When Complacency Is Complicity


“You had to have known. You had to have smelled the stench.”

These are the words from a gripping scene in HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers. It’s near the end of WWII, and the allied forces have moved into Germany. As they make their way through German towns, what becomes striking is the otherwise normalcy of life. German citizens are going about their days seemingly oblivious to the atrocities all around them.

One town, in particular, has a concentration camp located just far enough on the outskirts of town to allow for convenient indifference. But when the soldiers discover the camp, their indignation turns toward the village. They enter a local bakery where the owner is going about his normal baking routine, and they begin to take his bread to feed the famished prisoners of the camp. The baker is furious, screaming at the soldiers to leave his store, until one soldier shoves him against the wall and shouts,

“Shut up you Nazi!”

“Ich bin kein Nazi (I’m not a Nazi),” the baker replies aghast.

“You’re not a Nazi? OK, how about a human being? You had to have known. You had to have smelled the stench.”

The Third Reich is a fascinating look into the nature of evil, because it was a modern, developed, educated, and affluent culture that allowed for barbaric atrocities. The “banality of evil” is how Hannah Arendt famously described it in her essay from the Nuremberg Trials. Otherwise normal people, like you and me, indifferent or even complicit in widespread carnage. Indeed, evil could no longer be called unthinkable; it had become banal.

Well, take heed and be not naïve, America, for the banality of evil is among us too.

The United States is one of only seven countries that allows for elective abortions after 20 weeks (the point where it is conclusively proven that unborn babies feel pain). In fact, our federal law allows for abortions through the stage of viability (22-24 weeks) all the way up to the birth canal of a full-term mother. In America, it is only after the baby has exited the mother that a child is granted human rights by the Federal Court. Individual states are certainly allowed to restrict abortions themselves, and most do, but there are others that do not.

And this past week, in particular, the often-ignored reality of late-term abortion became front and center for all to see.

First came the chilling eruption of applause as the New York Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act, allowing for abortion up to the point of delivery “in cases of risk to mother’s health”. That language is standard in states with no limitations on abortions, but what many fail to realize is that on the same day of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court released the lesser known Doe v. Bolton, which reads, “medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” In other words, Doe v. Bolton allows for “health” to be defined any way an abortionist and mother choose, i.e. any reason under the sun.

Then shortly after the action of New York’s Senate came another viral video of Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran defending similar legislation, explicitly stating that her bill would allow for an abortion even while a mother is dilating in active labor. Shortly thereafter, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam publicly defended Tran’s proposal, and in so doing took the debate even further, into the very realm of infanticide: “So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mothers.”

Friends, if this is not evil then what is?

I personally believe life begins at conception, but I also understand why those who do not share my Christian worldview disagree. I also accept the fair critique that the pro-life movement is too often a mere pro-birth movement. Fair enough. The disposition I see from many conservatives toward the lives of immigrants, minorities, and the poor does not seem very pro-life, and I recently wrote about the noticeably selective outrage of the pro-life (and social justice) causes. All to say, I understand the arguments, I hear the critiques, I see the hypocrisy, and in many cases I agree.

But this. Surely this we can agree upon. Surely this we can call evil. Or do you even know (or want to know) what ‘this’ entails?

After the Nazi concentration camps had been liberated, the Allied soldiers chose to do something very powerful. They gathered German citizens from those surrounding villages and forced them to tour the death camps. They took them through the ovens, showed them the decomposing corpses, and even gave them shovels to dig the graves of victims they had conveniently ignored.

I would like to give you a tour of late-term abortion. I’m warning you, you’ll want to turn away and get back to your normal life, which is certainly your choice. Just know it’s a choice to disregard evil.

Because the baby is so developed, the late-term abortion process lasts several days. The first step is a large needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen and into the baby’s head or chest. A lethal dose of a drug called Digoxin is then administered to the baby causing cardiac arrest. The mother is sent home with the dead child inside her, while laminaria dilates her cervix for 2-3 days. The mother then returns to deliver the stillborn child, however in many cases a Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) is necessary. At this stage, a D&E requires the use of surgical tools to crush the skull and dismember the body of the baby for removal.

All that I just described—from lethal injection to body dismemberment—is perfectly legal in these United States of America.

And now you know. Now you have smelled the proverbial stench. Now ignorance is no longer a luxury to claim, indifference no longer an option to choose. Now you know, which means now complacency is complicity.

During the rise of the Third Reich, a German named Dietrich Bonhoeffer rejected the path of comfortable ignorance and valiantly chose instead to stand against the banality of evil in his land. May his words haunt the collective soul of our country:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

- Robert