A few months before the second U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the German justice minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin compared the methods of then-president George W. Bush to those of Adolf Hitler: “Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler also used.”
The cries of indignation from the White House were strident. Ari Fleischer, Bush’s Press Secretary, commented: “The relations between the people of the United States and the people of Germany are very important to the American people. But this statement by the justice minister is outrageous and it is inexplicable.” (From the time of Shakespeare to the present day, it is useful to remember that when rulers or politicians “protest too much,” it is almost certain that something is being covered up.) German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder apologized to President Bush for the “impression” given by the statements of his justice minister.
An unstated premise of U.S. politics and the U.S. media is that comparisons with Hitler must be avoided, if not summarily condemned. Who is comparable to the Arch-Devil of history, responsible for the Holocaust and for millions of European deaths in violent conflicts? Certainly not us! And yet the irony is that Hitler himself would have been sympathetic to Daubler-Gmelin’s statement.
In his important book The Wages of Destruction (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), Adam Tooze writes that Hitler’s colonial wars in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union—in search of elusive Lebensraum (“living space”) for the German people—was inspired by the U.S. Indian Wars and the history of the American frontier.
In the autumn of 1941 Hitler returned repeatedly to the American example in discussing Germany’s future in the East. The Volga, he declared, would be Germany’s Mississippi. And the bloody conquest of the American West provided Germany with the historical warrant it needed to justify the clearance of the Slav population. (469).
Hitler is like that bastard child born of a slave mistress who was denied by American landowners as a legitimate descendant, but who still today haunts us with his declared heritage and his disturbing emulation of our wickedness. No wonder we suppress comparisons to him, when he insists so frankly on his kinship to us.
Hitler… wanted the land, not the native inhabitants. The purpose of the conquest was not the addition of non-German people. The population of the conquered territories would have to be removed.
We know that as a youth Hitler was a reader of Karl May’s Germanic Westerns. He was a car enthusiast and envied the “American domination of the motor vehicle industry.” He also enjoyed Hollywood films. But he learned best from our dark past:
A similar process will repeat itself for a second time as in the conquest of America. (9-10, 469)