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“I’ve heard this kind of talk before, but I never expected to hear it in America.”
“Don’t be a Sucker” was produced by the U.S. War Department in 1943 to warn Americans not to fall for fascist rhetoric.
Back then, it would have been shown in cinemas, but today, in light of in the light of Charlottesville and the cauldron of hate and division in America that’s long been bubbling—now boiling over, thanks to the president himself who knowingly stirred it up to further his own campaign—it is going viral on the small screen.
The echoes of its message, more than 70 years on, are even more chilling than ever. Because this has all happened before. And we should know better.
It’s really a clip from the original 17-minute long short film that’s trending. In it, an older man with an Eastern European accent warns a young American man about the dangers of the hate-filled speech another “average American” man on a soapbox podium is giving.
“I was born in Hungary, but now I am an American citizen. And I have seen what this kind of talk can do—I saw it in Berlin. I was a professor at the university. I heard the same words we have heard today.”
“But I was a fool then,” he continues. “I thought Nazis were crazy people, stupid fanatics. Unfortunately it was not so. They knew they were not strong enough to conquer a unified country, so they split Germany into small groups. They used prejudice as a practical weapon to cripple the nation.”
The viral clip ends shortly after. But in the full film, which you can see in the U.S. War Department archives, here, he goes on:
“We must never let that happen to us or to our country. We must never let ourselves be divided by race or color or religion, because in this country we all belong to minority groups…
Your right to belong to these minorities is a precious thing. You have a right to be what you are and say what you think because here we have personal freedom. We have liberty. And these are not just fancy words. This is a practical and priceless way of living. But we must work it. We must guard everyone’s liberties. Or we can lose our own.
If we allow any minority to lose its freedom by persecution or by prejudice, we are threatening our own freedom. And this is not simply an idea. This is good, hard common sense.
You see, here in America, it’s not a question whether we tolerate minorities—America is minorities. And that means you and me. So let’s not be suckers. We must not allow the freedom or dignity of any man to be threatened by any act or word. Let’s be selfish about it. Let’s forget about ‘we’ and ‘they. Let’s think about us.”
These words sink deep into my own South African heart because I am a product of a similarly pioneering, marauding, violent, beautiful, heroic, tragic, chequered, but proud nation. A nation of minorities, of conflict, and contradiction, but a nation all the same. Though, if we cannot learn to see ourselves as such—as “us”—then we will be our own demise, as nations, and as a species.
And we will have no excuse for it. Because we saw it coming.
Top comments via reddit:
kyle2143 “That was pretty long, but an interesting video to watch. More powerful than the 2 minute clip in the original post, I especially liked the quote, “When that first minority lost out, everybody lost out.”
Whenever I come across a video or anything where the author tries to persuade the audience, especially something that is blatantly propaganda, I always try to find whatever objectionable bias that is hidden behind it. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of anything here. (Except maybe that first scene where a guy get’s mugged because he cheated on his wife, not sure why that was in this video)”
Author/Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: U.S. War Department archives