We aren’t doing a good enough job
By MIKE MYERS
Reaction to a prank by some W.Va. Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation trainees says much about that state — more of it good than bad.
The question we need to face up to is about the trainees, however. What does it say about their generation?
You may have heard about a prank, involving a group picture of a DCR basic training class.
In it, the 26 or so trainees are giving a raised-arm salute similar to that used by many Germans during the Nazi era. A caption over the picture reads, HAIL BYRD! Unfortunately, the trainees are dressed in black uniforms — as were members of the Nazis’ feared SS. Byrd apparently is a DCR staff member involved in training.
Now, the Nazi salute was “Heil,” as in “heil Hitler.” Some people translate the German “heil” to mean “hail” in English, but that isn’t exactly accurate. Suffice it to say that both “heil” and “hail” are salutes of sorts.
The good news is that the stunt was condemned forcefully. State officials expressed outrage. Gov. Jim Justice said he had “ordered the termination of all those that are found to be involved in this conduct.” Apologies were made, especially to the Jewish community.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., made an insightful comment: “This is not the West Virginia I know or grew up in,” he said. No, it isn’t, and that’s a big problem.
Manchin grew up in a different time, starting during the years immediately after World War II. Lots of people he knew back then had served in the military during the war. A few had been involved in liberating Nazi death camps.
West Virginians then understood what the Nazi salute stood for — murderous, organized, institutional evil.
Do younger people, not just in West Virginia, but in other states, understand that now? Obviously, no.
Many younger Americans don’t seem to comprehend what in many ways was the unique evil of the Nazis. Even some in Congress, who compare detention centers for illegal immigrants to concentration camps, clearly don’t understand.
What is most upsetting about the DCR trainees’ stunt is that it demonstrates they don’t realize the horror of Nazism — or they would never have posed as they did.
For years, many vowed, “never again” in reference to Nazism. When was the last time you heard that from someone under 30?
We aren’t doing well enough in educating younger people about Nazism, Stalinism, Japanese militarism — and perhaps, dare I suggest it? — slavery in America.
Don’t blame the trainees. It’s our fault for not making their generation understand. We need to fix that.
Myer can be reached at: email@example.com.