History and Experience

Bill Neinast


History as a poor substitute for experience was the subject last week.  Today is a step into history that ignores or does not include all the facts.

The tour of the Soviet Union discussed last week included a visit to the Khatyn Memorial in Belarus.

Notwithstanding the shoddy construction typical of soviet labor in this workers’ paradise, this is the most poignant war memorial I have seen.  As described by the guides and plaques, Khatyn was a village of 26 houses that was destroyed by German army troops on March 22, 1943.

The Germans herded all 156 residents into a barn that they then sat on fire and gunned down any who escaped the burning building.  The only survivors were two young girls who managed to escape into the woods and one man who was absent when the Germans arrived.

The lone male survivor came back to find his badly injured, burned, and dying son.  The entrance to the memorial is a very large statue of that man holding the limp body of his son in his arms.

The basic memorial, however, is 26 replica fireplace chimneys.  The bell on top of each chimney softly tolls every minute.  You have to have a hard heart not to remain emotionless while standing there.

That emotion changes a bit, though, when you learn the whole story.  That required some research when I returned home.

The whole story reflects the atrocity in a little different light.  Although not a valid excuse or justification for the 153 murders, the Germans were retaliating for an ambush of a German unit in the area in which all of the officers and men were killed.

It might also be related to another atrocity with a very similar name three years earlier.  This was the March, 1940, execution of 22,000 POWs in the Khatyn Forest in Russia.  Most were Polish officers and intelligentsia in the German army.

Learning the whole story changed my perspective on Khatyn a bit.  Could it do the same on current events in our country?

Consider, for example, a primary impetus of the Black Lives Matter movement.  This was the August 9, 2014, shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  

The first reports ostensibly based on eyewitnesses accounts were that Brown, a black man, was shot by a white police office when Brown was backing up or running away with his hands in the air and yelling, “Don’t shoot!.”

According to Wikipedia, however, when the dust settled, “A United States Department of Justice investigation, under the leadership of African-American U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, found the 'hands up' claim was a lie and inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence, and the witness testimony surrounding the Brown shooting.”

Actually, Brown had just robbed a convenience store and was walking down  the middle of a street when stopped by Officer Darren Wilson.  Brown approached Wilson and tried to grab his gun.  He then turned away, but was coming back when Wilson shot him.

Similarly, the whole story of the inexcusable suffocating of George Floyd in Minneapolis was long delayed.  The initial dialog accompanying the gruesome videos did not mention that Floyd was a career criminal with nine convictions and some time in prison. He was killed while resisting arrest for the crime of passing counterfeit money.

There are a number of similar incidents of incomplete and biased reporting, but let’s end with the most recent.  This is the paralyzing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Initial media reports on this incident were that Blake was trying to break up a domestic disturbance when the police responded to a call that a woman was being attacked by a man with a knife.  Blake was getting into his car to leave when he was shot seven times by the police.

Here, though, are all the facts.  Blake was already under indictment for domestic abuse.  (Last week he made a virtual court appearance on those charges from his hospital bed.) He was also the man attacking the woman who called the police and he appeared to be reaching for something in the car rather than trying to get in.  A knife was found on the front seat of the car. 

So here’s the perspective.

If the media had reported only the facts, and all the facts, in the cases that are fueling the Black Lives Matter outrage, would we have a calmer nation today?

No one seems to be willing to take a deep breath, look at all the facts, and think, “What would I have done as a policeman in that situation?”

Although there may have been better ways to handle each of the cases, we are making angels out of criminals and devils out of cops.

Let’s stop the hysteria and take a few deep breaths.   



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