We should all be outraged by Union Station’s swastikas — and push back
For several days, more than 160 swastikas remained scrawled on the walls and pillars of Union Station in Washington. The alleged perpetrator was arrested, charged with defacing public property — but not a hate crime — and released. Despite Union Station’s attempts to cover them up with paper, and assurances from Amtrak of their removal, they have remained in plain sight, just a few dozen yards from the seat of the House and Senate of the United States, greeting travelers as they arrive in America’s capital. When my friends offered to clean it up immediately, Amtrak officials refused, citing the historical nature of the building. Four days later, the situation at Union Station indeed has become historic.
Union Station now bears the sad title of being the only building in the history of the United States — in its capital, no less — to be publicly festooned with the symbol of Nazism and its genocidal evil for the better part of a week, with no apparent effort to remove them. What’s worse, D.C.’s public passed by in its solipsistic routine with an air of ennui.
I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in the rural South at the feet of the Greatest Generation and heard from my grandfather and five great uncles stories of their personal struggles and sacrifices against fascism in World War II. As a 9-year-old boy, I learned about Nazism’s particular form of evil from the 1978 miniseries “Holocaust.” I knew no Jews in my hometown, but the Third Reich’s ruthless hatred of them haunted me, and guided by my family’s Christian values and experience, my young mind and heart knew it must be resisted if American liberty was to be maintained.
As a teenager, I served as a page in the House of Representatives. In the course of my duties, I daily walked the halls of the Capitol. In those days before 9/11, the Capitol teemed with Americans and tourists, mingling with representatives whom they sent there to make the nation’s laws. Senators and representatives moved to and from the floors of the House and Senate for votes, but more often than not, they stopped to engage constituents when they saw their state flag on a hat here or there. It was not all concord and collegiality. Those were the days of Tip O’Neil’s speakership and Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Partisanship was present and, like now, frequently petty. But mine was an adolescent’s confidence that, despite their differences, our political leaders would rise to the occasion — and, in fact, they did.
In those days, I met my first Jewish friends. I discovered that they were like me in many respects. They loved life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just as I did. They loved the Constitution that established the government that guaranteed these rights. I learned that they were as resilient and committed to not only surviving — as I had seen in the TV miniseries — but to thriving and building communities. We worked together for Congress, thinking it a tremendous common privilege to participate in America’s great experiment in self-government.
I grew up and became a Marine officer. I spent 30 years in uniform serving the republic. I did my share of deployments and time away from home. My family gladly served, too. We called it “the family business.” While I shared the quest for adventure that compels many young people to serve in the military, the foundational reason for remaining in the ranks so long was a desire to see our American system of government endure to guarantee liberty to my children and theirs. I served alongside many Jewish colleagues, brave men and women who fought and sacrificed just like me — and most more so. I learned — from my own family and community, from history, and from my colleagues — that to preserve this liberty I love and wanted for future generations, I have to actually show up. So, I did.
Today, the sad fact is that many Americans are not showing up to push back against the growing evil of anti-Semitism that is far beyond the incipient stage. As a result, it is publicly tolerated without complaint in our streets, as we saw from the spectacle in Orlando last week with a neo-Nazi rally. Popular talk show voice Whoopi Goldberg downplayed the Holocaust on TV and later apologized. And now, its symbols are on display in the seat of our government. This does not bode well for America.
The 20th century pastor and thinker Francis Schaeffer said once that Rome did not fall from external forces, but from internal ones; Romans just got tired of being Romans. Our republic, though far from perfect, has been a force for good, as shown in our defeat of Nazism and our strong and — heretofore effective — resistance against communism. But American liberty will not defend itself. Americans have to show up and actually do something.
The swastika display at Union Station and the delayed action by authorities to remove it is an outrage and affront to everyone who has suffered from or fought against authoritarianism to preserve American liberty. Unless people of goodwill defy bureaucratic lethargy and social comfort and commit themselves to tangible action to push back against such evil, we risk allowing it to be surpassed by far greater evil. If that happens, it would be hard to deny Schaeffer’s diagnosis does not now apply to our American republic.
J. Darren Duke is a senior research fellow with the Philos Project and a retired Marine Corps colonel in intelligence and special operations.