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  • Reverend James Squire

The Wave

Photo byThe Nutcracker Guide

Today, January 27, 2021 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We can learn much from Holocaust Studies on why Trump became a cult like figure to have millions of people following him including many enablers along the way. I am not suggesting that Trump is another Hitler or Trump’s millions of followers are like the German people who followed him and approved of Hitler’s policies.

I want you to understand why and how the Insurrection happened.

I have attended Holocaust Studies Workshops which have helped me to understand why we are where we are today with Trump’s followers and enablers still in his grasp and control. I want to raise the most difficult question. Why did so many normal people allow Hitler do what he did? Why have so many normal Americans who supported Trump through their votes during the election and continue to support him during the upcoming Impeachment Trial? Let’s put aside group dynamics, lack of courage, and a quest for power and profit and look at a phenomenon that has not come up.

There was a 1967 classroom experiment that proved how easy it was for Americans to become Nazis. I am indebted to Nina Renata Aron in Timeline for the details of what occurred in this experiment. I will give you a truncated version of the experiment known as the "wave".

A high school teacher, Ron Jones, in Palo Alto, California wanted to teach his social studies students how normal people can be easily led to follow a fearsome leader. He became very stern and introduced a new set of rules. It was fun at first. The students had to stand to ask questions and were required to give the Nazi salute. They adopted a slogan, “Strength Through Discipline”.

Those who went along with the experiment would get an “A”. Those who refused to participate would get an “F”. The experiment rules extended beyond the classroom. If someone saw you not obeying them, they could turn you in. You never Knew who would do this to you. Rumors spread among rumors.

Jones realized after a few days that the experiment got out of hand. He had created a monster. He announced to the students that they should meet in the auditorium the next day as a presidential candidate would be announced. When his students arrived the next day in the auditorium, they saw in front of them a movie screen with nothing but static on it. He revealed to the students that they were part of an experiment to demonstrate how fascism occurs. He then showed them a film on the rise of Nazism in Germany.

The students expressed relief. Parents and other faculty thought that what Jones did was terrible. Two years later his contract was not renewed. A movie version of The Wave was made in 1981 for an after school special.

Aron states: “But as a simulation of the normalization of fascism – the pleasure of membership, the creeping thrill of exclusion, and the comfort of discipline and rules – the experiment was unquestionably a success. It vividly illustrated the chilling conclusion theorist Hannah Arendt came to at the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann,‘that most members of the SS were neither perverted nor sadistic, but rather, terribly and terrifyingly normal’.”

That certainly couldn’t happen to me, or could it? During one Holocaust workshop that I attended one of the workshop leaders entered the classroom where my group was seated. She told us to move to another room. We did. She told us when we arrived at another room to move again to a better room. About five moves later someone in our group said: “What’s this about? You have us moving all over the place.” The leader proclaimed with a smile on her face, “Welcome to Germany!!!!”

I wish that the movie, The Wave, could be shown before the Impeachment Trial Part 2 begins. I am an optimist. I think we might get those 17 votes needed if the politicians were aware of why they are doing what they are doing. This would be icing on the cake explaining their quest for power and personal profit under an authority figure articulating the Big Lie.

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