Friday, October 26, 2007

Hitler and Bush comparisons; the banality of evil; the Holocaust

I understand of course why people object to Bush-Hitler comparisons. The reason is obvious beyond belief. When I make comparisons like that it's usually not to Hitler himself but to similarities in rhetoric between the Nazi state and the administration and its supporters today. I don't know about other people but there's two reasons why I do this: first off there needs to be a common vocabulary to describe the authoritarianism that the United States is slipping into. There's plenty of documentation on policy in relation to surveillance and attitudes towards dissent and on how to treat perceived enemies of the state in Nazi Germany and to a lesser extent in Fascist Italy and elsewhere. It's harder to get access to and quote speeches from say Pinochet or the Greek Colonels. Plus, the main Axis enemies in Europe have a more immediate recognition for Americans than lesser known regimes. I could make a parallel between American patriotism and Hispanidad, which was the ideology of the Spanish Fascists and of Franco, but it wouldn't quite have the same resonance as similar concepts from Germany or Italy. Plus, if you're going to make parallels to authoritarian regimes there won't be a regime you can name which hasn't hurt a great number of people, so in a sense any parallel you draw will be "inappropriate" in the sense of maybe insulting the families of people who actually died because of these regimes. The point however is to prevent something like that from happening in the U.S. In my opinion it's better to be mildly insulting with rhetoric and be wrong than to be polite and have people, more people if you count people who died because of torture in Guantanamo actually, die because of the silence.

The second reason that I use comparisons like this is an outgrowth of the first, namely attacking the idea that these regimes were non-understandable in their origins and in their actions and so could never ever be used as yardsticks to compare other societies to. If they're beyond understanding then there's no question of our society morphing into copies of them is there? I mean, no one is saying "Let's round up all the Muslims and shoot them", are they? At least the administration isn't saying that. But Hitler never publicly said anything comparable about Jews. My thesis in trying to demystify these sorts of regimes is that the tragedies that they're responsible for are the products of logical, incremental, progression rather than of anything particularly spectacular. To me the question is whether the U.S. is sliding towards authoritarianism or totalitarianism, with authoritarianism defined as a police state and totalitarianism defined as a police state that cares what people are thinking, even if they've been beaten back into submission to the regime. But let me give an example of the type of banality I'm talking about.

Reading primary documents from the Nazi regime, especially a find that I've made called "Hitler's Table Talk" (also known as "Secret Conversations"), it becomes clear that the Final Solution was the product of just such a progression. Hitler goes on and on about how criminals should be punished and how even the courts of the Third Reich are too lenient on criminals. Doesn't understand why repeat offenders shouldn't just be killed so society can be rid of them. Doesn't understand why if a person is convicted of murder there should be a hearing to determine whether a person should be sentenced to death or simply to life in prison. His preference is of course death. He viewed the Jews as a social problem, as a criminal subversive element that was destructive to the fabric of society and had to be separated from society for society to continue to function. The Final Solution was viewed as an administrative solution to a social problem, with people guilty because of their race condemned to death because there wasn't any more convenient way of getting them out of society and keeping them out. No reliable solution to "the Jewish Problem". It's not hard to see how something like that could happen here if attitudes towards Muslims become sufficiently radicalized. I'm being serious.

You can imagine someone saying "potential terrorists should be shot", can't you? Monitored, kept under surveillance, and removed from society if there seems to be a threat that they might act on their beliefs. Removed from society can mean many different things, from deported to kept in prison, to kept in a Guantanamo like camp to being outright exterminated.

It's because I believe that it can happen here, that it needs to be able to be accurately described and that it needs to be put in a context with other dictatorial regimes that I make the Bush-Nazi comparisons.

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