For months–it seemed forever–Hitler had been shrieking about the misery of the ethnic Germans in what he called the Sudetenland, the fortified western frontier zone of Czechoslovakia, a bulge surrounded by Nazi Germany. The cruel Czechs were brutalizing the poor ethnic Germans and it was Hitler’s sacred duty to rescue his people. (The Big Lie, always delivered in a prolonged scream, was a winning Hitlerian tactic, usefully adapted by all kinds of governments ever since.) Instead of honoring a military pact and lining up behind the invaluable Czech democracy, Chamberlain and Daladier went, as suppliants, to meet Hitler in Munich on September 29, 1938 and gave him the Sudetenland, in return for a piece of paper. “Peace in our time.” It lasted less than a year. The moral of that moment in history has lasted for me permanently: never believe governments, not any of them, not a word they say; keep an untrusting eye on what they do.
~A Stricken Field (reprint afterword)
After they had public opinion all properly shaped, what good did it do? It was immensely easy to make people hate but it was almost impossible to make them help.
~A Stricken Field
“Men carve meaning into women’s faces; messages addressed to other men.”
~The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker
The wealth of the land was being tied up in the hands of a very few men. The people were not buying because they had nothing with which to buy. The big business interests were not selling, because there was nobody they could sell to.
One per cent of the people could not eat any more than any other one per cent; they could not wear much more than any other one per cent; they could not live in any more houses than any other one per cent. So in 1929, when the fortune holders of America grew powerful enough that one per cent of the people owned nearly everything, ninety-nine per cent of the people owned practically nothing, not even enough to pay their debts, a collapse was at hand.
From Every Man a King, the Autobiography of Huey P. Long
At one level inspiration is the ability to see beauty and mystery in everything men and women do. That may be a gift not everyone has.”
Ellen Gilchrist, The Writing Life
To spend time? I know what to do with money, how to sow and reap on the markets, but time? How do you spend time? And how might you learn to do so?”
Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know
It is to our credit if these are the Americans to whom we want to trace our moral genealogy. But we should not confuse the fact that they took extraordinary actions with the notion that they lived in extraordinary times. One of the biases of retrospections is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own–that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it–and someone always needs it–we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose.”
Kathryn Schulz, “Derailed” The New Yorker, 8/22/16
Knowing you are capable of more and seeing other people easily obtain it are what make unequal societies so hard to take. Conservatives deride this as envy, but seeing someone flourish where you struggle to survive is its own harm.
Anat Shenker-Osorio, Don’t Buy It