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Monday, March 5, 2012

O, where are the Nazis of yesteryear?

Like it or not, Nazis are in the news.  Not just the professed Nazis, such as Arthur Jones who is running for the Illinois legislature and calls the Holocaust a big lie.  But also the old Nazis that we--well, most of us, I hope--revile.  

I am not referring to the fact that the puerile name-calling spats of the national dementia that has taken over partisan politics often evokes the word Nazi.  I refer to the re-examination of what happened in Europe during the reign of the Third Reich.  I have written about it before to note that 65 years after World War II, the world has reached enough distance from that time in history to be able to confront and consider some very unpleasant facts that do not compliment the human race. 

It has been known that there were people willing to collaborate with the Nazis and engage in acts of betrayal and oppression of their fellow humans, who they did not wish to consider, human.  However, the matter has been perceived as a good guy-bad guy situation in which the Nazi resistance was the good guys and the   collaborators were the bad guys.  In that perception, there was a  mass of good citizens who were working each day, going about their business, unaware, for the most part, of what was going on around them.  That perception is what has been challenged by the facts and artifacts of history and a very large body of literature and art that examines those facts.  It has changed to an acknowledgment that the Nazi invasion of Europe and the Holocaust occurred with the full consent and participation of people in the civilian and military population. In some cases, people cooperated with the Nazis as a means of survival.  But what is being examined today is that many of the people who, after World War II, disavowed connections with the Nazis were, in fact, enthusiastic supporters and participants.  

This current examination is not just of people in Germany.  It includes people in the nations that Germany invaded and occupied--France, Poland, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries.  Many people welcomed the coming of Hitler and actively assisted in the Holocaust against the Jews and in betraying those who resisted the advance of Naziism.

My correspondent Anne, who has lived and studied in Germany, noted recently that she counted more than 30 films at Netflix that dealt with Nazi sympathizers and resisters during World War II.  She comes from a military family that lived in Germany for tours of duty, and she says that her interest in Germany and the matters of Nazi collaboration and resistance were sparked by the fact that her father remained carefully aloof from the German people while he served in their  midst.  She said that he often claimed that Nazi social and political values did not end with the war.  He also pointed out often that the people of Europe were confronted with two horrible, horrible choices that seemed to dominate the political activity:  the Naziism of Hitler and the Bolshevism of Stalin.  Both of those extremist factions imprisoned and killed opponents and others they hated with a relish.  As resistance movements to the Nazis developed, they were often organized and led by Bolshevists of the Soviet stripe.  People were caught up in a confusing and frightening turmoil, but for many, the Nazis were a conscious preference.  

The degraded political state of America.
In the current political talk in America, the term Nazi is flung about as an inflammatory insult and accusation, as is communism and Marxism.  The use of those terms is meant to accuse   current political figures and parties of being the odious kinds of things that Hitler and Stalin were.  But that is not their real significance.

The real significance is that people who are genuine students of what World War II represented and was fought for see a trend in the mindsets of the people in which hatred and passion runs so high that they are willing to condemn and betray their fellow citizens.  The same hate-motivated and manipulative propaganda that many accepted as their voice in mid-20th century Europe has gained a popular currency in America.  One faction accuses another faction of trying to fleece the country as an "entitlement" society.  The propaganda focuses on public figures and portrays them as odious villains.  In South Dakota, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was defeated for re-election largely because her opponent accused her of being a close associate of Nancy Pelosi.  When pollsters asked anti-Pelosi zealots what Ms. Pelosi did that they objected to so vehemently, they could cite no specific political actions, but only that she was a leader in the Democratic party that her opponents unfailingly spoke of in terms of revilement.  It revealed that what was supplying much of the political energy was a hate-based furor over people of different classes and different ethnic backgrounds.  A seething racial hatred of Obama is a basis for a political appeal.  The vows to vanquish Obama are an appeal to those who want to vanquish people of his  race.

For a long time, Rush Limbaugh has been the voice for many Americans who are caught up attitudes of hatred and revilement.  Although, some try to dismiss his constant defamation as entertainment, the question is just who finds defamation entertaining?  His latest assault on Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student, cannot be any way dismissed as show business.  Limbaugh has served as a propagandist of the magnitude of Joseph Goebbels.  His disciples do not repeat his defamation as jokes but as political doctrine.  He is not what is significant.  His disciples, referred to as ditto heads, are.   

The evocation of Naziism and Stalinism does not have any credible correlations with political leaders.  It does have a direct correlation with the attitudes and trends among the people.  There is a faction of people who do not want to consider and acknowledge the problems and aspirations of other people and to work toward solutions and compromises.  They want to condemn, hate, and oppress.  The grammar they speak is governed by bigotry.  The human capacity for good will and beneficence cannot be dismissed, as it has guided America through its evolution toward human rights and respect.  However, neither can the capacity for hatred and oppression be dismissed.

We won World War II and led the world in a display of  good will and good works as we encouraged a defeated people to regroup and rebuild a society based on beneficence, not malice.  But malice has emerged again as a political force.  For those who understand the import of Naziism as a malignancy of the people, the use of the term draws parallels that are significant far beyond the juvenile name-calling of political campaigns.  An apprehension of history of Naziism among the people is a reference point for the political course of a nation.  Hatred and oppression are aspects of human nature.  They will dominate, if we let them.  


JohnSD said...

People conform and they don't like to risk. In our relative free, open society, most people won't speak publicly about local political and economic matters. I have always wondered how the holocaust could develop. Why reasonable people wouldn't say no. Stop way at the beginning. But if they won't speak up about tax breaks they don't like, or whatever, cause they're afraid of how it affects their business, I see now they certainly won't speak up if they think their family may actually be in more serious danger.

John said...

JohnSD wrote: "I have always wondered how the holocaust could develop." Then he identified what's key - never letting it take root; challenging it, calling it out at the earliest and every opportunity, and lastly, recognizing before the tsunami tipping point that its too late to change it so survival depends on getting out before its too late.

Read: "Defying Hitler" by Haffner (a US publishers horribly mis-titled translation of a German's diary).
(Review: )

Read: "I Shall Bear Witness . . ." by Klemperer.

For an American's take on it read the works of William Shirer, start with: "The Nightmare Years", or "Berlin Diary".
Modern "review" -

Bottom line: most people are sheeple.

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