Adolf Hitler

The Good War

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Historian Howard Zinn speaking in 2009. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Howard Zinn was a bombardier in World War II. He flew B-17 missions over Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. He didn’t like war, but he joined in the fight against Fascism because he believed this war was “a people’s war, a war against the unspeakable brutality of Fascism.” Unlike other wars, this war “was not for profit or empire”:

What could be more justifiable than a war against Fascism, which was ruthlessly crushing dissent at home, and taking over other countries, while proclaiming theories of racial supremacy and promoting a spirit of nationalist arrogance. When Japan, which was committing atrocities in China, allied itself to Italy and Germany, and then attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, it seemed to be clear—it was the democratic countries against the Fascist countries.[i]

Indeed, World War II is the national archetype of the good war, the just war, the war for democracy and liberty. US wars have been infused ever since with the heroic spirit of its just cause.

Based on his experience and then on his research as a professional historian, Zinn changed his mind about World War II and war in general. His reassessment is worth reflecting upon since, as he put the matter, World War II is the supreme test of whether there is such a thing as a just war.[ii] (more…)

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Populism and the Democratic Imagination

"The Demagogue," oil on canvas, by José Clemente Orozco, 1946. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“The Demagogue,” oil on canvas, by José Clemente Orozco, 1946. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Populism is the canary in the coal mine of American representative democracy.”

Robert Westbrook, “Populist Fever”[i]

John Lukacs, in his book on Democracy and Populism, ominously observes that Hitler was a populist and in some ways a democrat.[ii] Representative democracy, grounded in the political principles of liberalism, is one thing. Raw democracy is another. As Lukacs puts the matter: “Majority rule is tempered by the legal assurance of the rights of minorities, and of individual men and women. And when this temperance is weak, or unenforced, or unpopular, then democracy is nothing more (or else) than populism” (p. 5).

The populist “fever” is a political “fury,” an “outburst,” in Robert Westbrook’s words. George Packer, writing in the New Yorker, remarks on “the volatile nature of populism.” It is a rhetoric, he says, that can “ignite reform or reaction, idealism or scapegoating . . . . It speaks of a battle of good against evil, demanding simple answers to difficult problems.” Populism can take a “conspiratorial and apocalyptic bent,” Packer observes. It is “suspicious of the normal bargaining and compromise that constitute democratic governance.” The populist politician—whether Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump—presumes to “articulate what ordinary people feel.”

By this reckoning, Trump’s rhetorical volatility is the mark of his populist appeal, his demagoguery. (more…)

Hitler, Our Disciple

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

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. (more…)

The Spectre of Chaos

Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 16, 2001) -- A lone fire engine at the crime scene in Manhattan where the World Trade Center collapsed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Surrounding buildings were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Eric J. TIlford.

Ground Zero, New York City, N.Y. (Sept. 16, 2001) — A lone fire engine at the crime scene in Manhattan where the World Trade Center collapsed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Surrounding buildings were heavily damaged by the debris and massive force of the falling twin towers. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Eric J. TIlford.

Crises prompt politicians and pundits to draw deeply from the well of myth. The President turned to the biblical language of evildoers to make sense of the tragedy of 9/11. More recently, the Cold War language of falling dominoes and containment has resurfaced in the face of Russia’s sudden annexation of Crimea. It, too, is mythic at its core.

Indiana’s U.S. Senator Dan Coats, among others, speaks in Cold War terms (March 17, 2014). Hoosiers should care about what happens to Ukraine even though, he observes, it is 5,000 miles away, trade with it is miniscule, it has no energy resources or critical materials, it is a corrupt and unstable state, and only 30% of its population is religious.

Why should we care, then, asks the Senator? Because “conflicts grow from small beginnings,” as in the case of Hitler’s unchecked aggression and other incidents before and after World War II, when policymakers failed to draw the line. Disaster in Ukraine undermines European security and stability, which penetrates to the “permanent core” of U.S. strategic interests and threatens a chain reaction. (more…)