Monday, May 21, 2012
Nazi Germany’s Example and the Future of America (Part 2)
In the first part of this essay last Friday, I briefly recounted the history of Nazi Germany’s final years and how Hitler’s government managed to stave off collapse well past the point where the world war became a hopeless quest by marshalling all of the resources still available to the nation. The takeaway is that even though the inevitability of eventual collapse may have been as apparent to any rational observer then as it should be in America today, when it comes to extending the status quo for as long as humanly possible, rationality usually finds itself locked out in the cold.
In part two, I would like to examine what life is like for an average citizen living under a regime that is beginning to see its delusions of grandeur crumbling into dust. Once again, we can look to Hitler’s Germany for clues as to what our own future may well hold. Many people with only a superficial grasp of Nazi Germany’s history seem to have the idea that Hitler simply took power, snapped his fingers, and unleashed the Holocaust. The reality, however, is far more complex. Though life for Germany’s Jews was certainly precarious once Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, their situation in fact only slowly deteriorated and it was not until 1942—more than two years after World War Two began—that the Final Solution became the official policy of the German government. In fact, by the time Reinhard Heydrich called the Wannsee Conference in January of that year, sealing their fate once and for all, the tide of war was already beginning to turn inexorably against the Nazis.
The lesson here is again fairly simple: governments become more repressive during times of national crisis, and that repression increases as the situation becomes more desperate. Looking back at some of the greatest assaults on individual liberties throughout American history—the Alien and Sedition Acts in the late 1790s, the suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, the imprisonment of antiwar protestors during World War I, the Palmer raids during the first wave of Red scares, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the McCarthy hearings early in the Cold War, the Kent State shootings when the Vietnam War had become a hopeless quagmire and waterboarding, rendition, and warrantless wiretapping during the “War” on Terror—shows that they all occurred at a time when America was either actively at war or feared it was about to be attacked.
What is even more illustrative than the Holocaust in the case of Nazi Germany is the repression the regime unleashed against many Aryan Germans once defeat became inevitable. The Nazi regime was built on terror, of course, and many communists, labor unionists, Social Democrats and others deemed “undesirable” were rounded up after Hitler’s ascension to power to be beaten and tortured in the first concentration camps. What is less well remembered is that after the regime had successfully placed its boot heel on the necks of the German populace, many of the concentration camp inmates were released, and by the late 1930s, only a relatively small number of Germans were still suffering “indefinite detention.”
The fact is, if you were a non-Nazi “Good German” during this time—law abiding, able bodied, willing to work and not too vociferous in your complaints about the nation’s leadership—the first seven years or so of Hitler’s rule must have seemed like a glorious time to be alive. Even after Hitler launched the war and chronic shortages of nearly every consumer good became endemic, for awhile you could at least take national pride in the seemingly never ending stream of German military successes. In fact, unless you were one of the unlucky souls slogging it out in the brutal combat of the eastern front, it was only after the defeat at Stalingrad and the appearance of American and Royal Air Force bombers overhead with relentless regularity that your quality of life really began to suffer.
The Nazi leadership was not blind to this importance of morale on the home front. Because one of the key memes used by Hitler during his rise to power was the so-called “stab in the back,” when the “traitors” supposedly turned on Kaiser Wilhelm at the end of World War One, the SS’s intelligence service was forever monitoring the mood of the population, determined to stamp out any such “insurrection” before it had a chance to threaten the regime. By 1944, an ill-advised casual joke told about Der Fuhrer overheard by the wrong person could result in its teller being swiftly bundled off to a concentration camp.
Worse still, by early 1945 when the Russian tanks were already closing in on Berlin, fervent Nazis took to the streets and began summarily hanging anyone they considered to be a “defeatist” or a “deserter.” One might view their actions in light of the looming total defeat as insanity, but they did ensure that the German people continued to at least passively accept the regime right up until the very moment when their own city or town was “liberated” by the Allies.
Just as many Nazis refused to accept the approaching reality that their nation had been totally defeated in war, most Americans today refuse to accept that our “way of life” is not only negotiable but in fact completely unsustainable and already unraveling. From this perspective, it is hard not to hear someone spout the idiotic phrase, “Drill, baby, drill” without thinking of how it in spirit resembles the “Horst Wessel Song.”
While it is hyperbolic to say that America is already an authoritarian regime, it is not too difficult to see where the trends of this past decade are heading. As our economic decline continues we can expect that there will be a corresponding increase in the curtailment of individual liberties. The supreme irony is that as growing energy restraints force the Pentagon to begin dismantling its overseas empire of military bases, political repression will likely be increasing here at home.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should expect to wake up one day and see a squadron of jackboots goose-stepping down your street. When overt repression finally comes to American streets and towns beyond putting down Occupy protests it will more likely be, as we are starting to see already, in the form of electronic monitoring, internal check points and surveillance drones, augmented by a healthy number of informants planted among the citizenry. Don’t be surprised if “hoarding” gets placed on the list of “subversive” activities, which is all the more reason preppers would be well advised to keep their activities as low key as possible.
The most amusing thing about many Americans’ messianic belief in our “exceptionalism” is the idea that this country is somehow different in behavior than any other nation-state or empire in world history despite all of the evidence to the contrary. As the reality of our predicament becomes more and more undeniable in the coming years, we’re about to find out that many of us have merely been “Good Germans” all along and that being so won’t save us from inclusion in the eventual Gotterdammerung.
Bonus: From my You Tube channel - A cool song about domestic spying (yes, really)