Eighty years ago, in New York’s Madison Square Garden, 20,000 Americans in good standing assembled to hail speeches by politicians inveighing against Jews and to cheer martial presentations by American Nazi storm troopers, beneath an enormous banner of George Washington flanked by American flags and swastikas.
This sounds like counter-factual history – like a scene from Philip Roth’s novel “The Plot Against America” or Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” – but of course, it can happen here. It has happened here – and there is a recent, eloquent, six-minute documentary you can watch free online, “A Night at The Garden,” that tells you all you may need to know about what transpires when our courage as a free people is haltered by hatred.
Three years later, America was in the Second World War. Five years later, Allied troops battled their way all summer from the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches to the outskirts of Paris, as Nazis, seeing the writing on the wall, fled the City of Light.
On Aug. 24, 1944, the French Resistance could hear the approach of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army from the city’s outskirts as the Resistance continued an open assault against the last German garrison in the city, buoyed by parts of Gen. Philippe Leclerc’s 2nd French Armored Division. The next day, the garrison surrendered, ending four years of occupation.
It was the undaunted courage of the Resistance that kept hope alive for the French, and the courage and resolve of the Allies that turned the tide of the war in Europe. Where is that courage today?
In the last week of this August, one place you could find it is Hong Kong, where hundreds of thousands of people are turning out to protest China’s oppressive grip on their coastal metropolis. Bidding defiance to China’s Communist rule, and to authoritarian leftism, they have been waving the American flag and the British Union Jack, and singing the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Since the protests in Hong Kong started two months ago, I have been struck by the coolness of the American response,” George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen wrote in a recent Bloomberg column.
“I am referring not just to President Donald Trump, who has reiterated that the dispute is an internal Chinese matter. Both the social media I sample and the people I know have been fairly quiescent. I haven’t seen that much cheering and rooting for the protesters, nor have the major Democratic presidential candidates made a show of stressing their dissent from Trump on this issue.”
Adding insult to injury, that was posted under the headline “The World Turns, America Sleeps.”
There are those who think, and they are not wrong, there is an excellent chance China will crush the protesters and their dream of American-style liberties, among them free speech and independence, which go together like toast and avocado. But have we become so despairing, defeatist and cynical that we will not rally to a cause not yet lost? That is not who we are.
“The protesters surely have similar fears,” Cowen writes, “but after internalizing the costs and benefits they have decided to risk their lives and liberties anyway. Surely it is strange if the protesters – who really do have something major to lose – are braver than we outsiders are.”
There are those who will regard this situation in Hong Kong from afar and say, American liberties are not all they are cracked up to be; just look at the hash we have made of our cities, our policies and our politics. They may think we have particularly erred in our immigration policies of late; we will not quibble. Yet part of the problem we have is that so many people still want to get to the U.S. because it remains, for all its warts, a beacon of liberty – as it is for the Hong Kong protesters.
In this most auspicious time of the year, as history tells us, we salute their courage. It is truly the least we can do.