First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
What is often missed is that in this confession of his sin of silence in the face of injustice, Niemöller also indirectly described the tactics of the Nazi regime; in fact, not just of the Nazi regime, but of any totalitarian regime. And that tactics was clear:
The government never has the resources and the manpower to terrorize the whole society. State terrorism, therefore, is done by separating and marginalizing social groups: first smaller groups, then larger groups, until each group is subdued.
This is the old Roman principle of divide et impera: divide your enemies so that neither of them associate with the others. Thus, none of them will come to each other’s aid. Then your hand is free to conquer them one by one.
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