Lessons for Protection When the Devil Switches Sides

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By way of a Providence Journal article about resources for teachers to address racism and the turmoil in Charlottesville, I came across this, in an NPR article on the same topic, which includes a mention of the improbably named* Derek Weimar:

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Weimer says he taught Fields in three classes at Cooper High School in Union, Ky. As NPR reported, he told member station WVXU reporter Bill Rinehart:

Weimer says Fields was intelligent and didn’t cause trouble. But he says the quiet boy was also deeply into Adolf Hitler and white supremacy. Weimer says he did his best to steer Fields away from those interests and thought he had succeeded in doing so. On hearing about the incident in Charlottesville, Weimer said he felt that he failed as a teacher.

For 40 years, the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves has been training teachers to confront racism and bigotry. By studying the moral decisions facing people at historical moments, from Reconstruction to Kristallnacht to the civil rights era, they hope “to empower students to work against bigotry and injustice or improper uses of power,” says Roger Brooks, president and CEO. “We sum everything up by saying people make choices and choices make history.”

We certainly can’t blame a single teacher, especially one who did his best to turn his student in a better direction.  One wonders, though, whether he addressed the bad ideas that Fields was courting as serious ideas.  I don’t mean to suggest that Hitler’s ideas actually possess intellectual seriousness, but treating them as if they did would help to get at the underlying reason a student might find them attractive.

This may be a blind spot in how our society deals with this sort of thing.  The last paragraph of the blockquote above should shine a light on the risk of moralistic lessons that seek to “empower students.”  After all, history is fluid, and the Devil can switch sides.  “Intelligent” students will figure that out and apply lessons in ways that the moralists might not anticipate.

Fields, for instance, probably thinks he was fighting against “improper uses of power” by attending the racist rally… exactly as he was taught to want to do.  If that was the case, then his deadly driving might appear to white supremacists to be in the same category of action as the “punch a Nazi” suggestion that some progressives tolerate.

Unfortunately, the leading lights of our society appear not to have learned that the Devil can switch sides and have therefore undermined the Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment values that offer the most sure guidance for spotting and negating his works.

* I say “improbable” because the Weimar Republic was the period in German history leading up to the Nazi era, and “Derek” means “people’s ruler.”  The teacher’s name would be moderately clever were this unfortunate story not reality, but a fictional creation.

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  • Rhett Hardwick

    “the leading lights of our society appear not to have learned that the Devil can switch sides ”
    “History us a fable agreed upon” Obviously, to the average student, it is all about how it is presented and perhaps what is omitted. For example, in the present day, I expect more students are familiar with Thomas Jefferson’s association with Sally Hemmings then they are with his drafting the Declaration of Independence.

  • Merle The Monster

    “Fields, for instance, probably thinks he was fighting against “improper uses of power” by attending the racist rally… exactly as he was taught to want to do. If that was the case, then his deadly driving might appear to white supremacists to be in the same category of action as the “punch a Nazi” suggestion that some progressives tolerate.”

    Antifa’s premeditated actions of punching Nazis is a far cry from driving into a crowd of people. The counter protesters were not asserting that their race and /or religion is superior to others as the self styled Nazis and White Nationalists have been doing. History has shown us that dehumanizing human beings be it in the 1930s Germany or Rwanda in the 90s or in the Jim Crow South in the U.S.in the middle of the 20th century can lead to incredible violence and genocide . Blaming the Devil for these atrocities misses the point altogether. Human beings are capable of incredible cruelty especially acting in groups. Religious beliefs don’t restrain them and in some cases sanctify them. White Klansmen could lynch a human being and then have the families join them at barbeques where their children posed for photos with the body hanging in the background.

    “Unfortunately, the leading lights of our society appear not to have learned that the Devil can switch sides and have therefore undermined the Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment values that offer the most sure guidance for spotting and negating his works.”

    I would re examine this bias for Judeo-Christian culture you have if I were you. Humans of every race and religion are capable of acts of kindness and cruelty. If we begin to believe ourselves superior to others then we are opening a door that can lead us to unimagined places

  • Rhett Hardwick

    {Antifa’s premeditated actions of punching Nazis is a far cry from driving into a crowd of people. ” Perhaps, perhaps not. It is common knowledge, and very predictable, that conflict will escalate. “cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war”. Nazis has lost all definable meaning and has simply become an epithet for those who disagree with you.
    “White Klansmen could lynch a human being and then have the families join them at barbeques where their children posed for photos with the body hanging in the background.” I found this so shocking that I felt some investigation was required. Without saying that it never happened, all similar photos I could find were on commercial postcards, intended to be humorous. For instance, one shows a black man being hung with a “bubble” that reads “All I did was say I didn’t like the Gumbo”. The Postmaster put an end to this in 1908. The pictures seem to be of “public hangings”, as opposed to “lynchings”. Indeed a sad commentary on popular culture, but nothing indicates involvement of the KKK.
    “History is a fable agreed upon” I found a Pew survey from yesterday interesting. 745 of whites, and 44% of blacks, thought the Confederate monuments should remain standing.

    Hate, or Heritage? Thought I would throw this in. This is a “movie” version of an event which actually occurred at the Institute during the “Civil War”.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpsJF7ZSpq4
    In actual fact, the Cadets were somewhat older; unlike the movie, 14 were killed. Many are buried in a cemetery on campus. Overlooked by a statue, titled “Virginia mourns it’s dead”. Annually, their names are called, the response being “Died on the field of honor, Sir”. Buildings still carry quotations from “Stonewall” Jackson, a former member of the faculty. The “other school in town” has a statute of Lee’s horse, shall we tear it down?Hate, or Heritage?

    Incidentally, since the 1950’s, by Act of Congress, Confederate veterans are now “U.S. Veterans”. Is anyone up for tearing down the Iwo Jima Memorial because of the “Japanese Incarceration”?

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