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Belittling Tormentors Allows us to Be Free

Through the process of the ten plagues, the Jews saw the Egyptians for what they were, just another group of petrified humans.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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One of the mysteries of the Second World War is why Franklin Delano Roosevelt insisted on the unconditional surrender of the axis powers. Surely the war would not have dragged on as long, his critics say, if he had come to some sort of armistice with Hitler and Mussolini. Millions of lives might have been spared. But Roosevelt would have none of it.

Why did he take such an extreme position?

Hitler terrorized the world and, through his mass rallies, blitzkriegs, and panzer divisions gave off the aura of having built a nation of invincible Neitzschean ubermenschen. What Roosevelt wanted was not just the physical liberation of Europe but the psychological freedom of the entire world. He needed to bring Germany to its knees, to hold up Hitler like a rat in his bunker, in order for all the world to see that Hitler’s superiority was a farce and there was no need to ever fear him. Indeed, the freedom from fear was one of the four freedoms that Roosevelt famously promised America in his 1941 speech.

The same applies to the destruction of so much of Japan, whose Emperor was revered as a god and whom MacArthur purposely humiliated by insisting he come to visit the General in order to show the Japanese they need never fear him again. The famous picture of the diminutive Emperor standing next to the tall and stately general almost makes a mockery of Hirohito.

One of the tragic curiosities of the Civil War is that even after six hundred thousand Americans died, in essence, to end slavery, it simply continued largely through the institution of segregation and Jim Crow. Why didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment work?

I believe the reason is the same. Lincoln was a great man and he sent the northern armies into battle to rescue the Union and to free the slaves. But what he granted was political freedom. Shortly after the war criminal organizations like the KKK sought to reestablish black fear of whites so that slavery could be practiced by other means.

It was only when, ninety years later, Martin Luther King sent black children into battle against Bull Connor’s dogs and fire hoses that African-Americans saw firsthand that these seemingly gargantuan, Paul Bunyan-sized racists, were really pathetic, scared thugs who would ultimately bend before the will of children.

And that’s when the abomination and plague of American slavery finally came to an end.

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About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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