Sunday, April 13, 2008

Martin Niemoller, Deitrich Bonhoeffer & Freedom of Speech

Martin Niemoller
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On April 9, 2008, I was watching General David Petreaus update the U. S. Senate about the progress of the war in Iraq. One thing that should be pointed out was an exchange between Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and the General. The Senator asked the General to acknowledge that differing opinions are not a sign of unpatriotism--that there can be dissent. General Petreaus response spoke volumes..."Senator, we fight for the right of people to have other opinions."

This exchange between the Senator and General should remind us that freedoms in this country are granted by laws which were based on the concept of "...all men are created equal...and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,”. The Commander in Chief and military are the executors to carry out the laws guaranteeing and preserving these rights. It reminded me of the importance of the oath the President takes to defend the Constitution!

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The next day I noticed in the Forum Section of the Plain Dealer a single line at the top of the page from the day prior, April 9, which read without comment, "On this day: In 1945, the Nazis hang theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer". Every American should visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. (For more information about this museum, visit I have visited the museum at least twice. While it is not a place of joy, it is a place where I gain perspective on the sanctity of life, the value of freedom, and the importance of standing for the right. One of the exhibits I clearly remember was a huge bin full of of those who had died in the Nazi concentration camps.
What I also remember seeing was a quote I though was by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran Theologian; however, this quote is actually by Martin Niemoller. (In fact, the Internet has a site that makes this mix-up as well.) The quote I remember was:

"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.

And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Both Martin Niemoller & Deitrich Bonhoeffer have interesting lives and illustrate importance principles we need to be reminded of.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Poland on February 4, 1906. He was a German Lutheran Theologian. He was involved in plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was eventually arrested when money he used to rescue Jews from death was traced back to him. Arrested in March 1943, he was sent to Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany. Then on April 9, 1945 at the age of 39 (just a few short weeks before Hitler committed suicide and the war was over) he was brutally hanged.

Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller was born in Lippstadt, Germany on January 14, 1892. He was a prominent German anti-Nazi theologian and likewise a pastor for the Lutheran Church. At first, Niemöller was a supporter of the Nazis and was clearly antisemitic himself at one time. He found himself betrayed by Hitler and regretted much of the things he had done (or had not done earlier). For his opposition to the Nazi's state control of the churches, Niemöller was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945. Unlike Bonhoeffer, Niemöller narrowly survived WWII and passed away on March 6, 1984 in Wiesbaden, Germany. He would spend life after WWII as a staunch pacifist and proponent of nuclear disarmament.

There are some details about the Holocaust that I have forgotten since the details are voluminous and mind boggling, but this quote has remained with me. It reminds me that we must stand up for freedom, liberty, and justice. Freedom of Speech is recognized as a God-given right through the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution. We should utilize this freedom when calling out the sins of our nation. We should fight for this freedom to remain. There are some who seek to censor speech that they do not like. While there are certainly things that I prefer were not said, I would never want to take away freedom of speech of others because one day that freedom may be taken from me!

Additional quotations that I found interesting on the Internet attributed to Bonhoeffer include:

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”

“To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ”

“If you do a good job for others, you heal yourself at the same time, because a dose of joy is a spiritual cure.”
“God's truth judges created things out of love, and Satan's truth judges them out of envy and hatred.”
“The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
“A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol”
“To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only Him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.”
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”
“It is the characteristic excellence of the strong man that he can bring momentous issues to the fore and make a decision about them. The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves.”
“It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.”
"If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction."

"The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy."
"One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons."

Freedom, including the Freedom of Speech, is not free. President Ronald Reagan said

As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will never surrender for it, now or ever.

Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that strength.

Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.

--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981

No comments: