FREEDOM When I was a little kid, I asked my dad about an image I had seen of really huge numbers of prisoners being marched to their execution in a forest clearing, guarded by perhaps five or ten men with rifles. I wanted to know why they didn't just rush the guards. I mean, it's one thing if they were heading to another miserable day at work camp, but these people were being led off to be killed, and they knew it. I mean, for God's sake, what did they have to lose? I was six. My dad looked at me. He had served in the latter days of WW2 in Europe as a U.S. Army intelligence officer. No parachuting onto the decks of enemy U-Boats at night to steal Enigma machines -- just newly-minted, 2nd Lieutenant grunt work. He'd been to the camps though, seen some horrible things. When I asked him why they didn't fight back or run for the woods, he said, without any arrogance or contempt or jingoism, "I don't know Billy, I can't figure that one out myself." Then there was a long moment. "But I can't imagine Americans just walking off like that, either." Now when he said he couldn't imagine Americans marching off to their deaths, he meant, obviously, Americans like the ones he knew. Kids who grew up hunting, kids who got a BB gun for their fifth birthday -- tough, adventurous, American kids whose mom's never gave a second thought to them shooting their eye out with a Red Ryder air rifle. Now before we go any further, I want to be crystal clear about something: I don’t believe for an instant in any genetic nonsense about slave races or nations of pure-bred heroes. That’s a deadly trap, and the end result of such thinking is a place on the watchtower machine-gunning starving prisoners. But humans are the most successful species this planet has seen, not for being ferocious or fast or strong or even intelligent, but for their malleability. Humans can, and do, adapt to anything. It is their culture that determines what is in their hearts. Consider the case of Jews in Germany, during the 1930s. Here was a people who had been so tormented and prosecuted and psychologically beaten down that they had come to believe the outrageous slander that they were guests in their own country. Behind their shuttered doors at night, they created cocoons of astonishing culture and beauty, a symphony of violins and cellos and poetry and literature. They were far over-represented in occupations we rightly esteem as among the most noble of our species: surgeons, musicians, teachers and scientists. By any measure of human decency, these were the people that should have been helping to lead a ravaged Germany back to respect and prosperity. Yet they were massacred in their millions by brutes and sadists who sent millions to their deaths while listening to symphonies. If it is possible to write a clearer lesson on human nature, then I cannot imagine it, nor can I imagine the amount of blood it will take to convince people unwilling to look reality in the face; that reality being that compassion, culture, law and philosophy are precious, rare and acquired habits that must be defended with force against people who understand nothing but force. The great failure and staggering tragedy of European Jews is that they could not accept that some of their neighbors were not as decent, humane and educated as they were. A culture that learned to survive by turning inward simply never was willing to face the reality of what they were up against; namely, that hoping for compassion and humanity from the likes of the Nazis was akin to reading poetry to a hurricane. This denial -- and that is the only word for it -- is, in the final horrible analysis, a form of arrogance, almost: the refusal to see things for what they are. A people of astonishing internal beauty simply could not look into the face of such ugliness without turning away. And now they are dead. And there are many intelligent, enlightened, gentle and good-hearted people today who believe exactly the same thing. If we let this moral blindness continue to gain ground, then they will get us all killed, too. And then who will put their boot on humanity’s neck for the next thousand years?