Tuesday, April 26, 2016

History of the Cold War #13

In 1944, the Soviets moving from the east, came upon their first concentration camp in Majdanek Poland. They were appalled, equipped with cameras, and recorded the atrocities. When they reported their findings to the allied British, the British doubted their words, because the Soviets were known for exaggerating other countries' war crimes. Their hatred of the Nazis for their invasion and consequent sufferings, were figured to have fueled these exaggerations.

When the British entered Bergen Belsen concentration camp in April 1945, with their own camera crews, they realized the Soviets had been telling the truth. When the British filmed, they insisted on filming Germans present at the camps. They wanted the world to know the Germans were aware of what they had been fighting for. They filmed the SS officers dragging emaciated, decomposing bodies in mass graves; they filmed happy villagers marched to the camp and the devastating change that came upon them when they saw the truth and the lies.The film footage played an instrumental role in  Nazi convictions during the Nuremberg trials--the trials that changed the world, that changed Americans.

For the first time in history, war trials were televised. Americans learned the extent of evil. American and world conscious was raised. New phrases such as crimes of humanity were coined. People everywhere could no long sit still and let evil of such magnitude happen without protest.

James Michener writes in his 60s novel, The Drifters, “The burden of those trials (Nuremberg) was that conscience has an obligation. If our young people decide that they must exercise that conscience, we must help them do so in legal and constructive ways.”

From this new conscience developed an underground to aid young men who objected to the Vietnam War.

Nixon's campaign promise to end US involvement in Vietnam was slow in coming. After two years, he felt his only way to defeat the Viet Cong was to stop the route of arms and men coming through Cambodia. Cambodia was a country without an army. The US started heavily bombing Cambodia.

As an impressionable sixth grader in 1972, I had been afflicted with a disease that put me in the hospital three or four times for routine care. On one occasion, the pediatric ward was full, and I was placed on an adult patient floor. I shared a room with a woman who was dying of cancer. She told me about being in Cambodia and helping to pull babies out of the bombing wreckage. Even in her weakened state, she was passionate about protesting American involvement in Vietnam. She wasn't alone.

College campuses across America erupted in protests. The most devastating outcome happened in Kent State Ohio. What happened exactly is not what I want to detail, but that a protest happened, an ROTC building burnt down and the National Guard was called in. It was May 4 1970 when four students were shot and nine others were injured. 

What was happening in America was also happening around the world. What was different about this generation? 

More people--the baby boom was coming of age. More people were college enrolled than ever before. Enrollment tripled between 1955-1970. In the USSR 2.5 more students were going to college; in France the enrollment quadrupled. Education brings enlightenment; it requires people to think; people were gaining the power to stand up and express their outrage of the status quo.  Only China didn't progress in education--they were still recovering from the great setback to education from the Cultural Revolution.

The spirit and age of questioning and revolt had begun.