Notes from Underground


Dissent and punishment
The brave headsman and the cowardly defamer



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What is the definition of true dissent in our day and age? What does it mean to express strong disagreement with the corrupt and corrupting powers-that-be, even to the point of being willing to sacrifice oneself for one's principles? Is dissent of that caliber even possible in a society which, through its cunning allowance of free speech, is largely able to absorb the rhetoric of dissenting voices and thus rob them of their ability to shock others out of their complacency?

There are, after all, few public spectacles more pathetic today than a street demonstration, complete with its crowd of people marching in a circle carrying signs and chanting slogans. What is going to be changed by such activities? At most, the marchers are given a chance to feel good about themselves; demonstrating for TV cameras provides them with an outlet for the public expression of smugness and superiority. Very well, but what about the advancement of their cause, whatever they might imagine that to be?

In the late 1990s, while a grad student at the University of Dallas, I decided to start my own "underground" newsletter. I titled it SECESSION, and I wrote in an intentionally provocative style on abortion, race, culture, political correctness, and other such issues. My point was to reveal the extent to which conservatives were blinded to the corruption of America and to emphasize that the solution wasn't engagement in the system (or "sh*t-stem," to use the vulgar yet apt term coined by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), but withdrawal from the same.

I wanted to make people think, to make people mad, to provoke controversy and debate. I furtively distributed my newsletter on several Dallas campuses and enlisted the help of a comrade to scatter a few at locations in the Atlanta area as well. It was thrilling to think of unsuspecting students, many thoroughly indoctrinated with all the trendy left-isms promoted by their professors and campus activists, coming across my little low-budget indulgence in hate speech (once even featuring the ironic use of a racial slur in a headline) and turning apoplectic with rage and hatred.

Yet after a few issues, it became clear to me that the enterprise was a failure. It hadn't made a splash; it had instead landed with a thud. I had received only a handful of expressions of mild interest; for the most part, it seemed, nobody cared. Once, while sitting near a spot where I had laid a few of my tracts, I saw one student pick up one copy, snicker, turn to his friend, and ask, "Is this a joke?" Well, that wasn't exactly how I'd hoped the reader would receive my stick of rhetorical dynamite, exploding defiance in the face of the corrupt, hypocritical, and deceit-dependent "sh*t-stem" of Bill Clinton's America. It was definitely time to go back to the drawing board. Truth be told, I've been laboring over that board ever since.

Over the past few months I have come across two works — one biographical, one autobiographical — each of which, in its unique way, reminds me of my own, somewhat naive crusade. The first, a movie titled "Sophie Scholl," portrays the final days of an extraordinary girl who was put to death by the Nazi powers-that-be for her involvement with a dissident student movement called The White Rose.

What was Fräulein Scholl's crime? Along with her brother Hans and some other brave young people, she helped to distribute copies of a series of leaflets at the University of Munich and elsewhere during World War II. Their writings criticized the Nazi leadership both for its complicity in waging an unjust and costly war and for its inhumane domestic policies against Jews and others. When nabbed in the act, Sophie, Hans, and fellow conspirator Christoph Probst were taken to separate rooms and relentlessly interrogated. Given a chance to recant or inform on their friends, they chose not to. They were then rushed to a show trial presided over by a screaming, abusive tyrant of a judge, who in short order sentenced all three of them to be executed. On February 22, 1943, four days after their arrest, all three were guillotined. All went to the scaffold calmly, without any sign of fear.

The movie introduces us to Sophie in a lighter moment. She and a friend are listening to a jazz record on a phonograph, playing it silently enough that the illegal, un-Aryan music cannot be heard by eavesdroppers. The two girls giggle as they whisper the words to one another and bounce around like teenyboppers. But later, following her arrest, we start to discover that there's more to Sophie than meets the eye. She's not just another young woman living in Nazi Germany secretly infatuated with American jazz and other forbidden fruits. She is, in fact, a devout Christian who has come to understand that part of her mission in life is to stand up for her beliefs and against the evil of her own government.

Like many saints throughout history, Sophie is revealed as having a store of inexplicable courage and resolve, allowing her soul to be at peace even when facing a cruel and tragic death. Just before her execution, she tells a fellow prison inmate that she is content to have been able to plant the seeds that will one day grow into the development of a more-just society.

The second example of gutsy dissent I have recently come across is not nearly so admirable, but is moving in its own highly misguided manner. Interestingly, this time around the character in question is an ardently pagan Nazi sympathizer, rather than a Christian anti-Nazi.

Savitri Devi, an eccentric writer, stage actress, and convert to Hinduism, loved and idolized Adolf Hitler. When Germany was bombed into near-oblivion by the Allies and ravaged by Red Army thugs at the tail end of World War II, and her beloved Führer committed suicide in the face of defeat, Miss Devi's heart was broken. Three years later, she accompanied a troupe of actors on tour through Europe, and the group took a train ride through the bombed-out remains of the once glorious Fatherland.

In the first chapter of her book Gold in the Furnace, Miss Devi gives an account of how she prepared packets of cigarettes and food to throw out the window of the train to suffering Germans. In the packets, she also stuffed leaflets, on which were typed words of encouragement directed at the suffering citizens of Allied-occupied Germany, telling them not to despair, that all was not lost, that their country would rise again from its humiliating circumstances and be revenged on its enemies. During a period of enforced de-Nazification such rhetoric was outlawed, and Miss Devi knew that she ran a risk of being arrested. At one train station, a guard who knew of her ideological leanings was about to search her belongings, but the leader of her troupe managed to dissuade him.

Like Sophie Scholl, Savitri Devi had no assurance that her furtively dispersed publications had any effect on anyone, for good or for ill. She simply considered it her duty to honor her fallen Führer by putting herself in danger for the sake of keeping his message burning in the hearts of the German people. Unlike Miss Scholl, she was not martyred for her cause, but one gathers that she might have felt honored by that prospect.

In a sense, the cases of Scholl and Devi have very little in common. The latter nobly stood against a great evil; the latter entertained an infatuation with that same evil. Yet both women were moved to dissent through the distribution of written tracts. For both, as the saying goes, the pen was mightier than the sword. Each willingly put herself in peril, because each felt duty-bound to stand for her beliefs.

What would it mean today to stand for something in the way those two stood? To be sure, martyrdom does occur these days, but in the Western world it normally takes more subtle forms, such as a man's losing his job after being quoted in a newspaper article as attending a gathering deemed "racist" by the powers-that-be.

What is truly vicious about today's persecution of dissent is the very fact that it is so modulated. A people trained to hate those designated as "bigots" would still be troubled to see such people arrested, thrown in prison, or put to death. While legal harassment of dissenters is hardly unheard of today (one thinks of David Irving, Ernst Zündel, and others), the more common and more insidious method is to mount whispering campaigns against one's enemies, to "out" them as alleged "hatemongers." Less insidious, but just as hateful, are the shrieking campaigns they sometimes mount as an alternative. In either case, the thoroughly modern persecutors then smirk as their victims' lives are ruined, and gloat as they are shunned by their gutless former employers, friends, and family members. Leaving no stone unthrown, they then declare that the unfortunates have only received their "just deserts" for being such awful, "hateful" people in the first place.

Sophie Scholl bravely withstood condemnation to death, but how would she cope with being made into a social pariah by the diabolical and underhanded machinations of today's powers-that-be? How would she deal with having her reputation besmirched, her family turned against her, her personal and professional life left in shambles, with no hope of recovery? Moreover, how would she hold up if she dared draw attention to the fact of her own suffering only to receive not sympathy — never sympathy — but ridicule and scorn?

Knowing what we know of Miss Scholl, she would probably fare just fine even under such trying circumstances. Still, one wonders if enduring the sharp blade of the guillotine falling on one's neck isn't actually a kindness in some ways, compared with the metaphorical death of a thousand cuts that is employed by cowards to dispose of ideological dissidents in our enlightened times.

November 13, 2006

© 2006 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

Mr. Nowicki's personal blog is Dyspeptic Myopic, at www.andynowicki.blogspot.com.

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