“Hamburg is the World Capital of Militant Bicyclists, and if they know I have some reservations about them they might kill me.
No, I’m not kidding. I was schlpepping two suitcases the other day, and the bicyclists here were torturing me. On a narrow sidewalk, which could contain either me with my suitcases or a flying Hamburg militia, as I call them, the militia demanded first right of passage. I had to squeeze myself to a tree so that the militia could pass. Then another militia arrived. Same thing. There was nothing I could do…. I had to stop walking so many times, more than the average man in Gaza during the Israeli bombardment of it some years back. And I was thinking to myself: Interesting how animalistic people can become if only they think that the law is on their side.”
This quote comes from our favorite book club suggestion, Tenenbom’s I Sleep In Hitler’s Room, as he deals with the “Hamburg militia,” his personal nickname for the overly-intense bicyclers in the German city of Hamburg. When I first read these lines, my mind immediately wandered to my days learning how to drive a car as a teenager, and how frustrated and emotional I would get when another driver would take my right-of-way or switch lanes without using the blinker.
I would curse and scream and say such horrible things, a sailor would blush. My justification? I was right, and they were wrong. Everything I do or say after that is completely 100% justified. Simple as that.
This same theme — the idea that having the law on one’s side gives an individual the right to treat another inhumanly — was present in an editorial piece I recently read on PhillyMag.com, by Victor Florillo. The post is entitled “White Guy Confronts Black Mom Beating Kids on SEPTA Trolley: Why didn’t one other passenger stand up with me?” and it’s title accurately depicts the entire gist. The whole thing can be viewed here.
The story is frighteningly tragic, and unfortunately I’m sure it’s also eerily familiar to many of us who have to use public transportation. Florillo allegedly witnesses a female guardian verbally and physically abuse two children under her “care,” neither being over four years of age. And when he confronts the woman and tries to help her control herself, she proceeds to spit in his face and curse him out.
Were these the degenerate actions of a clearly unfit human being lashing out against someone who was challenging her? Or is this another example of the “flying Hamburg militia”?… an individual who believed that THE LAW allowed her to treat these children in such a horrific manner, and in turn treat anyone who questioned her actions in a barbaric way?
After all, this woman paid no consequences. Any reader of the Florillo story will see she got off the bus with her two victims in tow, no punishment for her actions… just as the selfish bikers of Hamburg mentioned in Tenenbom’s Jewish literature still likely hog the roads and force their fellow pedestrians to halt their travels for their own convenience. Meanwhile, the passengers of the bus, witnesses to this horror, rode in innocent silence to their next destination.
These stories also fit into one of the most central themes debated when looking back at the history of Nazi Germany. Why didn’t the citizens of Deutschland do more to stop this evil from spreading? Why didn’t any members of the populace or the military stand up and say “THIS IS WRONG!”? It is from here we have discovered one of the most infamous and often-repeated quotes of the Nuremberg Trials: “I was only following orders!”
A German citizen in 1937. A Hamburg bicyclist in 2010. A Philadelphia bus rider in 2012. Amazing, isn’t it? How animalistic people can become if only they think that the law is on their side.