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Ordinary Citizens’ Complicity in Crimes against Humanity

With the exception of a couple years here and there, I grew up in Germany and attended German schools until I was 19 years old.  History teachers at the time were obsessed with helping our generation grapple with the questions: how could the Germans have let it happen?  How did so many get roped in by the Nazis?  Where was the German resistance?  We were taught over and over again about the “salami-tactic” (a metaphor whose moral is the same as that of the soon-to-be-boiled-to-death frog that won’t jump out of the water as long as that water is heated bit by bit): you keep cutting off really thin slices of the salami until suddenly it is all gone and everyone’s looking around wondering when the hell the salami disappeared.

The U.S. has been engaging in a “salami-tactic” for a long time now, and we are all being roped into the project.  Someday soon we are going to wake up and wonder where the hell the salami went and how we could have all been complicit in so many ways and with so many good intentions: through joining the military, through directly and indirectly working for the military/industrial/congressional complex, through paying our taxes without insisting on the ways they should be spent, through spending the money we have left after taxes without thinking about where it would go, through leaving the policy making and breaking up to the politicians and those who can afford to court them, through inaction, through silence.

It might take us a little longer than the Germans to wake up since many of our most dramatic crimes (wars, massacres, torture) now take place in other countries rather than on “our own” soil.  The obscene number of people caged up in our massive prisons are kept relatively invisible, and on most days those of us with full bellies and living wages are not faced with the inconceivable number of people at home and abroad dying the slow deaths of our policies of exploitation, poverty, and pollution.

We who reside safely (now) in the U.S. can sit and debate whether or not we support the armed resistances in the Middle East and what that does or doesn’t have to do with our (lack of) understanding and opinions of Islam.  But while we sit and debate and sit and wait for the perfect revolution with the perfect ideology and the perfect methodology that we can fully get behind, the U.S. government (in collaboration with multinational corporations and other corrupt leaders around the world) is slicing away at that salami.  The intricacies of what we think about Hizbullah, Hamas, the FMLN, Chavez, Morales, Castro, Mao, etc. — the aspects we want to support and those we want to critique — all that may help us formulate the details of our utopian visions (and I do think it is important to have these), but it should not get in the way of our taking immediate action against our criminal government (and I am not just referring to the current administration) and its local and global policies which have necessitated the emergence of these and other resistance movements.

There have been some campaigns to divest from Israel.  We need to also start strategizing a “Boycott USA” plan.  We need to stop being complicit in the fast and slow genocides of this nation.  I say “we need to stop” because we already are complicit.  The question is how much farther we will go.  How much longer until we are forced to come to terms with our own inability to rise up?  How many more crimes will it take for us to reach the point where it becomes impossible to turn away from the heinousness of our country’s deeds?

Future American teachers will have to help the younger generation grapple with the same questions that my German teachers had us confront: how could the Americans have let it happen?  How did so many get roped in by the government?  Where was the American resistance?

So tell me now: where is the American resistance?


Cecilia Lucas lives in Oakland, California.


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