Fourth Reich?

I’ve just returned from a visit to Slate.com, having absorbed Diane McWhorter’s article about the similarities between the America of the new millennium and the Third Reich.

The gist of the essay is that the current administration, rather than being incompetent, or overweening, or imperialistic, or all three, is in fact a gang of Nazis, and we’d better wise up. The author, aghast at our complacency, seeks to rouse us from our stupor by pointing out — breaking news! — that the Germany of the 1930’s became utterly evil, in large extent, of its own volition, and she suggests that the same is happening here.

As Ms. McWhorter puts it:

While we may prefer to believe that the Good German institutions capitulated to Hitler under the black boot of the SS, current scholarship confirms that Nazification, like segregation in America, was largely voluntary, even in the free press.

One need hardly rely on “current scholarship” to arrive at this well-known fact — nor, even, to come to the more general truth that people are quite easily corruptible, given sufficiently encouraging and like-minded neighbors. The enthusiasm many Germans felt for the charismatic Hitler was plainly evident at the time, and their high esteem was shared, as well, by his many fans in the US and elsewhere — people who presumably formed their opinions with no SS jackboots upon their necks. This is apparently inside information to McWhorter, though, who informs us that, while we may nurse tender illusions about human nature as regards fascism, she, having recently read several books, has “acquired a vivid picture of the real thing.”

Of course, an even more vivid picture of the “real thing” was to be had by the millions who were exterminated in death camps, and who were subjugated by the foul Nazi apparatus as it trampled Europe underfoot, but McWhorter foresees that such comparisons might be made — as well she might! — and deals with them, neatly and effortlessly, by instructing her readers:

Before I continue, please insert here whatever disclaimers it takes to stop yourself from listing the ways in which we are not like Nazi Germany.

An audacious tactic, to be sure, and if I should find myself writing an essay in which I argue that a leaky faucet is identical in all important respects to Niagara Falls, I might give it a try — but Ms McWhorter can’t have it both ways. If her point is that the U.S. government is the modern equivalent of the Third Reich, then comparisons are in order, and will be made.

McWhorter mentions, with depressing predictability, Hitler’s invocation of the Reichstag fire as justification of the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the Führer the dictatorial power he had coveted all along. From that day forward, Hitler exercised absolute control of every aspect of German government. Clear enough. History tends to repeat itself, and the author reminds us that this is exactly what happened to our own government a scant 71 years later, when Trent Lott and the Republican Senate caucus “threatened to override Senate rules and abolish the filibuster in order to thwart the Democrats’ stand against Bush’s most extremist nominees for federal judgeships. ”

The parallel is eerily exact, other than that the threat was never even carried out, the president did not assume dictatorial powers, Trent Lott himself was forced to step down as majority leader a few months later due to a gaffe, involving racism, that cost him the respect of the ethnically tolerant American people, free elections were not canceled, and the Republicans themselves lost control of the Senate in the next election cycle. Close enough, though, if you aren’t supposed to list “the ways in which we are not like Nazi Germany.”

Of course, the likeness doesn’t end there. Here’s another page that Bush has taken from the Nazi playbook: vilification of the enemy. We note, in passing, that there is some irony in castigating your political adversaries for vilifying the enemy while you yourself are busy comparing them to the Nazis, but let us press on, and consider the charges.

McWhorter is quite right, of course, that George Bush, in many a public statement, has indeed vilified the Islamic terrorists who have arrayed themselves against us. The question, though, is whether he ought to be reviled himself for having done so. Is it unfair to characterize our opponents so harshly? Let’s review:

While we cherish life, they glorify death. They selectively target the innocent with bullets, knives, and bombs. They are implacably committed to the destruction of our civilization, and its replacement with a worldwide seventh-century Ummah under which women are chattel and infidels are put to the sword. They have gleefully massacred 3,000 of our civilian population – deliberately selected as primary targets – whose only offense was to show up for work on a Tuesday morning on American soil. They oppress, harrass, and insult Christians every day in Islamic nations, yet erupt in lethal violence when a newspaper cartoon is not to their liking. They ignore the pleadings of the civilized world and wilfully destroy ancient and irreplaceable works of art that offend their narrow sensibilities. They videotape themselves beheading helpless captives while crowing to their vengeful god.

Well! Yes, it looks as if they are, after all, quite vile indeed. Is Ms. McWhorter suggesting, then, that our vilification of such despicable brutes is the the moral equivalent of the Nazis’ grotesque slander of the Jews who lived peaceably among them? Perhaps she thinks that vilification should simply be “off the table”, regardless of how evil the foe. Is that reasonable? There is an innate human tendency to unite against external enemies, and leaders have long known that vilifying such an enemy is an effective way to encourage such cohesion. Is it always wrong to do so? Should Churchill, whose ringing oratory gave the British the courage they needed to survive the dark days of the Blitz, not have vilified the Nazis themselves, as they plundered and slaughtered their way across Europe? Had he not done so, and so effectively, the Nazis might well have prevailed. Are all cases alike? Of course not. Should the Buckeyes be censured for vilifying the Wolverines? What sanctimonious rubbish.

Ms. McWhorter is so caught up in the naughty pleasure of likening the hated Bush administration to the Nazis that she even fancies herself, and those others who boldly dare to tweak the tiger’s tail by making the same taboo comparison, as enjoying a “little intellectual Prague Spring“. Ah, yes — so daring, so tragic, so intellectual. This vain and juvenile affectation utterly trivializes and insults the brave Czech patriots who risked, and in many cases lost, their lives by standing up to the genuine tyranny — as opposed to those which exist only in Ms. McWhorter’s feverish imagination — of the Soviet regime, and is perhaps the most grossly offensive remark in the entire article. I am quite certain that there will be no U.S. Army tanks rolling down her block anytime soon to silence her noble and courageous voice, and she bloody well knows it, too.

As I have said time and again in these pages, I am no fan of the swaggering and incompetent George Bush, and I think history will lay a full measure of blame at his feet for the many calamities his arrogance and ineptitude have wrought. Reasonable people may indeed have good cause to loathe the man, to disparage his policies, and even to accuse him of being, even by head-of-state standards, rather unusually manipulative — although every government since the dawning of civilization has propagandized to control public opinion, acted covertly to achieve its goals, and given preferential treatment to those in the inner circles of power. But we live in a functioning democracy, and even if he had in fact been trying to fling America’s political engine off its rails and assume dictatorial power — of which there is not the least sign — he has failed. In two years, he will be gone.

The Nazis, however, in the service of a bizarre and malevolent racist and occultist mythology — and no-one ought ever to need reminding of this, although Ms. McWhorter apparently does — coolly and systematically exterminated millions of innocent men, women, and children, embarked on a ruthless mechanized campaign of global conquest, betrayed every international agreement they ever were party to, and plunged the world into a war that cost the lives of over sixty million people. My wife’s family lost hundreds of friends and relatives to the Nazi death camps, and barely escaped with their own lives. I’m all for spicy political commentary — and despite what Ms. McWhorter would like to imply, we are all still free to write, here in America, whatever we like — but that she and her ilk, for the sake of cheap political titillation, should seriously compare the President and his staff to Hitler and the Nazis is not only glaringly, embarrassingly absurd, but sickening and insulting as well, and she ought to be ashamed of herself.

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2 Comments

  1. eugene says

    Hannah Arendt, Hannah Arendt, Hannah Arendt.

    Posted December 3, 2006 at 10:02 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Eugene,

    Yes, of course. And Gitta Sereny, too.

    Posted December 3, 2006 at 1:08 pm | Permalink