It’s only natural, given our justifiable zeal to honor America’s veterans, that we focus on November 11 this time of year. Probably few bothered to think too much about November 9. But in Germany it’s called Schicksalstag, the “Fateful Day,” for it’s the anniversary of several momentous events in German history, including at least two that have profound meaning for all concerned with questions of who controls, and who is controlled by, fate.
November 9 first gained notoriety, in German history, at least, in 1848 with the execution of one Robert Blum, a German political activist who supported equal rights for women and opposed both German anti-Semitism and German imperialism. His efforts won him a firing squad. November 9 is also the anniversary of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1919, and Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923.
But the most important events to occur on November 9 were Kristallnacht in 1938, and the beginning of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The former confirmed Germany’s descent into Nazi totalitarianism while the latter heralded its liberation from communist totalitarianism.
Kristallnacht—Crystal Night, or the Night of Broken Glass–was the night that state-sanctioned Nazi mobs rampaged throughout Germany, destroying Jewish-owned businesses. It was by no means the first act of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, but for pure malice and savagery it was unequaled up to that point. It’s now seen as the harbinger of the Holocaust.
On November 9, 1989, an East German communist official prematurely announced the government’s decision to ease travel bans on East German “citizens.” This prompted large but peaceful crowds to congregate near the Berlin Wall—as ugly a symbol of communism as any, other than a Gulag, that could be devised—expecting to be allowed to enter West Belin without impediment (usually East Germans attempting to flee to the West were shot by border guards). As East German guards, with uncharacteristic restraint, looked on without firing into the crowd, the people began to knock out holes in the Wall, thus beginning one of the most welcomed demolition projects in history.
So what, if anything, does this all mean?
Believers in the “Great Man” theory of history believe that great events, for good or ill, are the product of powerful individuals: No Washington, no successful American Revolution; No Lincoln, No Union triumph in the Civil War; No Hitler, No Holocaust.
But these powerful individuals cannot succeed on their own—they require the cooperation of We the People if they’re to do what good or evil they want to do. By 1938, most of the German people had either accepted or at least resigned themselves to the rule of the Nazis. Once the Nazis went on their rampage, there was nobody to stop them. On the other hand, the beginning of the peaceful demolition of the Berlin Wall, however much it might have been inspired by the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan or the acquiescence of Mikhail Gorbachev, was ultimately the work of the East German people themselves, deciding to reject further totalitarian rule and thus taking matters—especially chunks of the Berlin Wall—into their own hands.
So We the People are ultimately in control of our fate. We can accept great evil, or work for great good. We can support candidates for office who’ll make Donald Trump look like Mister Rogers and Elizabeth Warren look like a penny-pinching Scrooge, or we can select leaders who’ll use their powers of knowledge, imagination, and compassion to work within the system to help us form a more perfect union. We can make not only November 9, but every day, a Fateful Day, as we control, for better or worse, our individual and collective fates.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.