Tag Archives: ww ii

The Diverging Paths: Heroes or Hitler?

By Chris Warren

A Twenty First Summer article from December 13, 2014 was about men who started life as ordinary citizens but when duty called they stood up to defend the United States in World War II, rightfully earning the title of “hero” and a place of high honor in history. At the other end of the scale are those who have committed ghastly war crimes and not only are they never punished, they aren’t the least bit remorseful. Two divergent paths: One ending with the pride and thanks of a grateful nation, the other ending in complete defeat of the genocidal megalomania of Adolph Hitler, a historical figure so profoundly offensive that seven decades after his death it’s still creepy to see his name in print.

Soren Kam, WW II era photo.
Soren Kam, WW II era photo.

Soren Kam could have taken his life in a different direction; now he is one of the reasons why we should keep Hitler’s name in circulation for the higher purpose of making sure the hate he preached doesn’t spread too far. Kam, who recently died at the age of 93, was a Danish citizen who joined the Nazi party during World War II. He is suspected of helping identify Danish jews so they could be deported to concentration camps, and at the time of his death remained one of the most wanted war criminals. He was also a highly decorated SS officer who murdered an anti-Nazi newspaper editor. And, like most Nazis, it’s almost a certainty that he is guilty of many other crimes that cannot be proven back to him.

A common argument floating around is that all the escaped Nazis are now in their 90’s and there is no practical reason to go after them. In a loose way, the argument holds up: A ninety-something year old man is typically not a danger to society. Spending considerable time and money to apprehend him and place him on trial just to prove a philosophical point seems like an unfruitful use of resources. The problem with this argument is it implies that justice means less the longer someone can run away from it and it tramples on the feelings of victims and their descendants. Giving evil men a pass, just forgetting about it, letting bygones be bygones –whatever trite label one wants to stick on it– benefits no one except the guilty.

What is particularly crude about Soren Kam is that he did not deny his involvement in the Nazi party and by many accounts was even proud of it right up to his death. He escaped to Germany after the war and exploited legal loopholes to avoid extradition back to Denmark. He lived a comfortable lifestyle as a free man for many decades and was never held accountable for his crimes. Knowing this adds greatly to the burden carried by the victims. There is already little solace for the aggrieved; no one should think that the passage of time makes them whole.

Decent people will wonder how someone who was involved in one of the most monstrous crimes in recorded history could so easily and openly get away with it. One of the faults of decent people is that in our hearts we so badly want to think life is fair when in our heads we know it isn’t. This conflict is never resolved. We spend more energy than we probably should being angry at the injustices we see, not because the anger isn’t warranted, but because no purpose is served by it.

The best we can get out of the barely-human filth that was Soren Kam is that it is his thought process, not ours, that is screwed up. There is a justice system not of this Earth which always makes the right call and ultimately gives everyone exactly what they deserve. Believing some version of karma will sentence people like Kam to the punishment they did not receive during their biological lifetimes doesn’t go very far to settle the hearts of the victims’ families in the here and now, but that, along with the empathy of decent people everywhere, is as close to a fair deal as they are going to get.

The Didactic Silence of Sir Nicholas Winton.

By Chris Warren.

Rare is the man who does something great and keeps it to himself. In a time of instant gratification and “likes” and ever escalating public self affirmations, simply doing the right thing only because it’s the right thing and not for recognition seems like an anachronism. A lot of people perform good deeds —which is awesome— and then go and brag about it, usually on the internet. It’s almost as if they are really doing it for themselves and the benefit to others is merely a pleasant side effect.

In late 1939 Nicholas Winton was a young English stockbroker looking forward to a leisurely ski trip in Switzerland when at the last moment he changed his plans and went to Prague, Czechoslovakia instead to help a friend with humanitarian work. Hitler was marching across Europe and there were a lot of innocent bystanders, particularly children. On a whim and with no resources, experience, or diplomatic contacts, Winton remained in Prague for months and singlehandedly arranged safe passage to England for 669 Jewish children who would have otherwise been murdered by the Nazis.

For fifty years, Winton never told anyone about what he did. In the late 1980s, his wife found a scrap book with detailed evidence of her husband’s pre-war rescue effort. Only then did the rest of the world find out about Nicholas Winton’s amazing act of altruism. On a BBC television program he was reunited with some of the kids he saved, who by then were senior citizens with children and grandchildren of their own. Until that time none of them knew the backstory of how they ended up in England or who was responsible for whisking them to safety before the Nazis came.

Since then, Winton was knighted by the Queen of England and has been given so many other awards and honors it’s hard to list them all. There are statues memorializing his work; a school in Czechoslovakia and an asteroid in outer space are named after him. Through all this, Sir Nicholas Winton has kept his composure and acknowledges his selfless deed only when asked about it. He comes from an era when there was no internet or social media, but I think even if it were an option in 1939, Winton would not have been on Facebook congratulating himself and fishing for “likes”.  After all, he kept it to himself for half a century and reluctantly talked about it only after someone else outed him.

“When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2)

Winton is not known to be a religious person but those of devout faith can learn a lot from his attitude. He had no ulterior motives and did what he did solely because it was right and good. I believe there are others like Winton out there today; you will seldom hear about them because they are looking beyond their own presumptuous egos and don’t concern themselves with being noticed. Christianity teaches that those who boast about their good deeds will receive no Heavenly reward beyond their own bragging. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then Sir Nicholas Winton’s humble and understated life says more about him than any self indulgent internet platitudes could ever approach.


History’s Promise: Pearl Harbor Veterans Are Ageless.

By: Chris Warren.

In college I had an English professor who once declared, “every present has a different past.” He was speaking in terms of history and what he meant was that events do not have a static meaning. How a past event is viewed now is not the same as what it meant at the time it happened, nor at any point since then. This is why history is more than just a factual list of dates and events. To understand history is to enrich oneself not only by making a connection between then and now, but also maintaining that connection for the future.

On December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed the American Navy at Peal Harbor, Hawaii and and pushed the United States into World War II. That is the “factual list” version. To find the “enrich oneself” version, we must look into the personal accounts of the soldiers & sailors who were there when it happened, keeping in mind that they were not merely eyewitnesses to history. They actually created it.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

It is becoming more and more difficult to investigate the experiences of those who made history that day because as years click by there are fewer and fewer Pearl Harbor veterans remaining. Of the approximately 60,000 service members who survived the bombing, less than 2500 are believed to be still alive. The youngest are now in their 90s, so the harsh actuarial math for an event seventy three years behind us is not hard to figure out: Within a decade, maybe a little longer, there will be no one left to talk about it.

That Pearl Harbor is on the cusp of a transformation from living to recorded history is not lost on the few remaining survivors. Retired naval officer and Pearl Harbor veteran Jackson Davis of Shreveport, Louisiana references this by tapping into wisdom collected over his 95 years of living: “We don’t hear much about Gettysburg anymore, or Bunker Hill. Or when the Normans took over England — we don’t hear much about that.” Mr. Davis’ observation, while true, skims over a larger point: The value of history is not measured by how popular a topic of conversation an event may be. He is correct that hardly anyone talks about the Normans invading England (which, by the way, was in 1066) as if it were a recent event.  Influences of the Norman conquest nearly 950 years ago can still be found embedded deep in the British psyche. Had the Norman invasion never happened, England would be a very, very different place today. That is why it matters. That is why it is worth talking about and remembering.

“We don’t hear much about Gettysburg anymore, or Bunker Hill. Or when the Normans took over England — we don’t hear much about that.”  -Pearl Harbor veteran Jackson Davis

It’s unlikely that yet-unborn Americans will be fully cognizant of how Pearl Harbor effects their world any more than The Battle of Bunker Hill (fought in 1775) enters our thoughts now, and it’s an unstoppable reality that there isn’t much time left for soldiers & sailors who lived through that dark day to give their first person testimony. Mr. Davis and his peers can be assured that the story they have been telling for that last 73 years will have no end. The heroes who were at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 and served with such amazing valor will always matter. Their spirit and selflessness is the connection to the present; it’s the very essence of why their place in the permanent record was so rightfully earned. We may not always talk about it, but we will always live it. When the last Pearl Harbor veteran is silenced by the inevitability of time, history will take over and be their voice through the generations.