In Stalingrad, a 1993 war movie, a platoon of German Army soldiers leaves behind the beaches and beauties of Italy and find themselves fighting desperately to stay alive in Russia.
Early in the film, there is an exchange that has its real-life counterpart almost 75 years later.
A young, idealistic German lieutenant, newly transferred to the Russian front, is horrified when he sees a fellow soldier from another unit sadistically beat a Russian prisoner to death.
He seeks out the man’s superior, a captain, and says: “Captain, I must protest about the behavior of your men.”
“You want to protest?” asks the captain, grinning sardonically. “Tell the Fuhrer.”
Fast forward to January 28, 2017, the day after President Donald J. Trump signed into law an executive order which:
- Suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days;
- Barred Syrian refugees indefinitely;, and
- Blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The new rules–and the efforts of security personnel at major international airports to enforce them–triggered a tsunami of chaos and fear among travelers.
“We’ve gotten reports of people being detained all over the country,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project. “They’re literally pouring in by the minute.”
Refugees on flights when the order was signed on January 27 were detained upon arrival.
Many students attending American universities were blocked from returning to the United States from visits abroad.
According to Homeland Security officials, 109 people who were already in transit to the United States when the order was signed were denied access; 173 were stopped before boarding planes heading to America. Eighty-one people who were stopped were eventually given waivers to enter the United States.
Internationally, travelers were seized by panic when they were not allowed to board flights to the United States. In Dubai and Istanbul, airport and immigration officials turned passengers away at boarding gates. At least one family was removed from a flight it had boarded.
Earlier on January 28, Trump, isolated in the White House from all the chaos he had unleashed in airports across the nation and throughout the world, said:
“It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared. It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”
Then the American Civil Liberties Union intervened.
Two Iraqi immigrants, defended by the ACLU, accused Trump of legal and constitutional overreach.
The Iraqis had been detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. One had served as an interpreter for American forces in Iraq for a decade. The other was en route to reunite with his wife and son in Texas.
The interpreter, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was released after nearly 19 hours of detention. So was the other traveler, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi.
Before the two men were released, one of their lawyers, Mark Doss, a supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project, asked an official, “Who is the person we need to talk to?”
“Call Mr. Trump,” said the official, who refused to identify himself.
He might just as well have said: “You want to protest? Tell the Fuhrer.”
The ACLU action secured at least a temporary blocking of part of Trump’s order. A Brooklyn judge barred the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the Presidential order.
Judge Ann M. Donnelly of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, ruled that sending the travelers home could cause them “irreparable harm.” She said the government was “enjoined and restrained from, in any manner and by any means, removing individuals” who had arrived in the United States with valid visas or refugee status.
But she did not force the administration to let in people otherwise blocked by the executive order who have not yet traveled to the United States. Nor did she issue a broader ruling on the constitutionality of the order.
* * * * *
On November 8, millions of ignorant, hate-filled, Right-wing Americans elected Donald Trump–a man reflecting their own hate and ignorance–to the Presidency.
Summing up Trump’s character in a March 25, 2016 broadcast of The PBS Newshour, conservative political columnist David Brooks warned: “The odd thing about [Trump’s] whole career and his whole language, his whole world view is there is no room for love in it. You get a sense of a man who received no love, can give no love….
“And so you really are seeing someone who just has an odd psychology unleavened by kindness and charity, but where it’s all winners and losers, beating and being beat. And that’s part of the authoritarian personality.”
There were countless warning signs available for Trump’s supporters to see–if they had wanted to see them:
- His threats against his political opponents;
- His five-year “birtherism” slander against President Obama–which even he was forced to disavow;
- His rampant egomania;
- His attacks on everyone who dared to disagree with him;
- His refusal to release his tax returns;
- His history of bankruptcies and lawsuits filed against him;
- His bragging about sexually abusing women (“Grab them by the pussy”).
Those who voted against Trump are now learning the meaning of the Nazi slogan: “The Fuhrer proposes and disposes for all.”