Comparisons To Hitler Are Close But Wrong
If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.
By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.
How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.
I saw two posts cross my timeline today. They referenced Adolf Hitler and drew comparisons to Barak Obama. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Hitler used as a comparison to some contemporary politicians. Stephen Harper, Pauline Marois, Justin Trudeau have also been compared to Hitler in one form or another which is patently absurd.
Regardless of whom you support or don’t, none of today’s current political leaders have anything in common with Adolf Hitler – but many of us have very much in common with those who helped him rise to power.
Adolf Hitler was an exceptional orator and a canny student of human nature which basically made him a consummate politician. Ethics – he had none. Principles – he none of those either. He espoused them, spoke about them at great length but the words were meaningless. It was power he craved. He had the singular vision of the megalomaniac – power for power’s sake with him exercising absolute power.
The lives of others were meaningless to him and his delusion led him to war and mass murder.
In the end, however, he was just one man so how did he obtain so much power and cause so much horrendous harm to the world?
It was the people who gave it to him; people just like you and I. The German people weren’t some barbarian hoard that swept down from the steppes to rape, murder and plunder; they were a democratic, educated and industrious people. They had families just like ours. They attended church just like many of us and they wanted a stable society with a prosperous economy just like we do.
They were also a people living under the oppressive weight of reparations imposed on them by the allies after WWI. It caused runaway inflation and rampant poverty. The military was restricted both in terms of size and weaponry. The democratic governments of the new republic were weak and crumbled almost as soon as they were elected and a proud people were humiliated and shamed. There was considerable fear, anger and unrest in an impoverished society.
And along came Adolf Hitler with promises of a better future.
He ripped up the Versailles Treaty and started rearming the military. That appealed to the military’s pride and they supported him. His military buildup created jobs for the unemployed and new contracts for industry and both were pleased to support him. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a few years for Hitler to rise to complete power. During that time, he provided spectacles and if his tactics were sometimes rough and even violent, the people were mostly silent because the economy was improving and life was returning to normal – at least on the surface.
Best of all, Hitler gave the Germans someone to blame for their defeat in the war and the crushing weight of their failed economy – the Jews.
He started to impose sanctions and restrictions on political enemies like the communists and the socialists and economic enemies like the Jews. The German people supported his ideas and remained silent about his excesses even as the rule of law was being perverted with new laws that discriminated against Jews, gypsies (Roma), the mentally infirm and convicted criminals.
Life was improving for most Germans and if some had to pay a price for that – well – that was just the way it was and besides, it was their own fault. Many bought the argument that their former neighbours, professors, shop keepers and politicians were the enemy. Propaganda was the order of the day and the illusion of an Aryan nation was the new religion.
The SA, or Brownshirts, held mass rallies and marched in the streets carrying torches providing displays of martial order and strength. They bullied and assaulted ‘the enemies’ of the state and basically enforced Hitler’s will until they became too powerful and a political liability that stood in the way of obtaining power. Hitler didn’t merely throw them under a bus, he had the SS, his personal body guard, arrest and execute the leadership of the SA in what is now called the Night of the Long Knives.
In 1933, he dispensed with the Weimar Republic and created the Third Reich based on a totalitarian, single-state government. Democracy was dead and still the German people remained silent. The economy was improving.
The media were first demonized then censored.
Then people started to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps; first they were demonized then they were arrested. It started with the political enemies – communists and socialists; then the Jews and the mentally infirm and finally anyone who criticized the regime. It was all made possible by a careful and orchestrated vilification of each group by the Nazi propaganda machine and the people remained silent because they allowed themselves to listen to and believe it rather than to their own values and morality.
The economy was improving and there was prosperity again. Both had become more important than decency, civility and the rule of law. As each democratic freedom was restricted or violated by the Nazis, the people continued to remain silent.
When Hitler started his campaign of Lebensraum, living space for the German people, the people remained silent. They were proud to be German. When he marched into Austria, then Czechoslovakia and finally Poland, they were proud. When the allies entered the war, they blamed the allies.
And the bodies started to mount.
The eastern front resulted in devastating losses for the German army. There were rumours of death camps and an increasing number of officers in the military who had supported Hitler, now turned on him. There were failed plots to assonate him; all ending in failure. The nightmare that cost so many their lives and that devastated much of Europe including Germany only ended when the allies defeated the remnants of the German army and took Berlin. Hitler committed suicide and the Cold War was born.
In the end, this one little man – a former corporal in the German infantry had led a nation into world war and into committing some of the most brutal and horrendous acts in history. A civilized, modern democracy had been transformed and many of its people drawn to commit genocide and mass slaughter because of their blind faith in one man and his promises.
More than 13 million people died because of him, including more than 6 million Jews. It didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow, steady process of erosion of morality, principle and values. It was a desperate desire to believe in easy solutions to challenging issues, fear of the unknown and willingness to blame others for Germany’s problems.
In the end, Hitler only rose to power because so many traded common sense and decency for economic stability and ideology.
He was able to achieve that because people like you and I refused to stand up and criticize and oppose him when he violated the moral standards by which most Germans lived and most of us believe in today. They remained silent when he eroded their rights and their democratic institutions because he gave them bread and circuses and by the time they realized they had traded away their freedom to make a bargain with the devil – it was too late and hell was upon them.
There are no Adolf Hitlers in our politics today. Stephen Harper is not a fascist nor is Barack Obama. Some, like Dalton McGuinty are corrupt and others like Kathleen Wynne are inept. In the end, none of them rise to a comparison with Hitler. They are merely politicians who put winning power ahead of all else. They are politicians too willing to trade their values for what is politically expedient.
But, if they can’t be compared to Hitler, too many of us can be compared to the people of Germany prior to 1933. We are angry and too quick to blame others. We are polarized, divided and more than willing to demonize others for the very sins those we support are committing.
In the end, the people of Germany learned that you cannot fight injustice by being unjust. You will not create a free and open society by restricting the freedom and rights of fellow citizens and intolerance will not be defeated by intolerance. Anger is a poor substitute for reasoned debate and knee-jerk emotional reactions that violate the rights and dignity of others demeans us and our society.
In the end, it was the people of Germany who made Hitler possible and in the end; it is us who make failed politicians and their governments possible. If a civilized society could empower the sheer evil that was Adolf Hitler, imagine how much easier it is to empower politicians who are merely corrupt, dishonest or inept. It is we the people who are the authors of our own misfortune when we refuse to stand on principle by compromising our values and demonizing each other to defend those who denigrate our institutions, our governments and our societies.
When ideology trumps truth and our fellow citizens are seen as our enemies, we provide fertile ground for those who crave power at the expense of our rights, our freedoms and a civilized, descent society. The German people learned where that leads but we, it seems, have continually failed to learn the lessons of history.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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