January 16, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
The first photograph above this column is a 2016 shot I took of the Austrian Alps from the Königssee, Germany’s third deepest lake and with water so clear that only electric boats are allowed. What we saw was beautiful, with snow still in the mountains in summer. Uber-peaceful. The next photo is also set at the Königssee, but instead of beauty and tourist delight, we see malevolence — Adolf Hitler, visiting from his nearby Wolf’s Lair at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. How quickly the quiet can leave us.
The saying is that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but the hope is society has enough memory that there will be no new Hitlers and that the would-be ones and the nearly there types are extinguished.
The difficulty arises in recognizing who is who, for evil can come masked as promise — promise of better living for the masses. Yet if the “masses” are then defined narrowly, in prejudice, as neighbor is pitted against neighbor, soon you have walls of fear, distrust, hatred as privilege takes hold.
Then no Königssee, no beautiful lake or national park or national monument would ever be tranquil and inviting. You cannot enjoy the scenery if you must constantly look over your shoulder.
America, like Germany today, is God-given awesome, with saints and sinners but largely with the majority of ordinary good people in between. Germany was not beautiful during the Third Reich, and America has been horribly ugly in its moments — Native American resettlement, lynchings, the Civil War, Japanese-American resettlement, the near-depression of 2008 caused by some greedy banks and some Wall Street interests.
Now it is 2017, and we must know our history, here in America, out in the world. We must be vigilant even as promises of gold for all are made. The greatest promise is, as ever, to end injustice, be that economic, social, ethnic, religious, lack of opportunity.
So the dilemma in 2017: false promise or actual? Who will ply the boats on our own American Königssees? The people or the devil’s handyman?
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org