By T.C. Currie
I was a precocious reader, as most writers are, I’ve found. At the ripe age of twelve, my librarian discovered I was reading my way through my brother’s collection of Sherlock Holmes, which I found so much more interesting than Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins. She looked at me for a minute, then walked me over to Adult Fiction and handed me The Three Musketeers.
I was thrilled. What a story! I returned the book and headed back to this magical section. Next, I picked up the Count of Monte Cristo. Now, as an innocent Christian white girl in Denver, Colorado, a lot of the more salacious passages went over my head, (I wrote about this a few years ago) but man, I loved the story. And the words! The words created worlds in which I immersed myself. I happily read and read and read. The Bronte sisters. Mark Twain. Charles Dickens. Fiction let me escape. Fiction let me soar.
I encountered my first non-fiction book at 14. My mother, born in 1938, decided she wanted to know more about the history of World War II and was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by journalist William L. Shirer. Ooh, I thought, a real adult book!
But I only knew how to read fiction, how to immerse myself fully into an alternative reality, how to be absorbed into the story, the time and the place. So I read this book with that same technique, only this time, I descended into hell and read about raw hatred for the first time in my sheltered existence. Real, unadulterated, codified, popularized, bureaucratized and weaponized hatred. Looking at the photos of a hard man with a strange moustache, the crowds at his speeches, then at the piles of bodies and the walking skeletons who were emancipated, I was shaken to my core.
“How could this happen?” I asked my mom. “Why didn’t they stop it?”
“I don’t know,” she answered.
In 9th grade, we read The Diary of Anne Frank. I was stunned at her courage. As the class discussed the hardships she went through and her tragic end, I thought about myself living in an attic with my family (oh god please no). I thought about those who hid her, and then hid her diary. Would I have that courage? I wondered. But I lived in America. We won that war. I was safe, and would never be asked to make that choice.
I grew older, and the missing pieces started to fill in. As a history major, I learned the causes of World War II, the desperation planted in the soil of abject German defeat and watered by a world-wide economic depression. A madman who slid slowly into power, creeping bit by bit, normalizing hatred until the burning of bodies seemed like a logical conclusion.
My favorite history profession taught Asian Studies, which turned into my minor. Every class I took from him had one lecture devoted to fascism, what it is, what leads up to it, how it works and how to identify the warning signs. “America will never go communist,” he said, lecturing less than ten years after the end of the Vietnam War. “It’s fascism that’s the threat. You don’t need a majority to turn the tide, you only need 10-20% of dedicated believers willing to take action. If the majority is ambivalent, that’s enough.” I listened and took notes because there was always a question about fascism on the final. In Asian History 1 & 2. In Chinese Empires. In The History of the Raj. In Pacific Wars. And it worked. His warnings seeped into my brain.
And my professors answered the question my mother couldn’t. I finally found out how.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The short answer is that good people, like Pastor Niemoller, did nothing. Hate was slowly normalized, in tiny steps, fully backed by the government and a sophisticated propaganda machine who skillfully turned neighbor against neighbor, father against son. It’s not me, they said, as they watched their neighbors being stolen away, never to return. Would I take the easy path? I’m privileged in this country. White, middle class, educated. It’s not likely they’ll come for me, unless I take action. Would I take the safe way?
I saw the movie Julia with my friends, where Lillian Hellman smuggled money into Berlin for her friend. After the move, we had several of the long discussions that mark one’s college years, passionately arguing, justifying our points of view over beer & nachos. What would we do? we asked ourselves. Would I stand up to evil? In Reagan’s America, safe, secure, arguing my liberal politics, of course I would, I stated firmly. But privately I wondered if I would have the strength. Am I a coward?
Later, I married a black man, educated myself about racism in America, and I learned. I listened to black people and I believed them. I watched Ken Burn’s Civil War. I heard real stories about World War II from my father-in-law, who went into France 2 days after D-Day, walking over dead bodies still on the beach. He lived through the Battle of the Bulge and liberated a concentration camp. He was a hero, awarded a silver star and is buried at Arlington. He was brave, by far the most brave person I had ever met. I changed my hardline pacifist stance. Wars were sometimes desperately necessary. But what would I do?
Through all this, I remained politically active, voting in every election, and keeping up with the news and issues. I consider this to be a responsibility of living in this country. I cannot understand people who don’t vote. As time passed I read Elie Wiesel, watched Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice. And wondered.
So in 2016, when I finally started attention to Donald Trump’s candidacy, I found it very frightening. Since the Republicans had dismantled the fairness rule several years before (each candidate must be given equal air time), the media soaked up the ratings as they covered his outrageous antics with abandon. Other candidates, serious men with whom I seriously disagree on every issue, but serious men who understand politics and how this country runs, fell to the wayside one by one, victims of his outrageousness and media savvy. But in amongst the antics, the specter of fascism starting rearing its head. As the campaign went on, emboldened by the complete lack of unbiased, journalistic reporting by the media, he started using the same techniques as Hitler. Openly mocking the physical disability of a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist. De-humanizing and belittling women and people of color. Rallying cries uniting people by hate, not hope. Make America Great Again. Lock Her Up. Demonizing their political opponents. Calling us snowflakes, fragile and not able to stand the heat. Violence occurring at political rallies, previously unheard of. Tiny steps. And lie after lie after lie. Not even clever lies, just spewing words that sounded good in the moment but easily proven false. “I did not have lunch with that man.” “Here’s a picture of you having lunch with him.” All going completely unchecked in the media.
Then the election, and the shared aftershock from 26 million people slamming into a brick wall at a thousand miles an hour. On my Facebook feed, when we were silently screaming in pain and shock, Kelli Stanley said we’re going to need respite from our anger and we’re going to need entertainment. It’s going to be a long haul, she said, and we’re going to need art to sustain us. Are you in?
Kelli spun up Nasty Woman Press out of thin air, despair and hope. The non-profit will publish anthologies of fiction about our time. Writers will be paid and any money left over will be donated to those institutions hardest hit by this administration’s policies. Win, win, win.
In the short ten months it’s taken to get NWP up and running, Trump has taken America from a respected world leader to a laughingstock, a stunning descent. Last weekend, armed nazis took to the streets in Charlottesville, VA and the President of the United States would not condemn them. It’s the first time I was glad my beloved father-in-law had passed.
To my deep dismay, I am now in a position to find out just what I am made of.
They were wrong, those good people in Germany, who said, “it’s not me.” They are wrong, the good people in my life now telling me that it doesn’t affect me, not really. You have a job, they say, you have a home. You are white. They won’t be coming for you.
But it is me. It’s all of us. We’re in this together. And I am in. What better way to join the resistance then by writing?
So this is me, stepping up. With my knowledge of history, it’s likely I’ll need much more courage in the times to come. If I continue to speak out I understand that I am putting a target on myself.
Perhaps not. Perhaps we can actually learn from history. Perhaps we can still remove the fascists from the seat of power. We have the knowledge that the good people in Germany did not have. We have seen this before. We know where it will end up. And we know that we have to stop it now.
After all, millions of snowflakes banded together can create an avalanche.
In the meantime, I’m glad to finally have an answer. And I’m happy to think my 12-year-old self would be proud.
NOTE: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a tour-de-force, highly recommended, and free to Amazon Prime members.