Editor’s note: Read Rutz’s “Thoughts on my trip to Europe – Part 1”
On my way home, I was sitting at the Caf? Griensteidel on Michaelerplatz, one of those historic sidewalk coffeehouses in old Vienna, on Sept. 21, my 68th birthday.
I had oh so cleverly planned my trip to be far away from home on that day, safely isolated from well-meaning friends who insist on calling annually to remind me that I’m another 365 days closer to the bonepile – a sentiment that seemed more cheery when I was celebrating the transition from, say, 5 years old to 6 and was blissfully unaware of presbyopia, tinnitus and missing memory cells.
With much less cleverness, I had booked my one-man party to be held at a Mozart Dinner Concert where waiters in period costumes would serve me Viennese cuisine while a live ensemble pumped out “Die Kleine Nachtmusik.” The fatal flaw in my planning was my failure to note that the concert was in Salzburg, which is not a suburb of Vienna, but another city four hours away.
So there I sat at my curbside table, trying to look intelligent while watching carriages drawn by horse duos clip-clopping by every few minutes, leaving their faint ambiance in the air. The musical ambiance was provided by a dreadfully un-Austrian electroband somewhere down the street, pumping out ein kleine nichtmusik, to coin a phrase (a pretty chancy exercise when your German consists of gesundheit, auf wiedersehen and Achtung, Messerschmitt!)
Anyway, as I pondered a nearby marble masterpiece of (I suppose) the Archangel Michael casting Lucifer down from heaven, my thoughts drifted to Pope Benedict, who by that date was on his fourth apology for a richly deserved comment Sept. 12 at Regensburg University, saying that Muslims are prone to violence.
Being stunningly oblivious to the concept of irony, the Muslims responded with calls to “Kill the Pope!” … plus some well-armed attacks on church buildings. Small wonder that almost the only manufactured export from the entire Middle East is carpets – made by women and children. In too many Muslim circles, a passionate hatred has swallowed up the ability to reason.
And yet the pope bumbles on, trying to smooth over the unsmoothable, pretending that we’re dealing with rational people of goodwill.
This propelled my thoughts further back, all the way to the day I was born, exactly 68 years before. On that day the world heard the same naivet?, the same lame attempt to appease a demonically driven oppressor.
As an aside, Sept. 21, 1938, was perhaps the worst day of that century – or close to it – but not for the reasons you’re thinking. Sure, God must have been in a bad mood to inflict me upon an unsuspecting world. But it was also the day that the worst hurricane in history struck New England, killing 690 people, damaging 75,000 buildings, destroying 20,000 cars and flattening two billion trees.
This so-called “Long Island Express” blind-sided New England, roaring ashore at the horrifying speed of 50-60 mph while generating gusts up to 186 mph, the second-highest ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Waves up to 50 feet high devastated whole communities. Not a good day.
Even worse, on that day a letter was handed to President Eduard Benesch of Czechoslovakia, signed by Prime Ministers Edouard Daladier of France and Neville Chamberlain of England. It said that if he chose to fight Hitler’s impending advance into the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, England and France would not back him up.
By pulling the rug out from under Benesch, those cowards sealed Czechoslovakia’s fate and quenched all hopes of stopping Hitler, thus guaranteeing the start of World War II. Hitler’s troops were green, having marched into Austria without firing a shot, but Benesch had 35 well-trained divisions, which were perhaps equal to Germany’s. Yet with only the iffy support of the Soviets (Stalin hadn’t even been consulted by Daladier or Chamberlain), Benesch figured his prospects were too dicey, and he folded, greatly accelerating Hitler’s confidence and momentum.
The very next day, Sept. 22nd, Chamberlain took hat in hand and humbly flew to meet with Hitler, telling him that he could have the Sudetenland, as he had demanded. Hitler responded with perhaps the most colossal diplomatic slap in the face in modern times, quickly turning him down, saying that was no longer enough and sending him home in total disgrace. Hitler was on a roll, and the roll didn’t stop for almost seven years – 21 million deaths later.
God help us all – and give us the power to remember.