"Fascism: 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."
American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983)
Hitler and "Amerika"
by Michael Luick-Thrams
Life in the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler: each evokes myriad images of
their own, yet neither can be fully understood without the other. So
pervasive and absolute was the influence of Adolf Hitler that his
overbearing presence and the Nazi Party he helped create permeated virtually
every aspect of German society from 1933 to 1945. Perhaps more than any
other individual, he changed the course of the twentieth century and of
Western civilization by initiating such a cataclysmic world war. Because
history has recorded such a horrific, other-than-human picture of him,
however, it is difficult to truly understand Adolf Hitler: the maniac, the
Besides the thousands already compiled, endless
volumes more could be written about the frustrated, ambitious Austrian
drifter who came to lead one of the most totalitarian states ever devised.
The world already knows the intrigue of Hitler’s dubious heritage, his
psychotic mother, Clara and his violent father, Alois. Psychologists have
explained how his traumatic childhood warped his mind, while historians have
told of the lonesome, lonely youth’s bullying tendencies, his vivid racial
prejudice and grandiose delusions. Thorough accounts tell of Hitler’s
leaving his native Braunau, a small, unimportant town on the German-Austrian
border and how he roamed Vienna in search of employment while living in flop
houses, still devastated from a rejection by the prestigious Academy of Fine
Arts. The aborted Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler’s rise to power as head of the
National Socialist German Workers’ Party and his domination over Germany
also are well known. So, too, is the war he instigated and its subsequent
destruction of much of Europe—including the country for which he had
promised to sacrifice everything, ironically even its survival. The life of
Hitler, then, remains today one of the most familiar of recent epic dramas.
Looking beyond the many other aspects of the man’s
life already considered, what did Hitler think of the United States—its
people, its history, its potential to rival the hegemony of European
imperialism? How fully did his views of the United States reflect his own
cultural biases and the popular views of Europeans of his day? What did the
aspects of the U.S. he chose to focus on indicate about his own worldview
and aspirations? To what extent did Hitler’s misguided, self-serving
assumption that German-Americans would join the Pan-Teutonic cause falsely
assure him the success of his dream of world domination? What did his
meetings with individual U.S. Americans or their personal glimpses of him
reveal about his personality, his dilettantic ignorance and his plans for
Like the majority of his contemporary fellow
Europeans, Hitler entertained contrasting images of the United States as
being both a promised land of unlimited possibilities, where a hardworking
soul could better her or his lot and, at the same time, a wild, barbaric
young country made rich from the clever exploitation of endless natural
resources. In 1924 Hitler included in Mein Kampf a tedious, distorted
history of his childhood and young adulthood. In it he portrayed himself as
a pioneer of sorts, possessing the spirit of those who “shake the dust of
Europe from their feet with the irrevocable intention of founding a
new existence in the New World and conquering a new home.” These people,
he wrote, take their lives in their own hands: “Released from all the old,
paralyzing ideas of profession and position, environment and tradition, they
snatch at every livelihood that offers itself, grasp at every sort of work,
progressing step by step to the realization that honest labor, no matter of
what sort, disgraces no one.” Hitler claimed “I, too, was determined to
leap into this new world, with both feet, and fight my way through.”
While saying that “experience shows that all those
elements which emigrate consist of the healthiest and most energetic
natures,” Hitler maintained that “among these ‘emigrants’ we must
count, not only those who go to America, but to an equal degree the young
farmhand who resolves to leave his native village for the strange city.”
Hitler’s romantic impressions of Americana shifted considerably, however,
by the time he left the relative political obscurity he had known while
writing poor prose at the Landsberg prison and became the Chancellor of
Germany in 1933. When his foreign press chief Ernst Hanfstaengl once
suggested that he might gain political advantage by visiting the U.S., the
temperamental Hitler replied “What is America but millionaires, beauty
queens, stupid records and Hollywood...”
Hitler admired the United States’ strict
immigration quotas, seeing them as favoring Nordic-Germanic “races” and
serving as a significant—albeit late—attempt to curb the immigration of
undesirables: Mediterranean and Slavic peoples, Blacks, Asians and Jews. Of
the latter, Hitler lamented what he saw as the Jewish control of U.S.
economics and society. Judaism, he said, threatened the racial purity of the
sizeable Germanic stock to be found in the New World. Still, the relatively
recent imposition of immigration quotas by the U.S. government provided a
model for the world of how to control the “racial mixing” he so
desperately feared and loathed. As proof that “in every mingling of Aryan
blood with that of lower peoples the result was the end of the cultured
people,” he pointed to North America, “whose population consists in by
far the largest part of Germanic elements who mixed but little with the
lower colored peoples [and thus] shows a different humanity and culture from
Central and South America, where the predominantly Latin immigrants often
mixed with the aborigines on a large scale. By this one example, we can
clearly and distinctly recognize the effect of racial mixture. The Germanic
inhabitant of the American continent...rose to be master of the continent;
[such a person] will remain the master as long as he does not fall a victim
to defilement of the blood.”
Supposedly, the only U.S. American Hitler ever
respected was Henry Ford, whom he regarded “not so much as an industrial
wonder-worker bur rather as a reputed anti-Semite and a possible source of
funds,” the alleged request of which the auto magnate refused to grant--although
Ford did help publicize Hitlerian ideas in other ways;
Hitler also considered the Ku Klux Klan to be possible political allies. [The
"modern science" of eugenics (or "race-betterment”)
which the Nazis peddled was a school of thought pioneered early in the 20th
century by U.S. American “social scientists” and encouraged by
significant support from the Carnegie and Ford Foundations; many related
conferences were held and books published in the United States at that
While fascinated by American racists, Hitler was
still outraged by the political values and intervention of Woodrow
Wilson—an earlier U.S. president whom he described as “an American
medicine man who found the formula that deceived the German people.” The
U.S. had entered the recent World War against Germany, he said, because
Jewish war profiteers and a Jewish press coerced a generally honorable
people into conflict with the German Vaterland. By stating erroneous
“facts,” twisting contexts and fabricating events, Hitler argued that
the U.S.’ decisive entry into the war did not change the “reality”
that Germany was not to blame for earlier hostilities. It was Wilson, he
repeatedly alleged—in collusion with German socialists and Jews—who had
betrayed the German people. The Allies and treasonous Germans, Hitler
claimed, had deceived but not defeated the Germans.
Hitler also offered condescending assessments of
those in power in the United States during his own reign.
Characteristically, having long blamed Germany’s demise at Versailles and
its disastrous years under the Weimarer Republic on Leftists and Jews, after
the bombing of Pearl Harbor Hitler blamed the Second World War on Franklin
Delano Roosevelt, charging the current U.S. president had incited the Poles
to war and aggravated French suffering by supplying the Reynaudist
resistance. Hitler sickly purported that Roosevelt had become “Judaised”
by surrounding himself with Jews and had conspired to begin the war in order
to shift attention from his own failing domestic policies. Erroneously
Roosevelt “did not succeed in bringing about even the slightest improvement in his own country,” he further
implied that F.D.R. himself was a threat to the United States.
In truth, Hitler retained what had always been a
superficial understanding of the United States. In charge of the Nazis’
image abroad, Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl tried to rectify this, yet Hitler continued to see
the U.S. largely as irrelevant to European affairs. Hanfstaengl said Hitler
thought of the United States mostly in connection with the “Jewish
problem,” but ignored it because he could not solve the “problem”
immediately. Also, supposedly because it could not control its own
“gangsters,” Hitler considered the U.S. government unable to play a
significant role on the international scene. And, while he pledged a
peaceful relationship with the Western hemisphere and
generally approved of the Monroe Doctrine, he planned for Germany to
replace Spain and Portugal as the cultural leader of Latin America, saying
“We shall build a new Germany there.”
Hitler made overtures towards settling Germans in
Latin American countries like Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia—and even cast
longing eyes toward Mexico—yet saw the precarious nature of imperialism
that is not based in a colonizer’s own continent. “Today many European
states are like pyramids stood on their heads” he said. “Their European
area is absurdly small in comparison to their weight of colonies, foreign
trade, etc. We may say: summit in Europe, base in the whole world.” The
“American Union”—as he always insisted on calling the United
States—provided an example for European empires because unlike them, the
U.S. “possesses its base in its own continent and touches the rest of the
earth only with its summit. And from this comes the immense inner strength
of this state and the weakness of most European colonial powers.” Hitler
realized that in contrast to Britain and France which relied on colonies
flung literally across the globe, the U.S.’ empire remained unhampered by
nativistic movements for liberation, outside threat or the costs of
trans-global shipping and administration.
The eventual dictator of Germany let it be known
early in his political career that although he considered it presently still
a peripheral player in the global power-brokering arena and always on the
brink of revolution, the United States posed a threat to the interests of an
expanded German Reich in the future. In his rambling, poorly-written Mein
Kampf, Hitler explained that “historically,” because England lost
its prize North American colonies long ago, it had since taken to keeping
the “individual state powers of Europe in a state of general paralysis
resulting from mutual rivalries.” More pressing now, however, was the
U.S.’ own rise to power. Saying “we must regard as giant states, first
of all the American Union, then Russia and China,” Hitler resented the
U.S.’ phenomenal success and ascendancy in the world, assuming it would
directly compete with relatively small, mostly land-locked Germany. Unless,
that is, Germany would claim its rightful place in the world and assume
dominance over Europe, if not much of the entire planet.
How could Germany accomplish a global takeover?
Through German ingenuity and might—and the aid of Germanic peoples living
in other lands. An otherwise strict racist, Hitler made “no distinction
between German nationals and Germans by birth who are citizens of a foreign
country. Superficially we shall have to make allowances for such
citizenship.” He planned to orchestrate from Berlin a worldwide movement
of German expatriates and those descended from German emigrants to arise and
seize power of the countries where they had settled. Early in the Third
Reich the Nazi regime sent agents to distribute nationalistic propaganda
among Germanic peoples in North and South America—even plotting with some
to foment armed rebellion. Still, Hitler insisted “We shall not land
troops like William the Conqueror and gain Brazil by strength of arms. Our
weapons are not visible ones. Our conquistadors...have a more difficult task
than the original ones, and for this reason they have more difficult
weapons.” What were these special weapons? The same ones that had
conquered the German people and destroyed the Weimarer Republic: the
blatant, cynical untruths of the Nazi propaganda machine.
Hitler planned ultimately to win the Western
hemisphere not through military attack but through the subversion of their
governments, made possible by their own institutionalized weaknesses. Again
spreading misinformation, half-truths and nationalistic tracts, the Nazis
intended to arouse the sentiment of German nationals and descendents until they worked in
concert with the
“political mother country” to establish a global German empire. Hitler
instructed foreign agents working in the name of Nazism that their task was to “train all Germans, without
distinction, unconditionally to place their loyalty to Germandom before
their loyalty to the foreign state. Only in this way will you be able to
fulfill the difficult tasks I shall give you.” He offered the stern
warning, though, that “Whoever opposes you should know that he has nothing
more to expect from the German Reich. He will be outlawed for all time. And
in due course he will reap the fruits of his treacherous attitude.” In no
uncertain terms Hitler wanted the people of the Americas to know that he
intended no less than to spread German rule over the entire earth.
Third Reich = The Big Lie
Adolf Hitler came to power “legally”—having received 37% of the popular vote, then finagled a majority coalition—but with questionable authority. His was a shaky victory, with marginal popularity. Soon after seizing power, however, a national disaster handed Hitler the license and seeming legitimacy he needed: while questions remain, credible historians maintain that the Nazis torched the Reichstag (home of the German parliament, which they loathed), then blamed it on the communists. In any event, the following day Hitler used the crisis to suspend personal freedom; never again in the Third Reich would Germans enjoy legal protection and due process. Ultimately, puppet Volksgerichthoefe (People’s Courts) replaced legitimate legal structures and rubber-stamped all Nazi decrees, veiled as “laws”.
In tandem to this, in response to the “national emergency” Hitler’s regime implemented a massive Gleichschaltung (coordination), which entailed bringing all public bodies under one administration—reaching from the army, navy, coast guard, postal system, municipal as well as national [including secret] police forces, diplomatic corps and civil service to, eventually, the churches and “independent” clubs for hiking or even bird-watching. Within two months of coming to power, the Nazis also built their first concentration camp, Dachau, to house political prisoners—in effect, anyone who publicly voiced opposition. The Nazis also mercilessly deported (without effective complaint from the international community) thousands of Ostjuden (Eastern Jews who’d come to Germany since 1918) to Poland—separate from and preceding the Nazis’ later Endloesung (Final Solution) extermination campaign. The German people offered no serious resistance to such policies and remained largely silently passive while such injustices took place.
From early on, some of Germany’s largest companies bankrolled the Nationalsozialist party, thinking that they could steer it to their benefit. Later, their payback would include the regime’s supplying the likes of AG Farben, Volkswagen, Krupp and other corporate giants with slave laborers, not to mention padded, monopolistic government contracts. Under fascism, business figures enjoyed power and privilege like never before, as financially the Nazi party became utterly corrupt, with endless insider favors being dealt to and by the various Gauleiter (local leaders)—who in turn ran their regions like fiefdoms; they milked “their” dejected Jews down to the last Pfennig—for example acquiring Jewish goods and property at liquidation prices, then reselling them at steep profits. The Hitler years were a time of institutionalized profiteering, with the entire German nation becoming the company store of an arrogant, megalomaniac ruling elite.
To credit Hitler himself with so much influence and power, however, is undeserved. A failed postcard painter and decorator, Adolf Hitler was a man of limited intelligence and ability—albeit well endowed with multitudes of complexes, including what today would be called “low self-esteem” and “father issues”. Rather, it was the men behind him (Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Hess, etc.) who determined much of the government’s agenda. For his part, however, Hitler provided a photogenic mouthpiece for the Nazi ruling class’ program, and became wildly popular for his “charisma” and “decency”; a tea-totaling vegetarian and child-adoring “nice guy”, he promised to restore German society to moral as well as “racial” purity.
Hitler’s inner circle included individuals uniquely talented as propagandists. Hitler’s face was plastered everywhere; money, children’s books, posters and banners, cinema news clips or newspapers and magazines [showing der Fuehrer (the leader) opening sports events or dedicating memorials or walking his dog] with Hitler’s portrait all contributed to a huge but hollow personality cult. Throughout the Third Reich’s 12-year existence, the angular eagle and the [Nazi] national flag remained ubiquitously present—sewn on clothes, hanging from house windows and street lamps, stamped onto stationary and appliances. Fascist Germany became awash with red, white and… black.
Although physically crippled and a social misfit, Josef Goebbels brilliantly orchestrated effectively brainwashing the masses. He maintained that the bigger the lie, the easier sold—and if repeated often and long enough, anything could be peddled as Truth. Also, upon seizing power the Nazis focused first on debilitating the opposition; its Jew-hunting and more generalized propaganda efforts came only later—and then step-by-step, as Goebbels understood that wholesale social control installed bit by bit is more accepted than if forced onto a given population all at once. Second, the Nazis knew that to capture the nation they would have to capture its youth—so they did. All “acceptable” German youth were forced into one or another youth groups. Their hiking and camping trips, tumbling exercises, marching drills and group singing, etc. were all unarmed military training. The so-called Reichsarbeitsdienst (Imperial Labor Service) for young men began with marching with shovels slung over their shoulders; guns would follow. Meanwhile, younger counterparts did gymnastics, marched and followed orders.
Germany’s fascist propaganda machine reached down to all levels of society. Under Nazism, compliant journalists became stenographers, simply regurgitating what was carefully fed them during daily press conferences. Also, the government subsidized Volksempfaenger (people’s receivers), so that every home had a radio—even if they could receive but one channel. And, the Nazis freely stole national symbols and traditions, then warped them to fit their own needs.
One of the cultural icons the Nazis shanghaied was the concept of Heimat (homeland): it became a rallying cry around which countless atrocities would be committed. Then, once the inevitable war erupted, the Nazis similarly used the excuse of “being at war” for depriving their own people of essentials for survival or simply keeping them subservient. And, to keep those on the home front compliant, the government continually dropped the threat of the “[Soviet] Mongolian hordes” attacking the country. Omnipresent fear characterized the Third Reich’s entire existence.
In the process of abusing the people’s traditions and trust, the Nazis betrayed Germans’ sense of national pride and ambition, using both for their own, illicit ends. They did not just appeal, however, to the German people’s greatest dreams (retribution and self-respect after a perceived assault on their nation at Versailles, an enhanced national moral character through fighting “evil” Jewish/Bolshevik decadence, etc.), but to their lowest instincts (i.e. fear, self-protection and group think). Through fear, the Nazis were able to control an entire country of over 65 million individuals. While free thinkers knew that dissenting would land them in a KZ (short for “concentration camp”), too many average people believed Hitler’s eternal ranting about internal enemies (most notably the Jews and, early on, pacifists and “internationalists” who supposedly had sabotaged Germany during the “Great War”), as well as external ones (the French and British, the “Bolshevik menace” in the Soviet Union, the Poles, etc.).
Of the last group, the Nazis used the threat of Polish “terrorists” to whip the Germans into a hateful hysteria, which climaxed in the summer of 1939 and handed Berlin an excuse to invade Poland: putting KZ prisoners in Polish uniforms, then shooting them to look like Polish casualties during a staged “attack” on the German-language radio station at Gleiwitz (a provincial eastern-German border town), the SS provided a sham provocation for Germany’s launching—out of “self defense”—what became WWII.
Even before WWII broke out, Nazi Germany cultivated a role of international isolation, oddly blended with self-serving accommodation. On one hand it unilaterally withdrew from global agreements it found unacceptable or hindersome (the fledgling League of Nations, reparation and debt payments, etc.), but on the other it sealed cynical pacts with world players in order to buy them off (e.g., the Concordant with the Vatican, a Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviets). Germans were fed a go-it-alone explanation of the world situation and largely bought it, having been duped by relentless domestic propaganda efforts.
In reality, cynicism and deception were two of the few consistent aspects of the Nazi regime. It declared independent labor unions illegal, for example, then bought workers’ compliance with subsidized Alpine ski trips, Norwegian fjord cruises or Baltic-coast beach vacations, organized by the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) program. In fact, virtually everything the Nazi regime ever said or did for public consumption was, in reality, meant to accomplish the opposite. The Winterhilfsaktion (Winter Aid Campaign) was supposed to deliver assistance to those in need, yet the state plundered well-intended citizens’ contributions of goods and monies. Jews being “resettled” to the East were instructed to bring their most precious belongings—making their organized theft all the easier; perhaps even more obscene, surviving relatives not yet deported received “burial costs” bills for family murdered in death camps. In short, in its whole 12-year reign, the Nazi machinery hardly made a statement or made a move not designed to commit or at least mask ill. Till the end, however, ordinary citizens stubbornly clung a plethora of patent lies and baseless propaganda as The Truth.
In truth, from the beginning the Nazis had no genuine political program, other than what strengthened their own hand; their very survival depended on being able to wage war and thereby subjugate all of Europe. A land with relatively few natural resources and too many people, Germany needed uncontested access to, say, the coal mines of France and the agricultural lands of Denmark and the Ukraine, the ore of Norway and the oil of the Southern Soviet Republics—with acquisition to such resources cloaked behind a push for Lebensraum (living space). Its morally bankrupt regime also needed “endless war” in order to rationalize its own existence.
Like a parasite in a laboratory petri dish, the Nazi monster—lacking the legitimate right to rule or a genuine social program to sustain domestic support—had to consume its neighbors in other to survive. It therefore felt compelled to “redraw the map” of Europe if it were to remain in power (with some of its neighboring countries disappearing, others being divided and still others surviving, but under bogus regimes), for without expansion and the exploitation of external resources, the Nazi regime simply would have consumed itself and disappeared.
Hitler knew that conquering the Soviet Union would necessitate Germany’s fighting partisan resistance for the duration of its occupation of that vast region, but thought such protracted military engagement would keep the German Volk (people) “fit”*, the military budget strong and the population at home distracted from the lack of social projects: nothing makes a people more defenseless and malleable than the constant, numbing fear of attack—either real or fictional.
*As Europe’s historical battlefield of struggles for continental power (the Thirty Years’ War, the Napoleonic War, etc.), long before Hitler came to power Germans suffered a self-righteous victim complex that bore for many their brutal behavior under Nazism. Feeling victimized by “foreigners” they victimized others enmasse.
I had just been at the public library, where I discovered the speech that started World War II. I print much of it here. It is darkly familiar to
what we have been hearing here, when for the first time in American history we became all the things we ever hated and invaded another country.
Herewith the speech:
Last night, George Bush, after speech after speech of this same dry, flat, banal language, started a war for his country, and we can only beg the skies to keep it from spreading into another world war.
copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.
On State Lies
What follows is from the book Nuremberg
Diary, by Gustave Gilbert, who interviewed Hermann Goering in prison.
Goering had been Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the
Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia and Second in Command of the Third
of the Third Reich
of the Third Reich
To better understand the
steps in which the Third Reich nightmare took form, it helps to know the
major developments in Nazi Germany from Hitler’s ascendancy until his
death. The brief summary that follows outlines the rise and fall of the
Adolf Hitler and conservative leader Franz von Papen form a coalition
with Hitler as its head. German Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher—failing to
attract splinter groups and losing majority-party control over the
Reichstag—resigns. President Paul von Hindenburg reluctantly agrees to
offer Hitler the chancellorship, which the Nazis celebrate with dramatic
evening torch processions through Berlin.
issues the Thirty-three Decrees—effectively banning opposition parties
from functioning—and orders the Nazis to raid Communist Party
headquarters. Later that month [many historians agree] the Nazis burn the
Reichstag, blaming the destruction of Germany’s Parliament building on the
Communists and using the incident to decree presidential emergency powers.
Dachau opens near Munich as the Nazis’ first concentration camp and
the SA jail thousands of people, launching what will become the common
tactic of simply arresting and incarcerating anyone who opposes the regime.
In nation-wide elections the Nazis fail to win a majority of German votes,
but a deal with the Deutsche Nationale Volks Partei affords them
control of the Reichstag. The SA subsequently force all provincial
governments to resign in favor of centralized rule based in Berlin; the
Bavarian government resists and is seized. The puppet Reichstag passes the
Enabling Law, giving Hitler special powers as Chancellor, as well as the
First Coordination Law of States and Reich, an attempt to exercise greater
centralized power. Hitler appoints Joseph Goebbels Propaganda
Minister—and, in return for Party favors, Ernst Hanfstaengl as Foreign
State-sponsored boycott of Jewish shops and professionals decreed.
The Reichstag passes the Second Coordinating Law, determining the
appointment of provincial governors, as well as laws erasing all separation
between Reich, provincial or civil service bureau. Except for Nazi
publications, the government demands control over all media. Hitler appoints
Rudolf Hess as the Nazi Party Deputy Leader.
Independent labor unions banned, replaced by the state-run German
Labor Front. Goebbels organizes a national book-burning campaign.
22 June and 5 July, six major political parties forcibly dissolved, leaving
the Nazis as legally the only remaining party. Hitler and Pope Pius XI sign
the Concordant, a complicit agreement between the Third Reich and the
The Fifth Nazi Party Rally held in Nuremberg, a turning point for the
ascending National Socialists and a Hitler eager to secure his power.
Reich Entailed Farm Law stabilizes small-farm ownership. Journalists
required to register in order to write or broadcast.
Official national referendum claims ninety-five percent of the adult
population approves of Nazi policy. Kraft durch Freude—Strength
through Joy—campaign launched by the official German Labor Front as a ploy
to pacify workers.
Reichstag Fire trial ends with the Dutch-born communist Marinus van
der Lubbe found guilty and subsequently executed.
Former German Chancellor Heinrich Bruening voluntarily flees the
country for refuge in the United States. Having fallen out of favor with the
Fuehrer and discovering a plot to liquidate him by being dropped from a
plane, Ernst Hanfstaengl flees the Third Reich for fear of his life—only
to be interned in Canada.
Himmler becomes inspector of the Prussian Gestapo.
Hitler initiates the “Roehm Purge,” ostensibly because of an
alleged assassination attempt on his life; Hitler puts the army on
state-of-emergency notice. In an atmosphere of confusion and intrigue,
Goering denounces the monarchists and the SS prepare for a possible coup
Roehm shot in his jail cell; the Reichstag passes a law pardoning all
recent state-sponsored killings and Hitler addresses the nation,
rationalizing the purge. Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss killed in an
attempted Nazi coup.
President Paul von Hindenburg dies; the Nazis abolish the German
Presidency, making Hitler the supreme commander of the Third Reich and
requiring loyalty oaths of all German officials.
All workers forcibly coerced to join the German Labor Front.
A Saar plebiscite returns the Saarland to German rule.
Hitler denounces the Treaty of Versailles’ disarmament clauses and
orders universal conscription of all German young men.
The German military establishes the Luftwaffe, the new German
Nuernberg Laws passed removing the rights of all Jews in German
territory. The Nazis declare their swastika banner the German national flag.
National Law of Citizenship passed, defining a “Jew” and
“Mischling”—individuals of mixed race. The regime declares being Aryan
prerequisite to holding public office. First Decree of the Law for the
Protection of German Blood and Honor passes, forbidding marriages between
Aryans, Jews and Mischling.
The Gestapo gains reign over the entire nation.
The German government disregards the Locarno Treaty of 1928 when its
troops re-enter the Rhineland.
The Reichsfuehrer SS commander combines his post with the command of
all German police. The government announces compulsory Labor Service.
The Spanish Civil War begins, providing rehearsal for the Second
The XI Olympiad Games open in Berlin, forcing the Nazi regime to
exhibit its best behavior; oppression of Jews relaxed. German arrogance over
sports victories pierced by the success of Jesse Owens, a Black U.S.
Rome and Berlin announce an Axis agreement, as well as the Anti-Comintern
Pact with Japan. German bombers arrive in Spain.
SS orders those jailed for racial offenses to be sent to
Italy signs Anti-Comintern Pact.
Hitler assumes role of Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the
military; he appoints Joachim von Ribbentrop as Foreign Minister. Hitler
calls Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to Berchtesgaden and gives
ultimatum to surrender Austrian autonomy.
Germany annexes Austria without an armed struggle and applies all
German laws to Austria—now renamed “Ostmark” and headed by Nazi
collaborator, Artur Seyss-Inquart.
All Jews required to register their wealth.
Nazis destroy a Munich synagogue; all Jews required to register
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visits Hitler at
Berchtesgaden to discuss the future of Czechoslovakia.
Nazis destroy a Nuernberg synagogue; all Jews ordered to use either
“Israel” or “Sara” as their middle names, effective in 1939.
Chamberlain meets with Hitler at Godesberg, then with French Prime
Minister Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini at Munich; they agree to
allow Germany to occupy the Sudetenland.
The Wehrmacht occupies the Sudetenland; seventeen thousand Polish
Jews expelled from the region and all Jews’ passports stamped with a
German Ambassador to France Ernst vom Rath shot by the Polish-born
Jew Herschel Grynszpan, providing an excuse for the Nazis to instigate the Kristallnacht—the
Night of Broken Glass—Pogrom and imprison more than twenty thousand Jews.
The Nazi government decrees Jews excluded from the national economy and
demands a collective fine of twelve-and-a-half million Marks to pay for
damage done by Nazi mobs. Jews expelled from schools. President Roosevelt
recalls the U.S. Ambassador.
The German government oversees Aryan confiscation of all Jewish
Declaring them “Protectorates,” Germany occupies Bohemia and
Moravia. Hitler demands that Poland surrender its legal possession of Danzig
and the Polish Corridor. Spain signs the Anti-Comintern Pact.
All Jewish valuables confiscated; Law on Tenancies passes in an
effort to house all Jews in “Jewish houses.”
Hitler and Stalin sign Non-Aggression Pact; Britain and Poland sign
mutual assistance agreement.
Germany invades Poland and annexes Danzig, leading Britain and France
to declare war on the Third Reich. The Soviet Union invades Poland, as
allowed by the Non-Aggression Pact. The Germans force all Jews indoors after
eight on winter evenings—nine on summer evenings—and confiscate all
radios held by Jews.
The Nazis first deport German Jews, mostly from Pomerania.
Germany invades Denmark and Norway.
Germany invades the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.
France surrenders at Compiegne, where the Germans had surrendered at
the end of the First World War. Germany divides France into occupied and
officially “unoccupied” (Vichy) zones.
Romania becomes a German ally.
The Battle of Britain begins. The Soviet Union occupies the Baltic
republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Japan joins the Axis.
Germany expels all non-Germans from Alsace-Lorraine, the Saarland and
Hungary, Romania and Slovakia sign treaties with Nazi Germany.
Germany and the Soviet Union forge trade and boundary agreements.
Hitler forms the Afrika Korps to send to Libya and occupies Bulgaria.
Germany invades Yugoslavia and Greece.
Rudolf Hess flies to Britain in an attempt to negotiate an end to the
Germany invades the Soviet Union.
Goering orders all occupied lands cleared of Jews. German troops
reach the Ukraine.
The German government requires all Jews to wear yellow stars and
begins a general deportation of German Jews. The Wehrmacht takes Kiev and
begins its siege on Leningrad.
The German assault on Moscow begins to fail. Sensing that the U.S.
entry into the war nears, the German Propaganda Ministry begins excluding
U.S. American journalists from press conferences and government officials
begin excluding U.S. diplomats from state functions.
Japan attacks the U.S. navy at Pear Harbor, as well as Dutch and
British territories in Asia. War ensues between the United States, Germany
and Japan. The Gestapo occupies the United States Embassy and its compound,
while the German Foreign Office interns all U.S. Americans remaining in the
Third Reich at Bad Nauheim, a converted resort near Frankfurt am Main.
At the first “United Nations” conference—held in
Washington—Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States agree
not to sign separate peace agreements with a defeated Germany. In the Berlin
suburb of Wannsee, the Nazi government decides to implement the “Final
Solution” to the “Jewish problem.”
Jews banned from all German pubic transportation.
The German army pushes the British out of Libya. British bombing
raids on Germany intensify.
The Nazis initiate mass gassings at Auschwitz. The German government
repatriates all remaining U.S. Americans captured inside the Third Reich the
previous December in exchange for the return of its nationals living in the
The Germans reach el Alamein in Egypt and Sevastopol in the Soviet
The U.S. airforce begins bombing raids on European targets.
German troops enter Stalingrad.
The British repel the German offensive at el Alamein.
British and U.S. troops land in Morocco and Algeria; German troops
retreat from Egypt and Libya to Tunisia, meanwhile occupying Vichy France.
The Soviets begin their counter-attack at Stalingrad.
The Soviets defeat the Germans at Stalingrad.
German and Italian troops surrender in North Africa. July British and
U.S. troops capture Sicily. Mussolini overthrown.
Allied troops land on Italian mainland; Italy surrenders.
Italy declares war on Germany. The Soviets recapture Kiev.
The Germans end their siege on Leningrad.
The Soviets recapture Sevastopol.
Allied troops capture Rome. Under the code name “D-Day,” British
and U.S. military units land in Normandy France. Germany begins V-1 bombing
A failed assassination attempt barely misses taking Hitler’s life.
Allied forces recapture Paris. The Soviets enter Bucharest.
The Soviets enter Yugoslavia.
The Soviets enter Hungary.
The SS destroy the Auschwitz crematoria as they evacuate the former
The Ardennes offensive begins.
The Soviets liberate Auschwitz, revealing to the world for the first
time the full horrors of Nazi tyranny against the Jews as well as other
U.S. troops capture the Rhine bridge at Remagen, while the British
cross Germany’s largest river to the north. U.S. troops approach Frankfurt
The Soviets capture Vienna while British and U.S. troops advance
east. As the Soviet army reaches the outskirts of Berlin, the German
dictator Adolf Hitler commits suicide with his bride Eva Braun.
The Third Reich collapses.
The following is adapted from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2.
Political scientist, researcher and author Laurence W. Britt studied the following regimes to compile his 14 Characteristics of Fascism: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulos's Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's Indonesia: (The abridged related article follows, below.)
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people's attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice-relentless propaganda and disinformation-were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite "spontaneous" acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and "terrorists." Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.
5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.
6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes' excesses.
7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting "national security," and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite's behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the "godless." A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.
9. Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of "have-not" citizens.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. "Normal" and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or "traitors" was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.
14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.
Free thinkers may pause as they read the above characteristics, for to them the principles of freedom and democracy seem so logical, so right, so crucial--and yet, there is one archetypal political philosophy that is anathema to almost all of these principles: It is fascism. And fascism's principles are wafting in the air today, surreptitiously masquerading as something else, challenging everything we stand for. The cliché that people and nations learn from history is not only overused, but also overestimated; often we fail to learn from history, or draw the wrong conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm. We are two-and-a-half generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, although constant reminders jog the consciousness. German and Italian fascism form the historical models that define this twisted political worldview. Although they no longer exist, this worldview and the characteristics of these models have been imitated by protofascist regimes at various times in the twentieth century. Both the original German and Italian models and the later protofascist regimes show remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars question any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their visual similarities. Beyond the visual, even a cursory study of these fascist and protofascist regimes reveals the absolutely striking convergence of their modus operandi. This, of course, is not a revelation to the informed political observer, but it is sometimes useful in the interests of perspective to restate obvious facts and in so doing shed needed light on current circumstances. In his brilliant study, Britt considers the following regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulos's Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels, and history. But they all followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power. Further, all these regimes have been overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their basic characteristics and abuses is possible. Analysis of these seven regimes reveals fourteen common threads that link them in recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of similarity. (See the above-listed characteristics.) Do any of these ring alarm bells? Of course not. After all, this is America, officially a democracy with the rule of law, a constitution, a free press, honest elections, and a well-informed public constantly being put on guard against evils. Historical comparisons like these are just exercises in verbal gymnastics. Maybe, maybe not.
References: Andrews, Kevin. Greece in the Dark. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1980. Chabod, Frederico. A History of Italian Fascism. London: Weidenfeld, 1963. Cooper, Marc. Pinochet and Me. New York: Verso, 2001. Cornwell, John. Hitler as Pope. New York: Viking, 1999. de Figuerio, Antonio. Portugal-Fifty Years of Dictatorship. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1976. Eatwell, Roger. Fascism, A History. New York: Penguin, 1995. Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich. New York: Pantheon, 1970. Gallo, Max. Mussolini's Italy. New York: MacMillan, 1973. Kershaw, Ian. Hitler (two volumes). New York: Norton, 1999. Laqueur, Walter. Fascism, Past, Present, and Future. New York: Oxford, 1996. Papandreau, Andreas. Democracy at Gunpoint. New York: Penguin Books, 1971. Phillips, Peter. Censored 2001: 25 Years of Censored News. New York: Seven Stories. 2001. Sharp, M.E. Indonesia Beyond Suharto. Armonk, 1999. Verdugo, Patricia. Chile, Pinochet, and the Caravan of Death. Coral Gables, Florida: North-South Center Press, 2001. Yglesias, Jose. The Franco Years. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.
“War gives meaning to life”
is the transcript of an interview in spring 2003 by PBS’ Bill Moyers of New York Times war reporter
Chris Hedges. Before becoming a reporter, Chris Hedges received a divinity
degree from Harvard.
Transcript: Bill Moyers Talks with Chris
MOYERS: Some weeks ago we discussed
on NOW the Pentagon’s plan to attack Iraq with ‘shock and awe.’
That’s the strategy first reported by CBS News of unleashing 3,000
precision bombs and cruise missiles in the first 48 hours after President
Bush gives the order.
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has come forward with more details
on how the strategy is expected to work. “The best way to get a short
war”, he says, “is to have such a shock on the system, that the Iraqi
regime would have to assume early on, that the end was inevitable.”
General was admirably candid. Quote: “We need to condition people that
this is war. People get the idea this is going to be antiseptic. Well,
it’s not going to be. People are going to die.”
read those words just after finishing this book, War is a Force that
Gives Us Meaning. Its author, Chris Hedges, knows about war, knows about
people dying from close up experience. As a foreign correspondent for the New
York Times, Chris Hedges covered the Balkans, the Middle East, including
the first Gulf War where he was captured by the Iraqis, and Central America.
year he was a member of the team of reporters that won the Pulitzer Prize
for the New York Times coverage of global terrorism. Chris Hedges now
writes the column, Public Lives. He’s also, by the way, a graduate
of the Harvard Divinity School. Welcome to NOW.
HEDGES: Thank you.
MOYERS: When you hear the General
describe an attack of 3,000 missiles on Iraq, what comes through your mind?
HEDGES: Well not images of shock and
awe. Images of large numbers of civilian dead. Destroyed buildings. Panic in
the corridors of hospitals. Families that can’t reach parts of a city that
have been devastated and are desperate for news of their loved ones. All of
the images of
war that I’ve seen for most of the past two decades come to mind.
MOYERS: I heard a description of
‘shock and awe’ again on National Public Radio yesterday and then they
came on with a report, a first-hand report from Kurds in
of how they had been tortured by Saddam Hussein. Cruelly, brutally,
creatively tortured. Is there any kinship between what happens to civilians
in a war like we’re about to launch and what happens to them under the
regime of a Saddam Hussein? And is there any moral relativism there?
HEDGES: Well, I don’t think you can
justify unleashing 3,000 precision-guided missiles in 48 hours because
Saddam Hussein is a torturer, which he is. And I covered that whole
withdrawal of the Iraqi forces from Northern Iraq. I was not only in the
bowels of the
Secret Police Headquarters where we found not only documentation but
videotapes of executions. Horrible torture centers. People being—you know
where the meat hooks were still sort of fastened into the ceiling of
then these mass graves. We were digging up as many as a thousand, 1,500
people. But that does not give you a moral justification to carry out what
is, quite candidly, indiscriminate attack against civilians. That’s
what’s going to happen when you drop this number of high explosive devices
in an urban area.
MOYERS: Does the inevitability of
civilian casualties make this war illegitimate?
HEDGES: Well, I think the war is
illegitimate not because civilians will die. Civilians die in every
conflict. It’s illegitimate because the administration has not, to my
mind, provided any evidence of any credible threat. And we can’t go to war
just because we think somebody might do something eventually.
There has to be hard intelligence. There has to be a real threat if we’re going to ask our young men and women to die. Because once you unleash the "dogs of war" and I know this from every war I've ever covered, war has a force of its own. It's not surgical. We talk about taking out Saddam Hussein. Once you use the blunt instrument of war, it has all sorts of consequences when you use violence on that scale that you can't anticipate. I'm not opposed to the use of force. But force is always has to be a last resort because those who wield force become tainted or contaminated by it. And one of the things that most frightens me about the moment our nation is in now, is that we've lost touch with the notion of what war is.
the end of the Vietnam War, we became a better country in our defeat. We
asked questions about ourselves that we had not asked before. We were
humbled, maybe even humiliated. We were forced to step outside of ourselves
and look at us as others saw us. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.
we became a better country for it. A much better country. Gradually war’s
good name if we can, between quotes, can say was resurrected. Certainly
during the Reagan Era. Granada, Panama. Culminating with the Persian Gulf
War, where a war—the very essence of war was hidden from us. And the
essence of war is death. War is necrophilia. That’s what it is.
MOYERS: Tell me, having covered the
first Gulf War, what the men and women who are about to go into Iraq are
going to experience.
HEDGES: Well, the ones who are up on
the front line are—especially as they prepare to go into battle—are
going to have to come face-to-face with the myth of war. The myth of
heroism, the myth of patriotism. The myth of glory. All those myths that
have the ability to arouse us when we’re not in mortal danger.
they’re going to have to confront their own mortality. And at that moment
some people will be crying, some people will be vomiting. People will not
speak much. Everyone will realize that from here on out, at least until the
fighting ends, it will be a constant minute-by-minute battle with fear. And
that sometimes fear wins. And anybody who tells you differently has never
been in a war.
MOYERS: And yet you say in your book
that the first Gulf War, that we made war fun.
HEDGES: For those who weren’t
there. You know the—I was with the U.S. Marine Corps and they hated CNN.
They hated that flag-waving jingoism that dominated the coverage on, or
dominated so much of the coverage...all those abstract terms that create the
excitement back home become obscene to those who are in combat.
MOYERS: You say also in the book that
the first Gulf War made war more fashionable again.
MOYERS: What do you mean by that?
HEDGES: Well, it was, you know, so
much of commercial news has now become an extension of the entertainment
industry. And the war became entertainment. The Army had no more candor than
they did in Vietnam. But what they perfected was the appearance of candor.
Live press conferences. And well-packaged video clips of
missiles hitting planes or going down chimneys. You know, this kind of
the fact that they covered up death. Not only the death of our own. But the
death of tens of thousands of Iraqis who were killed. They were nameless,
faceless phantoms. When we the victims, if you watch the news reports
carefully, were our young men who were out in the desert having to sort of
bathe out of a bucket and eat MRE’s.
it was completely mythic, or mendacious narrative that was presented to us.
And I was a little delayed getting back to New York because I was a prisoner
with the Iraqi Republican Guard. But I remember landing into New York and
even then the mood was that we’d just won the Super Bowl.
it frightened me and it disgusted me. And it wasn’t because I didn’t
believe that we shouldn’t have gone into Kuwait. I believe we had no
choice. But I certainly understood that we, as a nation, had completely lost
touch with what war is. And when we lose touch with what war is, when we
believe that our technology makes us invulnerable. That we can wage war and
others can die and we won’t—then eventually, if history is any guide, we
are going to stumble into a horrific swamp.
MOYERS: I read your book last night.
One of the most chilling and haunting scenes in here is when, I think you
were in El Salvador, and a young man was near you, calling out, “mama.”
HEDGES: It’s not uncommon when
soldiers die that they call out for their mother. And that always seems to
me to cut through the absurd posturing of soldiering.
MOYERS: Three times when you were in
El Salvador you were threatened with death. You received death threats. The
Embassy got you out.
HEDGES: That’s right.
MOYERS: You went back.
HEDGES: Yes. Because I believe that
it was better to live for one intense and overpowering moment, even if it
meant my own death, rather than go back to the routine of life.
MOYERS: You’re right, you know. War
is an addiction, as you say. Let me read you this: “during a lull I
dashed...” this is you.
MOYERS: Read this for me.
HEDGES: “During a lull I dashed
across an empty square and found shelter behind a house. My heart was
racing. Adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream. I was safe.
I made it
back to the capital. And like most war correspondents, I soon considered the
experience a great cosmic joke. I drank away the fear and excitement in a
seedy bar in downtown San Salvador. Most people, after such an experience,
would learn to stay away. I was hooked.”
MOYERS: You were hooked on…?
HEDGES: War. On the most powerful
narcotic invented by humankind is war.
MOYERS: What is the narcotic? What is
it that’s the poisonous allure?
HEDGES: Well the Bible calls it,
“The lust of the eye.” And warns believers against it. It’s that great
landscape of the grotesque. It’s that power to destroy.
mean one of the most chilling things you learn in war is that human beings
like to destroy. Not only other things but other human beings. And when unit
discipline would break down or there was no unit discipline to begin with,
you would go into a town and people’s eyes were glazed over. They
were burning. They had that power to revoke the charter. That divine-like
power, to revoke the charter of another human being’s place on this
planet. And they used it.
MOYERS: I would have thought that
being captured and held by the Iraqis as you were, would have cured you of
your addiction. But yet it didn’t.
MOYERS: So I still don’t understand
it. I have to be honest. I mean I just don’t understand why you keep
putting yourself back into that which you hate.
HEDGES: Well, because the experience
itself, that adrenaline-driven rush of war. That sense that you know we have
a vital mission that, as journalists, that we ennoble ourselves. I mean I
think one of the things I tried very hard to do in the book was show the
dark side of what we do.
mean I admire the courage and the integrity of many of the men and women I
worked with, but I do think there is a very dark side to what we do. And it
becomes very hard to live outside of a war zone. It’s why this small—my
comrades, these groups of war correspondents and photographers—would leap
no accident that I was covering the war in Kosovo with people I had covered
the war with in El Salvador two decades earlier. You go out of Sarajevo and
be in a hotel in Paris and would be pacing the halls because you couldn’t
adjust. When you stepped outside war it’s literally as if you sort of see
the world around you from the end of a long tunnel.
I often would feel that I was physically here but I was really sort of four
paces behind. You’re incredibly disconnected from the world around you.
And if you spend long enough in war, it’s finally the only place that you
can feel at home. And that’s, of course, a sickness. But I had it.
MOYERS: But doesn’t it also create
a sense of camaraderie among men who are fighting it. What happens then?
HEDGES: Comradeship is something
that’s attainable. Everyone can attain in wartime. Once you have that
external threat. I mean I think we felt this a little bit after 9-11. We no
longer faced death alone. We faced death as a group.
for that reason it becomes easier to bear.
MOYERS: How do you explain the
phenomenon that while we venerate and mourn our own dead from say 9-11,
we’re curiously indifferent about those we’re about to kill.
HEDGES: Because we dehumanize the
Other. We fail to recognize the divinity of all human life. We- our own
victims are the only victims that hold worth. The victims of the Other are
sort of the regrettable cost of war. There is such a moral dichotomy in war.
Such a frightening dichotomy that the world becomes a tableau of black and
white, good and evil.
see this in the rhetoric of the Bush Administration. They are the
barbarians. I mean we begin to mirror them. You know for them we’re the
infidels and we call them the barbarians.
MOYERS: It happened in the Johnson
Administration too. The President spoke of bringing the coonskin home.
HEDGES: Right. But that’s because
war is the same disease. And that’s the point of the book is that it
doesn’t matter if I’m an Argentine or El Salvador or the occupied
territories or Iraq. It’s all the same sickness.
MOYERS: The world is sick too, this
is a savage world, as we keep being reminded...
You do think
that United States faces a threat? A threat from whatever we want to call
it? That produced 9/11? You think we are at danger?
HEDGES: Yes. But not from Iraq.
MOYERS: So how do we, taking into
account the moral issues that you raise...
MOYERS: How do we protect ourselves,
defend our security, do the right thing and yet not be taken by surprise
HEDGES: By having the courage to be
vulnerable. By not folding in on ourselves. By not becoming like those who
are arrayed against us. By not using their rhetoric and not adopting their
we did after 9/11 was glorify ourselves, denigrate the others. We’re
certainly, now at this moment, denigrating the French and the Germans who,
after all, are our allies. And we created this global troika with Vladimir
Putin and Ariel Sharon.
fifth of the world’s population, most of whom are not Arabs, look at us
through the prism of Chechnya and Palestine. And yes, we certainly have to
hunt down Osama bin Laden. I would like to see those who carried out 9/11,
in so far as it is possible, go on trial for the crimes against humanity
that they committed. But we must also begin to address the roots of that
legitimate rage and anger that is against us.
has to be a twofold battle. We are not going to stop terrorism through
violence. You see that in Israel. In some ways, the best friend Hamas has is
Ariel Sharon, because every time the Israelis send warplanes to bomb a
refugee camp or tanks into Ramallah, it weakens and destroys that moderate
center within the Palestinian community.
essentially creates two apocalyptic visions. One on the extreme right wing
of Israeli politics. And certainly one on the extreme wing of the
Palestinian community. And
when these apocalyptic visionaries move to the center of society, then the
world becomes exceedingly dangerous. And that’s what I fear. And that’s
what- and, but that requires us not to resort, which is a natural kind of
reaction, a kind of almost knee-jerk reaction, to the use of force when
force is used against us.
MOYERS: So is it enough in this kind
of world just to be good?
HEDGES: Well, nobody’s good. I mean
we’re all sinners and God loves us anyway. That’s the whole point. And
we live in a fallen world and it’s never between the choice is never
between good and evil.
choice... or moral and immoral, as Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us. The choice
is always between immoral and more immoral. And I don’t think...
MOYERS: I don’t think Americans
feel immoral about what happened to them on 9/11. Or...
HEDGES: Well, nor should they.
MOYERS: Nor when listening to the
report of Saddam Hussein’s torture of his own people. That I don’t think
they feel the same way as they think he feels.
HEDGES: Well, he’s a tyrant. And
you know we... 9/11 is not the issue. The issue is once we unleash force of
that magnitude. And I think theologians like Niebuhr would argue that we
must do so and ask for forgiveness.
we, you know, when you make a choice in the world, and of course one always
has to, one has to remember that there are consequences for that choice that
create injustice and tragedy for others. And that’s what is important to
always remember and be aware of.
think you go back and read Abraham Lincoln and he was very aware of this.
And that’s what made him a great leader. And in many ways a great moral
MOYERS: Can people who plan wars,
presidents and generals, afford to be influenced by people like you who
abhor war? Who anguish over war?
HEDGES: Well, I think any soldier
that’s been through combat hates war in the way that only somebody who’s
seen war can. It’s those that lose touch with war and find it euphoric
that frighten me.
MOYERS: But doesn’t power exercised
with ruthlessness always win?
HEDGES: Power exercised with
ruthlessness always is able to crush the gentle and the compassionate. But I
don’t believe it always wins. Thucydides wrote about the war with Sparta
that, yes, raw Spartan militarism in the short-term could conquer Athens.
knowledge, philosophy, would long outlive Sparta and Spartan militarism.
he consoled himself with that. I think in the short-term, yes, violence and
force can win. But in the long-term, it leaves nothing but hollowness,
emptiness. It does nothing to enrich our lives or propel us forward as human
MOYERS: What would you like most
as—what would you most like us to be thinking about this weekend as it
looks as if war is about to happen?
HEDGES: That this isn’t just about
the destruction of Iraq and the death of Iraqis. It’s about
MOYERS: How so? What’s happening to
HEDGES: Our whole civil society is
being torn apart. Once again, as is true in every war, the media parrots
back the clichés and jingos of the state. Imbibes and promotes the myth. In
wartime, the press is always part of the problem.
that we are about to engage in that ecstatic, exciting, narcotic that is
war. And that if we don’t get a grasp on the poison that war is, then that
poison can ultimately kill us just as surely as the disease.
MOYERS: What have you learned as a
journalist covering war that we ought to know on the eve of this attack on
HEDGES: That everybody or every
generation seems to have- seems not to listen to those who went through it
before and bore witness to it. But falls again for the myth. And has to
learn it through a tragedy inflicted upon their young.
war is always about betrayal. It’s about betrayal of soldiers by
politicians. And it’s about betrayal of the young by the old.
MOYERS: I believe that George W. Bush
tonight as you and I talk is convinced he’s about to do good. A necessary
act that he thinks is making a moral claim in the world. Do you believe
HEDGES: I believe that he feels that.
But I think anybody who believes that they understand the will of God and
can act as an agent for God is dangerous.
MOYERS: If the New York Times
asked you to go cover the war in the next month, would you go?
HEDGES: No. No, I’m finished.
MOYERS: The book is War is a Force
that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. Thank you for being with us.
of Dissent on Graduation Day
by Amy Goodman and Chris Hedges, on Democracy
May 22, 2003
21 May 2003 interview on the national listener-sponsored radio and
television show “Democracy Now!”
disrupts RC graduation”—this is the headline in the Rockford
Register Star in Illinois. The article describes how commencement
speaker Chris Hedges was booed off the stage for making an anti-war speech
at the Rockford College graduation on Saturday. The paper reports that two
days later, graduates and family members are “still reeling.” They had
envisioned a “go out and make your mark send-off.” Hedges is a Pulitzer
Prize-winning New York Times reporter and veteran war correspondent
who has reported from war-torn countries for 15 years. He is also the author
of the acclaimed War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning.
Rockford College officials pulled the plug on his microphone three minutes
after he began to speak. The college president told Hedges to wrap it up,
and he resumed his speech to the sound of boos and foghorns. Some graduates
and audience members turned their backs to Hedges. Others rushed up the
aisle to protest the remarks; one student tossed his cap and gown to the
stage before leaving.
Hedges joined Democracy Now! in our studio on May 21, 2003 to speak
with host Amy Goodman about what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Just tell us what happened
this weekend. Why did you go to Rockford College in Illinois?
CHRIS HEDGES: I was invited to give the
commencement address. Given that the book is an explication of war and the
poison that war is and what it does to individuals and societies and that
since the book came out I have spoken extensively about that, that is, of
course, what I was prepared to speak about when I got to Rockford. What I
was not prepared for was the response. I have certainly spoken at events
where people disagreed—that is to be expected. But to be silenced and to
have people clamber onto the platform with the threat of physical violence
was something new, and frightening.
AG: Did the police actually have
to take you off?
CH: People had to be escorted. I
was trying to read the speech so I wasn’t sort of watching what was going
around me but I believe about three students managed to get on the platform,
they had to be escorted off. And then as the diplomas were being handed out,
campus security took me off campus. I left before the graduation ceremony
AG: And what was the response of
other officials on the stage?
CH: I think all of us were
surprised at how vociferous the reaction was and how angry people were. It
began almost before I said anything and I think you’ll hear that in the
tape. I really didn’t manage to get much out before significant sectors of
the crowd began to drown me out and made it very hard for anyone, I think,
in the audience to hear what I was saying. So I really didn’t have much of
a chance to say anything.
AG: You decided to continue the
speech though, from beginning to end.
CH: The speech was longer than it
was, it should have been a little longer, it was cut short. But I was
determined not to let them determine when I would finish speaking and I
think the college president felt the same way. At the same time he didn’t
want it to go on for another hour. But he didn’t want to let the crowd
determine that it was over, but I didn’t finish, no.
The mic was pulled twice? Was cut off?
Who cut it?
I don’t know. I don’t know who cut it. It was probably cut at the source
because I didn’t see any activity around the podium.
We’re talking to Chris Hedges, we’re going to go to break. When we come
back we’ll hear the address that he gave at the graduation of Rockford
College students this past weekend.
CHRIS HEDGES' SPEECH
I’m Amy Goodman with Chris Hedges, the commencement speaker at the
Rockford College graduation this past Saturday in Illinois. I’m looking at
the Rockford Register Star, the latest report out of there, as it
says: “The Rockford College family debated what went wrong at its Spring
graduation ceremony that featured New York Times reporter and
anti-war advocate Chris Hedges. When do people listen to ideas? When do
people think critically and disagree? When do people sit respectfully and is
there a time for civility to be lost? These and more questions discussed at
a meeting on the campus, the Alma Mater of Jane Addams. Students, faculty
and staff didn’t reach a consensus, but college President Paul Pribbenow
maintains students should be challenged by commencement speakers. He said,
‘commencement is one of the last moments you have with students. I want
commencement to be more than just a pop speech.’ Well, Chris Hedges, you
went to Jane Addams’ school, to Rockford College. Who was Jane Addams?
she was one of the great moral and intellectual figures of the 20th Century.
She founded Hull House, which was for immigrants – this was sort of before
the state got involved in social welfare and she did amazing things like
gather immigrants at Hull House – they produced the first production of
Sophocles’ Ajax. She was just a remarkable figure, a remarkable intellect
and a pacifist who won the Nobel Prize for Peace and spoke out against World
War I, against American entry into the war and she was booed off the stage,
for instance, at Carnegie Hall. So all I knew about Rockford College was
this titanic figure in American intellectual thought and one of the great
sort of, moral leaders of our country. So, to be shouted down at her Alma
Mater – there’s a very sad kind of irony to that, of course.
you were taken off by security?
Well yeah. I think what was so disturbing was that the crowd wasn’t just
angry, but there was that undercurrent or possibility of violence. The fact
that people actually stormed up past those to get onto the podium and there
was a feeling that it was better to have me removed from the ceremony before
the conclusion, before the awarding of the diplomas. So the campus security
sort of hustled me out as they were handing out the diplomas.
I wonder if Jane Addams was treated in the same way when she was booed off
the stage. Jane Addams who, in addition to be the founder of Hull House in
Chicago, was the first international President of WILPF, the Women’s
International League of Peace and Freedom and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yeah, she was a great figure and if I take any comfort it’s that she would
have not only understood but I believe probably applauded.
And so, let’s talk about the conclusions you’ve arrived at that you’ve
shared with the students. Did anyone come up to you afterwards to talk about
why they had responded and did you have a sense that it was a majority or
just a vocal minority?
I don’t think it was a majority, but it was a significant minority, I
mean, large enough that they disrupted the commencement exercises. No, no
one could really... a few people or two, I believe it was all sort of a
rush, as I was escorted to leave I think two students just came up to me to
say thank you. But I wasn’t really able to talk to students afterwards.
Which you had originally planned to do?
Yes. I certainly didn’t plan to leave immediately.
You are the author of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. You have
reported from many war zones, you’ve been in Guatemala, you’ve been in
El Salvador, you’ve been in Bosnia, you were in the Iraq during the
Persian Gulf War, you were held by Iraqi Republican Guard. Can you talk
about some of those experiences?
You know, as I looked out on the crowd, that is exactly what my book is
about. It is about the suspension of individual conscience, and probably
consciousness, for the contagion of the crowd for that euphoria that comes
with patriotism. The tragedy is that—and I’ve seen it in conflict after
conflict or society after society that plunges into war—with that kind of
rabid nationalism comes racism and intolerance and a dehumanization of the
other. And it’s an emotional response. People find a kind of ecstasy, a
kind of belonging, a kind of obliteration of their alienation in that
patriotic fervor that always does come in war time.
I gave my talk and I looked out on the crowd, I was essentially witnessing
things that I had witnessed in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina or in squares
in Belgrade or anywhere else. Crowds, especially crowds that become hunting
packs are very frightening. People chanted the kind of cliches and aphorisms
and jingoes that are handed to you by the state. “God Bless America” or
people were chanting “send him to France” —this kind of stuff and that
kind of contagion leads ultimately to tyranny, it’s very dangerous and it
has to be stopped.
seen it in effect and take over countries. But of course, it breaks my heart
when I see it in my country. That’s essentially what I was looking at was
in some ways a mirror of what I was trying to speak about. And I think I
managed to touch upon it somewhat when I talked upon this notion of
comradeship as a suppression of self awareness and self-possession to sort
of follow along, locked in the embrace of a nation, or of a group, or of a
national group unthinkingly, blindly. And there is a kind of undeniable
euphoria in that. And that’s what I was looking at.
mean this was a visceral and an emotional reaction. Nobody really spent much
time, or I didn’t have much time to begin to explain the thoughts that I
was getting across. And, of course, it was interpreted as anti-military,
which it is not. I mean, what I write about in the book and what I speak
about is about war: how war is used as an instrument, the danger of war, why
war should always be a last resort. What happens when we wage war without
justifiable cause. What happens to ourselves? What happens to others? I mean
this is the currency of the book and something I’m sort of ringing the
alarm bells against. And there was a kind of symbiotic relationship between
everything that I’ve experienced and everything that was happening in that
What has been the response of your newspaper, The New York Times?
Well, they’re looking into whether I breached the protocol in terms of my
very pointed statements about the Iraqi War. I mean, that’s something that
makes them uncomfortable. I don’t think they have a problem with the book,
because the book talks more generically about what war does to societies
although it certainly does mention what it has done to us since 9/11. So
that’s something that they’re looking at.
What pressures do you face? The New York Times, in their reporting of
the invasion, like many other papers you don’t have to single them out,
including television news, are very much beating the drums for war. You take
a very different stance.
Well up until now, I haven’t faced any pressure at all and I have spoken
before. But because of the anger that this talk elicited, I think there’s
been more attention to the kinds of things that I’ve said. So one of the
pressures I face is the proliferation of hate phone calls and hate emails.
Which I had had periodically, but of course now I have daily.
We’ll continue to follow what happens in this. The right-wing media has
certainly picked this up.
What’s happening? Are you getting a lot of calls?
Yeah, well I don’t do trash talk radio. I didn’t before and I’m not
going to start now. And since I don’t own a television I’m sort of
spared being inflicted with this stuff.
And you’ve written a new book?
Yes I have. It’s called What Every Person Should Know About War.
It’s really in some ways geared towards those 17- and 18-year-old kids who
believe the myth of war. I think both books are an attempt to demythologize
war and explain war as it is. The army has studies at length what war does
to individuals, how to create more efficient killers and it goes through and
answers a lot of those questions, that if they get asked, often don’t get
The text of Chris Hedges’ commencement address can be found at the Rockford Register.
" The news and truth are not the same thing. " -Walter Lippmann, American journalist, 1889-1974
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"By the end of the millennium five men controlled the world's media. And the people rejoiced, because their TVs told them to." -Michael Moore
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