When you know something bad is happening to others, are you obliged to do something about it? This is the philosophical thrust of the words of pastor Martin Niemöller, thinking of the failure of intellectuals in Germany to thwart the rise of Nazism. Niemöller was apparently initially behind Hitler until seeing that this devil on Earth was putting himself and the state above religion.
Charles Mingus was a double bass jazzster, known for a strident, uncompromising musical approach. Mingus recites a version of Niemöller’s poem in this tune from the 1960s. It is a warning against political apathy, that it’s all fine for a time to think one won’t be affected by negative events. But what happens when “they” – whoever that is – comes and takes your freedom away?