Thank You: Dietrich, Bobby and Barack
Years ago when I was in grad school, I took an independent reading class on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a university professor who morphed into a pastor and eventually into one of the leaders of the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler during WWII. I had read several books for the class about Bonhoeffer's metamorphosis from merely dealing with Hitler to actively being involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. I can't recall much of my reading over 40-years ago. Interestingly, all that I can clearly remember was that none of the readings ever pointed to a particular time or event that caused Bonhoeffer to cross the line from a devout pacifist to a committed assassin.
Recently, my wife gave me Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. It is a very exacting chronology of Bonhoeffer's crossing the line from an outspoken critic of Hitler and the Nazis to a conspirator to eliminate Hitler. Metaxas reinforced what I recalled back in grad school. No one really knew when Bonhoeffer crossed that line. Nevertheless, he wrote about how Bonhoeffer was with his friend, Eberhard Bethge, on June 14, 1940. They were in Memel, Prussia, which is now located in Lithuania. They were in a café and heard a radio broadcast announcing the French surrender to Germany.
Instantly, Bonhoeffer jumped to his feet and joined in with the jubilant occupants of the café singing, "Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles". Bonhoeffer even gave the Nazi salute. Bethge couldn't believe what Bonhoeffer did. Bonhoeffer told Bethge to join him in the celebration so as to be less visibly anti-Hitler. Bonhoeffer tried diplomatically to change Germany but failed. He had obviously crossed the line by the time Bethge and he were in the café. He was now totally committed to kill Hitler. Less than three years later, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo on April 6, 1943...a couple of months after I was born on the other side of the world.
Bonhoeffer spent time at the Tegel military prison, the Reich Security Head Office prison, Buchenwald, and finally Flossenbürg. After 2-years, Bonhoeffer is hanged on April 9, 1945, at the Flossenbürg concentration camp. Ironically, the US Army liberated Flossenbürg two weeks after Bonhoeffer had died.
Now, unless you will soon be taking one of the classes that I love to teach at DeVry, HIST 410, what real difference does Bonhoeffer make in your life? Let me tell you what Bonhoeffer has done for me. Hopefully, what Bonhoeffer did for me will be a model for each of you as he is for me.
I basked in the sunlight that Bobby radiated. Then came June 6, 1968. He had just won the California primary. It looked to me and my generation that he would be nominated at the democratic convention in Chicago and would become our next president.
More died on June 6, 1968 in LA than Bobby Kennedy. My generation of Americans lost their leader. In those 4-decades since his death, he was much of my hope for the future. I became disillusioned. Prior to Bobby's death, I had wanted to go to Scotland for a year of post-graduate study at the University of Edinburgh. After his death, I went overseas and put America and all my dreaming behind me.
I did go to Edinburgh and traveled through most of Europe, but I had lost forever a model of leadership. I went on with my life. I did post-graduate studies, worked, had a family, went back and got another degree, and contributed to society for the next 40-years. However, I lived without a real political hope. My only momentary hope was stirred by Jimmy Carter's election. I had written to him before the election, and he invited me to his inauguration on January 20, 1977...my birthday.
Nonetheless, I haven't been into politics as I was back in the 60s. I voted, but I was not animated or dedicated as I once was. If I had been in that hotel in LA, I would have gladly taken the bullet to spare Kennedy.
Over half my life has come and gone, and a handful of years ago, my wife and I visited Michelle my youngest daughter in South Africa. She had volunteered in an orphanage for children who had lost their parents due to AIDS. Where I crossed the line started sometime after our visit to Michelle. Then, after returning home, I watched Hardball with Chris Matthews one evening. He was pining away about how dreamers don't get elected president. What he was saying was that Obama wouldn't become the democratic nominee let alone win the presidential election. Months later, Obama came to Gary, IN on a campaign swing through the Midwest.
My wife had to work that day, and Michelle had returned to the States. I got two tickets to an Obama rally: one for Michelle and the other for me. He hadn't even won the nomination to be the democratic candidate, but I knew that he'd be the next president. I was on a political high; I took hundreds of photos in Gary on April 11, 2008. Here is just a sample:
Nine months later, Barack Obama was inaugurated as our new president...on January 20, 2009...my birthday. Last year, my wife and I went to Greece and Turkey. While in Greece, we went to battlefield at Thermopylae where Leonidas and the Spartans held off Xerxes and the Persians invaders for several days in 490 BCE. Leonidas, against all odds held off a hundred thousand Persians in one of the greatest battles of all human history.
I wrote to Obama suggesting that his campaign use Leonidas' reply to Xerxes who wanted him to surrender. Leonidas said, "Moλωυ λαβε (molon labe).", which means "Come and get them!" In fact, I sent Obama a shirt that I got when I was in Greece with that famous Greek saying on it. Both these pictures that I took are above my desk in my office at home. Above the picture of Obama is an invitation to his first inauguration.
During the first couple of years, Obama got healthcare reform through, which I predicted long before Election Day. After a successful first term in which he got passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, ended the mistaken war in Iraq, began the wind-down of the Afghanistan war, got bin Laden, geared up the federal response to Hurricane Sandy, etc. Obama was re-elected...another prediction that I made in this article, "It Was the Best of Times..." This time, January 20, 2013 will fall on a Sunday. Therefore, the inauguration will take place on Monday, the 21st, which isn't my birthday.
When was it precisely that I crossed the line about getting back into politics? I can't tell you. Like Bonhoeffer, I knew that I had crossed...but I can't date the time or the event. However, I have resurrected my dreams of a half century ago. I assure you. Sometime between meeting Michelle in the airport in Cape Town, South Africa and today, I crossed the line. That was a line that hadn't been crossed since Bobby Kennedy's time in Washington in the 60s. I assure you; my zeal and energy have finally returned...after a long absence. When Obama is inaugurated, I will be already 70 years young...still teaching, writing, and traveling. I am still making error-free predictions. You can count on this one regarding Hillary. For more on my predictions read the article I wrote after the 2012 Republican National Convention.
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