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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On September 1st, 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland instigated World War II. This is a picture of me near the Barbican, which forms the north entrance to the Polish city of Krakow. British poet W.H. Auden--who was living in New York that year--wrote about the moment in a poem with the date as its title. Here are the opening and closing stanzas:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return...

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

"What occurred in Linz," of course, was the birth of Adolf Hitler, along with his development into one who imagined himself a victim and blamed others for his failures. He expanded this pernicious trait into an ideology, and millions of others embraced it. The 'victim mentality' is the basis for authoritarian behavior and the source of the most vicious human behavior. Millions continue to embrace it today. It's now also called "fundamentalism."

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