When I was 11 years old, my dad gave me the Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics for my birthday. This wonderful anthology collected many of the most historically-significant stories in comic book history, including the first appearances of Superman and Batman. Near the end of the book were some examples of the grittier, reality-based genre pioneered by EC Comics in the 1950s. It was here, in a few illustrated pages, that I learned about the Holocaust. In a story named “Master Race,” I met a character named Carl Reissman who, on a subway train in New York City, encounters a terrifying figure from his past. In a series of flashbacks, Reissman remembers the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.
The twist in the story was that Reissman had actually been the commander of the death camp, and the man on the subway had been his prisoner. When the Allies had liberated the camp, Reissman had fled, eventually making his way to America. Certain that his former victim is going to take revenge on him, Reissman runs down the deserted subway platform. In his panic, he slips and falls under an oncoming train. The unnamed survivor calmly walks away.
Having just finished reading stories featuring the likes of Captain Marvel and Plastic Man, I was shocked by the content of the story. I knew that Nazis had killed Jews during WWII, but burning people alive? Sadistic medical experiments? Lampshades made of human skin? Surely these must be horrible fantasies. I went to my parents and asked them. They grimly told me that it was all true. The Nazis had indeed made items of décor from the skin and body parts of their victims. And by the end of the war, they were skipping the gas chambers and incinerating men, women and children alive. They knew they were losing, and they wanted to kill as many of their prisoners as possible before the Allies stopped them.
Growing up in a secular Jewish household, I never had much of a sense of community or belonging. Reading this story, and subsequently learning more about the Third Reich (as well as the horrors of slavery, and the genocide of the Native Americans), affected me profoundly. How could anyone have faith in society, confronted by incontrovertible evidence that human beings can commit unthinkable atrocities to other human beings, with the full approval and endorsement of the authorities? This wasn’t the middle ages or the colonial era, it was a modern civilization dedicated to industrialized genocide.
It also troubled me deeply that the Nazis’ victims were described as helpless. Later, I learned about the Warsaw Uprising and the Resistance. There were Jewish warriors like the Bielski Partisans (the inspiration for the film “Defiance”) and Imi Lichtenfeld (the creator of Krav Maga) who fought effectively against their persecutors, but unfortunately, it was too little and largely too late.
Reading “The Master Race” taught me three things. First, anyone is capable of anything. The Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, homosexuals, and political dissidents slaughtered by the Nazis were not murdered by strangers, they were murdered by their neighbors. Second, the greatest evils are perpetrated not by individuals but by governments. Nazi Germany is only one example in a long history littered with the corpses of those who believed that leaders would treat them honorably. Finally, you must never allow yourself to be helpless and defenseless.This website places a strong emphasis on personal safety and self-defense topics, and that’s why. No matter who you are, you never know when somebody is going to come for you.
It is, therefore, with keen interest that I have watched the parallel rise of the white supremacist and jihadist ideologies in America today. Historically, extremist movements always have economic roots. The crushing debt of World War I – specifically the reparations Germany was forced to pay – paved the way for Hitler by breeding tremendous resentment among the German people. They wanted someone to blame for their problems, and he pointed the finger at anyone who didn’t fit the mold of mainstream German society. The same process works in non-European cultures. Scratch away the religious pretense of Islamism, and you’ll find an internecine battle for control of Middle East oil. The leaders get rich, and the followers get a free pass to lash out at the people they don’t like.
The press likes to blame President Trump for feeding “alt-right nationalism,” but the movement was well in motion before he entered the political arena. Yes, it was a wave of anger at the elites, the media, and the political establishment that carried Trump to the White House, but the problem isn’t Trump, the problem is that the same anger is feeding extremist movements. I’m not saying that all Trump supporters are neo-Nazis; I’m saying that neo-Nazis and Trump supporters are angry for the same reasons, and therefore there is somewhat of an overlap. Frankly, we see the same phenomenon on the Left, albeit in a less organized way: all liberal activists aren’t rioting or advocating violence, but the people burning and looting Charlotte, Oakland and Baltimore, or ambushing cops in Baton Rouge, were angry for the same reasons, and therefore – again – there is somewhat of an overlap.
When people are angry about their lot in life, they look for someone to blame, and it’s generally someone other than themselves. The more a person is “the other,” the easier it is to be angry at them. Thus, liberals blame conservatives; white supremacists blame immigrants and minorities; Islamists blame anyone who doesn’t belong to their particular sect of Islam.
Incidentally, in case you’re not familiar with Neo-Nazi philosophy, their opinion of women is not very high either. White women are viewed as property, to be used as breeding vessels for white babies, and non-white women are considered subhuman, fit only for use as a means of sexual release. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s roughly the same view that Islamic extremists hold of their own women. It is a grim fact that whenever men fight, women suffer.
Skeptics point out that we’ve had a Nazi party (as well as the KKK and similar groups) for many years, and the majority of Americans still find them completely abhorrent. That may be, but even if white supremacists don’t gain any kind of legitimacy in the public sphere, it would be a serious mistake to ignore them. Indeed, it is just as serious a mistake as ignoring the threat of Islamic extremism or inner-city unrest. If history teaches us anything, it is to watch the trend lines. Just because something is small today doesn’t mean it will be small tomorrow. The Jihadist and Neo-Nazi leaders are encouraging their followers to get armed, get trained, and start taking action. Should we address the economic issues that are the root of all this anger? Absolutely. But that’s going to be a long, uphill struggle. In the meantime, to put it bluntly, if you happen to be in the crosshairs of an angry mob, a pussyhat and a letter to your Senator are not going to help you.
The minorities in Europe and the Middle East believed they were safe, right up until they realized they weren’t. By then, they had been disarmed and isolated. The lucky ones escaped. The others died. With extremists, there is no such thing as neutrality. It is always “join or die.” And, as any radicalized teenager who traveled to Afghanistan and Yemen to join ISIS will tell you, joining isn’t exactly a great deal either.
If you don’t like extremists, they don’t like you. And if you wait until they’re at your door to figure out how you’re going to defend yourself, it will be too late. There’s a famous quote about not speaking up when they came for other people, but there’s an even more famous quote: “talk is cheap.” Take action. You don’t have to like guns or fighting, but you should learn how to fight and how to use a gun. Take some Krav Maga classes (street-tested against Nazis since 1935), and take a defensive pistol course at your local shooting range. Take the initiative to protect yourself. If a gang is threatening your life, it doesn’t really matter whether they’re Nazis, Jihadists or rioters. You are responsible for your own safety. As that EC Comic taught me long ago, you can’t count on anybody else to protect you.