Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 23, 2010 - The Conversation

I had one of the most interesting conversations today. The kind of conversation that sticks with you long after the talking ends.

I spoke with a supplier employee today and we were discussing the schedule for the next set up. He said that Boeing is very much like Hitler and that Boeing is making the same mistakes he did. Well, as you can imagine, that immediately got my attention. I asked him to please explain what he meant doing my best to contain the screaming thoughts of “OMG YOU DID NOT JUST SAY THAT!!!” that I was forcing back. I was sure I had misunderstood the man’s intention for surely he did not just compare my employer to the leader of the Nazi regime.

He stated that Hitler did not win WW2 because Hitler gave the order to fight until the last man died. He never retreated when he was losing and he should have taken some time to plan and regroup. Hitler eventually lost because he ran out of manpower. He then continued to explain that the longer we (Boeing) continue to push our schedules and drive for completion dates, we will just be working until the last man dies.

I had to physically push my own mouth closed as I was just stunned. It would be rude of me to justify Boeing’s position for driving schedule and I won’t say anything negative about why we are pushing the schedule the way we are, as this is just one man’s opinion and not necessarily the opinion of the supplier’s. That being said, I couldn’t let his comment be the last word, and as you all know me…that shouldn’t surprise you.

I ignored the very offensive comment about Boeing and Hitler because it sounded as if this man was offering some sort of misguided advice on getting this test campaign complete. I asked him a clarifying question to be sure.

“Do you think Hitler would have won WW2 if he had regrouped and took some additional time for planning?”

Without a moments hesitation he answered yes.

He said that “Hitler was in a position of power and had he ‘not put the eggs in the basket’ as you Americans say Hitler could have been successful.”

I was treading lightly here at this point and I asked directly if he was a supporter of Hitler and what he stood for. He then told me that Hitler was loved by the German people. Hitler created jobs and saved a starving nation after WW1 and the Great Depression. He said that many people spoke negatively, but Hitler was just guilty of just trying to save his beloved country.

Apparently my face said it all. He asked me if I agreed with him. I dug deep for my professionalism and answered politely that no, I did not agree with him. That I felt in my personal opinion that any good Hitler did for the German people, was grossly outweighed by what he did to the Jewish population and others who opposed him. He told me that the situation was “Overblown” and that people only remember the bad. He explained it was a time of war and that America was guilty of the very same thing. I asked him if he was referring to the Japanese we put in concentration camps? He said yes..it was the same thing.I paused at this point, choosing my words carefully and said exactly this…

“With all due respect, America never gassed, starved or shot people point blank, nor did we bury a whole nation in mass, unmarked graves. Out of fear, we did put the Japanese into camps, and we as a nation regret what we did after Pearl Harbor, but we never murdered them. I would hardly call that the same thing. He then said America was not a victim in WW2, that Germany was the true victim.


He continued by saying that Hitler was a good man and Stalin was the real tyrant. I agreed that Stalin murdered groups of people without rhyme or reason, but that was not what we were discussing. He then said that we American’s have so little history and that we are so consumed by our our wants and needs that we don’t understand about a country that has been at war for hundreds of years. He said that Hitler chose the Jewish people as a way to unite Germany. Giving every German a common goal to fight for. I asked him for his opinion why Hitler chose the Jewish people to go after and he said very matter of factly…Money. He said American’s work for our own generation. We work to accumulate money for ourselves to spend in our lifetime. The Jewish people work to accumulate wealth for their grandchildren’s children. This threatened Hitler because even though the Jewish population was small they had massive wealth and refused to give it over to Germany willingly. So Hitler took it and used the money to fund the war effort.

Again…my mouth was just hanging open. I knew this was the point in the conversation to agree to disagree and to walk away. I could feel the anger rising as I listened to this man defend one of the most evil men to walk the earth. The visions of Ann Frank and other Holocaust survivors filled my mind and with sadness and pride I said that I didn’t understand that logic and could never imagine living in a country that committed such hateful acts to people based solely on their religion.

He said I do live in that country. He brought up the civil war and asked if the negro people were treated the same as the white people. He brought up slavery and said it was the exact same hatred. That America was built on the backs of slave labor in the south and that it was the immigrants that built Americas railroads and worked in the factories in the north. He said America is no different.

I was losing the debate. I couldn’t argue that plantation owners treated slaves with respect nor were they paid fairly for the hours of back breaking work they did. I couldn’t defend the 12 hour days the immigrant children worked in the factories, nor could I contend that the Irish and Chinese who laid our nations infrastructure were compensated. The only argument I had was that we didn’t gas them in a chamber.

He argued that point also. He said the total slaughter of the American Indians for their land was no different. Our soldiers murdered entire nations of Indians, we infected them with disease to kill them and put them on reservations until most of them died.

All I could do was nod. What could I say? I spoke from the heart and looked this man in the eyes, I said… “Yes, America has committed some terrible acts in the past. We are working at correcting those wrongs and the way we ensure we don’t make the same mistakes is to remember and try to do better, the difference here is we don’t defend or try to justify our actions, we try to learn from them and never let it happen again.”

He said it will always happen again…

I thanked him for the conversation and kindly excused myself to finish my inspection.

I have never really taken the time to sit down and look at that side of our history. I have always been under the belief that America is he greatest nation in the world, not through our economic strength, but our civil rights. I think as a nation we are committed to treating each individual fairly and ensuring our unalienable rights are protected for generations to come. The conversation was enlightening and made me question my opinions and beliefs…which a good debate should.

This trip to Germany is bordering on life changing!

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