Memorial Day 2022 – Remembering Good and Evil

photograph of a memorial placard from the World War II Memorial.
The photo was taken by Debbie Boone at the World War II Memorial

This week I was able to experience a unique juxtaposition of human behavior.  Saturday afternoon while scrolling the TV guide I found a documentary on Woodstock – the famous music festival that happened in 1969 on a dairy farm in upstate NY.  If you have the time and opportunity to watch this on PBS, I recommend it.  The story is highly unlikely and the lessons learned important. 

The young men who decided to hold Woodstock had never put on an outdoor festival.  They were all under 27 years old with Artie Kornfeld being the youngest VP at Capitol Records as part of the team.  The original plan by John Roberts and Joel Rosenman was to build a recording studio close to the town where Bob Dylan lived, sure that he would attract other musicians.   At the time, the West Coast had hosted some successful festivals so the plan for the studio morphed into creating a music and art festival.  The location was secured in an industrial park location that was unattractive but worked. Permits were pulled, the stage and fences were being constructed, and planning for food service and hygiene were laid out. But then came the glitch.  

Once the townspeople of Wallkill, NY began to consider the vast numbers of “hippies” that would descend on the town they pulled the plug by passing a law against concerts…one month before the event! 

The planners searched high and low to find another suitable place when at the last possible moment, Max Yasgur, a local dairy farmer, agreed to let them use one of his pastures.  The interesting part about Max Yasgur is that he was a diehard conservative and a Republican.  But he was also a strong proponent of free speech.  So even though he got a lot of negative push back from his neighbors and even some threats to his business he never wavered in his support of the kid’s rights to gather.

With only one month to the concert, the construction of the stage and lighting and fencing was down to the wire.  The decision was made to build the stage and abandon the completion of the fence…even though the organizers knew they would no longer be able to take tickets when the crowd began to gather.  And that is exactly what happened.  To keep the attendees safe, they opened the gates and told everyone they would no longer be charging or taking tickets.  And the crowd kept coming and growing larger and larger. 

They hired a commune of 85 people led by a guy named Wavy Gravy to help with crowd control.  They had no weapons and used no force.  If people got out of line, Wavy threatened to shower them with seltzer water or hit them with a pie.  Humor and kindness controlled a crowd that started at 50,000 but grew to 400,000. In the three days of the festival, only 3 people died.  Two from drug overdose and one kid who was accidentally run over by a tractor because he was rolled into a sleeping bag the color of the grass.   

The entire event was a testimony to working together, showing kindness, being tolerant and helping each other.  People shared food and shelter when a storm rolled in. There was a 20-mile-long traffic jam yet no fights.   They did no harm and no harm was done to them.  Twelve police officers monitored 400,000 people.  It was proof that when people are treated with respect and the core values of love, harmony and peace were set as the tone, repeated often and the ones in charge acted accordingly and in the best interest of the people in their care, then collaboration, safety, fun and the greatest musical experience in history can happen without incident.

The next day I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Here I saw the polar opposite of Woodstock.  The unbelievable horror of Hitler and the Nazi’s plan to exterminate any human beings they didn’t think met their Aryan race criteria.  Because the Nazi government destroyed many records as they realized the Allies were closing in, it is difficult to count the exact number of lives lost.  But estimates state over 9 million Jews, Roma (Gypsies), mentally handicapped, Soviet prisoners, Homosexuals, Poles, Serbs, the physically disabled who were in institutions, repeat criminals, Jehovah Witnesses, and Nazi Political opponents died.  

The terrifying thing was that established politicians arranged to have Hitler elected Chancellor because he had a “base” they wanted.  They were sure they could control him.  Soon it was discovered that if they tried to oppose his actions, they died at the hands of the storm troopers who precluded the SS in terrorizing German citizens. 

As I gazed in horror and sadness at the evil these people wrought upon their fellow man, I realized that this was only possible because German citizens were force-fed propaganda that led them to believe that these “others” were subhuman and not worthy of life.  They were bombarded with messages of hate for anyone who was not “Nordic” in birth or coloring.  They were encouraged to think that the Jews were taking their jobs and money when all they were doing was making a living like everyone else.  They were turned into a mob of fearful, rabid wolves attacking a basket of kittens because they had been manipulated into believing the kittens were going to take something from them.  And they lost their souls and their humanity to pack mentality.

Today we have platforms that intentionally feed us this same propaganda.  We are being fed HATE for our fellow man by those whose interest is in maintaining or attaining money and power by keeping our attention.   

We must be wary of simplistic answers to difficult questions.  We must stay informed and vet our information sources in multiple ways.

We must share messages of love, kindness, empathy, and tolerance like the people at Woodstock.  Then we can live in peace and harmony.

On my trip, I also walked the plaza of the World War II memorial where the stars in the fountain number 4,048.  Each gold star represents one hundred American service personnel who died or remain missing in the war.  These men and women were key in striking down the Third Reich and Hitler.  They are the ones who opened the gates of concentration camps and fed and freed the survivors of the Holocaust. The 405,399 American dead or missing from this war is second only to the 620,000 we lost when we turned on each other in the Civil War.  Let us remember the sacrifice of this great generation and never allow any human, a political party, or self-centeredness to negate the good they did to bring peace to the world. 

If we allow evil to make us evil we are doomed to repeat history. 

Thank you to all who gave so much so that we may live in freedom. 

We Remember.