Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 5.13.20
Just Outside Washington



In December 1776, Thomas Paine wrote: "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered..."

We are again under the threat of tyranny and as a guide for every 'patriot', I am recommending a book, On Tyranny. It is not very long, 126 pages, and as my grandson, Aidan, said, 'it is a quick read.' So, why On Tyranny?

It is a long story and to begin, I have lived the American Dream. And, after 86 years, I am concerned that the American Dream is dying.

It is dying because of inequality, that is a small number of people and organizations have appropriated most of the resources generated by all Americans. The richest 10 percent of the people own over 70 percent of U.S. wealth. These people and their organizations form what James Madison termed Factions [see below]. This inequality has enabled these Factions to manipulate the democratic republic structure of our government as Madison feared.

There are many indications, most important is the Supreme Court ruling that money is speech (Citizens United). After this decision, over 10,000 lobbyists sprang up in Washington to influence governance for the Factions. Many of these Factions are funded by wealthy families who want to grab even more money: the Kochs, Mellons, Scaifes, DeVos', Sacklers, etc, etc. Because of this and a deliberate effort, by Factions, to undermine government, people are losing trust in government, over 60 percent according to Gallop, and in the other institutions necessary for our republic.

I arrived in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1948 just as the United States, Britain and France announced that on 21 June the Deutsche Mark would be introduced to replace the Reichsmark as German currency; the Reichsmark had become worthless. The new currency was to be used in the western zones, i.e., American, British and French sectors of Germany including West Berlin, which were to be consolidated. This combined with the Marshall Plan that had gone into effect in April was to revitalize Germany including West Berlin.

The Soviets, who had plans to take over all of Germany, considered these actions the provocations, which they would use to force the Western Powers completely out of Berlin.

To that end, on June 18, 1948, the Soviet Army halted all civilian traffic on the autobahns and railroads into Berlin; and on 24 June halted all Allied military ground and water transport into and out of Berlin including food shipments from the East into West Berlin. The U.S., Britain, and France responded by flying supplies into the city, and the Berlin Airlift began.

What is that to me? The reason my family was in Germany as the Berlin Airlift began was because my father, an Air Force officer, was stationed in Wiesbaden, Air Force Headquarters Europe. This was the management center of the Berlin Airlift, so we lived the Airlift daily. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I was there at the same time as Frank, as a teenaged U.S. military dependent, and I hold the same fears, The main difference is that I immigrated to Canada in 1972.]

The Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS) was the military-established government created to govern the American Zone of Germany. Also, OMGUS set up everything needed to support the U.S military and the civilians that ran the Occupation and their dependents. This included commissaries, PXs, housing, and more. We, and the other American families of the Occupation, were supplied with a house, which had been appropriated from the German owners. A high school was established for us, dependent children, from which I graduated in 1951.

In the summer of 1948, the impact of the war on German cities was startling for me. Many of the cities I visited, including Frankfurt and Darmstadt, had large areas that had been reduced to piles of rubble; and streets were just paths between the mounds, and smelled of death.

Hamburg, because it had been firebombed, had areas reduced to a sea of heat fractured brick with nothing higher than three stone porch steps that survived the heat. Over 5 million Germans died during the war. In addition, over 10 million people, called Displaced Persons (DPs), had been driven or chose to come west after WWII. Many were housed in the German camps because there was no other place for them to live. Some DPs were recruited to assist the U.S. military in policing the streets (they wore grey uniforms). Visits to France and Italy reinforced my impressions of damage and chaos.

My travels, experiences, and the people I met, caused a question to grow in me all through my time in Germany: how could this intelligent, cultured and accomplished people go off the deep end, follow Hitler, and cause the destruction that I saw? I have worked on this ever since, reading many books about World War II, the events leading to it, and its causes written by Adolf Hitler, Hannah Arendt, William L. Shirer, Tony Judt, Timothy Snyder, and others. I found Snyder particularly insightful.

Timothy Snider is a professor at Yale University specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust; from his studies, he wrote Bloodlands. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Based on his studies and interviews in Ukraine and elsewhere, he documented the Russian effort to undermine democracy in Ukraine, Europe and the U.S. in The Road to Unfreedom. This book provided American and European leaders a heads-up on this destructive activity long before the Mueller investigation.

He documents the parallels with the Nazis and points out that while history does not repeat: "... it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance".

His book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, is directed at the individual citizen of republics and outlines actions that we all can take to thwart oligarchy. Oligarchy is a major threat the U.S. and other countries face currently. In the Prologue, Snyder points out that the American founders knew from Aristotle's warning that inequality brings instability, and from Plato that demagogues exploit free speech to install themselves as tyrants. After the Constitutional Convention, when Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government we have, he replied, 'A republic, if you can keep it.' Timothy Snyder fears we are in danger of losing it.

I agree with Snyder, we are in danger of losing our democratic republic, and we are moving toward dystopia; it may not be either Brave New World or 1984, it could be worse.

The solution to keeping our republic, depends on us as citizens and on education and service. The citizenry, as Snyder says, must be active. On Tyranny is more than 'a quick read', it is a citizen's handbook to maintain democracy with examples from the Nazi takeover of Germany, of how democracy breaks down.

James Madison, defined a faction, in The Federalist Papers No. 51, as 'a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and activated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community'.