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History, Hyperbole, and Horror

Matthew and I were recently criticized (an increasingly regular occurrence these days) for what one commenter saw as unfair hyperbole in the criticism of Barack Obama.

One recent post that was cited as an example of such unhelpful hyperbole was when Matthew used the famous poem First They Came to critique Obama, his policies, and the blind eye we turn to the culture of death in his post When Obama Came For Them.

A little context may be in order. First They Came was written by Pastor Martin Niemöller, an early supporter of Hitler who eventually realized his serious error. Niemöller wrote this "about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group."

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."
Using this as the context Matthew wrote:
When Obama came for the the executives making $250,000,I remained silent;I did not earn $250,000.
When Obama came for the babies, I remained silent; I was not a baby...anymore.
When Obama came for conservative talk show hosts,I did not speak out;I didn't have a talk show.
When Obama came for the plumber,I remained silent;I was not a public figure.
When Obama came for me,there was no one left to speak out.
This is hyperbole to some degree, but not entirely. Clearly, tax policy and media bias do not really rise to the level of Nazi comparison. However, Government threats to use force to silence the voices of critics, in this case conservative talk radio, begins the journey toward fascism and many other bad -isms. Take your pick.

With that said, the horror of abortion rises to Nazi levels and perhaps even beyond. Here, the comparison falls short. The level of complicity of your average citizen today in this holocaust likely rises beyond that of the average citizen of Hitler's Germany.

This is all by long way of introduction to a very thought provoking post that you simply must read. Jennifer F posts this picture on her blog.

This picture is of happy folk in a seemingly happier time. The joy can be seen on their faces as they enjoy a little recreation and music.

These joyous faces do not seem unlike those beaming and joyous faces that I saw last night on television as Barack Obama basked in the glow of his victory, do they?

These faces, however are of the faces of the staff at Auschwitz on a day off.

How does that change your perception of these people?

Jennifer F. wonders:
So I wonder:

If were a 31-year-old woman with three little kids in a busy house in Germany 1941, would I have fully understood the evil that surrounded me? As a woman living in 2008 I can see the horror that was going on there, but at the time there were some awfully sleek lies being told about the situation; it would have been really, really convenient to let myself be persuaded by the lies and just make the nasty little problem go away by telling myself that it wasn't really a problem at all.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Jennifer goes on to ask and answer a really important question. How would I know?
But the question is: How would you know?

What litmus test could you offer that would apply to all places and all times as a way for a person to look around themselves with completely clear eyes, piercing through even the thickest fog of self-delusion and widespread cultural acceptance, and see that they are surrounded by grave evil? Is there any simple way for a person to immediately undergo an earth-rocking paradigm shift in which they look up and realize that the world around them is not what they thought it was?

One thing that stands out in all these examples is that the victims of the widespread evil were categorized as something less than human.
I don't think there is hyperbole sufficient to describe the evil times through which we live or even to expose the depravity of those who twist words and logic to make the ultimate vice seem like virtue. I can't help but wonder if someday our great great grandkids will look at pictures of the Obama rally in Grant Park in 2008 and wonder, "What were they smiling about? Didn't they know?"

Did we?

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John Hetman said...

A profound post, Patrick. We are such a morally lax, intellectually lazy people who drift casually across the most horrid forms of infanticide...because of our sitcoms, our banal television, because of Oprah and The View, because of milquetoast pastors building parish centers rather than reaching souls and saving lives. Because of constant deceit and deception that goes unchallenged as long as the bread and circuses continue to go forward unabated.

Unfortuanely, along with the election of Senator Obama, we have the wake-up call of a potential global depression looming.

And maybe that is a long overdue cyclical economic occurence or maybe something more awesome and for many, ominous.

Subvet said...

Very good. You guys keep doing what you're doing. It's needed in this world.

Subvet said...


I've linked to Jennifer F's post for my own blog. Credit for finding it was naturally given where it's due.

LarryD said...

You consistently rise to the next level of thoughtful and insightful prose. Chesterton would be a frequent commenter here, me thinks.

Marc Aupiais (South African Catholic) said...

Another test is article 2 section d of the UN declaration of Genocide- sounds like a perfect description of abortion to me - "preventing births in a population, or population group"

(linked to in wikipedia)

or link to the "Against Genocide" facebook link from


JPieters said...

Chilling reflections.

Sometimes photos are more effective than words, as your post shows. I think a photo of an aborted baby's head, or any of its body parts, is eye-opening enough.

Let him who has eyes to see, see (sorry for the paraphrase, Jesus).

Deusdonat said...

Yes, I was one of the "guilty" parties in criticising your previous post on this subject. What I felt objectionable (and IMHO distasteful) was the enormous leap you made in that in Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem, "the came" means "they seized, sent to concentration camps and/or put a bullet in the back of their heads." It has an ENTIRELY different meaning than what you wrote, as Obama is not (nor is he suggesting) that anyone who makes over $250,000 will be rounded up and shot. I saw this as extremely dismissive and flippant, at the expense of those who actually WERE rounded up and killed during the Nazi terror. The subject is rather a touchy subject with me as I lost a lot of relatives in WWII, so maybe I am oversensitive. Regardless, I still feel that your analogy is superfluous, with the SOLE exception of the abortion holocaust going on. That much is valid. The rest is still crossing the line.

Anyway, as a matter of historic trivia, "Niemöller's poem" is perhaps one of the most bastardised and "shakey" ones quoted. It's origins are uncertain, as they most likely came from a public speech he made in 1950 (it wasn't a poem then). In 1960 he made this recorded speech in Columbia Seminary:

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

This coincides with a prose version which appears in the congressional record in 1968. As you can see, on Wikipedia etc, the "Catholic" portion is conveniently left out.

Patrick Archbold said...

EXCESSIVELY long and BELLIGERENT comments with LOTS OF bold is a good way to get DELETED.

Just sayin'

Tito Edwards said...

Excellent post.

Everybody wants to drive their SUV and drink their Starbucks coffee without being bothered about abortion since no one see's the actual act, it doesn't make an imprint.

If liberal politicians continue to hoodwink the public in getting elected, then this country will slowly turn into another euro-socialist state where the government tells you what to do.

Mr. Tyler [palin-jindal 2012] said...

I couldn't agree more with Tito.
No one wants to be bothered. Let them kill babies. It won't affect me. Let them raise taxes. It won't affect me. Let them do whatever they please, as long as it doesn't affect me.

That is why America needs Ronald Reagan again, and thats why I beleive Sarah will be the next Ronald.

Anonymous said...

Keep after 'em, Patrick. As Patton says (in the film, at least), "Grab 'em by the nose and kick 'em in the ***!"

Mr. Tyler says it for me, too -- Palin / Jindal '12. They are the fresh, young continuation of the Reagan / Thatcher / JPII Revolution.

-- Mack

MaryCO said...

Patrick, your parody was effective. So please keep it up ... at least, until they come for the Internet.

Tara Sz. said...

Wow - good stuff here. Thought-provoking and comedic...does it get any better?

Found CMR through Jennifer F and I will definitely be back. Thank you for the solid dose of Catholicism laced with humor and honesty.

runningtheasylum said...

You know, even among the committed pro-lifers, it's still painfully easy to lose sight of what's really at stake here. We start to think in terms of faceless numbers, at least I do-- 1.2 million abortions per year. Passing FOCA into law would lead to another 125,000 abortions per year. The numbers start to blur-- the humanity is lost.

It was all driven home painfully for me last week. I miscarried a baby that was 11 weeks along. It was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time to see this tiny, tiny human being. The arms and legs were still tooth-pick thin, yet they had fingers and tiny toes. You could see the little crevices in the ears and the tiny nostrils. Babies have no fat to speak of at that age, so even the ribs stood out prominently. Indeed we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Let us not lose sight of the humanity of these tiny people in question. Many of us like to think that we would have done something had we been on the scene in Germany in the 1940s. We need to reclaim the urgency of the task at hand.


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