How Did the Germans Let it Happen?

nazi helmet
Nazi soldier’s helmet (Jeff Burgess)

Numerous events were held across the world this year to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the of the end of WWII. The commemorations of the  surrender of Nazi Germany in May, 1945, and the subsequent end to the Holocaust inevitably reignited the question of how the German people could have allowed it all to happen.

Like most Americans, I grew up believing that fascism could never succeed here, because our democracy is too strong. But I’m not sure I believe that anymore. Consider the following:

Starting Unjustified Wars
  • In 1939 the Nazis faked an attack by Poland on the German border and used it as an excuse to invade Poland, thereby starting WWII.
  • In 1964 the U.S. falsely claimed that North Vietnam fired on a U.S. Navy vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin and President Lyndon Johnson used it to convince Congress to let him go to war with North Vietnam.
  • The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were exploited by U.S. President George W. Bush to promote an invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that there was no evidence Iraq had cooperated with the Al-Qaeda terrorists who were responsible for the attacks. The result was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the start of the Iraq War.
Imprisoning Undesirables
  • In 1937 the Nazis began rounding up tens of thousands of German citizens deemed to be habitual criminals, asocial, chronically unemployed, beggars, and vagrants and put them in slave-labor camps.
  • In 2013 there were more than 2.2 million people imprisoned in the U.S., or about 698 people per 100,000 – the highest rate in the world. A large portion of them were non-violent offenders arrested for drug-related offenses, including the sale of marijuana.
Treating Propaganda as Real News
  • In the German elections of 1930 the right-wing newspaper mogul Alfred Hugenberg used his publications to help Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels conduct a propaganda campaign that helped the Nazis win enough seats to become the second biggest party in the German parliament.
  • In 1996 former Republican political strategist Roger Ailes launched the Fox News cable TV channel. Fox promotes right-wing political views under the guise of real news while using the  slogan “Fair and Balanced.”
Creating Scapegoats
“All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” – Herman Goering
  • The Nazis blamed Germany’s problems on Communists and Jews.
  • Modern Republicans blame America’s problems primarily on undocumented immigrants, but also on environmentalists, the urban poor and homosexuals.
Right-wing Radicals Allowed to Violate the Law
  • In 1924 Adolph Hitler led his Nazi party in a violent attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government. The Beer Hall Putsch, as it came to be called, failed and 16 Nazis and 4 policemen were killed. Hitler was arrested and convicted of treason, but due to right-wing sympathizers in the government he was only sentenced to five years in prison, and then served only nine months.
  • In 2013 Maricopa County  Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of racial profiling in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona. Arpaio is still in office, despite the fact that the judge is also pursuing contempt of court charges against him.
  • in 2014 Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy incited his right-wing supporters to offer armed resistance against an attempt by federal government officials to carry out a court order to round up his cattle, which were illegally grazing on public land. A substantial number of well-armed people responded and the roundup was cancelled due to the threat of violence. Bundy has yet to be arrested for inciting violence, or for violating of the court order by continuing to graze his cattle on public land.
Pernicious Campaign Promises
  • The 1932 German elections gave the Nazis increased power because Hitler promised to restore Germany to greatness, overturn the Treaty of Versailles, revive the economy, and save Germany from communism.
  • Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election are promising to restore the U.S. to greatness, revoke the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, revive the economy by pandering to big corporations, and save the country from illegal immigration.

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