Maybe we need to think again?

Jorge and me in Gisele’s studio, 2007

Like most children growing up in Canada during the 1950s and 60s, I knew a lot about WWII history; it hadn’t been long since “the war” ended, and many families had lost uncles and fathers. As teenagers we became aware that war, disease and famine made life hell-on-earth in many parts of the world; in Vietnam and other south-east Asian countries, in much of Africa and on the Indian continent. But most of the time, we felt secure and safe from armed conflict; in Canada we had no compulsory military service, no draft. We had inner controversies that had not yet come fully into the light, but our country was not at war with any other.

I lived and worked in Peru during the early 1970s, and there, I could not deny the poverty and need I saw all around me. When I moved to Merida, I knew guerrilla combat raged in Guatemala and other Central American countries, not so far away from us. Yet, despite this exposure and peripheral experience, I never suffered hardship, and I suppose this is why I did not fully recognise the “red lights” – the clear signs – that significant changes were taking place in the world.

For my 50th birthday in 2003, my sister and I traveled to the Netherlands, and there I met my 90 year old Aunt Gisele. An accomplished artist herself, she told stories about Paris during the period when she – and Picasso, Utrillo and Matisse – were living there. She actually showed me a photo of herself and “Henri.” Everything about her was sprite-like. Even her walk. She didn’t shuffle along like most older women, she tip-toed like a ballet dancer. However, her eyes turned from forget-me-not blue to brooding navy once she started sharing her stories about the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WWII. In the living room of her XVII century home she made me understand the magnitude of Hitler’s iron-hand control over Europe. She told me about the group of Jewish friends she protected throughout the occupation of her city. She showed me where she built false walls, and opened a cavity in a player piano – so they could hide during raids – she told me about what she endured to feed them. And she told me about meeting my father.

In 1939, when he enlisted in the Canadian armed forces, he was underage; just 19 years old, but the Canadian army recruiter did not ask many questions. When Dad was deployed, his Dutch-born father gave him the contacts for his relatives still living there. He hung on to those addresses during his six years of combat. He was not quite 25 years old when he visited Gisele after the liberation of Amsterdam; I’d heard Dad’s version of the story.

“My buddy and I ‘liberated’ supplies from our unit’s kitchen; what else could we do? No one in her apartment weighed more than 80 pounds; they were starving and had nothing at all to eat.” She claimed that the food and other staples he brought saved her life and the lives of everyone in her household. Aunt Gisele’s stories deeply moved me; in fact her example inspired me to write a family memoir, CIRCLES, which was published in 2015, and presented here, in Merida on Remembrance Day of that year. I wanted the future generations of my family to know about her. In truth, her wartime role was immortalized in 2014 by a best-selling Dutch novelist; and another well-known author has researched and published an extensive biography telling about her accomplishments, as well as her foibles. Several catalogues of her art are in print – my slim volume is by no means the definitive book written about her – but CIRCLES is special to me.

Researching and writing about my aunt forced me to look deeper than what lies on the surace. One day I asked Gisele how it had been possible for the Nazis to amass so much power. I could not understand how they managed to spread such evil across much of the world. “It was easy for them,” she said. “They preyed on people’s fear. And “good” people looked away. They didn’t want to get involved; they declined to speak against Hitler because they worried his goons would come after them, which of course did eventually happen.”

I am writing about this today because recently, several people have told me they are tired of talking about the state of our world; they don’t want to read about it or see it on the news. “I have no say; so I am better off to stay away from it all,” said one of them. And to be honest, I agree that the news these days is overwhelming.

But I applaud my friends on Facebook (John, Sean, Patricia and others) who say what they feel about the very worrying state of worldwide politics and policies. And in some of the blogs I follow, people like Richard share their research into controversial issues. “Beating a dead horse,” is the horrible cliché that one person used to describe the actions of those who speak out. I know it is frightening to look closely at what is going on. It seems like a stretch to imagine that history could be repeating itself to this degree. But think about the rise of intolerance, xenophobia, thugs in the streets, and no-holds-barred materialism – many of the same “signs”, present in pre-war Germany, are flashing bright-red warnings now – and we do have our own 21st Century  bully, don’t we?

Remembrance Day is on November 11th, and I for one will take time to give thanks for the many freedoms I could easily lose. My friends who tell it like they see it don’t like standing up on a soap box – no one does – but they do so often and with determination. Some say only alarmists think a worldwide conflict could ever happen again. Maybe we need to think again?Shouldn’t each of us try to be aware of what the ill-intentioned voices are saying, and resist complacency?

Published by Changes in our Lives

I am originally from Canada but have lived in Mexico since 1976. My husband is from Merida, Yucatan and we raised our family here. We both worked for many years at Tecnologia Turistica Total (TTT), the tourism, language and multimedia college we founded for local and international students. Now retired, we enjoy spending time with family and friends, My other interests include spending time with freinds, reading, painting, cooking and travel.

12 thoughts on “Maybe we need to think again?

  1. If we do not speak out against wrongs, then history will repeat itself. There are so many examples this happening in the past which many people just choose to ignore.

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    1. My sentiments exactly. If people choose to ignore what’s going on in the halls of power… they can easily do so because our world presents so many distractions. Too many people wander through their days without a lot of thought given to their purpose and even less consideration about the path society is on. We read of shootings and human rights abuses… walls going up on borders and heads of state evading disclosure of their role in suspicious “deals” … it is all too upsetting for many people, so they ignore it. Does this attitude bode well for our future? I think not.

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  2. Fascism, the 800 pound beast in the room is an attractive political system to about a third of the population. They would poopaw that statement because they really don’t understand political words. It is the person who will say,” If you have nothing to hide, then why does it matter?. The person who is willing to arrest a protester for stepping off the sidewalk into the street. It is the person who thinks it is fine to put a child in a cage because his/her parent brought them over a national border. Anyone who puts the needs and wants of business and government over the rights of the individual are guilty of walking down the path of full bore fascism. We refuse to call it what it is because of what happened in the 30s and 40s of the last century so we shine it up with other words that describe the actions rather than the political philosophy. Read your Orwell: 1984, Animal Farm, Farewell to Catalonia , George understood Fascism and how it grabs on to a democratic society. Fight the good fight, we only get so many breaths.

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    1. Yes Norm… the “F” word is definitely applicable to the trend in politics today… in so many counries. As citizenss of individual nations and a world society we need to be aware of what’s going on… scary as that may be. Now more than ever, we need to think and act with responsibility. Because if we don’t, we’ll soon find ourselves unable to reverse the decisions that have been made by others… “when we were sleeping”…

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    2. Norm and I would differ on some of our political positions and undoubtedly would differ on what is the cause of today’s social polarization — not just in The States, but in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. I notice it more in The States because that is my former home. There is no doubt the president has bully tendencies, and about half of the voters appreciate that. Then the other party offers up candidates whose economic proposals would have felt at home in Mussolini Italy, and the other half of the voters appreciate that. If politics is the art of the possible, the current division in American politics at the federal level has made politics impossible.

      Ludwig von Mises, the liberal economist, wrote of his personal experiences in Austria prior to the Second World War. By the time voters had divided themselves into the camps of fascists and the socialist-communist coalition, the liberal and conservative parties could no longer attract voters. The outcome was then inevitable.

      I have no idea if the divide has become that great throughout the world. It may. What we can do is keep ourselves informed and discuss these issues without the hysteria that makes true conversation impossible. I have not had a rational political conversation here for three years because of the hate that permeates discussion. I fear that von Mises would recognize the syndrome immediately.

      I am an optimist. I believe that everything eventually turns out well in the end. Maybe a day will come when the hatred of the left and right will die down enough to once again practice the art of the possible.

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      1. You and I share many similar points of view; we want the world to be a fair and wholesome place. But it seems you still have faith in the democratic-capitalistic model. I used to, but now that corruption has grown to such levels, I don’t believe this system (or any other) is interested in working “for the people”. Nepotism and cronyism are too ensconced. In most countries, alliances between the third and fourth generation males of political, industrial and banking families control the bulk of the wealth and resources. The orange bully creates serious division and discord, ensuring that no positive change will happen. “Confuse and Scatter”, “Divide and Conquer” are time-honoured tactics for manipulation of the masses. And our society is falling right into that trap.

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  3. Great to hear from you again, Joanna. I do not at all like what is going on the world today. Hailing from the big city of Toronto, shootings and all-round nastiness seem to be the order of the day. Since I prefer calling a spade a spade, Fascism is evil, despite its being glossed over by endless attractively presented euphemisms used to manipulate the general public..

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    1. Yes Sharon, I hope we can see each other soon. I agree that manipulation of the public is the goal. The longer we remain confused and fearful, the “powers that be” can continue to operate to their own advantage, not for ours and certainly not for future generations.

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  4. I am increasingly alarmed by what I see and hear on the news. Yes, there could be an armed world conflict again but, more than that I worry about the countries around us that seem to be crumbling and in the hands of the worst possible governance. One country being forced to arrest, reject or contain whole families of migrants so they don’t make it to the country of their dreams. The toll of human suffering from that scenario will be with us for generations, I fear. We are allowing a tidal wave to form of people who have absolutely nothing to lose.

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    1. Your alarm is justified… we live in such a difficult time. No one really knows which way to turn. But I would suggest you “keep on Keeping on…” You are a shining example of “grace under fire” and you give us all a light to follow.

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