In 1985, I stood outside St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw, Poland, alongside tens of thousands of Poles who gathered at great risk on May Day. They were there to honor Jerzy Popieluszko, the Catholic priest who gave his life in support of the Solidarity movement.
The authoritarian Polish regime at the time murdered Father Popieluszko the previous October because he stood up to the decades-long lies and oppression against his fellow citizens. I felt proud to be an American that day. Even though I disagreed with just about everything regarding then President Ronald Reagan, his administration had expressed support for Popieluszko and his fellow Poles in their quest for liberty.
So many Poles, like people in other countries I have visited, saw the United States as a beacon of freedom. This despite our many blemishes and contradictions.
On Jan. 6, I felt shame for — and ashamed of — my own country. The president — the president! — of the United States instigated a mob of fanatics to invade the nation’s Capitol. They committed violence. Some killed a police officer by clubbing him with a fire extinguisher. Others called for the execution of the vice president. They erected a gallows outside. Some brought homemade bombs.
Most chilling to me were those draped in T-shirts emblazoned with “6MWE” — meaning the 6 million Jews exterminated in WWII by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis were not enough.
I once toured the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland. I saw the piles of gold fillings, luggage, and adult and children’s shoes Nazi guards extracted and stripped Jews of before sending them off to be gassed or worked to death. They burned the corpses of young and old in the crematoriums. A million or more were torched, so many at times that the clouds of human smoke billowing from the ovens turned daylight into night.
The sickening events of Jan. 6 renewed my dark thoughts that this could happen in my country. Only it won’t be Jews that are targeted. It will be all of us.
Or at least those of us who believe in fact and reality rather than the vicious fictions of the mob that seems intent on destroying the country while draped in its flag.
This newspaper reported recently that some local Republicans express little to no regret of the treasonous acts of so many of their fellow cult-party members. Two Republican Congressional representatives from our state — Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane — helped peddle the lies about a fraudulent presidential election in court documents. [By Wednesday, Newhouse voted to impeach President Donald Trump.]
Some others in the party, including evangelicals, are trying to convince us that those opposed to the president actually incited and led the invasion. And one made the most disturbing comment of all: That by summer, people will have, if not forgotten the Capitol episode, at least moved on.
Maybe he and others like him will forget. But the rest of us who believe in the promise of America, who believe that freedom and democracy are values to protect and preserve, will not forget.
That would be appeasement to those who calmly and silently dismiss the alarms now blaring. It would give license to those who want to use the gallows they so gleefully erect.
In 1985, I was proud to stand in a foreign land among those who looked to America as a symbol of hope and freedom. Now, I’m just hoping to do so in my own backyard.
We should heed the words of Father Popieluszko: “Totalitarian systems destroy man because they captivate his inside, his thoughts, free will and conscience. The only efficient defense against these systems is the truth.”
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