Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Echos of 1933

Photo: the cover of the Philadelphia Daily News
The greatest generation, where are you when you are needed, again?  Gone to flowers, every one. Well, not every one.  But many, most. I cannot imagine what my Grandfather, either of them, would say about Trump.

One grandfather was an engineer during WWII.  He built the runways for the RAF that German bombers pounded every day.  And then, the morning would dawn, and granddad would be repairing them.

The other grandfather, he - well no one really knows what he did during the war.  He never spoke of it.  He had stuffed that part of his life away, with the associated memorabilia, in an attic.  Nana said he was overseas, but that was all she would say.  It remains a mystery.  I could ask and look for the truth, but, it was his life to share and I'll respect his choice.

My Uncle and my Mother remember the Blitz.  They lived through it. To this day my mother doesn't like enclosed spaces.  Too much time in bomb shelters as a little girl.  Huddling in the dark not knowing what the world would look like when you went back "upstairs".  Not knowing if Daddy was alright or if one of the bombs had hit your house.  Hearing the bombs exploding overhead.  Counting between when you heard the engine cut off and when it exploded.  That's a heavy memory for a six year old.

WWII is still very much alive in my family.  On the 70th anniversary of D-Day my mother and I traveled to Bedford, Va to the National D-Day Memorial.  She went to thank the service men who had been on the beaches.  A "thank you" from a little girl who had huddled in a bomb shelter to the men who had made Adolf and his bombs stop.

I have read and studied a great deal about WWII, and not just via the History Channel, thank you very much.  My degrees in Political Science often had me looking at the roots of WWII, the causes.  And it is easy to point to a single ego, a political entity that lusted after power.  But the truth of the matter is much more complex.  The truth lies in the intersection of economics, lifestyle, beliefs, anger, resentment and fear. And at that intersection there came one ego that knew how to exploit the underlying fear and resentment of the masses.  That person, that master manipulator, was Adolf Hitler.

In 1920 Hitler placed his agenda in public.  At one of his first political speeches he outlined the Twenty Five Points of the German Workers' Party.  In this political platform, he called for  rejection of the Treaty of Versailles which was seen as demeaning, And in truth the heavy reparations of the treaty had crippled the German economy, leading to much of the resentment and economic uncertainty of the German citizenry.

A second point in Hitler's vision was citizenship determined by race with no Jew to be considered a German,  In Mein Kampf Hitler relates that his ideas on Jews had been shaped by his early years in Vienna, especially by his admiration for the mayor, Karl Lueger, a noted anti-Semite.  But, that political viewpoint rose to new levels under the guidance of Hitler, who used the Jewish community, especially bankers and financiers, as a scapegoat for the near economic collapse of the 1920s.

In truth the financial woes of Germany in the 1920s were caused by high reparations, high tariffs on German goods, and the reactions to one of the first global economic crisis, the Great Depression. When the United States entered the Great Depression, one of its first actions was to demand repayment of loans that the US had made to Germany post WWI.  This pushed the German economy still closer to collapse.

The average German at this point was watching hyper-inflation make the price of bread soar.  A lack of markets for german goods caused unemployment. The german citizenry was growing poorer, and life was becoming ever more unstable and unpredictable.  The people were becoming not only resentful, but afraid.  For many people the idea that there was someone they could punish for their problems, a scapegoat, was more attractive than reason.

A further tenet of Hiltler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (called Nazi) was religious freedom, except for religions which endanger the German race, namely Judaism, but this was expanded as needed to later include Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses. As the party became more organized, and once Hitler was in power his Minister for Church Affairs, Hans Kerrl, worked to mold Christianity into "Positive Christianity", a Nazi version of Christianity.  The effort was seen as a way to bring the entire population into not only support for the party, but also compliance.

Other point outlined by Hitler in 1920 were a strong central government,  efficient execution of legislation. all income would be earned by work or it would be confiscated, and a restructuring of the education system,

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he viewed trade unions as competition for the power of the workers.  He saw the unions as providing an alternative for workers power, therefore, trade unions were banned in Nazi Germany.

All of these points were to "make Germany great again".  A slogan that any downtrodden person will cling to.  We will be great, again.  Things will be good again.  There will be bread and there will be prosperity and there will be ease, again.  Who wouldn't want a promise like that? It's attractive. It appeals.

I don't throw comparisons to Hitler around lightly, nor should anyone.  Seriously, you shouldn't because using the name Hitler, like a bogey man or an insult diminishes the extent of the evil that he accomplished.  He brought the world to war, again, after "the war to end all wars."  He attempted to systematically exterminate a race. That takes a very special type of insanity.

But I see these patterns being played out, again.  America, your population is afraid.  The economic failure of 2008 has made life uncertain, unstable and unpredictable for a big section of the citizenry, who were previously comfortable. Gun violence has become a daily occurrence in our nation.  In the media the extremes are shouting out the center.  And all of this is allowing egotists and manipulators to emerge.

Trump is creating scapegoats, Mexicans, Muslims. Trump is making promises. We will be great again. Trump proposes a database of all Muslims.  Trump stated  that the sins of the father should be visited on the sons, and daughters, and wives.  That if someone is a terrorist "you have to take out their families."  He was, of course, speaking of Daesh terrorists. (That's ISIS and ISIL.)  But not so strangely, that isn't the part that seems to stick in his followers minds.

Trump has recently stated that Muslims should be forbidden to enter the US and then compared that statement to FDR's internment camp policy during WWII.  For the record, the internment camps of the 1940s were not the best chapter of American history.  It was, indeed, one of the moments when we, as a nation, allowed fear to overrule reason.

And although the scene of a black man being beaten by a white crowd at a Trump rally is more reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement in America.  It was the crowd that horrified me, ordinary men so filled with hate and ready to lash out at anyone they perceived as a threat. Meanwhile Trump, at the head of the hall continued speaking the rhetoric of hate, fear and scapegoats.

When I started this article, I was thinking about Trump, and where he would lead this nation.  But, my thoughts don't bend to him now.  He has stated on the record saying that Hitler references don't bother him.  He is unphased with his manipulation of the masses and the fear mongering.  He thinks it effective and is without guilt or shame.

So I have to look to the American people.  Trump is manipulating you. Wake up.  He is using your fear and he is taking cues directly from the precedent set by Hitler.  And only we, each of us, can resist the poison that he would feed to us. If Trump is allowed to become the leader of anything besides his own parade, we are all in deep. And to quote my Grandad, if that happens, our nation is FUBAR'ed.

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