On Fear and the Growing Call to Wake Up

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IMG_0124In 1946, when I was four years old, I went to Germany with my mother to join my father. He was an intelligence officer for the occupation forces after WWII. He had been one of those who liberated a number of concentration camps to free those who had been held for years in torturous conditions because of their religious beliefs and genetic makeup. At a young age I saw the remains of bombed out buildings and standing walls pocked with bullet holes. I spent time with other children my age and their families, who had lived through the Holocaust, and were happy to have Americans in their midst. I learned to speak German and was my mother’s interpreter. Of course I don’t remember any of the conversations I had with my friends, but I must have been curious about the destruction I witnessed, and surely asked questions.

My parents hired a housekeeper who also took care of me when they were otherwise engaged. I have blocked her from my memory. My mother told me about her when I was older and could understand. The housekeeper was apparently a fine person, but when she heard airplanes overhead, she became hysterical. Even though the war was over, she was terrorized by her memories of the bombings that had taken place all around her. She would grab my arm and scream as she dragged me in terror to the basement of our home where we would be safe. I became afraid of the sound of airplanes myself. One day when I heard a plane overhead I suggested to my mother that we hide in the basement. The housekeeper was subsequently fired and I was left with my nightmares.

When I was in third grade, I discovered a packet of photographs that my father had taken at the camps that he and his company had liberated. I can still see the stacks of dead bodies piled one on top of another. There were images of walking skeletons making their way through the gates to freedom. When my mother found me looking at them she grabbed the photos and burned them. I don’t remember any conversations that might have followed, but those photos have been seared into my brain ever since.

I still have a deep interest in World War II and the Holocaust. As I grew up I read as much as I could, seeking answers to the burning question of how this could have happened. I even read, Andersonville, a novel by McKinley Kantor, about the 45,000 union soldiers that were held during the Civil War. And to this day I am ashamed that this country put Japanese-American citizens in interment camps during WWII.

My early education in the matters of war have clearly been something I’ve needed to learn about and have played a significant part in my diagnosis with PTSD. Though I have done much work to free myself from its grip, it can still trigger fear and anxiety. The pit of my stomach feels like it’s filled with gravel that churns like a cement mixer. “Fight or flight” sets in quickly, and I easily become paralyzed, not knowing what to do next.

For months now I have felt an icy terror growing inside of me. When I watch the news and hear Donald Trump urging his fans to “take out” protesters or anyone who looks like they might not agree with him during his rallies, I am beside myself. During one campaign rally, Trump said of one protestor: “You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out in a stretcher, folks. I’d like to punch him in the face, I tell ya.”

Now, urged on as if by a call to war, Trump supporters and protestors alike are physically fighting it out at his rallies. Trump’s behavior and his unwillingness to stop the violence brings to mind my early experiences in Germany and what I have learned since. My concern for the future and for my children and grandchildren grows like a patch of kudzu that quickly overtakes acres of land and any buildings in its way.

I am not political by nature here on my blog, on my Facebook page or on Twitter. I try to look at the world with compassion and positivity — Surely things aren’t as bad as they seem. I believe in living in peace. Negativity only seems to make matters worse and can spread like the contents of a broken jar of molasses, seeping slowly into every nook and cranny of the world. But THIS IS A MORAL ISSUE and I must speak out and ask myself and all of those around me, how can we let this happen again? Doesn’t Trump’s hatred of Mexicans, Muslims, and anyone else who doesn’t follow his rhetoric bring us reminders of the past?

It’s the Donald Trumps of the world and their followers who bring on the violence we are seeing here in our own country. As reported by the Washington Post, John McGraw of Linden, NC said in an interview after he attacked Rakeem Jones at a Trump rally in Fayetteville, “You bet I liked it. We don’t know if he’s ISIS.” He ended the interview by saying, “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

We all of course, have the right to gather together and express our views. And we also have the right to peacefully protest against those with whom we do not agree. We do NOT, however, have the right to hurt those with whom we disagree. Remember the Holocaust when 6 million Jews were murdered along with anyone who resisted Hitler’s planned genocide?


  1. Dear Joan, this is a profound and relevant post. Your story is mesmerizing and your words of caution resonate deeply with my own concerns. I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around what is happening. It feels surreal except that it is very real. I can only hope that due process and sanity will prevail and that people will wake up in time. Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling.

  2. Joan Rough says:

    Thank you, Kathy, for your words. It does seem surreal, but knowing it’s happened before makes it so terribly real.

  3. Joan, this is an excellent post. Your writing about your experiences in childhood resonates so strongly with me, not because I suffered the same then, but because our nation is beginning to suffer from PTSD now. Only it isn’t “post.” It’s present. I think you should write an op ed for a newspaper or for Huff Post. You have a message for our times. You are an authentic witness.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks so much, Shirley. You are absolutely spot on … Present Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

  4. I absolutely agree with Shirley. This is a perspective that needs to be shared with the nation. My stomach sinks a little deeper each day as I hear of the violence and hate Trump spreads.

    Incidentally, I came across an article published last year by the Washington Post about how we might have Bill Clinton to thank (at least in part) for Trump being in the presidential race. Here is a link to that article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bill-clinton-called-donald-trump-ahead-of-republicans-2016-launch/2015/08/05/e2b30bb8-3ae3-11e5-b3ac-8a79bc44e5e2_story.html

    There is only one candidate who offers us hope for our future, in my way of looking at this year’s election. I pray we choose someone who inspires hope for the future.

    Thank you for your poignant story, and for your perspective, Joan.

  5. Joan Rough says:

    Saloma, Thank you for your kind words. It is a very disturbing time and all of us must wake up to the possibilities. I do have hope that Mr. Trump will be defeated and that we can begin healing the racial tension we’ve been experiencing in this country. But we can not sit back quietly. Raising our voices is what we all can do.

  6. Joan – I completely and totally agree with Shirley:

    “I think you should write an op ed for a newspaper or for Huff Post. You have a message for our times. You are an authentic witness.”

    Yes, indeed!

  7. Joan Rough says:

    Thanks Laurie. I’m thinking about it.

  8. Powerful post, Joan. I think we’re all wondering how far this craziness will go. I only wish the people who need to be reading editorials like this one were the ones who were reading them. They’re too busy doing what they do to incite people. They’re too busy living in fear to open their minds. Fear is at an all time high among people of all ages. College students are entering counseling in droves. Bullying is at all time high. Fall from 9/11? the advent of the internet and world wide catastrophes on our door steps? children growing up with their faces in screens and not in nature? economic uncertainty? It’s all too much for the average person, let alone someone who is emotionally unbalanced. What you are saying needs to be said without ceasing until the craziness stops.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thanks, Dorothy. I go from wanting to shout about this from the rooftops to wondering what good it will do. I wonder if the people who need to be reached will read it. And yes, there was an article today about the number of students at UVA seeking psychological help at the university has risen dramatically.

      Germany was in the same shape when Hitler stepped in. The people were out for themselves, angry and needing to put food on their tables. It is what is happening here now. Trump is scratching the itch of so many folks in this country who have been overlooked as the rich have overtaken the economics of this country. We do need change in this country, but not of the Trump variety.

  9. Joan, I can’t imagine what it was like to be thrust into post-WWII Germany as a four-year-old. (Or what your father your went through in helping to liberate the camps.) That poor housekeeper–I wonder what she must have gone through during the war.

    It is horrifying to listen to Trump and his supporters–did you see them giving a Nazi style salute? I think about how if my grandparents hadn’t immigrated earlier in the century, they might have ended up in concentration camps. There seems to be an uptick in hate speech and acts all over the world. I read an article the other day about how Jews in Paris are afraid, and many shops do not advertise that they have kosher food or that they’re owned by Jews. Le Pen likes Trump–big surprise there. Putin, too.

    I think some of the other candidates, particularly Cruz, also have an “us or them” mentality. The other candidates are simply not as flamboyant as Trump, nor do they stir up people as much to commit violence right there at meetings. However, I think they could easily do so, which I find very scary. I’ve written about this a bit. It’s sad that people don’t really know or understand history. They can’t really see the parallels. They don’t realize that Germany after the war–after Hitler–was that housekeeper of yours (and all those who died in and out of the camps). In the case of many of Trump’s supporters, they don’t care. Even when it’s shown that he has lied, they don’t care. I don’t know how to combat that willing ignorance.

    There are people who believe the earth is flat and that men have never been on the moon.

    You are right though, that we need to try.

    You’ve obviously touched a nerve–I’ll stop now. 🙂

    • Joan Rough says:


      My father came home from the war with PTSD and as often happens his dis-ease spread through out our family. So, yes I know what war can do, and in a strange way I feel fortunate that I experienced what I did. I think it makes me a more compassionate person and someone who can see things that many others can not. Your words have been soothing. Thank you so much.

  10. An excellent and moving post Joan.
    The hatred that is being stirred up in your country is also being stirred up here in Australia, though to a much lesser extent. It is however enough to cause a great deal of concern among those of us who see where it could all lead.
    Your own experience and ability to compare Nazi Germany and today’s situation puts you in a good position to point this out to others. However, as a previous commenter said, it is the ignorant who don’t want to open their eyes to the situation. We can only hope that there are enough people of conscience and strong moral fibre to stand up against the hate.

    • Joan Rough says:


      The people who won’t open their eyes are afraid of what they will see if they open them. They feel much safer in their dark hallways, where they believe they’ll be safe.

      Thank you so much for joining in the conversation. I appreciate what others who don’t live in this country think and hearing about what is happening in their own homelands.

  11. Oh Joan. I’m so sorry you experienced those scenes as a four year old. I’m sorry your mother grabbed those photos from your hands. I’m sorry about that poor housekeeper. But mostly I’m sorry that there was no one there for you to talk to during those very confusing times. Your story has touched my heart.

    And, I thank you for articulating the fear that is so rampant in our country today. I am a very strong believer that fear, as all strong emotion, needs to be identified, to be owned, and to be honored. I hear fear on both sides of the “aisle,” and that is troubling to me, of course. But more troubling to me is that the response has become a “you” centered defense, grounded in personal attack.

    Bullies never respond to “you statements.” Narcissists either. And the candidate “whose name cannot be spoken” is surely both. What concerns me far more are the people, the voters, who resonate with his message. Those are the ones we must hear, we must listen to, we must validate for their fears are just as real as the ones you and I feel. And as we listen to those with whom we disagree, perhaps we will also be modeling the behavior we cherish. It’s hard. And it’s a little scary. I know.

    Who was it who said, “Be the change you want to see.” I believe that.

    I think I’ve just written a new blog. Thanks for that too.
    I send you love.

    • Joan Rough says:


      I love your new post and thank you for extending the conversation further. Fear and anger are identical twins and it’s very difficult to know which one you’re dealing with. When I’m really mad about something I know I’m scared. I am trying to be the change I want to see and hope I have lots of company.

  12. Francine Brady says:

    Thank you for writing what I have been feeling. One person is powerless to stop this, but if we band together and cry danger we can make sure he is never elected. The only thing I know how to do is to vote for the Democrat. I can’t believe the Republicans will let this happen..it maybe to late.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Welcome, Francine.

      Voting is about the only thing we can do to bring about change beyond setting an example for those who are angry and afraid. Thank you so much for adding your voice to the conversation.

  13. I’m a Canadian living in Switzerland. I still can’t believe that Trump is really real. People over here, and in NA, are afraid of the Muslims taking over the country. I’m at least as afraid of people like Trump taking over the country. Germany just had elections and the far right gained much in popularity. Your blog just confirms my own fears.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Marianne, welcome to my blog. I join you in being afraid of Trump. This is a difficult time for our entire world and the USA is not alone in what we’re beginning to see as people try to find a safe and comfortable way to live their lives. Thanks so much for joining in the conversation. I hope you’ll come back again.

  14. Francine Brady says:

    The sixties were a tumultuous time, but there was a sense of hope to make things better.
    This is different and yes the world has seen this before with Hitler. We can not let this happen.
    What do we do? The only thing I know is to get people of good will out to VOTE.