In the wake of my column last week, “Lessons from Goebbels and Charlottesville,” I have received an avalanche of responses from readers. Some of them have been supportive, others critical. But all of them were thoughtful and introspective.
“I liked your column,” wrote retired U.S. Air Force Col. Boyd Nix, of Williamsburg. “I am anti-Nazi, anti-skinhead, anti-white supremacist and anti- Ku Klux Klan. However, the description of Joseph Goebbels’ methods reminds me of Saul Alinsky’s ‘Rules for Radicals.’ The Clintons and President Obama followed some of his rules as a means to implement social change.
“As a retired military officer and private citizen, I am both pro-American and pro-American history. Also, as a ‘Son of the South,’ I resent any person or group whose goal is to tear down or deface the statues of our founding fathers and our Civil War heroes from the south or the north. We have to learn the lessons, good or bad, from our country’s history and not rewrite it.”
A prominent, local personality with a conservative bent sent me this email: “Well done, Frank. The similarities with that awful time are frightening. Very appropriate, to remind people of the human capacity to do evil things in the guise of patriotism. The last days have been terribly discouraging; the president has been a disaster.”
Carol Nantwi, of Williamsburg, a retired law enforcement officer commented: “Your column was, as always, timely and thought provoking. Your life experiences and current day knowledge allowed you to draw this amazing analogy of what is happening in this country right now to the horrors of the past.”
“Your column is a clear, spare, rational, non-rhetorical account of what happened a few days ago, and its connections to the horrors of the 20th-century past are implicitly made and thus more thoughtful than had they been verbally italicized or underlined,” commented Mara Jayne Miller, a writer and art expert.
Not everybody seems to agree with this assessment. Michael Richardson of Williamsburg, a retired high-ranking government official, penned: “Sadly Frank, I see more of this propaganda on the ‘alt left’ side with their red or black flags of communism and anarchy as a do for the white nationalists. There were five times more leftist and demonstrators reported than were white nationalists. White nationalists will not be going anywhere, however, the ‘alt left,’ protected by the liberal media, is making progress to stop your freedom of speech, religion and right to bear arms.”
Allan Zullo, author of more than 100 books, including “Heroes of the Holocaust” published by Scholastic, summed up his opinion this way: “Great column, Frank. White supremacists claim they are protesting the removal of Confederate statues because they are honoring their ancestors. But what they are really doing is dishonoring their fathers and grandfathers who fought — and in many cases died — in World War II to save our country and civilized nations around the globe from mankind’s most heinous and dangerous white supremacist. Have people learned nothing?”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Lawrence Wilkerson, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, a retired colonel who was chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell.
“I have been comparing Miller, Bannon and others around President Trump to the gang around Hitler, for several months. ... It is a very worrisome situation. I think it was Joseph Wittreich in his book about Milton who said that history may not repeat itself, but it does often rhyme.”
I was heartened by reading those varied opinions of my readers, freely expressed. I am delighted by following the muscular debate taking place in our country over the state of affairs. And I am reassured by the role the free press is playing, as a watchdog over our democracy.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.