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“Why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret.”…At all points we must oppose fascism, wherever it is open to attack. We must soon bring this monster of a state to an end. A victory of fascism in this war would have immeasurable, frightful consequences.”
- From the third leaflet of the White Rose.
71 years ago last week, on February 18, 1943, three idealist anti-fascist whistleblowing students at the University of Munich were arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo for protesting their war-mongering German government by the publication and distribution of a series of anti-Hitler leaflets in Munich and other German cities (read them online at: http://www.whiterosesociety.org/WRS_pamphlets_home.html).
These courageous protestors, fully aware that their acts of civil disobedience could have lethal consequences (long prison terms or even the death penalty), were members of a resistance group that was code-named the White Rose. The students had seen their fascist nation commit international war crimes and crimes against humanity that would later be defined as such at the Nuremberg Trials in 1947. Knowing that something had to be done, they organized the movement to try to raise the consciousness of their cowardly grown-ups about Germany’s pro-war criminal leadership.
The three that were arrested on February 18 included two medical students (Christoph Probst and Hans Scholl - both of whom had recently returned from the Eastern Front where they worked in field hospitals serving injured German soldiers) and Hans Scholl’s sister Sophie. They were part of a larger group of students who had published and/or distributed the leaflets, hoping to stimulate a resistance movement against German militarism, war-mongering, mass imprisonments, anti-Semitism, secret prisons, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial assassinations.
Liberal-minded as these students were, they would also have vocally protested against other fascist abuses like racism, economic oppression, xenophobia and homophobia, if they had been aware. The White Rose would also have protested against Nazi Germany’s secret development of the deadly UAVs (the unmanned aerial vehicles - the V1 and V2 rockets) which were yet to be deployed.
For their efforts these otherwise truly patriotic, homeland-loving students were tried and convicted of treason (within five days after their arrests) in a brief show trial (in which neither defense witnesses or effective defense attorneys were permitted) that was rapidly convened on February 23, 1943. The results of the “trial” had obviously been pre-determined by the diabolical Ministry of Justice (the equivalent of America’s Department of Justice) that wanted the maximum punishment allowed by law. This so-called People’s Court that tried and convicted the White Rose members was presided over by the infamous, shrieking, foul-mouthed, right-wing hanging judge, Roland Freisler, who later, in what was widely regarded as an act of divine justice, was killed two years later in an allied bombing raid on Berlin on February 3, 1945.
The White Rose Movement Lives! (in the Transform Now Plowshares Movement)
Last week, on February 18, 2014, exactly 71 years from the date of the arrests and imprisonments of the White Rose group, three harmless (unless you are an entity that is preparing to commit crimes against humanity), mild-mannered, non-violent whistleblowers - entirely motivated by their Christian faith - were sentenced in a Tennessee federal court to prison terms ranging from 3 to 5 years for committing a symbolic act of civil disobedience against their own war-mongering nation (that has been developing and stock-piling nuclear weapons of mass destruction at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee). The HEUMF is a facility for the storage of weapons-grade uranium. (The development and storage of weapons of mass destruction or their precursors (and the implied intent to use them) is widely regarded by ethical people as an international war crime and a crime against humanity.)
It is important to know that the United States is a signatory to the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Biological and Toxin Weapons. The spirit of that agreement is to make “progress toward general and complete disarmament, including the prohibition and elimination of all types of weapons of mass destruction”…and to prohibit the “development, production and stockpiling” of such weapons.
The US is also a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1993. That international agreement also prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons (uranium and plutonium are chemicals). The United States’ close allies Israel and Egypt both of whom are the recipients of annual multibillion dollar military weapons from US weapons manufacturers (AKA taxpayer-supported “foreign aid”) are not member nations of either convention.
Transform Now Plowshares
The group of Catholic Workers who call themselves the Transform Now Plowshares movement takes their name from Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, now shall they learn war anymore.” For much more on this most recent action (which won’t be seen on mainstream TV) see: http://transformnowplowshares.wordpress.com/.
This small group of experienced peacemakers (who pose no threat to any sentient being on the planet but who have been imprisoned, at taxpayer expense, for many months while awaiting trial and sentencing) were profoundly inspired by the clear ethical teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (summarized so well in the Sermon on the Mount) and the examples of Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the Berrigan brothers, Martin Luther King and a whole host of other courageous conscientious objectors to war and killing, including the White Rose martyrs.
The three Plowshares members now serving time in federal prison include Greg Boertje-Obed, a widely respected long-term resident of the Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker community in Duluth, Minnesota (and a member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 80), Michael Walli, and a gentle, elderly Roman Catholic nun, sister Megan Rice (who, because of the sensitivity of US District Court Judge Amul R. Thapar, will “only” be in prison for the next three years).
This altruistic group was – and still is - hoping to raise citizen awareness of and stimulate resistance to America’s aggressive militarism, war-mongering, mass imprisonments not to mention its racism, economic oppression, xenophobia, homophobia, secret prisons, torture and extrajudicial assassinations (in other words, quasi-fascism). The members of Transform Now Plowshares are among the many Catholic Workers and assorted other peacemakers who have been protesting America’s drone program and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) - which are appropriately named the Reaper and the Predator. These drones, since the George W. Bush administration, have been increasingly engaged in extrajudicial assassinations, with many innocent deaths resulting (euphemistically called “collateral damage”). (Note: this would be a good place to watch WikiLeak’s “Collateral Murder” video, courtesy of Bradley Manning at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo22QlP6NgQ) for an example of extrajudicial killings of innocent victims by an Apache helicopter crew in Baghdad in 2007. Or check
The Heroism of the White Rose and Plowshares Groups
The Nazis thought that the influence of the White Rose ended with their arrest, trial and immediate beheadings. Very little press coverage was allowed by Hitler, probably out of fear that citizen outrage would be generated (which was the goal of the White Rose actions).
Similarly, there has been very little coverage of the Transform Now Plowshares action in the mainstream media. I would suspect that only a tiny minority of Americans are aware of the issues involved, just as most “good Germans”, like the three monkeys, “saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no truth” out of fear of what might happen to them if they did (no matter what was happening to the victims of their government, military, police or security apparatus).
The powerful story of the White Rose, the police interrogation, the trial and the punitive nature of a fascist judicial system was nicely portrayed in the powerful movie about the White Rose, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (watch the trailer and assorted clips from the film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x14U3R3-dFE).
The White Rose movement (as did the Plowshares group) saw clearly the loss of liberty and freedom, the shredding of human rights and the reality that modern wars are not just evil, but also futile and unwinnable. By the summer of 1942, these well-educated White Rose members, who knew that resisting Hitler in any form was a serious crime, became aware of the existence of secret prisons, torture and concentration camps. They also knew that hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been murdered in the camps.
The White Rose members also knew that (despite extensive press censorship of the mainstream German media) atrocities were being committed in Nazi-occupied Poland. Polish intellectuals were being disappeared, military-age Polish men were being murdered and young Polish women were being forced into prostitution to “service” German soldiers in Norway. The legendary “rape and pillage” engaged in by soldiers is not just a metaphor. It was true in the world wars and has been true in every war, even those involving American boys.
The White Rose student group, dozens of which were scattered around Germany, knew that Hitler’s aggressive war-mongering and state-sponsored terrorism was making Germany the most hated nation in the world. So, being the true patriots that they were (who loved their homeland enough to have an argument with it) and being people with an intact conscience, they knew that they could no longer be passive.
After the end of the Great War (1914-1918), millions of wounded, demoralized, combat-traumatized war veterans, among them Adolf Hitler and many other Nazis-to-be, came home crazy, angry, disabled, unemployable and looked for someone to blame for their plight. Many of these angry veterans formed into armed, street-fighting militia groups all over Germany, including the infamous Brown Shirts who eventually became beholden to Hitler and the Nazi Party. The Brown Shirts obediently followed any and all orders to harass Jews, socialists, labor unionists, homosexuals, intellectuals and assorted leftists who had liberal, democratic or socialist beliefs.
These well-armed militias established their power and influence through fear, not by the strength of their ideas but by intimidating others with their guns and willingness to commit violent acts, while the conservative police and the conservative courts looked the other way.
Embarrassing the Authorities was a Capital Crime in Nazi Germany
Although the “crime” that the White Rose members were accused of and convicted of was simply circulating the “subversive” leaflets, the real infraction may have been the act of embarrassing the Gestapo and humiliating the Nazis by successfully evading detection for so many months.
The same could be said of the American Plowshares group. They embarrassed the Y-12 nuclear bomb-making facility at Oak Ridge by breaking into it so easily; and they embarrassed the American government by exposing the nuclear facility’s unethical weapons operations while it was simultaneously having a tantrum over Iran’s and North Korea’s puny and infantile nuclear programs. “Hell hath no fury like a government scorned.”
And so our government punishes and marginalizes America’s truth-tellers, whistleblowers and prophetic voices like Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks. And think about the thousands of political prisoners in US history, including this handful: Eugene Debs, Sacco and Vanzetti, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Bradley Manning – and now the Plowshares group, all of whom are clearly prisoners of conscience.
The Nazis thought that the influence of the White Rose ended with their arrest, trial and beheadings. The trial, so well portrayed in the Sophie Scholl movie was orchestrated by the notorious Freisler, the Nazi judge who organized “People’s Court” show trials that the Nazis then usually used for propaganda purposes to frighten the people and keep them silent. It seems that most governments fail to realize that the punishment of people of conscience usually backfires. Rather than eliminating them from the pages of history, martyrdom actually makes popular models of them so that their spirits continue to live on, inspiring future nonviolent resistance efforts. Surely the Transform Now Plowshares, inspired as they were by the White Rose, will surely spawn other such movements. Stand up for all our brave anti-fascists and demand clemency for them.
Dr Kohls is involved in peace and justice and writes a regular column for the Duluth Reader, the alternative newsweekly that serves the greater Duluth, MN area. His critiques fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism and other movements that are anti-democratic.