“Don’t know much about the Middle Ages, looked at the pictures and I turned the pages…”
For Time at its work’ll go round in a circle,
And what is befalling, befell.
This is a long read, but I felt it was worth re~posting in its entirety. A good read if you have the time!
History is more than a chronology of events, persons, and places. Real history is more or less a kind of social algebra, in which the relationships of persons to places and events can be ordered chronologically. Viewed in this way, various aspects of history can be seen to be almost cyclic. Taking a larger view of history, certain event trends seem to repeat throughout history, producing similar results and wreaking similar havoc.
In 1964, Dr. Eric Berne published his very popular book “Games People Play” in which he used transactional analysis to analyze various aspects of human relations. If you’re wondering what this has to do with history, read on. In Dr. Berne’s book, one of the games I remember best is the game he called “Let’s You and Him Fight”. As it is described in Dr. Berne’s book, the game adopts one of three scenarios, but all three share the common first gambit of a desirable prize either actively maneuvering or being used as a token in order to maneuver two other parties into conflict. In the scenario postulated by Dr. Berne, the desirable prize is a woman who maneuvers to men into fighting with each other for her favors by means of an active or tacit promise to surrender herself to the victor. Seen for what it is, this game is a game of control. As originally postulated, the woman actually controls the game, from beginning to end. The game may be played honestly, in which case the woman actually does surrender to the victor, and, presumably, they live happily ever after. In the two dishonest scenarios postulated by Dr. Berne, the endgame is called either “Kiss off”, or war, usually carried out in the criminal or divorce courts. Dr. Berne does not say as much, but the only ways to win this game, from the point of view of its intended victims, is either not to play at all, or to join forces with one’s intended opponent to turn the “Kiss off” gambit on the game’s initiator. Now, what has all this to do with politics and history?
The opening gambit of the historical version of this game is the announcement of a situation with which one or more groups of people ought to be unhappy. This is equivalent to the unstated social gambit which says, more or less, “neither of you has enough of a woman’s company, especially not mine”. At this point, it is unstated but heavily implied that satisfaction is to be had, but only for one. In the political arena, it has been the tactic of almost every megalomaniac to point out in no uncertain terms the unsatisfactory social situation in which a certain group of people finds itself. Frequently, the unsatisfactory situation is of the game initiator’s own fabrication, but it is necessary that the unsatisfactory situation be outside the control of the group or groups the initiator wishes to involve in this game. It is very useful, in the game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight, if at least one of the groups who will contend for the favors of the game’s initiator comprises a majority of the electorate, since the counters in this game are votes. If the initiator can’t get that much, the groups from among which the initiator will choose the designated winner should individually outnumber the designated loser group by a substantial margin. Historically, it has been very useful to play upon the suspicions and mutual antipathy of various groups toward each other. We will use the case of Nazi Germany and the political strategy and tactics of Adolf Hitler to illustrate the case.
At the end of World War I, defeated Germany was saddled by the French and British with the Treaty of Versailles. In passing, it is worth noting that the socialist Woodrow Wilson considered the Treaty of Versailles to be so onerous and vengeful a burden on Germany that he recommended against its ratification by the United States (as a result of which November 11 was celebrated as Armistice Day in the United States between 1919 and 1954, when the holiday was renamed Veterans Day). Predictably, the financial burdens imposed on Germany, combined with the industrial restrictions and frank industrial looting carried out by the French made it impossible for Germany to make the cash reparations which had been required of it under the treaty. Moreover, Germany’s demilitarization imposed the condition on Germany which Germany’s people were unlikely to be disposed to accept. Germany’s response to France’s financial demands was simply to print as much cash as she needed to meet the French demands, as a result of which the value of German currency diminished to nearly nothing. Once again, in passing, this points to the historical lesson that although the government may control the amount of paper currency in circulation, it is the nation’s industry which governs its worth, a fact the United States Congress would do well to remember. Devaluation of the currency is the most insidious form of taxation that a government can impose upon its people, because devaluation happens in secret and without the overt participation of the legislature, thus allowing legislators individually and collectively to escape blame for its results. The currency of a nation has absolutely no meaning except as a token of purchasing power, and devaluation of the currency is equivalent to diminution, not to say outright theft, of its purchasing power.
At approximately the same time that the Deutschmark was being printed in such vast quantities, the economy of the United States went into a very severe depression as a result of the unrestricted use of credit to purchase securities on “margin”, which, in those days, meant the use of the paper profits of a transaction as the equivalent of cash. When the inevitable margin call came, some of the securities did not realize the paper profits with which additional securities had been purchased, with the inevitable result that very large numbers of those who had traded on their margin credit were unable to meet their cash requirements. The paper profits of the stock market evaporated, taking with them the cash reserves of small and medium-size traders, and many large traders into the bargain. This situation should have a familiar ring to it, inasmuch as it has just happened again, this time with the active connivance of two congressional creatures, who packaged thousands of worthless mortgages mandated by congressional legislation and sold them as mortgage-backed securities.
With Germany’s largest trading partner in economic collapse, the pressure on Germany’s industry was insupportable; Germany’s economy collapsed as did the economies of the rest of Western Europe. It is difficult to say whether the plight of working people (which would include all but the very wealthiest, who were themselves greatly afflicted by the collapse of the currency on which their wealth was based) was worse in the United States or Germany. Germany’s central government, which was an innovation in a nation which had been an imperium for almost a century, and a series of hole and corner petty principalities, kingdoms and duchies before that, was wholly unequal to the financial crisis that it had created. Out of this miasma arose a series of political figures, all of whom promised that Germany would recover her former wealth and prestige if only the nation would follow some proposed program (note, at this point, that the components of the salvation program were simply the objects of allusion – like those of a certain Chicago ward-heeler 75 years later, no such program existed, except in rhetoric). Popular dissatisfaction with the inept and corrupt Weimar Republic provided a background of general popular discontent against which the bankruptcy of the German state and the destitution of her population could be used to political advantage. Thus, the first component of “Historical Let’s You and Him Fight” is in place: popular dissatisfaction with the present situation, together with a promise of satisfaction for a limited group of people.
2. Statement of Causes for Dissatisfaction.
A crisis is useless unless people know it exists, an assertion with which, I’m certain, Rahm Emanuel would agree (“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” and “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview on Sunday. “They are opportunities to do big things.”). Mr. Emanuel left unsaid the fact that almost anything can be made into a crisis in the popular mind with the right amount of hyperbolic political exploitation, press support, and absence of scruple.
The first step in our strategy, therefore, must be the assertion that there is actual cause for dissatisfaction and actual dissatisfaction exists. In Germany, it was abundantly obvious that the staggering devaluation of the currency was cause for desperate dissatisfaction. The currency’s value was decreasing so rapidly that workers paid in cash found that their wages had less than half their nominal value in less than half a day. Needless to say, anyone who work for wages or salary was seriously dissatisfied with the situation, not to say starving. There is no crisis so emergent, however, that a demagogue cannot make it seem worse, which is exactly what the various political factions in Germany proceeded to do, the Socialist Workers Party being one of the most vocal. Dissatisfaction is useless, however, unless it can be focused and directed. The Socialist Workers Party lacked the ability to do that until their meetings were hijacked by a talentless and unemployed Austrian postcard painter and his gang of street rowdies and thugs. However meager his artistic talents, his rhetorical ability was without rival, and however slim his grasp of history, he was possessed of an abundance of rat-like cunning, and an ability to inspire unthinking, unquestioning and absolute loyalty. He quickly singled out a group of Germans who were more prosperous than average, typically better educated, and who had, by dint of historical necessity, isolated themselves as a group. He observed that members of this group of people were relatively easy to identify, and selected them as his first target. Obviously, this group of people were the German Jews (many of whom had fought loyally for Germany in the First World War; Fritz Haber, the eminent chemist, had invented the Haber process for the production of chlorine which Germany used as a war gas in the First World War; many of Germany’s most eminent scientists were Jews — a fact that played into Hitler’s hands, inasmuch as it displayed what Hitler described as a cabal).
Antipathy toward Jews was, and to some extent remains, a very widespread characteristic of the populations of a very large portion of the world and especially Central and Western Europe. This antipathy takes many forms, ranging from very heavy-handed hazing through government-sponsored pogroms. It has a long and disgraceful history, based primarily on religious antipathy and sponsored by the papacy and Martin Luther, among others. Our purpose, however, is not to condemn these abominable acts, but rather to explain how easily a target group can be selected. The characteristics of the target group must include ready identification (Orthodox Jews are, of course, easily identified by their dress; the less orthodox can be identified by their observances or absence from other observances). The target group (designated loser) must appear to prosper during hard economic times, or, at very least the group must appear to be less affected by economic hard times than the majority of the population. The target group should be willing to isolate itself, and the self-isolating behavior and relative clannishness of Jewish populations as well known. If it’s possible, the target group should reside in an identifiable area, as many European Jews did. Being thus identifiable, and exhibiting the characteristics of clannishness, comparative immunity to economic stress, and having a background that includes being the targets of widely-practiced violence, the Jews were an ideal target for the next step in our game.
3. Isolation of the Target Group
Having identified a designated loser, the next step is a little tricky, as Steve McQueen said, and it amounts to a fairly radical departure from the classical maneuvers of Let’s You and Him Fight. Classically, the opponents in Let’s You and Him Fight should be more or less evenly matched so as to be more or less equally acceptable to the prize. Politically, however, it is usually unacceptable to have to choose among several desirable alternatives, so the instigator of our game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight will pick one of the contenders to be the designated winner and the remainder to be losers in varying degrees, the target group being designated to come in last. The tactics are simple and brutal. The target group is characterized as having all of the characteristics that the designated winner desires, but that the target group has come by them dishonestly and at the expense of the designated winner. Thus, German Jews were characterized as being dishonestly affluent, educated in the ways of financial trickery, and being members of a larger international conspiracy to “rule the world”. Finally, the Jews were said to be willing to form cabals to take advantage of “true Germans”, and this is the tricky part. In order for a despicable someone to take advantage of a virtuous someone else, this someone else must needs be less clever, less able, less intelligent, and generally so thick that it is easy for the designated loser group, who will be characterized as conniving, stupid, thieving, morally bankrupt and socially unacceptable, to take advantage of the genial, unsuspecting, good hearted (and thick) designated winner. Needless to say, the instigator of our little game holds both groups in deepest contempt, but finds one of them more useful than the other. The trick is to select the designated winner carefully enough that the designated winner cannot discern the contempt until it’s too late. Generally, this is accomplished by flattering the designated winner while vilifying the designated loser. It is not sufficient merely to vilify the designated loser. In the process of vilification, the instigator should emphasize the differences between the designated winner and the designated loser, with emphasis on the virtue of the designated winner and the villainy of the designated loser. At some time, the weak-minded among the designated winner group will take up the cry and make it possible for the instigator to withdraw from active participation in the fray and stand by to watch with glee while the designated loser is pummeled.
This is exactly what Hitler did. His rhetoric, never mild toward the Jews, at first focused on the twin themes of dissatisfaction with the political and financial situation in Germany, the necessity for all “true Germans” to be dissatisfied with both, and the ability of his party to do something about it. That Hitler was Austrian didn’t even enter the question (this, too, has a familiar ring, 75 years later). His party (re-born as the National Socialist GERMAN Workers’ Party) was the party of “true Germans”, and it offered change, the kind of change was unspecified, what would change was unspecified, but it was change, and the German electorate equated change with improvement. After all, things couldn’t get much worse, could they?
In order to make this game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight work, there must be another designated loser in the game: the present government. The Weimar government was a distinctly unlikable entity; unlikable, firstly, because it was a government imposed on Germany by the victorious Allies who demanded, at the same time, the destruction of the German Imperial Government and the abdication of the Kaiser; unlikable, secondly, because it was inept, corrupt, and thoughtless for the consequences of its actions. Although the Kaiser was not an especially popular figure, his enforced departure was just one more piece of humiliation enforced on Germany by the victorious Allies. The resulting popular resentment of the Weimar government was predictable. It never occurred to the Allied signatories of the Treaty of Versailles how useful their humiliation of Germany would prove to unscrupulous politicians (cf. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address).
At first, the process of isolation consists of fanning the flames of discontent, or igniting them if they aren’t already burning. In Germany, in the early 1930s, discontent was far too mild a term to apply to the attitudes of a very large number of peasant and working-class Germans: desperation was more apt. Bread lines and bread riots were common, as the German economy attempted to absorb the soldiers of Germany’s mostly disbanded army into in an industrial base plundered by the French. National service in the Army had been a solution for unemployment under the Kaiser, but with the German army limited to 100,000 men, that solution had been removed. As a result, large numbers of returning combat-ready infantrymen had far too much time on their hands, and very little cash in their pockets. Many of them had absorbed the myth of Germany’s betrayal from within, and were casting about for suitable scapegoats. The Weimar government was a suitable target at first, but as events progressed, a less-nebulous target was necessary. It was necessary to provide a scapegoat on whose horns the red ribbons could be tied, and which could be driven from within the city walls with blows, and kicks, curses and abuse, bearing the sins of the people. Enter the scapegoat Jew.
By 1933, Hitler’s anti-Jewish rhetoric had had almost 10 years to work on the public. Ably assisted by the German press, most notably the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi party zone propaganda rag, Hitler and his henchmen had succeeded in converting what had been a more or less passive popular antipathy toward Jews into a frenzied hatred. By 1930, it was widely held that international Judaism had conspired with German Jewry to bring about Germany’s defeat in World War I, the German economic collapse of the 1920s and early 1930s, and pretty much every other misfortune suffered by Germany and the German people since the Franco-Prussian war. So persuasive was German anti-Jewish propaganda that its influence extended well outside Germany, and is alive and well in many nations even today. It is at this point that the game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight comes to an end, and a new and much more virulent game begins, a game for which Dr. Berne has no name.
All of the contributions of Germany’s Jews to German culture, German scholarship, German industry, German philosophy and German government were swept under the carpet or attributed to someone else. Germany’s Jewish scholars, including Einstein, and a large contingent of her best scientists, were allowed to emigrate. Jews of means or wealth were robbed and dispossessed, sometimes killed, and sometimes allowed to emigrate. Books by Jewish authors, music by Jewish composers, learning from Jews, teaching by Jews, employment of or for Jews, all were forbidden. Those without means, and those who held firm to their belief that Germany would never treat her citizens so were in for a rude shock. The Nuremberg laws, proposed not in the Reichstag but, rather, at a Nazi party meeting in Nuremberg in 1933, stripped German Jewry of her citizenship, imposed stringent restrictions on Jewish commerce and businessmen, adopted quack pseudoscience as the basis for eugenic laws, and laid the groundwork for the systematic slaughter of German Jews and other “undesirables”, such as homosexuals, the mentally disabled, the halt and the lame, and those whose political views did not coincide with Nazism.
To synopsize the game and its progress up to now, we began with the political premise that something was wrong. The symptoms of that condition were that the economy was failing, people were losing their homes, their life savings, their jobs, and everything they owned, in some cases not sparing even their lives. The second premise in our syllogism was that change could improve the situation. Logically, then, changes must be made. This syllogism is the basis for our game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight. You will recall that our game requires that two groups be brought into opposition to contend for the approval of the change agent. Only one can have that approval. The other, the designated loser, must bear the blame for having brought about the condition or set of conditions that beset the population. In Germany, it was particularly convenient that a scapegoat was ready to hand. Identified, the red ribbons of popular sin and shame tied about their invisible horns, the scapegoats were subjected to a new round of systematic destitution, abuse, and murder. Having thus contended for the approval of the agent of change, in an honest game, the designated loser would be told to kiss off. In Historical Let’s You and Him Fight, the endgame is war.
The game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight works so well that it is a staple of recent politics in the United States. Its most recent incarnation, if you haven’t already deduced it, is the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States. Let’s see how it worked, and then we can see how the game has been played again and again during the first six months of the Obama administration.
The slogan of the Obama political campaign was “change we can believe in”. At the end of the Bush administration, it was very plain that the United States was headed for difficult economic times. Fraud in the securities business, particularly in derivative securities such as the mortgage-backed securities sold by Congress’ creatures Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, led to the collapse of several large financial houses, insurance firms, and banks. This led to the disappearance of hundreds of billions of dollars of real wealth, as the collapse of these entities dragged down the value of stocks and shares generally.
Popular dissatisfaction was real, but it was not based on any of the actual woes of the nation. Popular dissatisfaction focused on the previous president, George W. Bush, largely because it is easier to blame a single man than a group of people such as the United States Congress. Mr. Obama began to seek villains, and group by group, they began to play into his hands. The first group were the senior executives of large financial houses such as Merrill Lynch. These firms were heavily invested in the derivatives market, and had bought hundreds of millions of dollars of mortgage-backed derivatives sold by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, believing these entities to be well-managed and backed by the United States government. In fact, these entities, in spite of their testimony before the United States Congress, were comprehensively mismanaged and among the most thoroughgoing fraudfeasors of recent times, thoroughly exceeding the better-known fraud of Bernie Madoff. The senior executives of these large financial houses had compensation contracts which called for lump-sum payments which were called “bonuses”, but which were, in fact, retention payments. The purpose of these payments was to ensure that the senior executives would continue their employment with their current employers, rather than to reward successful performance of their duties. In almost all cases, successful performance of the duties of the senior executives would have included a comprehensive investigation of the mortgage-backed securities which made up a large portion of their internal portfolios, and an even larger portion of many of the funds they administered on behalf of their investors.
Mr. Obama pointed to these large lump-sum payments, and being the socialist he is, advanced the argument that these executives had no right to prosper when so much of the United States was suffering economic stress, never mind what their employment contracts provided. Mr. Obama and the Congress then proceeded to play a game of “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch” (http://www.ericberne.com/games/games_people_play_NIGYSOB.htm) The executives themselves, negligent of their duties, were also hopelessly inept at public relations, and rather than forgo their retention payments, accepted them, almost to a man. The recipients of the soon-to-be-forthcoming largesse of the Congress ensured lack of protest at their own excoriation, and played their own little game of “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?”, by holding lavish end-of-year parties. Six months before he was elected, his election was all but certain, as the darling of the press, the master of the set-piece speech, and a wholly-contrived reputation as a man of the people. His logic implied that the failure of the large financial houses, and the resulting enormous losses by investors in their mortgage-backed funds was wholly the fault of these heavily-rewarded financial executives and the previous administration. He implied that the large lump-sum retention payments, or “bonuses” as he called them, were paid in spite of the failure of the financial institutions, and not as a matter of contract. Mr. Obama had picked his first designated loser, and the game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight Was on. The second step was easy, because it involved choosing stooges to fight his fight for him. The first set of volunteers were the members of the press, by whom Mr. Obama was already largely and uncritically adored. The second, and more predictable, set of stooges were the congressional majority, who sought to curry favor with the winning political side. The congressional majority, not excepting those members who were actually responsible for the oversight of the Congressional creatures Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, took up the cry and proceeded to excoriate all senior financial executives, even calling some by name. The press, and the majority in Congress hastily put together legislation to appropriate tens of billions of dollars to rescue the financial houses. This original “bailout” legislation involving, as it does, the appropriation of unimaginably large sums of money, must be a congressional creation (“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills”; the Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 7; bills for expenditure originate in the Senate). Never one to miss an opportunity to diverge blame from his stooges and place it where it does not belong, Mr. Obama blamed Mr. Bush for this legislation. To be sure, the legislation did originate on Mr. Bush’s watch, but to suggest that Mr. Bush was single-handedly responsible for the origination of this legislation or its enactment ignores the fact that Mr. Bush was a lame duck president whose wishes the Congress were eager to ignore. Were that not enough, even if Mr. Bush had made that legislation his heart’s desire, he could never enact it by himself. The legislation was passed in haste, and the authority to disburse the funds thus appropriated was given to Mr. Paulsen, the spendthrift secretary of the treasury hired as a sop to political expediency. The legislation incorporated no means or requirement of keeping record of the amounts and recipients of the expenditures, and Mr. Paulsen was left to determine the methods and beneficiaries as he saw fit. Predictably, the money disappeared and, although I’m certain some record of its recipients and the amounts they received exists somewhere, it is not available to the public. Congress sees no reason to be accountable to its constituency.
The financial situation, including the actual disappearance of large sums of money through both the discovery of the fraud of mortgage-backed securities, and congressional and treasury ineptitude, whipped the public to a frenzy. “Change we can believe in”, a slogan which promised nothing but difference, swept Mr. Obama to office. As a measure of the credulity of the American people, and likening them to the German people 70 years previously, very few bothered to ask what would change, how it would change, and why it would change. Superficially, it appeared that the change would all be done at the expense of financial executives, banks (which, by this time, had discovered the worthlessness of large parts of their own mortgage portfolios), bank executives and the finance business sector as a whole. In point of fact, the change that was necessary remains necessary, and it must be made by the Congress with the repeal of some of its own laws and the demolition of some of its own creations, but that is for another time.
In Germany, after Hitler’s unification of the political power of the nation in his own hands, his secret police sought out the disaffected, the dissident, those with moral scruples and those who, in general, disagreed with the Nazi party as embodied in his person. In a further alarming parallel between Mr. Obama’s administration and that of Adolf Hitler, we have this from the White House website:
“There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com.”
The most common source of denunciation of disaffected Germans was the family of the disaffected person. Here, at the behest of Mr. Obama himself, we are requested to become a nation of informers, contributors to a collection whose purpose is not specified. Since control of the police power of the nation resides in the executive branch (ask yourself who controls the appointment of the director of the FBI, the secretary of the treasury, who controls the Secret Service, the director of central intelligence, or any of the other directors of the various national police forces), it requires no great leap to imagine the uses to which this information might be put (and, indeed, the less dim-witted in the Senate have twigged to the possibilities already). The need for circumspection seems even greater in light of the recent coercive tactics of the executive branch as evidenced by these quotations from letters to the governor of Arizona, after criticism of the effect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by Senator Kyl (R, AZ):
Letter from Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation:
“On Sunday, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl publicly questioned whether the stimulus is working and stated that he wants to cancel projects that aren’t presently underway. I believe the stimulus has been very effective in creating job opportunities throughout the country. However, if you prefer to forfeit the money we are making available to your state, as Senator Kyl suggests, please let me know …” [cetera desunt]
Letter from Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior:
“Some key Republican leaders in Congress have publicly questioned whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is working and suggested cancelling all projects that are not currently in progress. I believe they are wrong. The stimulus funds provided through the Recovery Act are a very effective way to create job opportunities throughout the Country. However, if you prefer to forfeit the money we are making available to Arizona, please let me know.” [cetera desunt]
Both of these tactics are taken directly from the Nazi party playbook from the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, and all three quotations indicate the absolute and unquestionable desire of the Obama administration to coerce obedience from the population of the United States, disaffected members of Congress, and anyone else who disagrees with it. One writer has described these tactics as “Chicago-style politics”, which, of course, they certainly are. They are, however, much more than local in their nature, and as a result deserve to be compared not to local political practices, but national political practices. Moreover, if we are to attempt to predict the outcome of these practices, we must resort to the historical record and attempt to make the best comparison we can. The most obvious comparison, and the one which comports best with today’s facts, is the comparison to Hitler in Germany, the tactics that he used to gain office, his consolidation of power in his own hands, and his flagrant attempts to divide, intimidate, suborn, or otherwise eliminate any opposition to his will. In this, Mr. Obama is distinctly different from President Lincoln, whom he claims so much to admire.
A final comparison: other writers have noticed the similarity of the historical record to present events in the United States, and have compared the Obama administration with that of Adolf Hitler. Inevitably, when these comparisons are made, the race baiters emerge from the woodwork and claim that any objection to Mr. Obama’s policies are based on racial bigotry. As in Germany in the 1930s, so again in the United States in 2009. Hitler’s internal adversaries were branded Bolsheviks, Jews, and/or criminals. Mr. Obama’s adversaries are branded racists, “haters”, and criminals. One can only hope that it does not occur to Mr. Obama to make use of the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, and the other national police forces that report to him to suppress dissent in the population of the United States, although, based on his behavior up to now, that suppression will not be long in coming.
6. The “true believers”.
One of the greatest impediments to discussion is for one of the parties to discussion to become married to his own ideas. My mediation classes and my mediation practice thereafter devoted much time to attempts to open the minds of the contending parties to possibilities for resolution other than their own. The purpose of mediation, of course, is to bring contending parties into voluntary agreement, on the theory that a voluntary agreement, reached in a reasonable way by reasoning parties, is much more likely to be performed in spirit and in fact than is any imposed solution. Of course, there are times when only an imposed solution will answer the needs of the situation, but among parties of approximately equal bargaining power a voluntary agreement is much more palatable. Not so to the “true believer”. For a “true believer”, any point of view other than the official one is wrong, any solution to any problem which diverges, even minutely, from the official resolution is traitorous.
In Germany, beginning in the 1930s, children were taught unreasoning, unquestioning, and absolute obedience to Adolf Hitler. Even the oath of the German Armed Forces was changed from an oath to support and defend the German nation to an oath of personal obedience to Adolf Hitler. Very few protested (by this time, it was far too dangerous — even one’s own family might betray one’s sentiments to the Gestapo). In a recent development, Mr. Obama and his staff at the White House have begun to solicit the names of those who disagree and spread “disinformation” about his health care plan (vide supra); the purpose is unstated, but the threat is abundantly clear.
Anyone who has observed any of the existing film of the party rallies in the 1920s and 1930s will have remarked on the wild adulation of the hordes who attended these rallies; the frenzied shouts of “Sieg Heil!”, and “Heil Hitler!”. The cult of personality extended even into the daily greeting, much as it had during the Reign of Terror, when the true believers greeted each other with and forced and egalitarian “good day, citizen”. Similarly, the old-fashioned courtesy of greetings in late 19th century Russia (good day, Mr. So-and-so) was replaced, after the glorious September Revolution, first with “good day, party comrade”, and then “good day, comrade”, as more and more sought to be politically correct in a land where it was dangerous not to be. More recently, political correctness has invaded the English language in the United States and has sought to replace descriptive terms with deceptive euphemisms, allowing the politically correct to avoid a direct look at the subject they address.
More recently, and since his accession to the presidency, Mr. Obama has been treated with the same adulation by many of the people who have met him, and it seems to agree with him. Compare the adoring looks on the faces of the “true believers” who meet Mr. Obama with the adoring looks on the faces of the “true believers” who met Adolf Hitler. These rapturous looks formerly were reserved for encounters with the Deity Himself, or manifestations of the most sublime products of human intellect, talent, and endeavor. To use such expressions with persons was considered to be sycophantic; so it was, and so it is. Compare, too, the unabashedly flattering and syrupy sycophantic language used to address Hitler, with that used to address Mr. Obama. The true believer of Hitler’s Germany assiduously ignored any flaws in the situation in Germany under Adolf Hitler, any warts or wrinkles on German leadership, especially the high leadership of the Nazi party, and anything which would have put a crack in the walls of National Socialist Valhalla or a blemish on the face of the Aryan superman. The typical true believer among Mr. Obama’s adherents greets Mr. Obama with the same fawning adulation that was accorded Adolf Hitler; the true believer ignores the obvious dictatorial tendencies that Mr. Obama exhibits. The true believer ignores even the divisive nature of the most common defense of Mr. Obama’s policies, best expressed in the phrase “you just hate him because he’s black”. Never let it be said that criticism of Mr. Obama’s policies depends on his race, that it would be so regardless of his race; besides, Mr. Obama has three to choose from and has chosen the one which will garner him the largest and most vocal voting bloc. As it was in Germany in the 1930s, so it is in the United States in 2009. The modern equivalent of the epithets “Bolshevik!”, and “Jew!”, are “racist!”, “hater!”, and “criminal!”. It was not a crime for Mr. Obama to disagree vehemently, insultingly, and untruthfully with the policies of the previous administration; it was not a crime for Mr. Obama to revile a sitting president; it was not a crime for Adolf Hitler to describe Field Marshal Hindenburg in terms that do not bear repetition in these pages; and it was not a crime for Adolf Hitler to disagree vehemently, and violently, with the policies of the Weimar Republic. It was a crime, in the Germany of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s to cast even the mildest aspersion on Adolf Hitler personally, the Nazi party, and all of its apparatus. It appears to be a crime, nowadays, to express any doubt about the efficacy of legislation proposed by the Obama administration or its congressional stooges, even before its election, and Mr. Obama seems ready to employ a system of informers and perhaps the national Gestapo to suppress any dissent or opposition. The well-known and exceptionally dangerous REAL ID program would play into Mr. Obama’s hands for such enforcement.
Among the people who knew ardent Nazis well (and I am one of them), one of the very most frequent observations is the absolutely ordinary nature of the most devoted, ruthless, and murderous of Hitler’s followers. Those who knew Reinhart Heydrich remarked that he was an excellent musician, a devoted father, and generally likable. Those who experienced his brand of government were lucky to survive it, and some who did bear the marks of their encounters to this day. Those who knew Hermann Göring commented on his affability and generally jovial nature. That he was brave, at least at one time, cannot reasonably be questioned: he held the Pour Le Merité, Germany’s highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy, and he succeeded Baron Manfred von Richthofen in command of Jagdgeschwader 1, the famous Flying Circus. Those who knew him better knew that in spite of his affable nature, he was a thief, a drug addict, and bon viveur. Adolf Eichmann, the bureaucrat of the Final Solution, was a paper pusher whose ability to organize train transportation for the Hitlerian extermination camps exceeded that of the military, for whom they were much more necessary. Even Himmler was a man of no physical courage, little intellect, superior cunning and superlative superstition. That it was possible for people of such apparently ordinary or mediocre nature to carry out the kinds of acts perpetrated on the prisoners of the third Reich defies logic. That it was possible for a nation that produced Brahms, Mendelssohn, Einstein, Planck, Euler, and many other luminaries of art, literature, and science to produce Otto Ohlendorf, the utterly ordinary Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and others of their striped cannot but amaze.
One of the most notable characteristics of the people with whom Mr. Obama has surrounded himself is their tendency toward the same kind of mediocrity and corruption that surrounded Adolf Hitler. One has not far to look to detect tax evaders, and the sorts of people toward whom Mr. Obama voiced considerable disdain, provided they were in someone else’s administration. Mr. Obama demonstrates, once again, however, the utter terror any of the mediocre in his administration, he demonstrates the power of unquestioning and self-deluded belief (without the rhetorical ability) of a Goebbels in his choice of Press Secretary.
Many of the “true believers” in Nazi Germany were completely unable to face the reality of Germany’s defeat, and chose to commit suicide rather than accept that reality. Goebbels and his wife chose to murder their children and commit suicide rather than live in a world without Hitler. Hitler himself finally turned on the German nation and in a final narcissistic fury, condemned her, all of her population and almost all who surrounded him to utter, flaming and explosive destruction in what he considered his own personal Götterdamerung. This is the power of self-delusion, and its effect on the “true believer”. Too late!
7. Summary and Conclusions.
The game of Historical Let’s You and Him Fight remains one of Mr. Obama’s favorites, and he has achieved great success at playing it. Banks, financial institutions, and the automobile industry were the first three of his designated losers. Pointing out their financial weaknesses, and blaming that weakness on the ineptitude of senior executives, relying on the executive lack of acumen in public relations, and counting on unqualified, unstinting, and unquestioning support from his congressional majority, Mr. Obama has played the second part of his game, which is “Emergency!”. This game, perfected by Robespierre during the Reign of Terror, can be summarized in the words “if you don’t let me do what I want to do instantly, and without question, very bad things will happen and everyone will blame you“. Robespierre used it to dispose of his opponents on the National Razor, and Mr. Obama uses it to similar effect whenever he wants to make a “change we can believe in”. Take, as a case in point, the dismissal of Mr. Wagoner from his position as chief executive of General Motors. Although the board of General Motors was collectively inept, and wholly disloyal to its shareholders, it should have had greater spine than to allow Mr. Obama a place at its table. For a sitting president of the United States to command the dismissal of an executive of a privately held company is completely without precedent, and only the spinelessness of Mr. Wagoner and the rest of the board of General Motors could allow it to happen. Mr. Wagoner and General Motors had no idea how dangerous a precedent they were setting, and it is unlikely that it would’ve made much difference to them even if they had. Remember, this is a company which never learned the difference between the cost of the strike and the cost of not having a strike, a difference which always involves a very difficult choice and some financial loss.
The second game of Emergency!, played because of the unaccountable loss of billions of dollars donated by the spendthrift Paulsen to parties unknown, involved the further excoriation of financial executives. The constant executive cry of Emergency! Emergency!, the Congress passed with little objection another “financial rescue” bill. The “change we can believe in” implied by this bill is the rescue of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the creation of others. Cleverly, no one said which jobs were to be rescued and where jobs were to be created and how, but a credulous public accepted that immediate expenditure of billions of dollars would result in the end of the depression in which the United States now finds itself.
As in Germany in the 1930s, so in the United States in the first decade of the 21st century. A demagogue has emerged, playing upon popular dissatisfaction with the situation over which neither he nor the population at large have any control. Then, as now, the demagogue promises changes, although the nature of the changes was then unspecified. Logic and prudence, which would have dictated the questions “what will change, and how?” have been abandoned for the illusion that all change is improvement, in the face of logic and convincing evidence which says otherwise. Designated losers were selected by the National Socialist demagogue in the 1920s and 30s, these were blamed for the ills that beset their nation (even though the actual blame lay with the government itself). The designated losers were vilified, the designated winners closed ranks behind the instigator of the game. Then, as now, the parties actually responsible for the financial collapse escaped un-bruised, and gave their unqualified support to the instigator of the game.
Too many similarities between the situation of Germany in the 20’s and 30’s and the situation of the United States in the first decade of the 21st century have gone ignored by those who “don’t know much about the Middle Ages, looked at the pictures and I turned the pages…”. Germany, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, was gripped by a financial crisis not entirely of its own making. The United States, in the first decade of the 21st century, is in the throes of a financial crisis almost entirely of its own making. Germans, in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, sought strong leadership to help them emerge from their financial straits. Instead, they got a demagogue, a man with no experience in government, no record of fiscal prudence, a record of association with and participation in sedition, and war. The war Hitler bought for Germany resulted in such massive distraction of Germany that it required the unprecedented generosity of the United States of America to repair, a fact many Germans are eager to forget. Americans, in 2008, sought strong leadership to help them emerge from their financial straits, and thought they had found it in the person of a man with no legislative record, no record of opinion on any subject, no experience in business, a record of associating with embezzlers, thieves, and terrorists, and constitutionally incapable of solving the problems he was so happy to point out and blame on the previous administration. This self-proclaimed luminary of constitutional law blamed his opponent’s predecessor in office for the effects of legislation promulgated during two terms in office; anyone with the slightest knowledge of the structure of the government of the United States knows that a sitting president cannot pass legislation even if his life depends on it. In both cases, the electorate were mistaken, and they became willing accomplices to the detriment of their own nations. In both cases, the national legislatures were/are responsible for some or all of the financial troubles that beset the nation, and in both cases, the members of the national legislatures looked more toward their next term in office than to their duties. In both cases, the national legislatures have shown themselves willing to pass almost any legislation proposed by the national executive. In both cases, the national legislatures have shown themselves to be hasty, sycophantic, and careless of the consequences of their legislation. In both cases, legislation passed by the national legislatures has proved divisive, and has actually worsened the situations the legislation was supposed to correct. In both cases, the national executive appears to be, or to have been, clad with a non-stick surface, and appears to be, or to have been, wholly immune to rational criticism. In both cases, the national executive has branded his critics enemies of the state, and in both cases, the national executive has taken at least some steps to invoke the police power of the nation against organizations critical of the policies of the national executive. Fortunately, for the moment, the modern equivalent of the Nuremberg laws appears to be distant, although it is certainly far from out of the question. Nowadays, the question would not be one of eugenics; it would be one of euthanasia.
Where does the solution for these problems lie? First and foremost, it lies in understanding of history, and the willingness to perceive historical relationships where they exist. Isaac Asimov called the application of historical relationships and cycles to prediction “psychohistory”. George Santayana wisely tells us “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, and Edward Gibbon (ominously, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), three centuries before, remarked “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.” And finally, Bernard Shaw (a man I love not to quote) tells us “we learn from history that we learn nothing from history”, thus demonstrating that even a blind hog finds an acorn now and again.
Secondly, the solution lies not in fixing the blame, but fixing the problem. The first step in fixing the problem is to state the problem clearly. Unfortunately for the United States, her principal problem is the ignorance of her population in matters off her law and Constitution. The second of her problems lies in the apathy of the majority of her electorate, most of whom would rather curse the dark than light a candle. The United States has a long history of the electoral apathy, to which Benjamin Franklin referred when he said “we have given you a republic, if you can keep it.”. He went on to say, commenting on the Constitution, “In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults; if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.”
The divisive legislation proposed by various minority groups around the United States and enacted by the Congress has fragmented the United States into a series of feuding minorities. On every hand, the United States is beset by shrieks proposing legislation to favor some or another minority, and counter-shrieks opposing that same legislation. This is exactly the situation of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, and it reminds us forcibly of the tactics used to fragment the unstable Czechoslovakia (a creation of the Treaty of Versailles). Almost nowhere do we see legislative restraint and judicial impartiality. The Legislature, especially the national legislature is directed to pander to the special interests of minorities at the expense of a larger and productive majority. The Legislature, driven by its desire for reelection, acquiesces to the minorities and alienates a large part of the majority. Legislation which favors a minority to the disadvantage of the larger population is on itself necessarily despotic and tyrannical, and is enacted only in the hope of buying, en bloc, the vote of the favored minority. The United States could hope for legislators of greater courage, and, being members of the national legislature, greater concern for the United States as a whole than any minority of her population. James Madison, in his records of the constitutional conventions, tells us that the Framers thought of our bicameral legislature as being divided into a popular house (a chamber elected by the populations of the several states to represent districts in the several states, and, by implication, the POPULATIONS of those same districts); and a rather more sedate house, the Senate, chosen by the governments of the several states. The qualifications for election to the houses were to be different, the virtue of this arrangement being that the will of the population at large should be known through the House Of Representatives, while the will of landed interests (in an agricultural nation) and the several states should be known in the Senate. Political factions have sought to increase the representation of various subgroups of the population by gerrymandering district boundaries without regard to the consequences to the nation. The population of the United States thus conspires in its own legislative oppression, exactly as Germans did in the 1920s and 30s.
It is, I think, abundantly plain that the problems that beset the United States originate largely in the Legislature, which sells its vote to minorities, abdicates its duty to the nation, and donates its legislative prerogatives to nine unelected people who themselves have not the restraint to refuse it. The Legislature has created an unaccountable bureaucracy and delegated a large part of its legislative duty to that bureaucracy (if you doubt it, compare the Internal Revenue Code with the Tax Regulations). The Legislature has shown itself open to coercion from the national executive, it has shown itself uncritical in its thinking, derelict in its duty, fiscally responsible, indolent, and given much to the enjoyment of luxuries on available to the population at large, even exempting itself and its members and all of their staff from the laws it passes. It has been proposed that the only way to ensure that legislators do their duties is to limit their terms of office. It is a very attractive proposition, and one which bears careful examination. Although this is a national emergency, it is an emergency which can only be overcome by the application of reason, prudence, and critical thought. It can only be remedied at the ballot box, by firing the Congress en masse, and replacing it with a Congress composed of statesmen, rather than politicians.