Walking west from Sutton Place, we were prevented from crossing First Avenue and going about our usual Saturday business by the hordes of people demonstrating in the name of peace. Looking over the crowds, and putting aside the unworthy thought that there was not a handful of them that we would even want on our side if we were in the Army, it occurred to us that these were the same sort of historically myopic people that in 1939, 1940 and 1941 demonstrated against this country entering war against Hitler and Imperial Japan.
It is estimated that 40 million people died in the Second World War. Millions of others were displaced, their treasures stolen, their homes destroyed, their lives and those of their children and future generations disrupted, never to be put right again. Yet as Churchill observed, there never was a war in history that was easier to avoid.
The shame of Munich, the flagrant violations of the Treaty of Versailles, the abandonment of Czechoslovakia, and the annexation of the Sudetenland and Austria are infamous beads in the foul necklace of tyranny that ultimately almost strangled the world. Then, as now, France shamelessly flaunting her gutlessness was a prime villain. Added now to her cowardice is her ingratitude. Twice in a generation America has come to the rescue of France, but French gratitude seems to have fallen by the roadside, along with French courage — which may indeed be an oxymoron. Alexander the Great, as Churchill also noted, observed that the peoples of Asia were enslaved because they had not learned to pronounce the word “No.” This certainly was true of the world in 1938 and 1939, and it is equally so today.
The masses of people on First Avenue were as diverse a group as imaginable. Some held up signs advocating the legalization of marijuana, some were still protesting against the Vietnam War, a few demonstrating against cruelty to animals. None were there to protest against a regime that tortures its citizens, gang rapes women while their families are made to watch, and has used chemicals and poison gas against its neighbors and its own citizens.
None of this was mentioned by the speakers, none of this seemed to disturb the ardor of the crowd: pop-eyed, screaming, flagellating themselves into euphoric frenzy — a mindless lynch mob with no one to lynch — least of all the real villains. And no one to ask the question, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Clearly, if this were Iraq, and people in that country rallied in public against the government’s policies, it would be a one-way ticket for them to the torture chambers and then execution. Why do these First Avenue demonstrators have the arrogance to believe that they should be entitled to any more rights than an oppressed Iraqi citizen? Edmund Burke observed that “All that is necessary for evil to succeed, is for good men to do nothing.” In an interconnected world, evil somewhere is evil everywhere. This bunch should ruminate on the thought that if we do nothing, there could come a time when there may be nobody left to demonstrate on First Avenue — or there may not even be a First Avenue.
Jackie Mason is a comedian.
Raoul Felder is a lawyer.
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