin land for elephant tusks and rubber.

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Vast quantities of raw materials left the Congolese ports – the only import for the people of the Congo was hired soldiers who enforced the status quo of exploitation. This military force ruled by the rifle and the chicotte – a whip made of hippopotamus hide cut into long corkscrew strips. These “humanitarians” were given commissions based on how much ivory could be collected. This capitalistic motivation led to the forced labor of the Congolese at a time when Europe was aghast at all forms of slavery. Things only got worse after scientists discovered new and useful applications for rubber – the pneumatic tire being one example. The Congo was full of wild rubber, and this brought new terror for the natives. Men of all ages were forced to meet quotas of rubber; If they did not comply they were shot, or their families were forced into labor. As the rubber began to run out, the Congolese were required to travel longer and longer distances – draining villages of work for harvest and subsequently causing thousands to starve. A typical punishment for the Congolese was to cut off a member of their body – a missing right hand was a ubiquitous sight.

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Between murder, starvation, susceptibility to disease, and labor exhaustion, the population of the Congo dropped by half during Leopold’s control: 1885 – 1908. That is a total of 10 million people! A scary number, especially since very few people know about this history. It is as if I were writing this blog post about the Holocaust and people were reading about the acts of Hitler for the first time. Of course, this was not a pure genocide, but it was a well-documented atrocity which affected the lives of various Congolese tribes; that is why many are beginning to call this point in history the “Hidden Holocaust” and why I think it is more important than ever to keep learning about our past. If WWII is our only knowledge of the mass murder, we will think it is an isolated occurrence – something that was an anomaly and will never happen again. I wish I could say it was an anomaly but it is a sad pattern which we need to understand to truly prevent. Did you know anything about King Leopold before this post? What are your thoughts on history repeating itself? Should schools do a better job of teaching these lessons? I love your comments.

“The Congo Free State is unique in its kind. It has nothing to hide and no secrets and is not beholden to anyone except its founder.” – King Leopold II (Founder)

Working (Words) Out in the Nude

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Confused? This actually is a grammatically correct sentence. There are three meanings of the word Buffalo…

  1. The proper noun referring to the city Buffalo, New York
  2. The verb to buffalo, which means “to bully, harass, or intimidate”
  3. The noun referring to the animal – buffalo (biologically a Bison).

This sentence translated would read: “Buffalo (the place) bison (the animal), whom other Buffalo bison bully, themselves bully Buffalo bison.” Take a deep breath and don’t give up on this post quite yet. This oddity of the English language is a great example of etymology – the study of word origins and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. The average person usually doesn’t think before they speak; it is even rarer to find someone who questions the very foundations of speech itself. Mark Forsyth is one of those people – the author of the #1 International Bestseller – The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. The title “Etymologicon” is a real word that means a book written about etymology. Forsyth is a word master, and his work became a #1 International Bestseller. All words have a history, and those histories are fascinating. Below I am going to highlight the origin of ten words that were detailed by Forsyth in his book. These are just a few examples of what is in the book, and if your curiosity is piqued, I highly recommend you reading it for yourself.

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  1. A long time ago there was a tribe named the “Franks.” The Franks invaded the Gauls whose occupied area became known as “France” – the K replaced with a C. The Franks “disenfranchised” the Gauls and hence were themselves “enfranchised.” This oppression by the Franks allowed them to speak freely or “frankly.”
  2. A long time ago, there was a significant swath of persecuted people in Eastern Europe known as the Slavs. The Slavs were slain and subjugated by the Byzantine Empire to the south and the Holy Roman Empire to the north. Eventually, the word Slav became synonymous with forced labor – or Slave.
  3. A long time ago, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were lords and peasants. The peasant was required to work the lords’ land and a small portion of his own which was granted to him. This mindless labor system was called Robot.giphy3
  4. A long time ago, Englishmen had trouble with persistent coughs. They could take morphine – a standard treatment at the time – but they didn’t want to become addicted. Scientists came to the rescue and invented a morphine substitute. This new medicine needed a brand name so the marketers asked the test participants how it made them feel. They all unanimously said it made them feel great and like “heroes.” Heroe was turned into the brand name Heroin.
  5. A long time ago, Hitler formed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei); the official identification of all Hitler followers in Germany. This Party name was unfortunate because in Germany there were many jokes about Bavarian peasants who were seen as stupid and lazy. The identifier of this class of peasant was the typical male name Ignatius – or its shortened version – Nazi. Hitler’s opponents jumped at the insult and abbreviated Hitler’s party name.
  6. A long time ago, medieval doctors believed the vein on the fourth finger ran directly to the heart. This anatomical connection eventually proved false, but the tradition of encircling the heart through the vein continued on – with the ring finger and the wedding band.giphy4
  7. A long time ago, monks were a common sight in Catholic Europe – hooded men who were far from models of chastity and virtue. Many saw them as filthy sinners who were no better than animals. When explorers decided to name hairy-man-like animals, they used a similar name – Monkeys.
  8. A long time ago, America decided to test a new hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. This weapon was more potent than previous – incidentally exposing Japanese fisherman to radiation. This event inspired the movie Godzilla and a French clothes designer who needed a name for his scandalous swimwear – which would cause an explosion of lust in all Frenchmen. This explosion would be named after the bomb test site – Bikini Atoll.
  9. A long time ago, Greek men enjoyed exercising outside in the nude. This arena of flesh was frequented by old and young alike – the older participants came primarily for sightseeing. The Greek word for naked is “gymnós” which eventually gave us Gyms and Gymnasiums. 
  10. A long time ago, people wanted to buy a house and hence needed a loan. There were two ways this loan could be fulfilled or said in another way – be put to “death”: it was paid off over a lifetime, or it was canceled after a missed payment. In many cases, it was doubtful that the person would make all these lifetime payments and so the loan would be dead to him. In either outcome, there was the likelihood of death, and hence the loan was called a death pledge – Mortgage. giphy5

So does this make you more curious about the words you use every day? I for sure look at diction differently now. Just remember that word meanings change over time and that new words are continually being invented. Don’t get too stringent with etymology and hop on the treadmill in the buff.

The Forgotten Genocide

I found myself last night eating a double-decker plate of apple pie with an unfortunate amount of whip-cream on top. While feasting, I thought about how thankful I was to be able to shove my face with food. Have you ever been without food before? Not like a diet or a 3 pm snack type of hunger; the kind of hunger where there is no escape and no relief to the pain of emptiness. I am thankful this holiday weekend that God has blessed my family with the polar opposite of that painful state. Unfortunately, there are individuals around the world who suffer from hunger on a daily basis – over 796 million people lack enough sustenance to lead a healthy lifestyle (foodaidfoundation.org). That statistic is doubly disheartening with the fact that the world wastes one-third of all food production each year – 1.3 billion tons (fao.org).

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I bring up hunger specifically because I just finished a book that details one of the worst genocides in our modern history – Not Even My Name: A True Story by Thea Halo. This genocide took place between 1913 and 1922 against the Christian ethnic groups of Turkey – Armenians, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks. In total, the Turkish government killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, 300,000 Assyrians, and 500,000 Greeks through blatant murder and death marches. The book pointedly tells the story of Sano Halo – a Pontic Greek – who experienced these events and actually escaped with her life to America. As you’ll read, the Turkish authorities were ruthless against Halo’s family and used hunger as their principal weapon.

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The causes of this genocide are myriad, but one of the most significant catalysts was the Ottoman Empire’s fall during World War I. The Ottoman’s were prolific during the medieval ages but slowly declined by the 19th century – their central territory located in modern-day Turkey. At the turn of the 20th century, the Turkish government began changes in their state that aimed to lift up Turks and bring down historic ethnic groups located in the country. These “reforms” mixed with defeats in WWI to form a true hatred for everything “Western”; leading to the systemic extermination of millions of people to purify the decaying Turkish state and bring it back to its once glorious Ottoman apex. The government forced these “foreigners” – who historically lived in the area for thousands of years – into work camps, deportation marches, and mass graves.

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Sano Halo was 10 around the time the Turks came to her village and told her family to prepare to leave the next day. With guns pointed at their heads, they abandoned all their possessions, their livelihood, and their history. They were forced to march all day without breaks for food or water. The Turkish guards would beat them if they took a break or begged for food from local villages. Sano would end up marching 6 months straight – her younger siblings all died from hunger during that time. Eventually, even her mother died of exhaustion and Sano was forced to live with a Turkish family as a maid so she could have regular food.

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Sano was poorly treated by this family and eventually ran away. She was ultimately taken in by a family friend who arranged her marriage to an Assyrian man from America. She was able to reach Ellis Island and eventually had a happy family of 10 children. Sano was the unfortunate exception to this horrific story, and the Turkish government did their best to cover up its despicable deeds. In the aftermath of the genocide, textbook producers were paid by the Turkish government to exclude their actions and paint the country as a modernized beacon of the middle-east. This cover-up is one of the reasons Hitler felt so empowered to begin his own genocide…

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
-Adolf Hitler 1939

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Sadly, this Holocaust is still seldom recognized, and the Turkish government refuses to officially refer to it as a “genocide.” However, the genocide and death march was crystal clear for Sano, and thankfully her story was recorded so we can honor her family by spreading this knowledge. I challenge you this Thanksgiving weekend to think about how hunger can destroy and think about how blessed you are have not only food but a place to call “home.” Spread this message and help others learn this history. Not only will it help us prevent another genocide but it will help us be more thankful for the blessings we take for granted each and every day.

Further movies and books on this period in history…

Aghet: A Genocide (Documentary)

Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction (Documentary)

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (Book)

Heil Hitler: The Nazi’s Drug Addiction

Today, I saw the WWII movie Dunkirk directed by Christopher Nolan. It’s an exceptional movie, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about one of the most important events in the war. What made this film exciting for me was the knowledge that hard-core drugs made Dunkirk a possibility. Did you know that Hitler was a hardcore drug addict? Did you know the blitzkrieg was only possible because of meth? Did you know Nazis were given speed balls before kamikaze submarine missions? All of these questions are explained in the international bestseller Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler. I highly recommend this book because it completely changed my perspective on Nazi Germany. Up until this book, I saw the Nazis as superhuman- zealot nationalists who performed their tasks through the spirit of their beliefs; now I understand that their relentless drive came from drugs which kept them motivated, alert, and addicted to the war machine.

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In 1938, the German pharmaceutical company Temmler introduced Pervitin to the market. Pervitin was marketed as a magic medicine that provided energy, happiness, and the work ethic needed to expand the Third Reich. The magic of Pervitin lied in its main ingredient – methamphetamine aka Crystal Meth. This meth was available to all Germans and was given to soldiers in healthy doses during the blitzkrieg invasion of France. The blitzkrieg was only possible with Pervitin because the soldiers were able to go three days without sleep – the French soldiers couldn’t comprehend the artificial stamina of their opponents. The German tanks kept rolling because of the drugged soldier’s synthetic feelings of invincibility, and they ended up surrounding the Allies like a boa constrictor. The only escape route available for over 300,000 Allies was the coastal city of Dunkirk, France.

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Hitler, early on in his power, suffered from a host of stomach ailments which were probably due to stress and his diet. He searched for a doctor to help him, but no expert could help his infirmities; there was one doctor however that tried a different approach – his name was Theodor Morell. Morell gave Hitler vitamin injections which helped Hitler’s stomach issues – these injections quickly secured him as the Fuhrer’s personal physician. At the time of Dunkirk, Hitler was being lifted up by these daily vitamin injections which propelled his ego and narcissism – he halted the blitzkrieg because he didn’t want the military acting without his orders – in the end allowing all the allies to escape. By 1941, Hitler was in need of stronger drugs; Morell began a regimen of vitamins, animal hormones (Hitler was a strict vegetarian), and Eukodal. Eukodal is better known today as oxycodone – the fraternal twin to heroin.

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It didn’t take long before Hitler was addicted to these injections and by 1943 he was receiving even more drugs several times a day – high-grade cocaine, morphine, testosterone, and meth. Most of the high ranking Nazi staff were receiving similar injections from Morell while statewide propaganda ironically decried the drugs as “Jewish” poison not fit for the Aryan race. By the time of Hitler’s suicide in 1945, Morell had injected the “role model of Nazi health” over 800 times with 74 different substances. In the last years of his life, Hitler was receiving so many injections that he had track marks running up and down his veins. It was said that when Hitler received his injections, a cracking noise could be heard from his damaged vasculature and his blood oozed like gelatin because of its continuous exposure to animal hormones.

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The German army as a whole continued to receive state sanctioned meth throughout the war. The Third Reich would eventually experiment with cocaine and heroine – soldiers were given combinations of these three drugs to keep them fighting even when faced with utter defeat. Drugs were a tool for the Nazis and helped them accomplish superhuman tasks like the blitzkrieg, but in the end, both leaders and soldiers became burned out by their fleeting effects. Hitler was fueled by drugs, but drugs did not lead to the events of the Holocaust. Hitler’s hatred of the Jews began long before his first injection – as a healthy young man he dreamed of their extermination. The drugs hurt the Nazis more than anything. If Hitler weren’t addicted to drugs, he would have made less poor military decisions and prolonged the war – allowing greater time to kill victims in the concentration camps. Drugs in the Third Reich provided the energy for terror at the beginning of the fight but not the stamina needed for marathon fighting – oddly enough,  Morell was the Allies best weapon. 

“Hitler would go as white as a sheet and tightly clench his jaws, while his eyes would dilate. Everyone in his entourage would get panicky because these fits were always followed by an order to dismiss or to execute somebody.”
-Theodor Morell

Would you be Sterilized?

Imagine today if Donald Trump made a decree that all morons and imbeciles must be sterilized to prevent further contamination of the American gene pool. Could you imagine the uproar? Even Fox News couldn’t spin that Twitter rant, but sadly, forced sterilization is still constitutional in the United States. Ninety years ago, in the infamous case of Buck vs. Bell, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr., declared by many as the wisest man in the United States, wrote the majority opinion summarized by this one sentence:”Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The history of Buck vs. Bell and America’s dark marriage to eugenics is detailed in the fascinating book Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen.

Eugenics is defined as the purposeful cleansing of defects in the gene pool to improve a particular species. For example, eugenics is commonly used today when dogs are cross bred to remove negative health traits: English Bulldog + Labrador = Bullador. Human eugenics started in 19th century Europe with the advent of Social Darwinism. Essentially, people thought that “survival of the fittest” not only applied to animals but also to racist white guys. The whitest of the white, Nordic Europeans, viewed themselves as the beez neez and thought all other races should bow to their paleness. Many geneticists believed that every trait, belief, attribute, and characteristic of a person was passed on from their parents. There was very little understanding of the environmental impact on behavior and subsequently all vices were blamed on bad genes. Drunkenness in the Irish. Criminality in the Italians. Promiscuity in the Poles.  Usury in the Jews. Imbecility in the poor. Basically, anyone who was not a white-Northern-European-rich-pious-fricker was deemed to have poor progeny.

At the turn of the 20th century, America was becoming inundated with all sorts of new immigrants: tides of Irish, Jews, Eastern Europeans, South Americans, and Chinese. These new immigrants oftentimes lived in squalor and were more likely to commit crimes, have large families, and be less educated compared to their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. Hence, “real “Americans decided to clean up the gene pool and the States began to pass laws that allowed the sterilization of anyone who had unappealing traits. Intelligence tests were given out to see whether people were imbeciles or morons. These tests were completely erroneous and in many cases found that half of test takers were mentally unfit.

The Immigration Act of 1924 was passed in direct connection to eugenic beliefs on racial inferiority. It drastically decreased the number of immigrants from countries that were not Anglo-Saxon in origin. The climax of the eugenics movement occurred in 1927 when Buck vs. Bell went to the supreme court to determine whether Virginia had the right to sterilize Carrie Buck –  a poor-white-southerner. The case was a complete sham. Carrie was not an imbecile but rather an intelligent girl who had the bad luck of being raped and blamed for promiscuity. Carrie’s lawyer was actually on the prosecutions payroll and she was not informed about any details of the case. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was a firm believer in the “survival of the fittest” and wrote that sterilization did not impede upon Miss. Buck’s constitutional rights.

The eugenics movement in America helped Hitler cement many of his policies during WWII. The Immigration Act of 1924 assisted the Holocaust by  barring Jews from entering America. Nazi Lawyers, during the Nuremberg Trials, actually used the case of Buck vs. Bell as a justification for 1000’s of sterilizations. In total, the US sterilized over 70,000 people throughout the 20th century – the last forced sterilization was in 1981. Today, Buck vs. Bell has still not been overturned and there are cases of coerced sterilizations in prison and mental health systems. Eugenics is still a major concern with advancements in technology that can screen babies for “undesirable” traits. Is it right for a couple to abort a child who has Down Syndrome? What if we get to the point that prenatal screenings tell us the risk of stunted height or ADHD? Who gets to define what traits are good or bad? America’s history with eugenics is scary but its future is even more precarious. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of Social Darwinism and nonsensical-immigration restrictions. I think Charles Darwin said it best:

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

The Christian Church and Jewish Hatred

Take this short history quiz.

  1. In what year did the first laws pass that required Jews to wear a special form of dress (making them identifiable in public), banned Jews from public office, forbade Jews from going out during Holy Week, and required Jews to pay a “Jew Tax?”

    A. 1933
    B. 1936
    C. 1215
    D. 1709

  2. Who was the first leader that actively forced Jews to live in a walled off “Ghetto?”

    A. Adolf Hitler
    B. Constantine
    C. Pope Paul IV
    D. Mussolini

  3. Who was the famous author of  The Jews and Their Lies

    A. Adolf Hitler
    B. Henry VIII
    C. Heinrich Himmler
    D. Martin Luther

  4. Name the famous person who said this quote: “By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

    A. Pope John
    B. Martin Luther
    C. Adolf Hitler
    D. Jesus

1. The answer is C. 1215. This was the year Innocent III, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, convened the Fourth Lateran Council which wrote the aforementioned laws into Constitution 68 of the church.

2. The answer is C. Pope Paul IV. In addition to walling off all the Jews in Rome, only a mile from the Vatican, this Pope forcefully took Jewish babies for baptism, required Jews to kiss the ground where he had just stepped, and required Jewish men to wear yellow conical hats.

3. The answer is D. Martin Luther. The man who started the Protestant Reformation in 1517 wrote this 65,000 word book in 1543. He described the Jews as poisonous worms who should be put into forced labor, expelled for all time, and slain as a despicable group of people.

4. The answer is C. Adolf Hitler. Hitler wrote this in his autobiography Mein Kampf. This quote has roots in the biblical interpretation of Romans 11:25, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in…” Medieval Christians used this verse as rationale to forcefully convert and persecute Jews throughout the 1st/2nd Millennium so that the end of times could begin and the Messiah could come again.

Did this quiz surprise you? I had no idea of the Catholic and Protestant Church’s history of antisemitism until I read Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll. This is a monster book that won the National Book Award and took me three weeks to read. The whole book details the church’s views on antisemitism and how it nurtured the environment which allowed Hitler to slaughter 11 million Jews. This atrocious act was done without any major protest from the vast Christian population in Germany. Essentially, the church turned on the gas and Hitler was the one who lit the match-Christians didn’t directly kill 11 million Jews but they were responsible for the antisemitic environment that inundated the church and shaped many of Hitler’s beliefs. Hitler was a baptized Roman Catholic that was obviously off his rocker and took antisemitic views to a whole new level. But Hitler was not raised in a vacuum. The quiz I listed above highlights only a few incidences of Jewish hatred by the Christian church that occurred before Hitler’s time. During the first crusade, thousands of Jews were killed by righteous Christians on their way to Israel. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were tortured and many times killed for not converting to Christianity. During the Black Plague, Jews were blamed for the 25 million deaths because people believed they were poisoning wells. During the 13th/14th centuries in Italy and France there were mass public bonfires of confiscated Talmuds-one of the Jewish holy books.

The extent of the hatred towards Judaism is somewhat staggering and the next question you probably have is why all the hatred in the first place? This requires a extremely long answer that is best understood by reading Constantine’s Sword. To briefly explain it we have to go all the way back to the time of Jesus. Jesus was a Jew but this was soon forgotten by early Christians who saw Jesus as an outsider who was then crucified by the Jews. Concurrently,  Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, framed many Christian’s views of Jews-betrayers, money obsessed, weak, sinister, etc. Added to this negative image was the fact that Jews rejected Christianity’s main belief-Jesus as the Messiah. Hence there was resentment from Christians towards “stubborn” Jews which eventually evolved into conspiracy theories, restrictive laws, and the mentality that Christians should not allow Jews to thrive because of their obstinate beliefs. Multiply all these views by 1900 years and you have Hitler officially being supported by the Catholic Church. In 1933, the Christians of Europe and America knew about Hitler’s antisemitism. Why didn’t they protest? Some did but the majority remained silent. This is because the antisemitism, by that point in time, was an established, almost commonplace belief system. I am not saying that the church supported the killings of 11 million Jews, but they did allow Hitler to continually worsen his antisemitic policies for almost 10 years.

I am a Christian. I know the Church does many amazing things. However, I know the Church is not perfect because it is made by man. I write about these things because we must recognize the sins of the past to prevent similar atrocities in the future. Today we have many Christians who view Muslims negatively. They view Muslims as backward unbelievers who are unloving and misguided-all the while questioning how a “peaceful” religion can motivate its followers to kill. Does any of this sound familiar?

 

History Class Gave Hitler a Free Pass

Did Hitler come to power on a Monday and subsequently start slaughtering Jews on a Tuesday? The answer is obviously no but we are primarily taught in school about the events of WWII-not how we got to WWII. Usually our history class did a hop skip and jump to the juicy parts to keep our teenage selves from getting bored. Most people’s history knowledge is best described as someone who watched Titanic but only skipped to the sex scene in the car, the naked painting on the couch, the boat sinking, and Jack falling off the door in the water. I am in this same sinking boat with most people and that is why I wanted to read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. Larson is an excellent writer because he makes nonfiction read like fiction. If you are not the type to read history then you should try Larson-I promise you will not be bored. In the Garden of the Beasts follows the American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his family while they lived in Germany between 1933-1938. The book primarily details the rise of Hitler and the atmosphere of Nazi Germany through the diary of Dodd and Dodd’s daughter-Martha. This family was able to detail what life was like in Nazi Germany and how Hitler slowly morphed into the monster we know of today.

In 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany. He did this through subjugating his competition and rallying his people behind the cause of German nationalism. Shortly after Hitler was elected he began to use the Gestapo to put fear into the hearts of Jews, Communists, and anyone who did not see exactly his way. People oftentimes were beaten in the streets or were reported missing for no apparent reason. Even Americans were beaten on many occasions for failing to give the Hail Hitler salute and observing the ceaseless military parades. Furthermore, the Nazis openly passed laws that disbanded Jews from marrying non-Jews, working in certain jobs, and using certain facilities in the city. All these things were well known around the world yet no government spoke up against Hitler’s practices? Why was this? In America it was because of greed and homegrown antisemitism. Firstly, America didn’t want to upset Hitler by condemning these early actions because Germany owed the US a lot of money. The debtors were focused on collecting their interest and Germany was having difficulty making their payments. Secondly, the US had specific immigration policies in place that prevented Jews from coming to the country because there was a clear dislike of Jews among many state officials. This atmosphere was similar in other Western countries and is one reason Hitler was allowed to continue these preliminary policies.

What about the German people? Why didn’t they stop Hitler? Some Germans did try to go against Hitler but most of them were killed or imprisoned for their treason. Most Germans in those early years thought Hitler was not going to last long in politics and would actually step down. Hitler slowly became more forceful in his control over the population and eventually everyone was afraid of espionage and being taken in by the Gestapo. Living in Germany during that time was stressful and scary no matter who you were-no one felt comfortable. It was this atmosphere that allowed Hitler to take full control when President Hindenburg finally passed away. At anytime during those early years Hitler could have been stopped. His policies were disliked by most people in and outside of Germany but nothing was done. Students are taught that the US came in triumphantly, stormed Normandy, defeated Hitler, and freed the Jews in the concentration camps. But when you really look into the details is the US not partially responsible for WWII? Hitler many times over broke the Treaty of Versailles but no Western country stepped in? The reasons for these are many: an isolationist attitude, fear of losing interest payments, the Great Depression, hypocritical racist policies in the South, etc. We can’t go back and change history but what we can do is learn from history. And how can we do this? We need to teach and learn about all the scenes that took place to understand how we got to that point. Without context, Rose getting painted butt naked by her lover, could be Rose getting painted butt naked by her kidnapper. Why is this important today? In America at least, there are still groups of people who are disenfranchised and political leaders who want further disenfranchisement. It seems we want to get right to the action and skip all the details-maybe that is why history repeats itself.

The Hydrocarbon Man

Could you imagine your life without petroleum? Our daily lives from the food we eat to the cars we drive depend on the oil industry. Without oil, we would not have our comfortable life of abundance and hyper-connectivity. I always knew oil was important and that it had influenced a lot of our world politics in the last century. I never knew the full extent of how oil shaped the hydrocarbon man until I read the The Prize by Daniel Yergin. This book is 800 pages of pure geological-political-historical-orgasmical enjoyment. It won the Pulitzer Prize and encompasses the rise of the world-oil industry between 1859 to 1991. Suffice it to say there is no easy way to summarize this book. There are some very important events in world oil that everyone should know:

1859-“Colonel” Drake drills the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania
1870-John D. Rockefeller forms Standard Oil Company
1873-Oil fields in Russia open for development
1896-Henry Ford builds his first car
1901-Gusher at Spindletop, Texas discovered: beginning of Sun, Texaco, Gulf
1903-Wright Brothers first flight
1907-First drive-in gasoline station opens in St. Louis, MO
1908-Discovery of oil in modern day Iran
1910-Discovery of “Golden Lane” in Mexico
1911-US Supreme Court rules dissolution of Standard Oil Trust
1914-World War I sees first mechanization of battlefield and need for secure oil
1922-Discovery of oil in Venezuela
1930-Discovery of biggest oil deposit in East Texas
1936-Hitler occupies the Rhineland and ramps up synthetic fuel production
1938-Discovery of oil in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
1938-Mexico nationalizes foreign oil operations
1939-WWII begins with all countries heavily dependent on oil to mobilize soldiers and weaponry
1951-Iran nationalizes foreign oil operations
1952-First Holiday Inn opens (middle-class hitting the open road)
1955-First McDonald’s opens in suburban Chicago
1956-Discovery of oil in Nigeria and Algeria
1960-OPEC founded in Baghdad
1968-Oil discovered in Alaska
1973-Yom Kippur War: Arab Oil Embargo (price per barrel rises from to $2.90 to $11.65)
1975-Automobile Fuel Efficiency Standards introduced in America
1979-Iran overthrow of Shah and Iranian hostage crisis
1981-Panic from problems in Iran send oil from $13 to $34 dollars a barrel
1982-OPEC implements first quotas
1983-First launch of Crude Oil Futures
1989-Exxon Valdez tanker accident
1991-Gulf War motivated by large reserves of oil in Kuwait

That is a lot of dates but they are all very important to understand. In the beginning, America was the main world producer of kerosene which was used for lamps. Uses for oil started to change with advancements in the combustible engine. At the turn of the 20th century, oil was starting to be used for gasoline in automobiles and fuel oil for all types of transportation. World War I was an experimentation in technology and showed countries how crucial it was to have secure access to oil reserves. The outcome of World War II was determined by who had the most oil. Germany and Japan both exhausted their supplies and were helpless to move their war equipment in the last battles. After World War II, the Middle East came center stage in supplying industrialized countries and the US was no longer a supreme exporter of oil. The Middle East would use their oil to increase prices and control foreign policy up until the 1980’s. In the 80s, oil began being traded on the futures market and its price was no longer exclusively controlled by OPEC. Oil is everywhere and has shaped our modern day lifestyle, politics, and even geo-political borders. I highly recommend reading this book because it shines light on our interconnected world and how it was shaped by a single commodity.