RG: How things change (fwd)

Eugen Leitl eugen@leitl.org
Fri, 21 Mar 2003 21:48:13 +0100 (CET)


> When Democracy Failed: The Warnings of History
> by Thom Hartmann
>
> The 70th anniversary wasn't noticed in the United States, and was
> barely reported in the corporate media. But the Germans remembered
> well that fateful day seventy years ago - February 27, 1933. They
> commemorated the anniversary by joining in demonstrations for peace
> that mobilized citizens all across the world.
> It started when the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic
> crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack. A foreign
> ideologue had launched feeble attacks on a few famous buildings, but
> the media largely ignored his relatively small efforts. The
> intelligence services knew, however, that the odds were he would
> eventually succeed. (Historians are still arguing whether or not rogue
> elements in the intelligence service helped the terrorist; the most
> recent research implies they did not.)
>
> But the warnings of investigators were ignored at the highest levels,
> in part because the government was distracted; the man who claimed to
> be the nation's leader had not been elected by a majority vote and the
> majority of citizens claimed he had no right to the powers he coveted.
> He was a simpleton, some said, a cartoon character of a man who saw
> things in black-and-white terms and didn't have the intellect to
> understand the subtleties of running a nation in a complex and
> internationalist world. His coarse use of language - reflecting his
> political roots in a southernmost state - and his simplistic and
> often-inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric offended the aristocrats,
> foreign leaders, and the well-educated elite in the government and
> media. And, as a young man, he'd joined a secret society with an
> occult-sounding name and bizarre initiation rituals that involved
> skulls and human bones.
>
> Nonetheless, he knew the terrorist was going to strike (although he
> didn't know where or when), and he had already considered his
> response. When an aide brought him word that the nation's most
> prestigious building was ablaze, he verified it was the terrorist who
> had struck and then rushed to the scene and called a press conference.
>
> "You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history," he
> proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded
> by national media. "This fire," he said, his voice trembling with
> emotion, "is the beginning." He used the occasion - "a sign from God,"
> he called it - to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its
> ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to
> the Middle East and found motivation for their evil deeds in their
> religion.
>
> Two weeks later, the first detention center for terrorists was built
> in Oranianberg to hold the first suspected allies of the infamous
> terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the leader's flag was
> everywhere, even printed large in newspapers suitable for window
> display.
>
> Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation's now-popular
> leader had pushed through legislation - in the name of combating
> terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it - that
> suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and
> habeas corpus. Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones;
> suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and
> without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people's
> homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism.
>
> To get his patriotic "Decree on the Protection of People and State"
> passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil
> libertarians, he agreed to put a 4-year sunset provision on it: if the
> national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack was over by then,
> the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people, and the
> police agencies would be re-restrained. Legislators would later say
> they hadn't had time to read the bill before voting on it.
>
> Immediately after passage of the anti-terrorism act, his federal
> police agencies stepped up their program of arresting suspicious
> persons and holding them without access to lawyers or courts. In the
> first year only a few hundred were interred, and those who objected
> were largely ignored by the mainstream press, which was afraid to
> offend and thus lose access to a leader with such high popularity
> ratings. Citizens who protested the leader in public - and there were
> many - quickly found themselves confronting the newly empowered
> police's batons, gas, and jail cells, or fenced off in protest zones
> safely out of earshot of the leader's public speeches. (In the
> meantime, he was taking almost daily lessons in public speaking,
> learning to control his tonality, gestures, and facial expressions. He
> became a very competent orator.)
>
> Within the first months after that terrorist attack, at the suggestion
> of a political advisor, he brought a formerly obscure word into common
> usage. He wanted to stir a "racial pride" among his countrymen, so,
> instead of referring to the nation by its name, he began to refer to
> it as "The Homeland," a phrase publicly promoted in the introduction
> to a 1934 speech recorded in Leni Riefenstahl's famous propaganda
> movie "Triumph Of The Will." As hoped, people's hearts swelled with
> pride, and the beginning of an us-versus-them mentality was sewn. Our
> land was "the" homeland, citizens thought: all others were simply
> foreign lands. We are the "true people," he suggested, the only ones
> worthy of our nation's concern; if bombs fall on others, or human
> rights are violated in other nations and it makes our lives better,
> it's of little concern to us.
>
> Playing on this new nationalism, and exploiting a disagreement with
> the French over his increasing militarism, he argued that any
> international body that didn't act first and foremost in the best
> interest of his own nation was neither relevant nor useful. He thus
> withdrew his country from the League Of Nations in October, 1933, and
> then negotiated a separate naval armaments agreement with Anthony Eden
> of The United Kingdom to create a worldwide military ruling elite.
>
> His propaganda minister orchestrated a campaign to ensure the people
> that he was a deeply religious man and that his motivations were
> rooted in Christianity. He even proclaimed the need for a revival of
> the Christian faith across his nation, what he called a "New
> Christianity." Every man in his rapidly growing army wore a belt
> buckle that declared "Gott Mit Uns" - God Is With Us - and most of
> them fervently believed it was true.
>
> Within a year of the terrorist attack, the nation's leader determined
> that the various local police and federal agencies around the nation
> were lacking the clear communication and overall coordinated
> administration necessary to deal with the terrorist threat facing the
> nation, particularly those citizens who were of Middle Eastern
> ancestry and thus probably terrorist and communist sympathizers, and
> various troublesome "intellectuals" and "liberals." He proposed a
> single new national agency to protect the security of the homeland,
> consolidating the actions of dozens of previously independent police,
> border, and investigative agencies under a single leader.
>
> He appointed one of his most trusted associates to be leader of this
> new agency, the Central Security Office for the homeland, and gave it
> a role in the government equal to the other major departments.
>
> His assistant who dealt with the press noted that, since the terrorist
> attack, "Radio and press are at out disposal." Those voices
> questioning the legitimacy of their nation's leader, or raising
> questions about his checkered past, had by now faded from the public's
> recollection as his central security office began advertising a
> program encouraging people to phone in tips about suspicious
> neighbors. This program was so successful that the names of some of
> the people "denounced" were soon being broadcast on radio stations.
> Those denounced often included opposition politicians and celebrities
> who dared speak out - a favorite target of his regime and the media he
> now controlled through intimidation and ownership by corporate allies.
>
> To consolidate his power, he concluded that government alone wasn't
> enough. He reached out to industry and forged an alliance, bringing
> former executives of the nation's largest corporations into high
> government positions. A flood of government money poured into
> corporate coffers to fight the war against the Middle Eastern ancestry
> terrorists lurking within the homeland, and to prepare for wars
> overseas. He encouraged large corporations friendly to him to acquire
> media outlets and other industrial concerns across the nation,
> particularly those previously owned by suspicious people of Middle
> Eastern ancestry. He built powerful alliances with industry; one
> corporate ally got the lucrative contract worth millions to build the
> first large-scale detention center for enemies of the state. Soon more
> would follow. Industry flourished.
>
> But after an interval of peace following the terrorist attack, voices
> of dissent again arose within and without the government. Students had
> started an active program opposing him (later known as the White Rose
> Society), and leaders of nearby nations were speaking out against his
> bellicose rhetoric. He needed a diversion, something to direct people
> away from the corporate cronyism being exposed in his own government,
> questions of his possibly illegitimate rise to power, and the
> oft-voiced concerns of civil libertarians about the people being held
> in detention without due process or access to attorneys or family.
>
> With his number two man - a master at manipulating the media - he
> began a campaign to convince the people of the nation that a small,
> limited war was necessary. Another nation was harboring many of the
> suspicious Middle Eastern people, and even though its connection with
> the terrorist who had set afire the nation's most important building
> was tenuous at best, it held resources their nation badly needed if
> they were to have room to live and maintain their prosperity. He
> called a press conference and publicly delivered an ultimatum to the
> leader of the other nation, provoking an international uproar. He
> claimed the right to strike preemptively in self-defense, and nations
> across Europe - at first - denounced him for it, pointing out that it
> was a doctrine only claimed in the past by nations seeking worldwide
> empire, like Caesar's Rome or Alexander's Greece.
>
> It took a few months, and intense international debate and lobbying
> with European nations, but, after he personally met with the leader of
> the United Kingdom, finally a deal was struck. After the military
> action began, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the nervous
> British people that giving in to this leader's new first-strike
> doctrine would bring "peace for our time." Thus Hitler annexed Austria
> in a lightning move, riding a wave of popular support as leaders so
> often do in times of war. The Austrian government was unseated and
> replaced by a new leadership friendly to Germany, and German
> corporations began to take over Austrian resources.
>
> In a speech responding to critics of the invasion, Hitler said,
> "Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with
> brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying.
> I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my
> people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there
> met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as
> tyrants have we come, but as liberators."
>
> To deal with those who dissented from his policies, at the advice of
> his politically savvy advisors, he and his handmaidens in the press
> began a campaign to equate him and his policies with patriotism and
> the nation itself. National unity was essential, they said, to ensure
> that the terrorists or their sponsors didn't think they'd succeeded in
> splitting the nation or weakening its will. In times of war, they
> said, there could be only "one people, one nation, and one
> commander-in-chief" ("Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer"), and so his
> advocates in the media began a nationwide campaign charging that
> critics of his policies were attacking the nation itself. Those
> questioning him were labeled "anti-German" or "not good Germans," and
> it was suggested they were aiding the enemies of the state by failing
> in the patriotic necessity of supporting the nation's valiant men in
> uniform. It was one of his most effective ways to stifle dissent and
> pit wage-earning people (from whom most of the army came) against the
> "intellectuals and liberals" who were critical of his policies.
>
> Nonetheless, once the "small war" annexation of Austria was
> successfully and quickly completed, and peace returned, voices of
> opposition were again raised in the Homeland. The almost-daily release
> of news bulletins about the dangers of terrorist communist cells
> wasn't enough to rouse the populace and totally suppress dissent. A
> full-out war was necessary to divert public attention from the growing
> rumbles within the country about disappearing dissidents; violence
> against liberals, Jews, and union leaders; and the epidemic of crony
> capitalism that was producing empires of wealth in the corporate
> sector but threatening the middle class's way of life.
>
> A year later, to the week, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia; the nation
> was now fully at war, and all internal dissent was suppressed in the
> name of national security. It was the end of Germany's first
> experiment with democracy.
>
> As we conclude this review of history, there are a few milestones
> worth remembering.
>
> February 27, 2003, was the 70th anniversary of Dutch terrorist Marinus
> van der Lubbe's successful firebombing of the German Parliament
> (Reichstag) building, the terrorist act that catapulted Hitler to
> legitimacy and reshaped the German constitution. By the time of his
> successful and brief action to seize Austria, in which almost no
> German blood was shed, Hitler was the most beloved and popular leader
> in the history of his nation. Hailed around the world, he was later
> Time magazine's "Man Of The Year."
>
> Most Americans remember his office for the security of the homeland,
> known as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and its SchutzStaffel, simply
> by its most famous agency's initials: the SS.
>
> We also remember that the Germans developed a new form of highly
> violent warfare they named "lightning war" or blitzkrieg, which, while
> generating devastating civilian losses, also produced a highly
> desirable "shock and awe" among the nation's leadership according to
> the authors of the 1996 book "Shock And Awe" published by the National
> Defense University Press.
>
> Reflecting on that time, The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton
> Mifflin Company, 1983) left us this definition of the form of
> government the German democracy had become through Hitler's close
> alliance with the largest German corporations and his policy of using
> war as a tool to keep power: "fas-cism (fbsh'iz'em) n. A system of
> government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right,
> typically through the merging of state and business leadership,
> together with belligerent nationalism."
>
> Today, as we face financial and political crises, it's useful to
> remember that the ravages of the Great Depression hit Germany and the
> United States alike. Through the 1930s, however, Hitler and Roosevelt
> chose very different courses to bring their nations back to power and
> prosperity.
>
> Germany's response was to use government to empower corporations and
> reward the society's richest individuals, privatize much of the
> commons, stifle dissent, strip people of constitutional rights, and
> create an illusion of prosperity through continual and ever-expanding
> war. America passed minimum wage laws to raise the middle class,
> enforced anti-trust laws to diminish the power of corporations,
> increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals,
> created Social Security, and became the employer of last resort
> through programs to build national infrastructure, promote the arts,
> and replant forests.
>
> To the extent that our Constitution is still intact, the choice is
> again ours.
>
> Thom Hartmann lived and worked in Germany during the 1980s, and is the
> author of over a dozen books, including "Unequal Protection" and "The
> Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight." This article is copyright by Thom
> Hartmann, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog,
> or web media so long as this credit is attached.