Who’s a Nazi?

President Bush appeared to launch a political attack against Presidential hopeful Barack Obama and his Foreign Policy statement that he was willing to be in dialogue with any nation who was willing.  Bush said:

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.  We have heard this foolish delusion before.  As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared:  “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.”  We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Air America talk show host Thom Hartmannfound exception to this, especially after a caller today affirmed that the Democratic party was taking America down the same road that the Nazis took Germany in the 1930s.  Hartmann said:

As you can see, the formula is simple.  Identify real problems within a society, such as crime, poverty, and unemployment.  Invent a conspiracy responsible for these problems, say it is led by a specific group, and hyperinflate a few anecdotes to make the conspiracy seem vast and powerful.  Say they are trying to destroy the nation by weakening its defenses and corrupting its morals, thus causing the economic pains felt by the average person.  Rally the people behind you in self-defense to restore military strength, moral clarity, and empower great wealth and corporations to “create jobs again.”

As Leo Strauss – the mentor of the Neoconservatives currently controlling much of Washington, DC – pointed out, it’s not even necessary that the so-called enemies of the nation really be enemies.  The myth of national Victimhood, when wrapped in the language of morality, will elevate a politician to power just as surely as will true national victimhood.

It was the formula Hitler used, and it still works today.  It is, in fact, the most consistently reliable way for demagogues to gain power.  It works because it’s gradual but relentless, and progressively absorbs – and then intimidates or co-opts – both government and the media.

Hartmann then does something silly.  He uses history.  He quotes Milton Mayer’s book, They Thought They Were Free:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security…

Sound familiar?  It gets better:

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes.  And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter…

To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it – please try to believe me – unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop.  Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, “regretted,” that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these “little measures” that no “patriotic German” could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.  One day it is over his head.

Hartmann’s full article can be found here.

Now, will I be so bold as to compare any American or group to the Nazi party?  No, I won’t.  What I will say is that we must consider history, we must remember, and we must be active in order to prevent the repetition of horrible acts lest we again relive the consequences.

For your consideration, I humbly offer the play “Biedermann und die Brandstifter” (“Biedermann and the Firebugs”) by Max Frisch.  In the play, a town is beseiged by arsonists who literally talk their way into peoples homes and set about with destruction.  The main character, Biedermann, is convinced that this could never happen to him.  And yet almost immediately a stranger appears and talks his way into spending the night in Biedermann’s attic.

Should we be ever vigilant?  Should we say loudly that this will never happen to us?  Should we be blinded by arrogance?  Should we be cautious and intentional in our dialogue?  Should we be active?  Alarmist?  Should we be loud?  Should we keep quiet, “good Americans?”

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