Friday, February 22, 2013

The Path of the White Rose

Just five years before I was born, a group of university students and their professor launched a small campaign against government policy. They were non-violent, thoughtful, and concerned by the direction government had taken. Conscience required that they take a stand, and they did.

The group was named 'the White Rose'.  They published and covertly distributed around 15,000 pamphlets illuminating the government's policies of oppression and abuse.  They called for citizens to join them and resist what they saw as morally wrong in government.  They even painted anti-government graffiti on government buildings in the capital city.

They continued for just eight months. Three student leaders were captured, tried and sentenced to death by the Nazi People's Court, and executed by guillotine. They were brave to the end. Hans Scholl shouted "Es lebe die Freiheit! (long live freedom!)," as the blade fell.  Other members were captured, tried, and sent to concentration camps or executed.  It was the Spring of 1943.

The White Rose came to represent opposition to tyranny in the German culture, and after the war, members were lauded for acting without interest in personal gain.

Lilo Furst-Ramdohr at 99 years old is a White Rose survivor. She says the student group just could not understand how people had been so easily led into supporting the Nazi Party and its ideology. "They must have been able to tell how bad things were, it was ridiculous."

We're reminded how easily folks were led astray, and how easily they are led astray today.  Rolling along en masse, we line up to be containers of some political ideology, however ambiguous and impractical.

It's perhaps unthinkable to most, when given a choice between two candidates, that perhaps neither is actually acceptable, nor is either party.  And we're reminded also of those who pay the price.

Is there a better way?  Might we venture some distance down the path of the White Rose?


The sixth and final leaflet produced by the White Rose was smuggled out of the country and scattered over Germany by Allied planes.
"The day of reckoning has come, the reckoning of German youth with the most repellent tyranny our nation has ever seen...  The German name will be dishonoured forever if German youth does not rise up, ....  Students! The German nation looks to us!"
Today, every German knows the story of The White Rose. A square at the University of Munich is named after Hans and Sophie Scholl. And there are streets, squares, and schools all over Germany named for the members of The White Rose. 

Perhaps our grown children will similarly say of us, "They must have been able to tell how bad things were, it was ridiculous."

The World War II death toll was 60+ million.
The child death toll is 600+ million since WWII and all from preventable causes. That's just the children under age 5, and the death of each child was a great loss.  While the overall death rate continues to decline, low income countries still have a child death rate 30x higher than those with high income.

While there are many difficult problems associated with poverty, it's worth remembering that poverty from generation to generation is not chosen by the victims, it is chosen by policy makers and imposed by rules of trade and finance.  Persistent poverty is imposed.

Perhaps our grown children will similarly say of us, "They must have been able to tell how bad things were, it was ridiculous."

In the U.S. today, 20%+ of our children live in poverty. We're the wealthiest country in the world, but the inequality GAP has been growing wider for decades. Our version of capitalism has become more aggressive and destructive, and the impact touches every country in the world. Our government supports big business and the wealthy at the expense of all others.

Wall Street gave us the Great Recession and went home with their multimillion dollar bonuses. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of hungry people rose by 1 million a year in 2000-05 but by more than 6 million a year between 2007-09 and 2010-12.  

Starvation is perhaps as harsh a death as might be imagined.  For a child, it is a horrifying cruelty.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. 
World food availability has risen from about 2220 to 2790 kcal/person/day since the '60's. 
Poverty is the principal cause of hunger and starvation, of course. 
The causes of poverty include lack of personal resources, an unequal income distribution, crisis and conflict, and predatory economics. The World Bank estimates there are 896 million poor people in developing countries who live on $1.90 a day or less.

See the UN report.

See the factors.

Update - Spring 2016:  Our government continues down the road of big business, of corporate influence, and of economic policies that have proven detrimental. Our college students are now record setters as their student loans exceed all credit card debt and automobile loans.  The world of common folks is progressively more difficult, and as a nation, we're sometimes making matters worse.  And children remain in poverty, ours and others.

Perhaps our grown children will similarly say of us, "They must have been able to tell how bad things were, it was ridiculous."

I protest (understatement of the century), and fortunately, I'm not likely to be arrested for doing so.  That's one small step forward.

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