by Kevin Stoda, Historian & Human Rights Activist
I am listening to news right now about the military trial of Bradley Manning, which is taking place in my homeland, the USA. Bradley Manning is on trial for "aiding the enemy"--an incredibly broad statute that can be abused--and has been misused historically by horrible regimes to put people--including soldiers--in prison.
At times the charge of aiding an enemy has led to execution of the person who has been charged with "aiding the enemy". Theoretically, Bradley Manning can receive the death penalty from the military court he is now in. In many situations, like in the Bradley Manning case, the charge of "aiding the enemy" has actually been used by authorities to simply to make others shut-up, to make soldiers and citizens stop complaining, and stop being critical of the government.
Let me give you a real example of the way the Nazi regime and military brass abused the charge of "aiding the enemy". This true tale was shared to me by an aging farmer whom I met in northern Germany on his own farm about three decades ago.
Vignette of Nazi Era Military Courtroom
The name of the farmer's last name whom I visited in Germany some decades ago was Thoelking. His daughter, Monica Thoelking, had gone to my alma mater, BethelCollege to study English a few years earlier. A few years later, I myself studied in Germany starting. In late 1986, I visited the Thoelking family farm.
One afternoon, just after Christmas, I went out for a walk around the edges of the family farm with one aging German veteran from WWII, the father of Monika Thoelking. As Herr Thoelking and I walked around his farmstead, we chatted about his travels over the decades in prior times to both America and England. Under way, Herr Thoelking also took time to share about war, prison, and military trials in WWII.
I should preface the vignette here by noting that during the Nazi-regime, many German farmers did not necessarily have to serve in many of the most dangerous military roles during the Nazis because farmers had been an important factor in the Nazis rise to power. Farmers were considered Hitler's political base, and the ideal of the German family farm was part of the nation's Nazi mythology.