Why It Matters

While in Budapest (see below), I was able to tour the House of Terror museum. The museum is quite new, and it tells the story of the Nazi and Communist torture of Jews and other sympathizing residents of Budapest from 1945 until 1989. The museum is housed in the former headquarters of the Secret Police and contains the torture chamber where people who opposed the regime were hung on the gallows, forced to stand for days, electrocuted and one rumor even reports of a meat grinder used to churn up the bodies of “sympathizers” (“military detainees”).

It is easy to separate one’s self from this experience by simply dismissing it as a relic of the ignorant or more brutal past. Surely good thinking people would not tolerate such treatment in their midst today. Surely someone would stand up and say something.

As I read the exhibit explanations, I could not help but make parallels between the tactics of the Nazis and Communists and those who would still repress freedom, toleration and civil liberties in the name of “national security” even today. While I want to be very clear that I do not equate the Bush Administration with the Nazi or Communist regimes, I do believe that some of their actions have come dangerously close to the same type of tactics that led the Nazis and Communists toward these tortuous acts in the name of “security” or protecting their way of life. One of the most striking exhibits in the museum was a wall of pictures of the perpetrators of these atrocities. Many of them are still alive and walking the streets of Budapest. Evils such as these are normally carried out by people who look rather normal and who have not grown horns or look like Hitler. Evil can even worm its way into our own hearts if we allow fear to take us there.

Here is a list of the tactics employed by these evil regimes:

a) Judges and prosecutors that did not sympathize with the political party were summarily dismissed from their jobs and party faithful were put in their place (that is a direct quote from the exhibit, not from the New York Times about Alberto Gonzales)

b) Military detainees were stripped of their legal and constitutional rights in trial.

c) Hearsay evidence could be used against the accused.

d) Prisoners were sentenced without the prisoner being able to see the evidence against them.

e) Political opposition was viewed as unpatriotic and eliminated where possible.

f) Government agencies were controlled by political parties.

g) Daily life became militarized, with the whole country in war psychosis.

h) Churches were made organs of the state.

i) Wiretapping and government eavesdropping on suspicious individuals without a warrant.

j) The dissolution of Parliamentary (congressional) powers and the complete power in the Executive

k) The torture of prisoners for information related to national security.

All of these sound familiar? That’s because the Bush Administration has put every one of these in place during the last 6 years. You would almost think that Rumsfeld or Cheney have been reading the same books. The scary thing is that most of us have been silent.

This is not an issue of political party or national security. I always fear raising these issues among friends or on this blog because I feel that some people just write this off as just another Democratic partisan rant on my part. But it’s much more than that to me. These are issues which should concern every American who cares about our Constitution.

These actions undermine the foundations of our Constitution, eat away at our most basic civil rights, and they ultimately lead to our disillusionment. America always has stood for freedom, tolerance, democracy, the separation of powers, and the rule of law. Those are critical to our existence, and we should be ashamed for excusing our silence as a mere partisan disagreement. We should be outraged, or else the generations after us will have to build a museum about our house of torture and oppression.

One of the most impressive parts of this museum was the room dedicated to the witness of the Christian church against the Nazi and Communist governments. Some of them did cave and supported these regimes, but others stood up against them, proclaiming the Lordship of Christ over all powers. Many of them too were tortured and went to their deaths, but in so doing, they saved thousands and millions of innocent lives.

May the church … and all of us … not be asleep, but may we be granted understanding to live righteously and courageously in these days. The enemies of justice and freedom are not all on the other side. Sometimes they are in our own midst.


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