July 01, 2008

Thinking Ahead (if you can, if you dare...)

[Please see the Update at the end.]

Scene: Berlin, 1932. Josef Schmoe and Other Funny Named Dude sit on a park bench, each reading a newspaper, each munching his mid-morning strudel. After a few moments, Josef speaks.

Josef Schmoe (gesturing at a story in his paper): So, I've been looking over the candidates for this election. I dunno about this guy. He looks like a bad one to me. Why, he might be another Hitler!

Other Funny Named Dude: (looks very puzzled for a moment or two) Um, another Hitler? Was there one before?

Josef Schmoe: What? What are you talking about, Other Funny Named Dude? I just mean he might be really, really dangerous. You know, another Hitler!

Other Funny Named Dude: (after a few moments of silence) Okay, look, I'm not trying to start an argument, Josef, but I don't get it. If there wasn't a Hitler before, how can he be another one?

Josef Schmoe: (beginning to yell) Why are you so stupid? Everyone knows what that expression means! He might...well, he might kill lots of people! He might send people off to prison camps or something! He might drag us into another war! Another war, can you believe it? Like our lives don't suck enough.

Other Funny Named Dude: Yeah, I know he said some crazy stuff in that book he wrote. At least, that's what someone told me. I don't bother reading stuff like that myself. This other guy, he told me that if I read some history and philosophy and other boring crap, like I'm going to do that, right, I might understand more about how dangerous our situation is right now. Yeah, it is pretty sucky, but I don't actually see that it's all that dangerous. I mean, here we are, sitting in the park, reading our papers, eating our strudel. How bad can it be? Besides, he probably doesn't mean any of those things he says. He just says them because he wants to get elected. That's what they all do.

Josef Schmoe: (through clenched teeth, his patience gone) Why do you refuse to understand? It is that dangerous. And it will be even more dangerous if this guy gets elected. Try to get this through your thick skull, Other Funny Named Dude: he might be another Hitler!

Other Funny Named Dude: But how --

Josef Schmoe: ANOTHER HITLER!! End of story. DAS ENDE. (Josef angrily rolls up his newspaper. For a moment, it appears he might hit Other Funny Named Dude with it. Finally, with a loud grunt of disgust, Josef stomps off down the path, deeper into the park.)

I am loath to state the obvious, but the vanishing mental faculties of most Americans appear to make it necessary. Let me put it in terms you might relate to: No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. No one expects a Hitler -- except for a very few people, and there were such people in Germany in the early 1930s, who study politics, culture and many other subjects with great care, and who understand "the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single events or developments." Monsters do not announce themselves as monsters in advance. Of necessity, they announce themselves in radically different terms.

If you want to read some actual history of Germany in the early 1930s, as opposed to the unforgivably inaccurate and distorted false history offered by certain leading progressive bloggers, please read Chris Floyd (and please ignore his wonderfully and foolishly overgenerous comments about me).

And here is some more actual history from the same period. From my essay, "Thus the World Was Lost," a few excerpts from Martin Mayer's book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45:
"Yes," said my colleague, shaking his head, "the 'excesses' and the 'radicals.' We all opposed them, very quietly. So your two 'little men' thought they must join, as good men, good Germans, even as good Christians, and when enough of them did they would be able to change the party. They would 'bore from within.' 'Big men' told themselves that, too, in the usual sincerity that required them only to abandon one little principle after another, to throw away, little by little, all that was good. I was one of those men.

"You know," he went on, "when men who understand what is happening--the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single events or developments--when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to. How many men would you say understand--in this sense--in America? And when, as the motion of history accelerates and those who don't understand are crazed by fear, as our people were, and made into a great 'patriotic' mob, will they understand then, when they did not before?

"We learned here--I say this freely--to give up trying to make them understand after, oh, the end of 1938, after the night of the synagogue burning and the things that followed it. Even before the war began, men who were teachers, men whose faith in teaching was their whole faith, gave up, seeing that there was no comprehension, no capacity left for comprehension, and the thing must go its course, taking first its victims, then its architects, and then the rest of us to destruction. ..."


"For the sake of argument," he said, "I will agree that I saved many lives later on. Yes."

"Which you could not have done if you had refused to take the oath in 1935."


"And you still think that you should not have taken the oath."


"I don't understand," I said.

"Perhaps not," he said, "but you must not forget that you are an American. I mean that, really. Americans have never known anything like this this experience--in its entirety, all the way to the end. That is the point."

"You must explain," I said.

"Of course I must explain. First of all, there is the problem of the lesser evil. Taking the oath was not so evil as being unable to help my friends later on would have been. But the evil of the oath was certain and immediate, and the helping of my friends was in the future and therefore uncertain. I had to commit a positive evil, there and then, in the hope of a possible good later on. The good outweighed the evil; but the good was only a hope, the evil was a fact."


"And it would have been better to have saved all three million, instead of only a hundred, or a thousand?"

"Of course."

"There, then, is my point. If I had refused to take the oath of fidelity, I would have saved all three millions."

"You are joking," I said.


"You don't mean to tell me that your refusal would have overthrown the regime in 1935?"


"Or that others would have followed your example?"


"I don't understand."

"You are an American," he said again, smiling. "I will explain. There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost."

"You are serious?" I said.

"Completely," he said. "These hundred lives I saved--or a thousand or ten as you will--what do they represent? A little something out of the whole terrible evil, when, if my faith had been strong enough in 1935, I could have prevented the whole evil."
[If you've been following along, this is obviously a partial response to some commentary and emails I've seen about this earlier post.]

UPDATE: I've decided to take pity on some readers and other bloggers. I was going to let them flail around and make fools of themselves for another day or two, but I will answer the question that appears to be troubling them so deeply that it deprives them of sleep, renders them devoid of appetites of every kind, and makes them unfit for all human company.

"But, Arthur," I am asked repeatedly, "do you really think Obama is another Hitler? Obama a Hitler? Arthur, have you gone completely insane? Are you on drugs? What is wrong with you?"

Nothing whatsoever is wrong with me. Forgive my rudeness, if you can, but the basic problem is that some of you haven't learned certain rudiments of reading and thinking. As I have indicated, I will have much more on the general topic of the Obama "movement" in the future, but here is my answer in brief.

No need for straitjackets. NO, I do NOT think Obama is Hitler reincarnated. I must note, however, that his full embrace of the U.S.'s truly insane foreign policy of aggressive, non-defensive war is not precisely unHitlerian, just as his full embrace of corporatism bears a rather disturbing resemblance to aspects of Hitler's political program. But the same could be said of every major American politician.

With regard to Obama in particular, what I have been getting at are very broad cultural and political dynamics, general patterns that repeat throughout history, assuming one studies and understands history. So, no, Obama is not a Hitler duplicate, but, to a readily noticeable and troubling extent, he is someone riding a similar kind of cultural wave and response, and he may well use an already existing authoritarian-surveillance state that repeatedly engages in aggressive war to wreak great destruction both at home and abroad. The unthinking, unquestioning idolatry heaped on Obama by many of his followers only increases the danger; as I have stated, this additional factor is a very significant one to me.

I realize that readers come and go, and that many recent visitors have not read most of my earlier essays. But if you look through the archives for just the last two or three months, you will find many articles that explain all of these issues in considerable detail. I have no intention of repeating my full arguments here, as I have explained them at some length. (People complain that my essays are too long, and then they criticize me for saying things I have never said and intending conclusions I have never intended. Sometimes, you just can't win.)

I'll leave it there for now. Yes, I am extremely irritated by much of the discussion about these recent posts. It appears I've been writing in a language that only five other people understand. Either I'm a much more terrible writer than I ever suspected (please don't feel an overwhelming need to write to tell me how true that is), or a lot of you are much poorer at analytic thinking than I ever believed, or would prefer to believe.

I think I'll take a day or two off. If I decide my skills as a writer are not altogether abysmal, I'll be back toward the end of the week.