Thursday, December 18, 2008

A German History Lesson

In a strange convergence of events, yesterday I had the privilege of listening to a former soldier tell his story of his service at Checkpoint Charlie, this on the same day as I heard that Zeb Bell, host of "Zeb at the Ranch" on KBAR radio, referred to the United States Secret Service as the SS and promulgated his belief that the Secret Service should have shot the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush. Yes, he said the Secret Service should have "plugged him right there."

Realizing that World War II and the Holocaust are now sixty-some years behind us, references to Hitler's Schutzstaffel (SS) continue to carry a weighted stigma. Do you we really wish to compare the protective organization of the Secret Service to a group of men that carried out Hilter's Endlösung der Judenfrage, or Final Solution? This is more than a simple choice of usable acronyms.

Had Zeb Bell referred to the U.S. Secret Service as the SS in a context that did not include killing a man, perhaps it would have been received differently. After all, some crossword puzzles will refer to the Secret Service as the SS for purposes of space. The context did not allow for that. Zeb Bell, whether he knew it or not, was promoting an act on the part of a protective agency, that could have, had it been carried out, easily been compared to the actions of a Nazi organization that perpetrated the greatest crime against humanity.

Forgive the historian in me, but it doesn't seem appropriate to use SS to refer to any organization, German or not, other than the originating organization, the Schutzstaffel.

It occurred to me last night that Americans present a certain amount of reverence upon mention of historical Berlin. The Uckermark and Ravensbrück concentration camps were but an hour or two from Berlin. The Brandenburger Tor, or Brandenburg Gate, is as symbolic for Americans as it is for the people of Berlin. Our presidents have traveled there, our people visited. And yet, we forget that our soldiers once stood at Checkpoint Charlie (Grenzübergangsstelle), not just the junction of Friendrichstaße, Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße, but the very junction of East and West.

This man with whom I had the privilege of discussing the riotous crisis in Berlin during the late summer of 1961, reminded me that it was our own soldiers, however late, that liberated Dachau. It was young American soldiers who witnessed the brutality of Hitler's Final Solution as they discovered open graves and extermination camps. Some of those same men would wander the very streets of Berlin, years later, protecting that city and the free world from the spread of communism.

Even the likes of Zeb Bell should know better than to compare our men in service, the Secret Service or otherwise, to Nazis. We have fought too hard for this freedom and fought too hard on foreign soil protecting our allies, regardless of how we may have faltered on our own moral and ethical grounds, to utter the term SS in a sentence that promotes the killing of another by the hands of Americans.

No comments :