Will you just “wait and see?”

Marshal Petain

Marshal Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain
Public domain via Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons

[Also published at Huffington Post.] Have you ever wondered whether you would speak up if democracy came under attack, as it did in Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s?

That question is being answered now.

Are you speaking up?

Or are you waiting to see how things work out?

There’s a name for that, which comes down to us from occupied France: attentisme.

It means “to wait and see.” After the German army conquered two-thirds of France in a shockingly short six weeks, the French people had to choose: defend the rest of their country, or wait and see.

The government of the Third Republic fled south to Vichy, where it dissolved the Constitution and gave near-dictatorial powers to Marshal Pétain, a hero of World War I whose name is now synonymous with “collaborator.”

And as their freedoms were taken away, and then as their Jewish neighbors were taken away, many, if not most, of the French people chose to be attentistes.

Do you blame them? Do you judge their unwillingness to defend what others had died for?

Well, are you speaking out now, as our elections, judiciary, law enforcement, free press, and the truth itself are under assault?

When your life, unlike lives in occupied France, is not in danger?

Maybe you’re concerned about offending friends, family, colleagues, or business contacts.

Maybe it’s better to wait and see.

Here’s the problem: when the institutions of democracy are under attack, only the people can defend it.

We are the last line of defense, and that defense must be made every step of the way.

If we wait and see, what we may see is that it is too late.

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