Sometimes wisdom comes from strange places. Case in point: a video released Sunday by The Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. With his unlikely path to renown — from Austrian bodybuilder to international film star to governor of California — Schwarzenegger clearly knows how to beat the odds and get things done.
It's not his own improbable achievements that he talks about in the video, though, it's something far more personal. Drawing on his experiences growing up in Austria after World War II, he describes the terrible toll on men who have ruined their lives by following the wrong leader.
Sounding emotional, Arnold details a childhood spent watching his father abuse the family on a regular basis.
“My father would come home drunk once or twice a week and he would scream and hit us and scare my mother,” Schwarzenegger said.
This is where the story changes course. Instead of claiming trauma or blaming his dad, he says something fairly shocking.
“I did not hold him totally responsible because our neighbor was doing the same thing to his family and so was the next neighbor over,” he said.
It was part of a larger problem, according to Arnold. And that problem was that men who had been on the wrong side of World War II were suffering a terrible aftermath which ruined the rest of their lives.
“Growing up I was surrounded by broken men drinking away their guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history,” he said. “Not all of them were rabid anti-semites or Nazis. Many just went along step-by-step down the road. They were the people next door.”
In other words, not really buying the Nazi philosophy didn’t spare these guys in the end. They were just as messed up as the biggest true believers.
Here is where we should listen up. In Schwarzenegger we have a first-person witness to the aftermath of Third Reich mayhem. We should always remember the victims first, of course, but its worth noting that supporting the Nazi party destroyed the lives of the participants as well.
“They were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies and in emotional pain from what they saw or did. It all started with lies, and lies, and lies, and intolerance,” he said.
Schwarzenegger compared that experience to those he said have been misled by President Trump. By seeking to overturn a valid election, Trump, Arnold said, “sought a coup by misleading people with lies. My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies and I know where such lies lead.”
Schwarzenegger compared the Jan. 6 siege on the US Capitol to Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938. This, of course, was when Nazi paramilitary forces attacked Jewish-owned buildings, stores and synagogues. The name means "the night of broken glass" in German.
“Wednesday was the day of broken glass right here in the United States,” he said on Jan 10. “The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol, they shattered the ideals we took for granted.”
It’s not too late, Arnold said, expressing his belief that this country will recover and end up stronger than before. Brandishing a sword familiar from his Conan the Barbarian days, he noted that tempering makes a sword stronger.
“America will come back from these dark days,” he said. “And shine our lights once again.”
As an immigrant who experienced the results of the 20th century’s most harrowing epoch, Schwarzenegger’s voice is difficult to ignore.
As he puts it, “I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes.”
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, so the saying goes. When someone who is a first-hand witness to the aftermath of a major historic atrocity sees frightening similarities with our country at the current time, the least we can do is listen.Jessica Weston is an award-winning columnist and the city editor for the Daily Independent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org ------ The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the official stance of the Daily Independent.