Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Comparing Bush to Hitler; Lessons for Today

“People look at all of this and think of Hitler, and they are right to do so. The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake the world, in a fascist way, and for generations to come.” From the Call for The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime

“The Bush Administration is the most dangerous force that has ever existed. It is more dangerous than Nazi Germany because of the range and depth of its activities and its intentions worldwide. I give my full support to the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime.” Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate of Literature

Over and over again, the comparison is made. Yet each time people attempt to draw lessons for today from the rise of Nazi Germany, hysterical pundits and politicians break out in a chorus of condemnations. When Congressman Dick Durbin suggested that the accounts of Guantanamo could easily have been describing Nazi prisons, he was dragged out on the carpet and forced to tearfully apologize on the floor of the Congress. When George Soros remarked that George Bush’s “with us or with the terrorists” speech reminded him of Nazi Germany, he was scornfully ridiculed as beyond the pale. And just a few days ago, when The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime ran a paid full-page ad in the New York Times, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly blew a gasket and argued that the Times should have refused to run it because it included this comparison.

Even among those who hate the Bush regime, many feel that making such a comparison is too extreme or disrespects those who suffered and died under the Nazis.

But the question must be asked, is it true? Are there similarities that merit recognition? How did a nation of millions come to widely embrace and otherwise go along with Hitler’s openly genocidal, brutally misogynistic, virulently racist, hatefully anti-gay regime?


It is easy to look back today, and believe that the Nazis were a unique evil without parallel. But, during their rise, it was controversial and criminally uncommon for people to correctly identify the direction and the logic of society as it became dominated the Nazis, a once-fringe group of extremists. Even after the first nation-wide action where Nazi Brownshirts prevented people from shopping in Jewish businesses, it was still the case that, in the words of one observer, “the majority of the people on the street were inclined to treat the matter as more or less of a joke.”

And despite the increasing dominance of the Nazis over society and their long established history of fierce anti-communism and anti-Semitism, when the escalation of terror would taper off for a little while, people would tell themselves the story that the worst was over. For instance, while 60,000 Jews left Germany during 1933 and 1934, by mid-1935 10,000 of them returned. All the way to the gates of the death camps, people took false comfort in the assumption that such things “could never happen here.”

People also told themselves that the human traditions of a nation that had given the world Beethoven and Mozart, Kant and Marx, could never do such a thing. And they told themselves that the real powers in Germany were merely using Hitler and would not let him get out of hand or do anything really destructive.

While the Nazis certainly didn’t harbor any moral qualms with it, they did not actually start out with a plan for mass extermination of millions of Jews. Their first years of terror were aimed at annihilating the communists (whom they rightly saw as a political threat) and other political dissidents and forcing Jews out of public German life. It was not until 1941, eight years after Hitler became Chancellor and entered WWII that he began to turn concentration camps into the death camps which killed millions. Still, the logic and moral justification for such a “final solution” was discernable even in the early days.

Today, there is a direction and logic to the Bush administration; to both its sweeping and fascistic restructuring of legal, international, and cultural norms and to its ideological and political rationalizations for doing so.

The Bush regime is grabbing and exploiting unbridled executive power to conduct wholesale round-ups and deportations of immigrants, declare the right to pre-emptively attack a “gathering threat” anywhere in the world, illegally spy on thousands of U.S. citizens, dismantle social programs and institutions while packing others with fundamentalist ideologues (like those in the FDA who just ban Plan B birth control based on crack science), openly and systematically torture, criminalize protest and strangle the terms of political and intellectual engagement though out society to stem erode any platform on which a coherent opposition could flourish.

The group that is setting the terms within the Bush administration – and is winning frighteningly large sections of the U.S. population to embrace this program – is a movement that actually wants to transform the U.S. into a Christian theocracy where the Bible taken literally – complete with all its intolerance, bigotry, misogyny, anti-gay savagery, wars of plunder and glorified conquest – is upheld, and enforced, through the instruments of the state.

In Nazi Germany, as today, the fact that political rhetoric is extreme and barbaric is not reason to dismiss it, but to take it on all the more seriously. Here, the words of Catherine Crier, a former Republican Judge from Texas, contain dangerous truth, “American’s right-wing fundamentalists seek a nation governed by Old and New Testament scripture. Born-again Christianity will supplant the Constitution. This is not an exaggeration. For all those Americans who believe that our democracy is safe, you are wrong. Today, the radical Right is winning, and they know it. Sooner rather than later, we may be living in a very different country, a country that had been ours, a country that will be theirs.”


When he was still a marginal figure, Hitler would openly rant about his desire to kill Jews and to “purify the German Volk.” But when he became Chancellor he was acutely aware that this would not be widely well received. So, he retooled his public image, dropping almost all references to race and instead focusing on the cause of uplifting the German people and defending them against all enemies.

The vicious anti-communism and anti-Semitism continued from others throughout Hitler’s Party, but Hitler was seen by millions as much more reasonable and moderate! When Hitler orchestrated the first one day boycott against Jews he projected it as a defensive action, taken to defend against an international Jewish-inspired campaign to boycott German products and defame the Nazi regime.

By creating this false sense of victimhood, he was able to put his political opponents on the defensive and confer a sense of selfless bravery on his Nazi thugs who fought forcefully, often cruelly, to impose absolute Nazi authority.

America’s contemporary Christian fascist movement also plays the victim when they launch an assault on the rest of society. During this holiday season, one can scarcely turn on the television or radio without hearing the claims of that “Christmas is under attack” and the demand to “Put Christ back in X-mass!” And yet, at no time in history has the “faith-based” sector commanded more influence in public and political affairs or received more governmental funding. Still, these theocrats assail every attempt to keep the Ten Commandments out of courthouses, to keep prayer out school, to prevent employers from discriminating against gays, and to insist that pharmacists fill birth control prescriptions for women as infringing upon their freedom of religion.

In this way they, like the Nazis, put their adversaries on the defensive and whip up the resentment and hostility of their social base and excuse their aggressive assault on secular society. But none of this changes the true nature of their movement, as revealed in this statement from Bill Donahue spoken at Justice Sunday II, an event designed to force more theocratic judges into the courts: “The people on the secular left say, ‘We think you’re a threat.’ You know what? They’re right!”


Nazi Germany is popularly known for its brutal Brownshirts and its virulent anti-Semitism. But while these attributes were integral to the establishment of the Third Reich and in gluing together the hard core base of the Nazi Party, there was another dynamic at play which helped secure the active support or tacit compliance of millions more.

In The Nazi Conscience, Claudia Koonz describes: “A fateful pattern was established: after devastating physical violence against Jews, the regime curbed unsanctioned racial attacks and in their place enacted anti-Semitic laws. Many victims and bystanders failed to appreciate the threat of these bureaucratic strategies that in the long run proved far more lethal than sporadic attacks.”

The worst crimes committed by the Nazis came when they changed the laws and when Hitler grabbed ever more unrestrained power unto himself. This legality and the sense of order it provided imbued the Nazi use of force with legitimacy, and disarmed many who otherwise would have objected. History shows that ease of mind was the last thing that any moral person should have found in the tightening grip of the Nazis’ repressive laws.

In the service of a cause which the Nazis also enforced, that of ending women’s access to birth control and abortion, today’s Christian fascists have followed a similar pattern. Not long ago, when abortion providers were assassinated and women’s clinics were bombed or blockaded thousands of protesters would pour out. In contrast, today the Supreme Court is being reconfigured with judges who will abolish women’s reproductive rights altogether and fascists in power let it all hang out about where this could lead, as Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma did when he openly advocated executing doctors who provide abortions. But, in the face of this the pro-choice movement has all but collapsed, mostly confining themselves to online petitions, funding ads, and the perfunctory request that the judicial hearings be thorough.

Similarly, a few years ago, thousands poured into the streets over the killing of, gay college student, Matthew Shepherd. But today millions go along with, or actively promote, creating a whole separate legal category for gay people by banning gay marriage. And there is so little noise made about it that most people still don’t even know the Nazi-like positions of many in power towards gays, like that of Judge Roy Moore, former Justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama famous for his 5.2 ton rock carving of the 10 Commandments, who wrote a position paper advocating biblically-based executions of homosexuals.

Perhaps most chilling is that, while almost every political leader would go on record opposing openly racist attacks on Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians, they uphold the legal mass sweeps round-ups or Muslims and immigrants which have already put many thousands in detention. Intoxicated by the seemingly legitimate, orderly, and legal way these round-ups have proceeded, millions of Americans have learned to find comfort in these disappearances.

But today, just as in Nazi Germany, the restructuring of laws and institutions should provoke more alarm, more resistance, and fiercer opposition because, just as in Nazi Germany, it is these structural changes that are the most absolute and which will take the most deadly toll if they are not reversed.


There is also little understanding in popular consciousness about what resistance was actually waged against the Nazis. It was neither the case that no one objected, nor was it the case that the Nazis were just too powerful and that their victory was inevitable.

During his rise, Hitler and his regime were filled with vulnerability. At least in the early days, large sections of the public were turned off by the hateful rhetoric and aggressive tactics of him and his followers. Many thousands poured into the streets to protest and object. But, ultimately people either waited too long to resist or confined their objections to the effect of the Nazis only in one sphere of society.

Martin Niemoller was a pastor who originally enthusiastically supported Hitler. Besides his unconscionable support for Hitler, Niemoller made a second major error. When he did finally oppose Hitler, he restricted it to trying only to prevent the Nazis from interfering with his church. The idea that any arena of society was going to be protected from Nazi influence without driving out the whole Nazi regime was tragically false.

After spending eight years in Nazi prisons and concentration camps, Niemoller spoke around the world to people, teaching the lessons he had learned. He is famous, in part, for this poem: “First they came for the communists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, because I was a Protestant. Then, they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

This poem explains the atmosphere which prevailed by 1943, when a brave student resistance movement arose called The White Rose. Tragically, though they were heroic, these students were also too late. Such a chill had set in throughout society and the repressive apparatus of the Nazis was so consolidated throughout the state, that their movement could not take hold on a scale that could challenge the Nazis. Instead its leaders were hunted down and killed.

It is right for people to think of Hitler when they look at all the Bush regime has done and is setting out to do. It is urgent that we deepen our understanding of what parallels do exist and draw the lessons that can shape the future for hundreds of millions world wide today.

It is time for people in this country to confront the full scope and horrors of where the regime in power is headed and come together in a unified resistance aimed at driving the Regime out. As it says in the Call for The World Can’t Wait - Drive Out the Bush Regime: “We need more than fighting Bush’s outrages one at a time, constantly losing ground to the whole onslaught. We must, and can, aim to create a political situation where the Bush regime’s program is repudiated, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking society is reversed.”

The Bush regime does have political vulnerabilities: it rests on lies and unjust, immoral mass brutality and cruelty. What is required is urgent, fearless, bold, and uncompromising resistance from tens of thousands and soon millions with the concrete aim of driving the Bush regime from power. Now. Before it is too late.

To this end, The World Can’t Wait - Drive Out the Bush Regime has announced bold plans to politically drown out George Bush’s State of the Union address in nation-wide actions right as he begins to speak and a national convergence in DC the following Saturday to deliver a simple, yet firm, message: BUSH STEP DOWN.

Bush will be using his State of the Union speech to “turn the page” and get people to go forward together with him, or at least shut the hell up, rather than holding him accountable for his regime’s crimes. But, going right up against this - and his program as a whole - we can rip away Bush’s cloak of legitimacy in the eyes of millions and before the world. This can also snap people into clarity over where society is heading and set new terms for political discourse and struggle among every section of society. This will be a concrete step in creating a political situation where Bush must step down and take his program with him.

But to have this kind of impact, the State of the Union political actions must be on a scale that rivals Bush’s speech as the news story of the day. In this way we can break the dynamic of accommodation, the chilling out of opposition, and the narrowing of sights that is setting in among far too many. In its place, with tremendous struggle, we can forge our own dynamic, where each new lie or outrage committed by the Bush regime confirms for millions the justness of our demand that Bush step down, and spurs many more to come forward to join us.

This will take a lot. As we learn all the time about new abuses of power, like the illegal and widespread secret spying Bush has sanctioned on U.S. citizens, it is clear that a real political challenge to this regime will not be taken lightly. A last look through the pages of Germany’s history reveals that many privately disapproved of Hitler and his Nazis, in whispers or in diaries. By keeping quiet some of these people were able to save themselves, but at an unspeakable cost. The fact that there could be political consequences for speaking and acting today shows all the more powerfully that it is imperative that we do act and speak unsparingly. And that we do so in the numbers and on a scale that can truly make a difference.

As it says in the final words of the Call for The World Can’t Wait - Drive Out the Bush Regime: “The point is this: history is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined. The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.”

posted by Sunsara Taylor at 6:44 PM


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