by Holly Williams
‘The conscientious objector is a popular trope in any drama touching on the First World War: Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and more recently The Village have been awash with young men persecuted for their moral stance, the white feathers they were shamed with fluttering about TV screens as if war was a pillow fight.
As we approach the centenary of the First World War next year, we’ll no doubt hear a lot more about those that fought – and those that felt an equally powerful compulsion not to. But conscientious objection did not begin and end there: conflicts since, including the Second World War and the Vietnam war, have involved conscription, while countries as diverse as Finland, Israel, South Korea, Greece, Columbia and Turkey still require their young people to perform military service.
Getting an exemption on conscientious grounds is, even today, often an arduous process, potentially prompting the century-old accusations of cowardice. COs may face jail sentences or fines, despite a 2012 UN document stating that “conscientious objection … is based on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
International Conscientious Objection Day took place this week, on 15 May, and in the UK, a ceremony was held at the CO Commemorative Stone in Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury. Tomorrow, a small event will be held in the Peace Garden in Birmingham. The UK has also recently seen the opening of a new memorial to COs, at The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Last month, the Quakers erected a new circular limestone structure there to commemorate, specifically, the Friends Ambulance Unit – a Quaker-run body open to all COs – and the Friends Relief Service, which aims to relieve civilian distress in Britain.’
Abby Martin takes a look the 71st anniversary of the internment of Japanese people in the US following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and how the growing surveillance state is the modern day internment camp.
Over 40 per cent of Austrians believe the Hitler era wasn’t ‘all bad’, according to the latest poll conducted by the Linz Market Institute.
The survey was carried out ahead of the 75th anniversary of the country’s annexation by the Nazi Germany, the Anschluss, and included 502 people.
Fifty-seven per cent of respondents believed that “there was nothing positive about the Hitler era“.
However, 61 per cent of respondents indicated that they wanted a “strong leader” at the head of Austria.
That was in fact more than in previous polls, the newspaper Der Standard reported. A similar survey in 2008 found just a fifth of Austrians could imagine having “a strong leader who does not have to worry about a parliament or elections.”
Also, 54 per cent – most of them young and well-educated – were of the opinion that if there was no legislation prohibiting the neo-Nazi parties, they would succeed in elections.
Older participants in the survey strictly opposed the idea, which, according to historians, is logical.
“It’s a normal process that topics are no longer considered hot after two or three generations,” Oliver Rathkolb at the University of Vienna told Der Standard.
Finally, 61 per cent indicated that they thought the country’s Nazi past had been adequately dealt with, while 39 per cent disagreed with that statement.
The opinions remain similarly divided when it comes to the compensation of Nazi victims. 57 per cent of respondents thought that “the victims of this injustice or their descendants have been adequately compensated”, whereas 42 per cent believed that wasn’t the case.
On March 12, 1938, Hitler’s troops entered Austria, and were welcomed by many who supported his ideology at the time. In the latest poll, 53 per cent thought the Anschluss was voluntary and 46 per cent saw Austria as a victim of the unification.
As for the present political situation in the country, right-wing nationalist parties have often triumphed in Austria, even since World War II. In January, the leader of Vienna’s Jewish Community said the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported to his office had doubled in the previous year.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center regularly grades Austria among its lowest-scoring countries in terms of prosecuting Nazi war criminals.
by David Edwards
Ben Shapiro, the Breitbart News editor-at-large who reported a false story about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s ties to the non-existent group “Friends of Hamas,” says that there was no doubt “Hitler was a left-winger.”
During a Thursday radio interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity’s radio show, Shapiro accused the American “left-wing press” of supporting Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Italian fascist Benito Mussolini and the Soviet Union.
“Of course Hitler was a left-winger!” Shapiro exclaimed. “The name of his party was National Socialism, he redistributed wealth, he shut down businesses. This argument that Hitler was a right-winger is absurd. It’s absolutely ridiculous and historically ignorant.”
He added: “It’s a slander put forward by the left in order to try and shut down all debate on the fact that socialism and the rise of the left in countries in a major way usually leads to dictatorial natures for more of than, for example, a limited government.”
In 2010 “documentary” on Fox News, former host Glenn Beck had also argued that Hitler was more liberal than conservative.
But the Examiner’s Ryan Witt called that an “absurd claim.”
“Looking at all of Hitler’s policies, not just the select few Beck picks, Hitler was clearly more right-wing conservative that left-wing liberal,” he wrote.
Witt pointed out that Hitler allowed the industrialist to make tremendous profits, greatly increased defense spending and used religion to advance his agenda.
“Beck only distorts the historical record by arguing Hitler was somehow more progressive or liberal than conservative,” he concluded. “If anything an analysis of all of Hitler policies resemble more of an extreme far-right ideology than anything else.”
Victor Gregg: I survived the bombing of Dresden and continue to believe it was a war crime ~ Guardian
by Victor Gregg
I wasn’t new to murder and bloodletting. I had enlisted two years prior to the outbreak of the second world war and by the time I was 21 I had taken part in one major battle and various smaller ones. I had been in fights where the ground in front of me was littered with the remains of young men who had once been full of the joy of living, laughing and joking with their mates. As each year of the war went by, the fighting got more ferocious, new weapons were introduced and fresh young men became the targets. How I remained a sane person through all this I don’t know.
Then came the evening of the 13 February, 1945 – 68 years ago this week. I was a prisoner of war held in Dresden. At about 10.30pm that night, the air raid sirens started their mournful wailing and because this happened every night no notice was taken. The people of Dresden believed that as long as the Luftwaffe kept away from Oxford, Dresden would be spared. The sirens stopped and after a short period of silence the first wave of pathfinders were over the city dropping their target flares.
As the incendiaries fell, the phosphorus clung to the bodies of those below, turning them into human torches. The screaming of those who were being burned alive was added to the cries of those not yet hit. There was no need for flares to lead the second wave of bombers to their target, as the whole city had become a gigantic torch. It must have been visible to the pilots from a hundred miles away. Dresden had no defences, no anti-aircraft guns, no searchlights, nothing.
My account of this tragedy, Dresden: A Survivor’s Story, was published on the day of the anniversary this week. I gave a number of interviews around the publication, in which I insisted that the affair was a war crime at the highest level, a stain upon the name Englishman that only an apology made in full public view would suffice to obliterate.
Many – including some writing comments underneath articles on this site – have criticised me for this. Reading through the criticisms I have to admit that some of the things I have written have caused many people some hurt, but to these people I would say that as a person I still suffer at times the memories of those terrible events.
From being regarded as some form of hero on the one hand, to a Nazi supporter on the other, has taught me that there are so many sides to any question. I have learned to try to understand those who disagree with my outlook. Like Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five, I wrote as I witnessed. I have no axe to grind. I just sat down and tried to empty my mind and clear away the residues of the nightmares that I still occasionally suffered from.
My justification for still harbouring these attitudes is the events in European history since the ending of the second world war. The massacres in Bosnia at Srebrenica, the hurling of Tomahawk missiles by British naval cruisers into the centre of an inhabited Benghazi, the manner in which as a nation we still tend to be sympathetic to the use of superior aircraft strength to bomb overcrowded refugee centres. These are the reasons my anger has refused to subside.
Perhaps I should be more realistic and knuckle down to the concept of the brutality of the human race, but I have always been a stubborn individual. I am not a diplomat. I just happen to have witnessed the worst that man has to offer and I like it not one bit. Bearing in mind that I care deeply about the future of all my children and grandchildren, please allow me to express my anger.
A top Russian Orthodox cleric has praised the Russian people for disrupting Stalin’s plan to change the historical course of Russia, but at the same time called for not all Soviet history to be painted black.
“I doubt that Stalin wanted Russia to return to its roots, he sincerely lived by the ideals of the World Revolution. But the logic of history, the conscience of the people forced him to start Russia’s return to its roots,” said the head of the Holy Synod’s Department for Church and Society Relations, Vsevolod Chaplin at a discussion dedicated to the 60th anniversary of Stalin’s death.
The panel was held at the discussion club of the World’s Russian People’s Assembly – the international NGO that specializes in development of the Russian political thought.
The Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed a privileged role in the Russian Empire, but after 1917 revolution the Bolshevik government declared a secular state and seized all of the church’s assets, including land and church buildings. The move caused opposition in the clergy leading to repression that ended only after the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II as the state needed religion to boost people’s morale.
Vsevolod Chaplin told the discussion club that it was the Russian Orthodox Church that appeared to be stronger than Stalin.
“The martyr’s feat and the resurrection of the Church and everything that has happened after it showed that our people, its spirit, the logic of its history and its way are stronger than the strongest force and more powerful than the most powerful leader,” Chaplin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
At the same time Chaplin said the Soviet period of Russian history was not uniform and therefore could be assessed very differently.
Chaplin said during the discussion that the harmful theories and philosophy were all imported from abroad, including the theory of the World Revolution while during the Great Patriotic war the people started to return to the deep rooted home values, including the Christian faith.
The church official emphasized that Soviet authorities under Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin committed a lot of crimes against innocent people, including the repressions against the clergy and the Church itself. “These crimes must get a duly assessment from our people and we must do everything to prevent these crimes from happening again,” Chaplin said.
The attitude towards Stalin is a topic of heated discussion in Russia.
For years activists posted Stalin’s image on buses during Victory Day celebrations and local legislature in the central Russian city of Volgograd renamed the city Stalingrad on major holidays. This move, however got no support at the federal level.
At the same time, a number of NGOs and public movements still demand public condemnation of the Soviet dictator due to his purges and repressions.
An opinion poll conducted in October 2012 has shown that Stalin’s popularity has grown from the final days of the Soviet Union. 42 percent of those polled called Stalin a person with greatest influence on the history of mankind compared to just 12 percent in 1989. 22 percent of Russians said that Stalin’s role in history was purely negative against 60 percent holding the same opinion in 1989.
by Dalya Alberge
Pius XII has long been vilified as “Hitler’s pope”, accused of failing publicly to condemn the genocide of Europe’s Jews. Now a British author has unearthed extensive material that Vatican insiders believe will restore his reputation, revealing the part that he played in saving lives and opposing nazism. Gordon Thomas, a Protestant, was given access to previously unpublished Vatican documents and tracked down victims, priests and others who had not told their stories before.
The Pope’s Jews, which will be published next month, details how Pius gave his blessing to the establishment of safe houses in the Vatican and Europe’s convents and monasteries. He oversaw a secret operation with code names and fake documents for priests who risked their lives to shelter Jews, some of whom were even made Vatican subjects.
Thomas shows, for example, that priests were instructed to issue baptism certificates to hundreds of Jews hidden in Genoa, Rome and elsewhere in Italy. More than 2,000 Jews in Hungary were given fabricated Vatican documents identifying them as Catholics and a network saved German Jews by bringing them to Rome. The pope appointed a priest with extensive funds with which to provide food, clothing and medicine. More than 4,000 Jews were hidden in convents and monasteries across Italy.
During and immediately after the war, the pope was considered a Jewish saviour. Jewish leaders – such as Jerusalem’s chief rabbi in 1944 – said the people of Israel would never forget what he and his delegates “are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters at the most tragic hour”. Jewish newspapers in Britain and America echoed that praise, and Hitler branded him “a Jew lover”.
However, his image turned sour in the 1960s, thanks to Soviet antagonism towards the Vatican and a German play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, which vilified the pope, accusing him of silence and inaction over the Jews. It was a trend that intensified with the publication of Hitler’s Pope, a book by John Cornwell.
by Matthew Day
Some 18 crates of gold and platinum may lie buried under the bed of the Stolpsee, a 988-acre stretch of water to the north of the German capital.
Yaron Svoray, who has the backing of German authorities, will use the latest sonar and radar equipment to try and locate the gold, which, the story goes, was dropped into the lake under the orders of Hermann Goering as the Red Army made its final push for Berlin in March, 1945.
One eyewitness, Eckhard Litz, told a post-war commission that he saw around 30 concentration camp prisoners unloading heavy crates from lorries parked by the Stolpsee. The boxes were then ferried into the middle of the lake, and thrown into its waters.
“When the last case had been thrown overboard, the men returned to shore, were lined up and the last thing I saw were the flashes of the machine guns of the guards as they were killed,” recalled Mr Litz.
Mr Svoray, who has spent much of his life tracking anti-Semites and hunting for Nazi treasure, believes that the German in command of the operation later fled to South America.
His attempt to find the mysterious Stolpsee treasure is not the first. In the 1980s when the lake lay behind the Iron Curtain, the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, used combat divers to hunt for the gold, and two years ago a group of businessmen also tried to locate it.
The Nazis, and in particular Hermann Goering, amassed vast fortunes in treasure stolen from their victims, and this, said Mr Svoray, has provided him with another reason to find the gold.
“To me it is not just about the treasure, but also about the people who had it taken from them,” he explained. “My goal is to finally earn them a bit of justice.”
by Ofer Aderet
A rug from the collection of Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler’s second-in-command and an obsessive art collector, is decorating German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, the German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported Sunday.
The rug is one of thousands of artifacts, art and jewelry once owned by Nazis – some of which was looted from Jews and other Holocaust victims – that is either installed in government buildings or in the possession of museums throughout Germany, nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, according to the magazine.
Another Nazi-owned rug is located in a German government guesthouse near Bonn, and a table once owned by the special official who advised Hitler on art is located in the home of German President Joachim Gauck, according to the report. It said the items are among 660 that were passed on to 18 federal offices throughout the country after World War II.
Michael Naumann, the former German secretary of culture, is calling on the German government to force the return of stolen works of art and to fund continued research that would locate additional works.
Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis plundered thousands of works of art throughout Europe, including valuable paintings by artists like Monet and Chagall. Most have not been restored to their owners, or the owners’ heirs, to this day. Some are on display in museums worldwide, including in Israel.
The magazine states that after the war, the state of Bavaria cheaply sold off dozens of villas that been owned by senior Nazi officials, thus depriving Holocaust survivors and their heirs of compensation payments they could have received if the properties had been sold for the market price.
Despite the scope of the property theft, there are no clear laws governing the return of the items. However, in recent years a number of international commissions have been formed to regulate the matter and initiate legislation.
On the cover of the latest issue is a photograph of the valuable platinum watch Adolf Hitler gave his lover, Eva Braun, which is now in the storerooms of the Pinakothek der Moderne museum in Munich. The watch bears a personal inscription from Hitler and the date February 6, 1939 – Braun’s 27th birthday.
There are also many items in Munich that belonged to Goering, including gold cuff links, a ring with a gemstone, gilded champagne glasses, and a gilded cigarette box bearing a 1940 inscription from Goering’s wife and daughter that reads: “Wishing the Reichsmarschall much luck and pride, with love Emmy and Edda.” A set of cutlery belonging to Hitler is also in Munich.
The Der Spiegel probe also revealed that a great deal of information is missing on the Nazi provenance of the art objects in the 6,300 museums throughout Germany. So far, 84 projects have been launched to locate the source of suspect items, but the resources allocated for the search are meager. For example, there is only one team responsible for locating the source of some 4,400 paintings and 770 statues from one of the collections in Munich.
In Jerusalem, the Israel Museum has had a permanent exhibition since 2008 entitled “Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum,” which includes 50 items, out of the 1,200 in the museum’s possession, whose owners are unknown.
by Robert McCrum
[...] Braun’s home movies, mostly shot in Hitler’s fortified chalet in Berchtesgaden, in the Bavarian Alps, have a naive innocence. She captures in the private life of the Nazi high command what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”. In Braun’s footage, we see Hitler and his cronies relaxing on the terrace of his chalet. They drink coffee and take cakes; they joke and pose for the camera. Hitler talks to the children of his associates, or caresses his Alsatian, Blondi. The camera (in Eva Braun’s hands) approaches Hitler in rare and intimate close-up. Occasionally, when a visitor from outside the party elite appears, the camera retreats to a more respectful distance. Mostly, however, Braun’s cine-camera is among the party circle, at Hitler’s side, and at his table. Most of the footage is in colour, with an extraordinary immediacy. Braun’s films offer a remarkably unmediated view of the Nazi leadership and of Hitler himself. This was not the image presented by his propaganda team, or by Leni Riefenstahl, “Hitler’s favourite film-maker”, but the man as he actually was.
Braun’s films chart the Führer’s career up to the zenith of Nazi success, the summer of 1941. At that moment, with the eastern divisions of the Wehrmacht racing into the heart of the Soviet Union, it was reasonable to conclude, as many did, that Germany would win the war. But then came Pearl Harbor in December 1941, followed by Stalingrad and the defeat of Rommel in North Africa. Once Russia was fighting back, undefeated, and once America was committed to the Allied cause, the Third Reich was doomed, and Eva Braun ceased filming.
In the apocalyptic chaos of Hitler’s downfall, the final days in the bunker and the dramatic suicides of Adolf and Eva, Braun’s home movies, never widely known, became forgotten. Until Becker came on the scene.
“I asked for a Steenbeck [editing machine],” he recalls, “and began to watch. In my excitement, it was as if my life had a sense of purpose. I had been very angry about those Nazis. Now I could channel that anger in a positive way.”
In film-history terms, the moment Becker opened those first canisters was the equivalent of peering into the tomb of Tutankhamun. He had finally identified the treasure that many had spoken about but none had found. Adolf Hitler’s image would never be the same again.
Italy’s gaffe-prone former premier Silvio Berlusconi sparked outrage Sunday with remarks praising wartime dictator Benito Mussolini despite Il Duce’s persecution of Jews and allowing thousands to be deported to Auschwitz.
“The racial laws were the worst mistake of a leader, Mussolini, who however did good things in so many other areas,” Berlusconi, who is angling for a return to politics in elections next month, said on the sidelines of a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in Milan.
Starting in 1938, Mussolini promulgated decrees known collectively as racial laws that barred Jews from the civil service, the armed forces and the National Fascist Party. The laws also banned intermarriage.
Mussolini’s Italy participated in the deportation of Jews to the Auschwitz death camp, and an estimated 7,500 are estimated to have been victims of the Holocaust.
Italy “does not have the same responsibilities as Germany,” said Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon known for ill-considered outbursts.
On Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany had “an everlasting responsibility for the crimes of (the Nazis)”.
The head of Italy’s Jewish community, Renzo Gattegna, slammed Berlusconi’s remarks, saying they were “not only superficial and inopportune, but also… devoid of any moral meaning or historical foundation.”
Gattegna, head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, added: “The persecution and the racist anti-Semitic laws of Italy originated well before the war and were applied with full autonomy under the… fascist regime, later an ally and willing and conscious accomplice of Nazi Germany.”
He said the remarks showed “the extent to which Italy still has trouble seriously accepting its own history and its own responsibilities”.
Centre-left politicians also voiced outrage over Berlusconi’s comments.
“Berlusconi’s words are a disgrace and an insult to history and memory. He should apologise to the Italian people today,” Dario Francheschini, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, said in a Twitter message.
His party is tipped to win the elections set for February 24-25.
by David Leigh, Jean François Tanda and Jessica Benhamou
Few passing London tourists would ever guess that the premises of Bulgari, the upmarket jewellers in New Bond Street, had anything to do with the pope. Nor indeed the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, on the corner of St James’s Square and Pall Mall.
Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church’s international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.
Since then the international value of Mussolini’s nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James’s Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.
The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James’s Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company’s true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican.
Instead, they list two nominee shareholders, both prominent Catholic bankers: John Varley, recently chief executive of Barclays Bank, and Robin Herbert, formerly of the Leopold Joseph merchant bank. Letters were sent from the Guardian to each of them asking whom they act for. They went unanswered. British company law allows the true beneficial ownership of companies to be concealed behind nominees in this way.
The company secretary, John Jenkins, a Reading accountant, was equally uninformative. He told us the firm was owned by a trust but refused to identify it on grounds of confidentiality. He told us after taking instructions: “I confirm that I am not authorised by my client to provide any information.”
Research in old archives, however, reveals more of the truth. Companies House files disclose that British Grolux Investments inherited its entire property portfolio after a reorganisation in 1999 from two predecessor companies called British Grolux Ltd and Cheylesmore Estates. The shares of those firms were in turn held by a company based at the address of the JP Morgan bank in New York. Ultimate control is recorded as being exercised by a Swiss company, Profima SA.
British wartime records from the National Archives in Kew complete the picture. They confirm Profima SA as the Vatican’s own holding company, accused at the time of “engaging in activities contrary to Allied interests”. Files from officials at Britain’s Ministry of Economic Warfare at the end of the war criticised the pope’s financier, Bernardino Nogara, who controlled the investment of more than £50m cash from the Mussolini windfall.
Nogara’s “shady activities” were detailed in intercepted 1945 cable traffic from the Vatican to a contact in Geneva, according to the British, who discussed whether to blacklist Profima as a result. “Nogara, a Roman lawyer, is the Vatican financial agent and Profima SA in Lausanne is the Swiss holding company for certain Vatican interests.” They believed Nogara was trying to transfer shares of two Vatican-owned French property firms to the Swiss company, to prevent the French government blacklisting them as enemy assets.
Earlier in the war, in 1943, the British accused Nogara of similar “dirty work”, by shifting Italian bank shares into Profima’s hands in order to “whitewash” them and present the bank as being controlled by Swiss neutrals. This was described as “manipulation” of Vatican finances to serve “extraneous political ends”.
The Mussolini money was dramatically important to the Vatican’s finances. John Pollard, a Cambridge historian, says in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: “The papacy was now financially secure. It would never be poor again.”
From the outset, Nogara was innovative in investing the cash. In 1931 records show he founded an offshore company in Luxembourg to hold the continental European property assets he was buying. It was called Groupement Financier Luxembourgeois, hence Grolux. Luxembourg was one of the first countries to set up tax-haven company structures in 1929. The UK end, called British Grolux, was incorporated the following year.
When war broke out, with the prospect of a German invasion, the Luxembourg operation and ostensible control of the British Grolux operation were moved to the US and to neutral Switzerland.
The Mussolini investments in Britain are currently controlled, along with its other European holdings and a currency trading arm, by a papal official in Rome, Paolo Mennini, who is in effect the pope’s merchant banker. Mennini heads a special unit inside the Vatican called the extraordinary division of APSA – Amministrazione del Patrimonio della Sede Apostolica – which handles the so-called “patrimony of the Holy See”.
According to a report last year from the Council of Europe, which surveyed the Vatican’s financial controls, the assets of Mennini’s special unit now exceed €680m (£570m).
While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy’s wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganised in 1999.
The Guardian asked the Vatican’s representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church’s spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.
A commonly heard argument against gun control is that the National Socialists of Germany (the Nazis) used it in their ascent to and maintenance of power. A corollary argument is sometimes made that had the Jews (and presumably the other targeted groups) been armed, they could have fought off Nazi tyranny. This tract seeks to counter these misassumptions about Nazi gun control.
Gun control, the Law on Firearms and Ammunition, was introduced to Germany in 1928 under the Weimar regime (there was no Right to Arms in the Constitution of 1919) in large part to disarm the nascent private armies, e.g. the Nazi SA (aka “the brownshirts”). The Weimar government was attempting to bring some stability to German society and politics (a classic “law and order” position). Violent extremist movements (of both the Left and Right) were actively attacking the young, and very fragile, democratic state. A government that cannot maintain some degree of public order cannot sustain its legitimacy. Nor was the German citizenry well grounded in Constitutional, republican government (as was evidenced in their choices at the ballot box). Gun control was not initiated at the behest or on behalf of the Nazis – it was in fact designed to keep them, or others of the same ilk, from executing a revolution against the lawful government. In the strictest sense, the law succeeded – the Nazis did not stage an armed coup.
The 1928 law was subsequently extended in 1938 under the Third Reich (this action being the principal point in support of the contention that the Nazis were advocates of gun control). However, the Nazis were firmly in control of Germany at the time the Weapons Law of 1938 was created. Further, this law was not passed by a legislative body, but was promulgated under the dictatorial power granted Hitler in 1933. Obviously, the Nazis did not need gun control to attain power as they already (in 1938) possessed supreme and unlimited power in Germany. The only feasible argument that gun control favored the Nazis would be that the 1928 law deprived private armies of a means to defeat them. The basic flaw with this argument is that the Nazis did not seize power by force of arms, but through their success at the ballot box (and the political cunning of Hitler himself). Secondary considerations that arise are that gun ownership was not that widespread to begin with, and, even imagining such ubiquity the German people, Jews in particular, were not predisposed to violent resistance to their government.
The Third Reich did not need gun control (in 1938 or at any time thereafter) to maintain their power. The success of Nazi programs (restoring the economy, dispelling socio-political chaos) and the misappropriation of justice by the apparatus of terror (the Gestapo) assured the compliance of the German people. Arguing otherwise assumes a resistance to Nazi rule that did not exist. Further, supposing the existance of an armed resistance also requires the acceptance that the German people would have rallied to the rebellion. This argument requires a total suspension of disbelief given everything we know about 1930s Germany. Why then did the Nazis introduce this program? As with most of their actions (including the formation of the Third Reich itself), they desired to effect a facade of legalism around the exercise of naked power. It is unreasonable to treat this as a normal part of lawful governance, as the rule of law had been entirely demolished in the Third Reich. Any direct quotations, of which there are several, that pronounce some beneficence to the Weapons Law should be considered in the same manner as all other Nazi pronouncements – absolute lies. (See Bogus Gun Control Quotes and endnote .)
A more farfetched question is the hypothetical proposition of armed Jewish resistance. First, they were not commonly armed even prior to the 1928 Law. Second, Jews had seen pogroms before and had survived them, though not without suffering. They would expect that this one would, as had the past ones, eventually subside and permit a return to normalcy. Many considered themselves “patriotic Germans” for their service in the first World War. These simply were not people prepared to stage violent resistance. Nor were they alone in this mode of appeasement. The defiance of “never again” is not so much a warning to potential oppressors as it is a challenge to Jews to reject the passive response to pogrom. Third, it hardly seems conceivable that armed resistance by Jews (or any other target group) would have led to any weakening of Nazi rule, let alone a full scale popular rebellion; on the contrary, it seems more likely it would have strengthened the support the Nazis already had. Their foul lies about Jewish perfidy would have been given a grain of substance. To project backward and speculate thus is to fail to learn the lesson history has so painfully provided.
The simple conclusion is that there are no lessons about the efficacy of gun control to be learned from the Germany of the first half of this century. It is all too easy to forget the seductive allure that fascism presented to all the West, bogged down in economic and social morass. What must be remembered is that the Nazis were master manipulators of popular emotion and sentiment, and were disdainful of people thinking for themselves. There is the danger to which we should pay great heed. Not fanciful stories about Nazi’s seizing guns.
Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.Jay Simkin, Aaron Zelman and Alan Rice, Lethal Laws.
. This is not to say Hitler did not value gun control. After having occupied Russian territory Hitler said:
Der größte Unsinn, den man in den besetzen Ostgebieten machen könnte, sei der, den unterworfenen Völkern Waffen zu geben. Die Geschicte lehre, daß alle Herrenvölker untergegangen seien, nachdem sie den von ihnen unterworfenen Volkern Waffen bewilligt hatten.[The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered Eastern peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.]
— Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), April 11, 1942, quoted in Hitlers Tischegesprache Im Fuhrerhauptquartier 1941-1942.
[Hitler's Table-Talk at the Fuhrer's Headquarters 1941-1942], Dr. Henry Picker, ed. (Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, 1951)
GunCite does not have the German version, but Hitler continues, “Indeed I would go so far as to say that the underdog is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let’s not have any native militia or police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order.”
A World War Two code found strapped to the leg of a dead pigeon stuck in a chimney for the last 70 years may never be broken, a British intelligence agency said on Friday.
The bird was found by a man in Surrey, southern England while he was cleaning out a disused fireplace at his home earlier this month.
The message, a series of 27 groups of five letters each, was inside a red canister attached to the pigeon’s leg bone and has stumped code-breakers from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s main electronic intelligence-gathering agency.
“Without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to decrypt,” a GCHQ spokesman said.
A man has been questioned by police after an image of a burning poppy was posted on Facebook on Remembrance Sunday.
Kent Police said the 19-year-old, from Canterbury, was detained on Sunday night on suspicion of making malicious telecommunications.
The force said in a statement: “A man (was) interviewed by police this morning following reports that a picture of a burning poppy had been posted on a social media website.
“Officers were contacted at around 4pm yesterday and alerted to the picture, which was reportedly accompanied by an offensive comment.”
The man was later released pending further inquiries.
His detention was met with disbelief on Twitter, where people mounted a fierce discussion over civil liberties.
Tom Williams, tweeting as @tomwilliamsisme, wrote: “The scary thing is, the man wasn’t arrested for burning a poppy – that’s not illegal. He was arrested for putting it online.”
Jamie’s Pants, under @thisisrjg, tweeted: “We do not have a right to not be offended. We certainly don’t have a right to lock up someone for offending some people”,
And Thom Lumley, tweeting as @Hotstepperrr, wrote: “Dear idiots at Kent Police, burning a poppy may be obnoxious, but it is not a criminal offence.”
David Allen Green, a journalist and lawyer for the New Statesman, tweeting as Jack of Kent, wrote: “What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by Kent Police for burning a poppy?”
Australian musician and comedian Tim Minchin also expressed his incredulity, tweeting: “You’ve a right to burn a (fake!) poppy. Whether I agree with the action is utterly irrelevant. Kent Police are out of line.”
Meanwhile, a man who skateboarded alongside a Remembrance Sunday parade wearing a pink outfit and horned mask has been charged under the Public Order Act.
Jose Paulo Da Silveria, 38, is alleged to have skateboarded beside marching troops as they made their way past the cenotaph towards College Green in Bristol city centre.
Jewish supporters of Winston Churchill are to unveil a bust of the British wartime leader in Jerusalem this weekend in what they say is a long-overdue recognition of his staunch and unwavering support of the Jewish cause and their desire for a homeland.
“As a passionate Zionist all his life and a philo-semite, Churchill has been under-recognised,” says Anthony Rosenfelder, a trustee of the Jerusalem Foundation, which is behind the project to commemorate the British leader. He “combined a historical understanding of the Jewish people and what the promised land meant for Jews … with realpolitik”.
It is perhaps ironic that a statue of Churchill should stand just yards away from the King David Hotel, scene of a deadly Jewish terror attack on British military headquarters in 1946 that was to hasten the demise of mandate rule in Palestine.
Sixty-four years after the British exit, Jewish antipathy towards its mandate-era rule of Palestine still remains strong.
Some regard Churchill as a controversial figure whose government turned back Jewish immigrants trying to reach Palestine during the Second World War. Others claim that Churchill was one of the greatest supporters of the Zionist movement. They say he should be acknowledged for his role in helping make real the 1917 Balfour Declaration of British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
Nearly half a century after his death, though, Churchill still remains a complex historical figure among Jews. “It’s always important to give history a bit of time to bed down,” says Randolph Churchill, great-grandson of the British leader, a reference to the anger many Israelis still harbour towards the British. “People have had time to reflect and consider [on his role]. I don’t think it’s late after the event.”
Most Israelis will remember Churchill for his role in defeating Hitler, and as the man who set the world against the Nazis, he is much admired. Unlike other British officials who backed the movement, such as Henry Balfour, Sir Wyndham Deedes and David Lloyd George, there is, however, almost no official recognition of his contribution.
“Churchill is not really commemorated here, and for lots of reasons he should be,” says Isaac Herzog, an Israeli politician behind the bust initiative.
Many Israelis will admit scant knowledge of his long alliance with the Jews during the early part of the 20th century, one which spurred a friend to tell his official biographer, Martin Gilbert, that Churchill was not without fault, that he was “too fond of the Jews.”
Indeed, it is Mr Gilbert, himself a Jew, who has proven one of the single biggest champions of Churchill, and whose weighty tome on the subject fired imaginations, including that of Mr Rosenfelder who said the book “switched on a light for me”.
Tom Segev, author of One Palestine Complete, claims that Churchill once told his close friend and an elder of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, that he would support the Zionists “even if they did horribly stupid things”.
Not everybody is so convinced. Some see his support for Zionism as a matter of expediency. He spoke often of a Jewish conspiracy behind the Bolshevik Revolution, and there are those who believe that his support for a Jewish state arose from a desire to keep the Jews from meddling in the affairs of others.
“His attitude towards the Jews was very complicated,” says Eli Shaltiel, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. “The Jewish state was a way of solving the Jewish problem… Once they had a state of their own, it would serve their very uniqueness. They would be normal like any other nation.”
The question of Auschwitz concentration camp, where thousands were killed daily, also remains a bone of contention. Critics say he put Allied lives before Jewish ones by failing to bomb it in 1944. Although historians concede Churchill did give the order for an attack, he did not make it a priority.
Edward Luttwak, a Washington-based scholar writing a book about Churchill, is even more uncomplimentary. Even as the full horrors of the extermination camp became more widely known, , he claims, Churchill wilfully ignored the plight of Hungarian Jews.
He points to events in early 1944, when Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary all ceased to cooperate with Nazi Germany in deporting their Jewry, but Britain continued to enforce rigorously stiff immigration quotas to Palestine to appease the Arabs during a time of war. He claims they denied many European Jews safe passage by either declining or issuing out-of-date visa documents.
“The Romanians survived, the Bulgarians survived, the Hungarians did not. That’s on Churchill’s conscience,” says Mr Luttwak. “In 1944, Churchill, lifelong friend of the Jews, became Hitler’s remaining Holocaust ally.”
By then, Britain’s Palestine policy was increasingly under attack from the Jews. The Struma incident two years earlier – where a ship carrying Romanian refugees trying to reach Palestine via Turkey was turned away, only to be sunk by a Soviet submarine, killing 768 people on board – had rallied opposition to the British: Churchill himself was to become a target.
Newly declassified MI5 papers reveal that in 1944, the British feared that the Stern Gang, a Jewish terrorist group determined to oust the British from Palestine, was plotting to kill Churchill, as well as the unpopular politician Ernest Bevin.
In the end, it was not Churchill who died, but his close friend Lord Moyne, who was assassinated by the Stern Gang in Cairo in November 1944. Mr Segev writes that the bloody act “lost the Zionists one of their most important supporters, Winston Churchill”.
In an address to the House of Commons, Churchill made clear the depth of his dismay: “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labours for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently and so long in the past.”
But by then the wheels had already been set in motion, and the Jewish state was only a few years from becoming a reality.
How Britain Tortured Nazi PoWs: The Horrifying Interrogation Methods that Belie Our Proud Boast that We Fought a Clean War ~ Mail Online
The German SS officer was fighting to save himself from the gallows for a terrible war crime and might say anything to escape the noose. But Fritz Knöchlein was not lying in 1946 when he claimed that, in captivity in London, he had been tortured by British soldiers to force a confession out of him.
Tortured by British soldiers? In captivity? In London? The idea seems incredible.
Britain has a reputation as a nation that prides itself on its love of fair play and respect for the rule of law. We claim the moral high ground when it comes to human rights. We were among the first to sign the 1929 Geneva Convention on the humane treatment of prisoners of war.
Surely, you would think, the British avoid torture? But you would be wrong, as my research into what has gone on behind closed doors for decades shows.
It was in 2005 during my work as an investigative reporter that I came across a veiled mention of a World War II detention centre known as the London Cage. It took a number of Freedom Of Information requests to the Foreign Office before government files were reluctantly handed over.
From these, a sinister world unfolded — of a torture centre that the British military operated throughout the Forties, in complete secrecy, in the heart of one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the capital.
The Japanese occupied two Alaska islands in World War II as part of a sprawling military action that included the pivotal Battle of Midway. A few Navy men were the sole inhabitants of Kiska, southeast of Attu. But Attu itself consisted entirely of civilians, mostly Alaska Natives.
In 1943, Attu Island became the scene of the bloodiest land battle in North America since the Civil War. Total losses of American and Japanese troops is calculated between 2,500 and 3,000 or more, a number on par with Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Anchorage historian John Cloe, a prominent authority Alaska’s role in World War II, has observed that the battle is better known in Japan than in America, where it took place.
Americans are even less aware of the wartime fate of Attu village and its people, something Golodoff wants to rectify.
Author of IBM Holocaust book says corporations are again aiding in potential genocide ~ Times of Israel
Investigative journalist and author Edwin Black was Wednesday referring all inquiries about reports that Brad Pitt plans to make a movie of his 2001 bestseller “IBM and the Holocaust” to his agents at William Morris. But in a telephone interview with The Times of Israel, Black said his meticulously documented tale of the computer giant’s key role in enabling the Holocaust holds vital lessons for today about the dangers of corporate complicity in genocide.
Specifically, as the Iranian regime speeds toward a nuclear bomb, Black said, corporations complicit with Tehran included Nokia Siemens, “which provided the cellphone tracking codes to the Iranian regime” as it suppressed the Green Revolution in 2009, as well as “the multi-national banks financing the acquisition of nuclear equipment, and the manufacturers providing the technology to produce a nuclear bomb.”
Pitt has reportedly held the film option for the “IBM and the Holocaust” for some years, and it was in development at HBO. Now, though, it is said to be back with Pitt, for possible development as a feature film.
Black said all of his projects would make good movies because of his insistence on factual integrity. “IBM and the Holocaust,” he said, exposed what had been “the overlooked saga of how an American corporation became a central player in the Holocaust in all six phases.” He listed these as “the identification of the Jews; their exclusion from society; the confiscation of their assets; their ghettoization; their deportation; and even many parts of the extermination of the Jews.”
IBM, he noted, “had a customer site, known as the Hollerith Department, in almost every concentration camp” to sort or process punch cards and track prisoners. IBM also “opened subsidiaries in Europe in cadence with the Nazis.”
Black’s book details IBM’s strategic alliance with the Nazis starting from 1933, soon after Adolf Hitler came to power, and continuing deep into World War II. “As the Third Reich embarked upon its plan of conquest and genocide, IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies, step-by-step,” according to the book’s official website. “IBM technology was used to organize nearly everything in Germany and then Nazi Europe, from the identification of the Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor.”
Reports in recent days have suggested that Pitt might star in the movie as well as producing it, and it has been reported that various A-list directors and actors are being contacted over possible roles in the production.
Darkest atrocities of Nazis revealed in secretly recorded conversations of German war prisoners ~ ANI
The prisoners, mostly ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen, as opposed to SS hardliners, are overheard bragging about shooting women and children for sport and raping and slaughtering innocent civilians.
According to the Daily Mail, but unknown to them, British and U.S. intelligence were secretly listening to their private chats.
Transcripts made from the astonishingly candid recordings have been found on the shelves of the National Archives in Kew, all forgotten, until they were picked up by historian Sonke Neitzel in 2001, the report said.
His subsequent book ‘Soldiers; diaries of fighting, killing and dying’, caused a sensation when it was published in Germany last year. And next week it will be published in English for the first time.
There’s one shop in India that local Jews won’t stop by at any price: the one called “Hitler”. The owner of the clothing outlet in Ahmedabad claims it’s merely a “nickname given to one of the proprietors’ grandfathers.”
“Hitler was a nickname given to my business partner Manish Chandani’s grandfather because of his strict nature. Frankly, till the time we applied for the trademark permission, I had only heard that Hitler was a strict man,” Rajesh Shah who owns the shop told The Times of India daily.
“It was only recently that we read about Hitler on the internet,” he added.
Shah complains he had to spend Rs 40,000 on the banner, and says he won’t change the name unless he is compensated.
Hardly a week goes by in Germany without an unexploded bomb from World War II being found at a construction site or in another location. Very often it happens in the center of densely populated cities — like Munich, where 2,500 people had to be evacuated following the discovery of a 250-kilogram (550 pound) bomb on Monday night.
Monday’s find resulted in a mass evacuation of apartments and office buildings in Munich’s popular Schwabing district, only a short walk from the city’s world-famous tourist attractions. Officials said Tuesday morning that stores and offices near the site would also have to remain closed. “The fact is, it could explode at any time,” Munich Fire Department spokesman Alexander Purkl told reporters. So far, safety workers have been unable to defuse the bomb’s chemical delay-action detonator.
After finding the dud, which had been dropped by an American bomber during the war and sat undisturbed for decades, officials initially ordered the evacuation of 800 people. Later, however, safety officials decided to create an evacuation zone within 300 meters (980 feet) of the bomb, forcing an additional 1,700 residents to move to emergency accommodations. A nearby subway station had to be closed as well as parts of Leopoldstrasse, an important traffic artery in Munich.
August 6 should have been a day of somber reflection, not only on the terrible events of that day in 1945, but also on what they revealed: that in their dedicated quest to extend their capacities for destruction, humans finally found a way to approach the ultimate limit.
This year’s August 6 memorials to the victims of Hiroshima have special significance. They took place shortly before the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, “the most dangerous moment in human history,” in the words of historian and Kennedy advisor Arthur Schlesinger. Graham Allison writes in Foreign Affairs that Kennedy ordered actions he knew would increase the risk of nuclear war, with a likelihood of perhaps 50 percent, an estimate that Allison regards as realistic. Kennedy took Chairman Khrushchev “right to the brink of nuclear war and he looked over the edge and had no stomach for it,” according to General David Burchinal, then a high official in the Pentagon planning staff. One can hardly count on such last-minute sanity forever.
Disaster was perilously close in 1962, and there have been extremely dangerous moments since. In 1973, in the last days of the Arab-Israeli war, Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert. India and Pakistan have come close to nuclear war. And there have been cases when human intervention aborted nuclear attack after false reports by automated systems.
The events of October 1962 are widely hailed as Kennedy’s finest hour. Allison offers them as “a guide for how to defuse conflicts, manage great-power relationships, and make sound decisions about foreign policy in general.” In particular, today’s conflict with Iran.
Allison joins many others in regarding Iran’s nuclear programs as the most severe current crisis–even more complex than the Cuban missile crisis, because of the threat of Israeli bombing. The attack against Iran is in fact already well underway, including economic sanctions that have reached the level of “undeclared war,” in the judgment of Iran specialist Gary Sick, who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan.
Consider, for another example, the Flame virus, revealed in mid-July, developed jointly by the United States and Israel, and used to secretly monitor Iranian computer networks. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon regards cyberwarfare as “an act of war” that authorizes the target “to respond using traditional military force” (though with the usual exception: not when the United States or an ally is the perpetrator).
The escalation of the undeclared war against Iran increases the possibility of a large-scale war being sparked, even accidentally. The danger was illustrated when a U.S. Navy vessel, part of the huge deployment in the Gulf, fired on a civilian fishing boat July 16, killing one and wounding three. It would not take much more to ignite a major conflict.
The Iran threat has recently been outlined by General Giora Eiland, who Haaretz describes as“one of the most ingenious and prolific thinkers the [Israeli military] has ever produced.” Of the threats he cites, the most credible is that “any confrontation on our borders will take place under an Iranian nuclear umbrella.” Israel might therefore be constrained from resorting to force. Eiland agrees with the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence, which also regard deterrence as the major threat Iran poses.
One sensible way to avoid such dread consequences is to pursue, in the wording of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 of April 1991, “the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons.” The U.S. and the U.K. invoked those words in their effort to provide a thin legal cover for their invasion of Iraq 12 years later. The goal has been an Arab-Iranian objective since 1974, regularly re-endorsed. It now has near unanimous global support, at least formally. An international conference to consider ways to implement such a treaty may take place in December. Progress is unlikely unless there is mass public support in the West.
Failure to grasp the opportunity will, once again, lengthen the grim shadow that has darkened the world since that fateful August 6.
What happens when a nation that was once an economic powerhouse turns its back on democracy and on its middle class, as wealthy right-wingers wage austerity campaigns and enable extremist politics?
It may sound like America in 2012. But it was also Germany in 1932.
Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler’s rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.
Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between Weimar Germany and Weimar America worth examining.
1. Austerity. Today’s German leaders preach the virtues of austerity. They justify their opposition to the inflationary, growth-creating policies that Europe desperately needs by pointing to the hyperinflation that occurred in 1923, and became one of the most enduring memories of the Weimar Republic. Yet the austerity policies enacted after the onset of the Depression produced the worst of Germany’s economic crisis, while also destabilizing the country’s politics. Cuts to wages, benefits and public programs dramatically worsened unemployment, hunger and suffering.
So far, austerity in America has largely taken place at the state and local levels. However, the federal government is now working on undemocratic national austerity plans, in the form of so-called “trigger cuts” slated to take effect at the end of 2012. In addition, there’s the Bowles-Simpson austerity plan to slash Medicare and Social Security benefits along with a host of other public programs; and the Ryan Budget, a blueprint for widespread federal austerity should the Republicans win control of the Congress and the White House in November.
2. Attacks on democracy. Austerity was deeply unpopular with the German public. The Reichstag, Germany’s legislature, initially rejected austerity measures in 1930. As a result, right-wing Chancellor Heinrich Brüning implemented his austerity measures by using a provision in the Weimar constitution enabling him to rule by decree. More notoriously, Hitler was selected as Chancellor despite his party never having won an election — the ultimate slap at democracy. Both these events took place amidst a larger backdrop of anti-democratic attitudes rampant in the Weimar era. Monarchists, fascists and large businesses all resented the left-leaning politics of a newly democratic Germany, and supported politicians and intellectuals who pledged to return control to a more authoritarian government.
Democracy is far older in the United States today than it was in Germany during the early 1930s. But that doesn’t mean that democracy is actually respected in practice today; it only means that attacks on it can’t be as overt as they were in Weimar Germany. From the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling to Republican voter ID laws to austerity proposals that bypass the normal legislative processes (remember the Supercommission?), American democracy is under similar direct threats now.
3. Enabling of extremists. Well before Hitler was made chancellor in 1933, leading conservatives and business leaders had concluded that their interests would be better served by something other than the democratic system established in 1919. During the 1920s, they actively supported parties that promoted anti-democratic ideologies, from monarchism to authoritarianism. Nazis were just one of the many extremist groups that they supported during the Weimar era. In fact, initially, many on the German right had attempted to exclude the Nazis from their efforts; and as chancellor, Brüning had tried to marginalize the Nazi party. However, his successor, the right-wing Franz von Papen, believed he could control Hitler and needed the support of the Nazi members of the Reichstag. Conservative German leaders ultimately decided their hunger for power was more important than keeping extremists at bay — and their support finally gave the Nazi Party control of the country.
Tea Party activists aren’t Nazis. But with roots in the 20th-century radical right, the Tea Party’s attack on the public sector, on labor unions, on democratic practices, and on people who aren’t white mark them as the extremist wing of American politics; and they bear many of the hallmarks that characterize fascist movements around the world. In recent years, Republican leaders have been enabling these extremists in a successful bid to reclaim political power lost to Democrats in 2006 and 2008. We don’t yet know where this enabling is going to lead the country, but it’s hard to imagine it will be anywhere good.
4. Right-wing and corporate dominance. One of the the most prominent German media moguls in the 1920s was Alfred Hugenberg, owner of 53 newspapers that reached over a majority of German readers. The chairman of the right-wing German National People’s Party, Hugenberg promoted Adolf Hitler by providing favorable coverage of him from the mid-1920s onward. Major German corporations such as Krupp, IG Farben and others spent money in the 1920s and early 1930s to support the rise of right-wing political parties, including the Nazis, as part of a strategy to undermine democracy and labor unions. Even if Hitler had never taken power, that strategy had already achieved significant returns on their substantial investment.
Here in the United States, one only needs to look at Charles and David Koch, Fox News and other right-wing funders and their media outlets to see the analogy. By funding right-wing politicians who promote austerity, undermine democracy and support extremism, they are active agents in the creation of Weimar America.
The Road Not Taken
None of this means that the United States is about to fall victim to a fascist coup d’etat as Germany did in January 1933. Remember that no outcome is inevitable. Nor would it be accurate to say that the United States is repeating the exact same events and taking the same course as Germany did during the 1930s, because many other important details are different. For example: Germany was a nation saddled with huge debts and lacking the global political power it needed to reverse its situation; but even with today’s high unemployment rates, the United States remains the globe’s largest economy, and therefore doesn’t face the same fiscal constraints Weimar Germany faced. In fact, a better current analogy may be Greece, which is in a far more similar predicament now.
Yet the underlying similarities ought to be troubling — and are enough to give us pause. The combination of austerity and well-funded right-wing political movements hostile to democracy destroyed Weimar Germany. And Spain and Italy both experienced a similar situation in their slide into authoritarianism in the 1930s. In those cases — and in ours — as people saw their own financial position weaken, and as their democratic rights were increasingly limited in favor of giving more power to the large corporations, the future of a democratic society with a strong middle-class was increasingly jeopardized. Fascism is what happens when right-wing plutocrats weaken the middle class, and then convince it to turn its back on democracy.
Will Weimar America face the same disastrous fate Weimar Germany did? On our current path, democracy and shared prosperity are both in serious trouble. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to our world to look to the lessons of history, find a way to change course, and get to work building something better.