My daughter Grace recently emailed me an article that sent chills down my spine. Pointing out a long list of economic and political similarities, a writer named Robert Freeman argued that the United States could fall prey to the same kind of horror as Germany did back in the early nineteen hundreds. I am sure you have heard of the Weimar Republic, how people had to take wheelbarrows full of money to buy their groceries, and so on. And I know you have read of the subsequent rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party (photo at right) and the nightmare that was unleashed on an unready world.
Writing in CommonDreams.org, Freeman said:
In early 1919, Germany put in place a new government to begin rebuilding the country after its crushing defeat in World War I. But the right-wing forces that had led the country into the War and lost the War conspired even before it was over to destroy the new government, the “Weimar Republic.” They succeeded.
The U.S. faces a similar “Weimar Moment.” The devastating collapse of the economy after eight years of Republican rule has left the leadership, policies, and ideology of the right utterly discredited. But, as was the case with Germany in 1919, Republicans do not intend to allow the new government to succeed. They will do everything they can to undermine it. If they are successful, the U.S. may yet go the way of Weimar Germany.
The political situation in Germany before the rise of the Nazis was eerily similar to today’s America. Here is Freeman’s take on the matter:
Despite its shocking, naked failure over the prior decade, despite the horrific devastation it had wrought on the German people, despite the discrediting of everything they had purported to stand for, they would fight (the) new government, and its plans for recovery. They would do everything they could to make sure that the new government failed.
Their strategy was two-fold: first, stoke the resentment of the population about the calamitous state of its living conditions-no matter that those conditions had been created by the very right-wing oligarchs who now pretended to befriend the little guy. Rage is rage. It is glandular and unseeing. Once catalyzed it is easy to turn on any subject.
(You can read the article here: www.commondreams.org/view/2009/03/15)
But, thanks to a service called Truthout, I received an article today that made me think that perhaps the times are so different that the old dirty tricks used by fascists back then might not work today. That piece, written by Paul Waldman for The American Prospect, examines in depth the changing nature of American youth. Here’s an excerpt:
There is a shift taking place, and it’s one that the cleverest Republican strategists and most charismatic conservative politicians will be powerless to stop. Simply put, today’s young people have grown up in an environment far different from those their parents and grandparents experienced, and nearly all those changes will push them in a more progressive direction.
To paint with a broad brush for a moment: They know plenty of gay people, don’t find anything particularly notable about people of different races dating, and see the traditional family setup (a two-parent heterosexual couple in which Dad works outside the home and Mom doesn’t) as the exception rather than the rule. This may not be true for all of them, but it is true for enough of them that it has become their generational norm.
(You can read the article here: http://www.truthout.org/032009E)
You may recall my earlier blogs in which I pointed out how much Republican campaign tactics reflected Nazi propaganda precepts – tactics like the Big Lie, for example. I wondered whether a party leader (Karl Rove?) got hold of one of Goering’s strategy papers. Here’s a quote from the Nazi leader (pictured at left) that reminds me of those Dick Cheney interviews plaguing television these days:
Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.
But, mulling it all over, I am encouraged by the changes I have seen in my three-quarters of a century on this earth. One critical change is the ubiquity of information. With the spread of the Internet, the power brokers can no longer completely control the flow of information, They can dominate talk radio and cable news, but they cannot turn back the clock to the days of the Weimar Republic. We have come too far. The eyes of the millennial generation – in America and abroad – are wide open.
Propagandists can fool some of the people, but not all. And the younger, smarter, more informed people are growing in numbers and influence. There is hope for the world, after all.