Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Burning of Rome, Strassbourg, The Night of the Long Knives, Kristallnacht, and YOU. So You Say You Want a Revolution?

I would like to set the TARDIS for Rome, CE 64.  The Emperor is Nero, a hedonist who throws lavish parties and builds great monuments to Rome.

The countryside is full of estates belonging to citizens - that is, men of power who are part of the military and who have influence on the Consul, who in turn has power on the Emperor.  These men run their estates using plebs and slaves.  Because in Rome, not even the Emperor is free.  

Women in Rome have no real authority; however, they can use their positions in their various households to influence public thought and to persuade.

For centuries, Rome has been the home of pagan religion - which essentially means that each place is understood to have it's own "genius" or guardian spirit.  The pagani are a motley lot, with varying beliefs that the Consulate has been trying to reign in for ages without much success.  Every day is essentially a holiday, which makes it rather hard for the Empire to build new industry or have stability within without the use of slavery.

A new religion, Christianity, has sprung up out of nowhere seemingly, and it threatens the peace.  It questions the authority of the Emperor and the Consulate.  It claims that men have divine rights.  It speaks of compassion and industry, personal responsibility and forgiveness, of self empowerment and delivery from suffering through service to your fellow man.  Much more dangerous is the idea that man does not require the Emperor or a priest or priestess to act as an intercessor between him and Divinity.

These are dangerous times in Rome; many paradigms are being shattered much too quickly for the populace to adjust.  The rulers attempt to continue as best as they can, and to ensure that outlying and competing empires know that Rome is powerful and strong, continue to throw lavish and expensive parties, to build, build, build, and to ride the populace harder than ever.  To distract them, the Arena is opened in order to entertain the masses -- and to "harden them" to the realities of war and commerce.

One night - no one will ever know how - a fire breaks out.  Nero blames the Christians for the fire, as they have been the part of the populace which has been most vocal against his Divine Leadership.  Various historical accounts claim that Nero fiddled while Rome burnt; and perhaps he did.  What else was there for him to do while his beloved Empire burnt around him?  Other accounts claim that as soon as he returned, he set about repairing the damages and caring for the refugees as best he could.

What IS known is that the fire led to the persecution of the Christians by Rome, a state that continued until Constantine publicly declared himself to be a Christian, following a vision of a cross set against the sun and the words "By this sign, ye shall overcome".  A tactical decision that lead to the change of ideology for the rest of the world.

Back into the TARDIS!  Next stop, February 14, 1349, to a community called Strassbourg, high up in the Alpines.  It is a dark night, and the wind is howling.  There have been many deaths in this community lately from the plague we now know as the Black Death.  No one knows what causes it; the priests insist it is a plague from God brought to punish the masses for their sins; the rumours state that the Jews - who abide by Talmudic conventions regarding food and hygiene practices - have poisoned the wells.  The blood libel that the pagans of Rome once claimed of the Christians - that they murdered infants and drank their blood and poisoned the wells - has been transferred to the Jews.

There is an important note here as well - because Christian convention prohibits simony and the lending of money, they must work with the Jews in order for trade and commerce to function.  Therefore, the Jews are held responsible not just for the deaths caused by plague, but by the fall of the economy and the hunger the population now faces.  Catholic nuns are claiming to have been impregnated by evil spirits; the Jews must be to blame.

The Jews pay a tithing to the city council for their protection as bonded slaves to the Catholic empire, and therefore the council must at least attempt to protect them.  As well, the most recent Papal Bull has stated that it is a sin to declaim anyone guilty of poisoning the wells.  So the council initiates tribunals according to the custom -- that is, Trial By Ordeal -- in other words, torture.  Though people were broken and killed on the wheel and the rack, none confess.

Tempers are flaring, no one is thinking, fear is everywhere.  Riots break out for three days and nights.

On the third night, the darkness around Strassbourg is lit up by bonfires and shrieking.  The citizens have brought their brand of justice to the Jewish population -- death by fire.

Back in the TARDIS now.  Our next stop is Germany, circa 1934.

The German Empire is in shambles.  First there was the dissolution of what we know now as the Austro-Hungarian Empire following The Great War, and the loss of Austria - which was essentially the German bread basket and primary cultural centre, then following the end of the Great War, the economic sanctions via the Reparations Act enforced by the League of Nations.  The banking system and political system is corrupt; the currency is ridiculously inflated, jobs are scarce, industry is having a hard time getting a hold of raw material, and commerce is entirely in the hands of a small few who are consolidating power.  Because that's what you do during times of economic distress; consolidate power. Including you my dear reader, no matter who you are -- whether it be in the form of food, money, Bitcoins, blankets and clothing, books, or knowledge.  Consolidation during times of stress is a biological function it would appear -- just look into bacteria.

The money isn't worth the paper it is printed on.  Toilet paper is more valuable.  Cats and dogs are going missing in the streets as food.  The number of the homeless and begging children has skyrocketed.  Except perhaps for those fortunate enough to be living on working farms, hunger is biting everywhere.  And the weather is creeping into your bones.

To get a job that pays well, one must know someone. Nepotism, you see.  So the bankers hire their family and friends because they can trust them, because you can't trust anyone these days.  

The abused - and abusive son - of a drunken lout in Wiemar, Germany, who dreams of being an artist and a genius but is socially forced to pursue a life as a civil servant to please his family, has become a bit of a celebratory figure. And why not?  He comes from a powerful family; he served his time as a medic and dispatcher in the Great War, he was incarcerated for his opinions after making a speech in a pub.

He has a magnetic personality and a simple solution.  Blame the Jews!  They control the banks, they must be the reason why the people are suffering.  People are drawn to him and his logic.  He makes other powerful friends.  

They first organize a group known as the Brown Shirts, who behave much like a Boy Scout group - keeping the peace, organizing public meetings, distributing information, providing people with ways to survive, etc.  And as they gain the public trust, they gain power over the public.  They are officially known as the National Socialist Party, As political tensions across the nations rise, there is division within the party.

On a hot summer weekend, there is a political purge.  Murders on the streets and silent assassinations are carried out throughout Germany, removing those who would stand in the way of the consolidation of Hitler's ringleaders.  The German people are informed that the purge took place to remove the threat of a military coupe and martial law from being enacted.  

Fast forward a few years.  It is a cold November night, when suddenly the sounds of screams and shattering glass breaks out.  Squads of men are moving through the streets, destroying Jewish shops and property and assaulting Jewish citizens.  Everything is a shambles; the police are too upset by the anguished shrieking of the victims to act, while Nazi party members come forward to intervene. Kristallnacht - the Night of Breaking Glass - has come.  

All throughout the night, there are screams and breaking sounds; fires and wailing.  The citizenry for the most part closes their windows, hoping and praying "If I don't speak up, if I keep my neck down, I will be safe."

When the night is over, the people of Germany are informed that the economic and social persecution of the Jewish citizens is not enough; for indeed, using Nazi logic, the Jews brought Kristallnacht on themselves by draining the nation of wealth, and therefore they responsible for their own abuse.

This is the point at which the incarceration and rounding up of the Jewish population begins.

The German citizens are thus cleansed of "moral culpability" for not trying to intervene to stop these atrocities -- it was not their fear that stopped them, but the understanding that the Jews were responsible for their fate because they conspired against the nation.

And now, dear reader....  I would like to ask....  Where were you standing on these nights?  Did you throw gasoline on those fires with your opinions?  Did you put up posters in these digital streets blaming the Jews for the downfall of the economy?  Did you stick your head back inside when your street burst open into chaos and violence?

Moral culpability is a funny thing.

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