As a teacher, one of my favorite subjects was U.S. history. I used children’s picture books and novels to make our country’s history understandable for 10-year-olds. They loved the stories where the kids were the heroes standing up for the persecuted and even saving lives.
The children would often ask how these things could happen. How could people stand by while fellow citizens were persecuted? How could they turn their heads while political opponents were demonized, supremacy was celebrated, and groups of people were the targets of poisonous rants? How could they ignore bans on ethnic groups, travel restrictions, and trade wars? How could they disregard attacks on the press, the degradation of science and facts, and the bastardizing of the truth? How could good people live next door to camps of starving people and pretend they didn’t exist? How could they see parents separated from their children and go on with their daily lives like normal? How could they watch people torn from their homes and forced on a 1,000-mile march to reservations, sold on auction blocks, or sent to internment camps?
They wonder had they lived at that time would they have cheered on the slave catchers or been part of the Underground Railroad? Would they have moved into a neighbor’s abandoned home or taken care of it for them until their return? Would they have stood on a sidewalk as people were screaming names at a 5-year-old integrating a school or held her hand? Would they have joined the Nazi Youth or the resistance?
In essence, would they turn their heads and ignore atrocity or would they defy it and stand up and speak out? Ask yourself the same questions. Then look in the mirror, because what you are doing now is probably what you would have done then. These stains on our history happened with either overt or subtle approval of many fellow citizens – just as they are today.