Even chickens are enlisting

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about an exhibit of World War I recruitment posters J and I saw at the Museum of Fine Arts several years ago. One of the posters showed a respectable-looking man looking a bit sheepish as the child on his knee calmly asks, “Daddy, what did YOU do during the Great War?” At the time, I chuckled at the not-so-subtle guilt trip the poster laid on viewers. Now, however, the question posed by the poster weighs heavily on my mind.

Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?

I don’t have children, so no daughter of mine will ever interrogate me from the quiet comfort of my lap. But I believe the eyes of history will look back on our generation and ask similarly difficult questions.

What did German citizens do while Hitler rose to power and built camps in the neighboring countryside, and what did American citizens do when people of Japanese descent were ordered into internment camps? I suspect both Germans and Americans at the time would say “We did what we were told” or “We minded our own business” or “We kept our heads down and followed the law.” One of the most indelible images I have of the Holocaust shows Allied troops leading German civilians through the newly-liberated death camps, forcing respectable citizens to look at what had been happening in their own backyards. “What could we do,” the blank expressions of these villagers seem to say. “We are just ordinary people.”

Everyone should do his bit

One of the most powerful moments in Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine, a slim but devastatingly powerful novel about Japanese internment, happens after an unnamed Japanese-American family returns from the camp where they were held, only to face the stone silence of the neighbors who watched the evacuation orders go up and Japanese-American citizens disappear without nary a peep of protest. Are we really so well-conditioned that we would look the other way while injustice happens to someone else?

Wake up, America

This week, I wrote a quick thank-you know to former First Lady Laura Bush for her Washington Post opinion piece decrying the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies; I also contacted my members of Congress, helped distribute a weekly checklist that helps ordinary citizens be more politically active and engaged, and continued writing postcard after postcard in support of Democratic candidates. I can’t do everything to fix the predicament our country is in, but I feel compelled to do something. Trump and his base aren’t listening to the likes of me, and they aren’t listening to Laura Bush, either, but that won’t stop me from speaking.

What did you do during the Great Resistance, the next generation will ask. Did you turn away and stay silent, or did you do whatever you could to fight?