A History Lesson Every American Should Know

Posted on August 28, 2017 by

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***The following post was authored by a professor of philosophy in North America that wishes to remain anonymous. 

They say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well, I have studied history books, and here’s a history lesson.

Several decades ago, a boorish man with no morals came to hold his country’s highest political office. Many people said he was too stupid to succeed. But he ran for office during a serious economic downturn, blamed the “system” for all of the nation’s ills, and claimed that only he could fix things, promising to make his country great again—to return it to its former glory. He ran on a white nationalist platform targeting immigrants, and openly instigated violence at his campaign rallies. Somehow, to everyone’s surprise, he was elected…without even winning a majority of his nation’s votes.

Although he had promised during his campaign to obey the constitution and rule of law, once in office every decision he made did exactly the opposite. The conservative elite was sure they could control and moderate him—but every time he did something extreme, he went further the next time. Over just a few months, he fired everyone in office who was “disloyal” to him, filling government posts, one after another, with people loyal to him and him alone, not the constitution. People began to say he should be removed from office, but the conservatives merely talked and did nothing. He was, after all, “their man” who promised to return the country to its traditional values.

Once he was in office, violence began in the streets. It began with fistfights…but then the bodies began to pile up. His followers, after all, were heavily armed. In response to the violence, he promised to reinstall law and order so that “children could play in the streets again.” Instead of condemning the white supremacist violence, he gave mixed messages—saying just enough to egg on even more violence but prevent himself from being removed from office. When a terrorist attack on the state capitol happened soon after, he declared martial law and nullified civil liberties.

At around the same time, this man manufactured an international military crisis, claiming another state was an existential threat to his country, even though that nation had never attacked his country. Despite all of this, the conservatives—and his nation’s citizens—did nothing. After all, the economy was suddenly doing well again…just as he had promised during his campaign.

Many people in country doubted he was a serious danger. Many excuses were made for his violent temper, unhinged speeches, and rhetoric. He would never do the things scaremongers warned about, people said.

This man went on to start a world war and exterminate millions of people. This man’s name was Adolf Hitler. The only thing that stopped this man from taking over the world was the fact that his scientists were unable to develop nuclear weapons.

Does this story sound dangerously familiar? It should. We must not wait until it is too late—not this time. Because, just like last time, too late may come far sooner than anyone expects…it may literally overnight, as it did with the “Night of the Long Knives”…well after the point that any of us can stop it.

God help us all. God help Americans have the courage live up to what we all should have learned from World War II: never again.

*****

But don’t take the history from me. Here are some passages from the 1991 book, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991):

“[Hitler] grasped, as no other German politician did, that the effect of…economic factors [of the Depression] on people’s lives…

In the early 1930s, millions of German men and women felt like the survivors of an earthquake starting to put their homes together again, only to see the fragile framework of their lives cracking and crumbling around them a second time. In such circumstances human beings lose their bearings and entertain extravagant fears and fantastic hopes.

This situation did not create Hitler, but…Hitler offered to millions of Germans a combination of the two things they most wanted to hear: total rejection of everything that had happened in Germany since the war, plus an equally unconditional promise to restore to a divided nation the lost sense of its own greatness and power. He swept together in a comprehensive condemnation…the Marxists who preached class war, internationalism, and pacifism; the permissive pluralist society …which mocked traditional values…and the Jews whom he portrayed as battening on corruption and profiting from Germany’s weakness.

Hitler proclaimed his faith in a renewal of Germany’s moral and political strength…At the same time Hitler was able to attract neoconservative intellectuals who rejected…flabby liberalism…He made an equally strong appeal to members of the former governing elites, bitter at their loss of position and influence…and to many of a younger generation, frustrated by lack of opportunities and the longing for a passionate commitment to the future. This…takes us to the heart of the Nazi phenomenon.

…[T]he Nazis differed from all the other parties in making the style of their campaigning more important than the content. To borrow a later phrase, in their case it was literally true that the medium was the message.Not only Hitler’s speeches but everything about a movement that dramatized politics as a mixture of theater and religion was aimed to appeal not to the rational but to the emotional faculties…

Hitler was well aware from the beginning…of the truth of this…It was entirely consistent with the character of such a movement for Hitler to refuse to be pinned down to specific policies and a program, leaving these to be decided when he had achieved power…This had the advantage not only of increasing his freedom to maneuver as opportunity offered, but also of making it possible for groups with very different and sometimes conflicting interests and views to project these on to the…movement, convincing themselves that in each case Hitler sought the same things they did.

Many of those among the conservative older generation who voted for the Nazis did so because they believed Hitler would restore the traditional values of the past. Others, especially the younger generation, voted for the Nazis because they saw them as free of the class-ridden image… …and [would] carry through a radical right-wing revolution.

Both could be described as “the moral and spiritual renewal of the nation”, and far from trying to resolve the contradiction, Hitler did his best to keep alive the expectations of both conservative and radical supporters. This was essential if he was to persuade enough Germans that here was a man and a movement capable of uniting the nation, relieving its fears, and pointing a way out of the mess in which it was stagnating…

Hitler’s skill lay in deliberately leaving an aura of uncertainty around his assurances of “legality”, so as to keep alive, on the one hand, the belief of the conservative elements…that he exercised a restraining influence on the party; and on the other, the belief of the radicals that his talk of “legality” was so much clever camouflage…

The economic crisis became a political crisis as well…

All the ills from which Germany was suffering were blamed on “the system”, showing how shallow were the roots of parliamentary democracy in Germany, and how deeply alienated from the republic were those groups whose privileges and position in society should have made them the strongest supporters of the state…

[L]ike all other opposition leaders…[Groener was convinced that] once in office, Hitler would prove amenable to “management,” [and] would be “tamed and held back from radical courses by his coalition partners…

[However], [t]he mistake by groups who controlled access to power was in underestimating not Hitler’s hostility to the democratic Weimar Republic…but the danger that he represented to the conservative…tradition they sought to restore. In the face of all the evidence supplied by the Nazi campaigns and organized violence, they failed to grasp the dynamic character of the movement Hitler had created, the lengths to which the man they looked on as an upstart demagogue was prepared to go to secure his objectives…

Here was the man Germany needed, with the courage to act, the Nazi press blared, the savior…Hitler declared himself to be the instrument of God, chosen to liberate Germany.

There was never any doubt that he would be beaten[but] Hitler’s determination turned defeat into a triumph…

The winter of 1931-32 was marked by an upsurge of violence…

Although Hitler constantly repeated his intention to observe “legality”, he had never made it a secret what he meant by it…

It took Hitler less than two months to show who had been right…”

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