“Hitler can not win the war, he can only extend it.”
-- Hans Scholl,
member of the German resistance to Fascism, 1943.
I know it is very dangerous to compare anyone or anything with Hitler these days. Hitler is holy. Nothing may be compared to him or his regime; the prevailing dogma is that no one could ever be as evil, no matter what they do. This is very fortunate, of course, for all leaders and tyrants who are not called Hitler. They get a really easy ride, a sort of “get out of jail free” card. This makes it easy for people to believe that fascism was inherently German or Italian; people forget its manifestations in Spain, Portugal, Cambodia, Uganda, etc. It also makes it easy to forget about its supporters in Britain (Mosely, etc) and the US (Henry Ford, Dupont, Brown Brothers Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank, etc.). For those who study history, this concept seems to make all of their efforts redundant; if we cannot compare the past and present to find parallels, and use this to avoid making the same mistakes, we don’t really need to study history at all. Never mind that to compare is not to equate. Dogma is dogma is dogma, and all who suggest any sort of variation or counter argument are heretic.
Nevertheless, I now dare to make such a comparison. George Bush cannot win the war in Iraq, he can only extend it. Looking at the situation in Iraq now, it seems that the all-powerful American military, the most expensive in the world, is not capable of bringing the situation there under their control. Even the military’s own leaders are now trying to find a way to bring their soldiers and themselves home and to safety. Just ask Congressman Jack Murtha, himself a decorated veteran with close contact to the military brass. They must be wondering, about now, why they were sent there in the first place. There were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no tie to Al Qaeda, and even the oil they really came for has not brought any satisfaction (Iraqi oil production is now lower than it was before the invasion). Sure, American oil firms are guaranteed oil rights at bargain-basement rates, sure those permanent military bases should be able to protect these companies for some time to come. But those were not, officially, the goals of the war. Neither was imposing democracy, by the way, and even if it does take hold, all signs are showing that it will be a democracy that is very friendly to that other US bogeyman, Iran, and which likely will support Iran into the foreseeable future.
But I bring up this historical parallel actually for other reasons. Hans and Sophie Scholl were members of the White Rose, an organization which sought to resist Hitler’s Nazi regime. We don’t hear much about this in our history classes in the United States or Britain, I know. It is true they represented only a small number of people, the rest of the Germans were either too scared or too lazy or too happy with the status quo to put up any resistance. After all, for the first few years the war had not affected them at home. They did not need to concern themselves with disappearing Jews, priests, nuns, Gypsies, or other neighbors who did not toe the line. If rights were being trampled on, who cares, they aren’t mine. Right? And those who have nothing to hide do not need to worry about their government spying on them, right?
Furthermore, resistance was very dangerous. Sophie and Hans Scholl did nothing more than write and distribute pamphlets against the war, and for this they were executed. They were caught, detained, tried and executed within days. That is, if we can call it a trial when the judge himself, not the prosecutor, shouts at them and denounces them as traitors to their country and as harming the efforts and morale of the heroic troops on the front, and their own lawyers, out of fear or loyalty, make no objections. Yes, somehow it was equated with treason to be against the war, and somehow any effort to reduce this suffering and bloodshed was seen as weakening the “heroic” troops.
But this could hardly be the case in America, where rights are absolutely guaranteed in the Constitution, right? In the USA, no one would blindly refer to all soldiers as heroes, or suggest that to disparage or criticize the war policy would somehow be an act against the soldiers themselves. Who could imagine that the President would ever say something as darkly suggestive as “people have to be careful of what they say”? Surely, in the USA, no politician may arbitrarily invade citizens privacy, listen to phone calls, look at what books they are reading, what they recently bought, read their correspondence. Certainly no one in America, that land of freedom and free speech, would denounce someone for speaking an opinion that is contrary to the government position. Surely no one in the US would ever be killed for opposing a war. Just ask those four students at Kent State University in 1974. Or the beloved, nationally syndicated columnist Ann Coulter, who, in her book Treason, put forth that the entire Democratic Party is guilty of treason, for their occasional (and history shows, it is only occasional) opposition to American-led wars. Ask nationally broadcast conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who suggests that former American ambassador Joseph Wilson is a traitor because he showed evidence that the Bush regime’s war grounds were a hoax (October 31 2005). Or ask those four religious protesters in Ithaca, New York, who were tried not once but twice (once in April 2003 for “criminal mischief” and again in September 2005 for “conspiracy”) for protesting the Iraq war. Treason, under the United States Constitution, is a crime which can be punishable by the death. Hmmm. Interesting parallel.
Of course, no one would believe that such a thing could happen in the US. Of course, no one believed one year ago that the US government would admit to spying on its own people, and proudly so. Three years ago, no one would believe that the US would be revealed to torture prisoners of war. Two years ago no one would believe that the American government, through the agency of the CIA, would kidnap European citizens, transport, imprison and torture them. Five years ago, no one would believe that the US would openly invade a sovereign country without just cause. But history, whether it is allowed to draw parallels and comparisons or not, has a way of repeating itself.
Daniel Vallin is an American ex-patriot who still believes in the relevance of history.
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