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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 17 April 2006
Springtime for Hitler
Topic: Making Use of History

Springtime for Hitler

In Mel Brooks' The Producers, what the two odd producers are producing is "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" - a musical about Adolf Hitler written by fictional Nazi Franz Liebkind. (Read all about it here.) So it's April, and it's Springtime for Hitler, again, but in an odd sort of way.

It is? There's an awful lot of German floating around, and an awful of thinking about Munich, in the late thirties, not 1972 and the Olympics and all that. (Stephen Spielberg made the wrong movie, even if he had the right title)

April 14 there was Bill Montgomery with Munich, explaining that just as the supporters of our upcoming preemptive war with Iran - the one that includes using nuclear weapons to mess up their sites deep underground where they may be in the first stages that would mean they too would have some sort of nuclear weapon - did a whole lot of chatting up Saddam Hussein as "the new Hitler" before the current was, so that odd fellow, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who now runs Iran next door, is now "the new Hitler." Get rid of one and, suddenly, for some reason, there's another.

Where did they all come from, one after another?

Montgomery -
Munich - the name, not the movie - has long been one of the neoconservative movement's most cherished political symbols, a kind of short-hand description for everything the neocons despise about liberals and their approach to foreign policy.

Munich equals appeasement - the worst sin in the neocon theology. It also stands for weakness, cowardness [sic], naivety and an amoral willingness to bargain with the devil, as well as the failure to recognize that the devil never keeps his word.

Munich is a '30s newsreel of a feeble old man standing on an airport tarmac, holding an umbrella in one hand and waving a meaningless scrap of paper in the other. Munich is the betrayal of the Czechs and the perfidy of the French and the sound of jackboots marching down cobblestone European streets. Munich is Winston Churchill declaiming, with righteous thunder: "You have chosen dishonor over war. You shall have both." Munich is the city you never ever want to visit if you're the leader of the free world.

Now history, as opposed to the historical stereotype, is hardly so cut and dried. There is considerable evidence that the British and the French knew full well Hitler couldn't be trusted, and never expected him to keep the peace - for long. They were playing for time to complete their own rearmament programs, and worried (with good reason) about Germany's diplomatic feelers to Uncle Joe Stalin.

Was it a bad call? Almost certainly. But more a Machiavellian miscalculation than the wishful thinking of fools and cowards. However it later became politically expedient to foist responsibility for the entire fiasco of the West's response to Hitler's aggression on to the narrow shoulders of Neville Chamberlain. Ever thus to losers.
Montgomery points to this, the previous day, Hugh Hewitt, saying Iran's announcement that they had managed to enrich a tiny amount of uranium, even at a useless low grade, was the equivalent of Hitler's march into the Rhineland. Right. (For a review of where Hugh Hewitt sits in the pantheon of "big thinkers" on the right, and a bit on his background, see this from several weeks back.)

Is Hugh Hewitt alone? Of course he's not. This is the drumbeat now.

See William "Bill" Kristol in his latest, the lead article in neoconservative Weekly Standard, the public face of the movement (providing explanations for why we have to do what we have to do, and why what we have done is what we just had to do). This particular article is the centerpiece of the April 24 issue, asking the question - "Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936?"

Basically, we must remember, we are not French! -
In the spring of 1936 - seventy years ago - Hitler's Germany occupied the Rhineland. France's Léon Blum denounced this as "unacceptable." But France did nothing. As did the British. And the United States.
Yeah, yeah. We need to do something. Blum was a fool and Chamberlain looked funny with his little mustache and those odd glasses, not to mention the umbrella. They weren't real men. So we should be doing "real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes." And nukes are fine. We just have to plan for the fallout, of all kinds. And we need to do the bombing soon, because we're the good guys, and it's morally right -
It is not "moral progress" to put off serious planning for military action to a later date, probably in less favorable circumstances, when the Iranian regime has been further emboldened, our friends in the region more disheartened, and allies more confused by years of fruitless diplomacy than they would be by greater clarity and resolution now.
So it's 1936 again, and this time we nip this Hitler in the bud, just like we did the first one next door. This is what good guys do, as it's morally right.

So this is the public voice of the Bush-Cheney administration. We're the good guys, and those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. That's the line now.

For the superficially scholarly, this will work, and for the masses, just play Edelweiss, sweet and sadly in the background, and remind people of how those mean people made Maria and those cute kids trudge through the cold mountains - heck, everyone has seen The Sound of Music, and that song always brings tears to the eye.

Montgomery covers the actual history of what happened in 1936, of course, and what's happening with Iraq now, and you might want to glance at that -
What Ahmadinejad is not, however, is the absolute dictator of an advanced industrial state with a first-rate military. To pretend that he currently poses the same kind of threat to the world (or even to the Jewish people) that Hitler did in 1938 - or that he will pose such a threat any time within the next decade - is ridiculous. It also discredits the very legitimate concerns that the world should have about Iran and the future of the Iranian revolution.

... In the neocon wisdom tale, Munich is always about Neville Chamberlain and that scrap of paper. But that's only half the story - or not even half. Hitler might never have risen to power in the first place if the allies had dealt justly with Germany and the other defeated powers at Versailles, or if the Western governments of the 1920s and early '30s had shown one tenth the willingness to compromise with the democratic governments of the Weimer Republic that they later did to appease the Nazi regime.

The source of much of Hitler's political appeal - and the topic of most of his stump speeches before coming to power - was the spinelessness of the Weimer politicians in kowtowing to the Versailles Treaty, and the need for a strong leader who would stand up to the allies. The British and French only understand force, the would-be Fuehrer shrieked. Germany must take what was rightfully hers, instead of going hat in hand to plead for concessions.

And of course, the allies proved Hitler right. They insisted on enforcing every humiliating clause of the terms dictated at Versailles. They surrounded Germany with an encircling alliance of smaller states. They forced the German economy deeper and deeper into debt to finance the insane war reparations they demanded. Weimar - and democracy - were discredited and disgraced in the eyes of millions of ordinary Germans long before they started flocking to Hitler's rallies. ...
You get the idea. The devil is in the details - and now we have this pipsqueak state, surrounded by it's own "encircling alliance" of hostile states (nuclear-armed Israel to the west and our new ally, nuclear-armed Pakistan to the east, and most the rest with our troops on the ground or reluctant allies), and we want to humiliate this pipsqueak state with economic sanctions, if we don't nuke them first. History repeating itself. As before, making our own problems, and not at all in the manner Kristol and Hewitt frame the tale.

And of course we will not talk to them, one on one, just as would not hold bilateral talks with North Korea. You don't reward bad behavior. And Neville Chamberlain's mother dressed him funny. So they make all sorts of diplomatic overtures over the years (see this and this), and we tell them to go pound sand.

It's recipe for disaster, of course.

But Montgomery sees a bright side -
The good news, such as it is, is that Ahmadinejad's end-times ideology doesn't seem to include any grand territorial ambitions: no "Greater Iran" (Iran is already a greater Iran), no lebensraum in the east. We also have time - time to see how things shake out, to see if the ayatollahs can hamstring their troublesome protégé, to see if the democracy movement can make a political comeback. Time for Ahmadinejad to lose some of his popular shine as Iran's internal problems worsen. Time for our own hardline warmongers to be booted out of power.

But unfortunately, our divinely ordained president may not be prepared to wait (and the last sentence of the preceding paragraph appears to be one of the reasons.) Which means at this point we probably should be worrying less about what happened in Munich in 1938, and more about what happened there in 1972, when the German police moved in and tried to disarm the terrorists.

Multiply that carnage by a thousand, or a million, and you've got more than a political slogan; you've got a war.
But people do worry about what happened in Munich in 1938, and those who question what we're doing and suggest alternatives eventually get morphed in to the sad and sorry Neville Chamberlain - and what about Maria and all those cute kids shivering in the Austrian Alps bravely and softly singing Edelweiss? What about the children? Will no one think of the children!

What about the actual details? Ah well.

You might also want to check out Glenn Greenwald in Fighting all the Hitlers -
To pro-Bush war supporters, the world is forever stuck in the 1930s. Every leader we don't like is Adolf Hitler, a crazed and irrational lunatic who wants to dominate the world. Every country opposed to our interests is Nazi Germany.

From this it follows that every warmonger is the glorious reincarnation of the brave and resolute Winston Churchill. And one who opposes or even questions any proposed war becomes the lowly and cowardly appeaser, Neville Chamberlain. For any and every conflict that arises, the U.S. is in the identical position of France and England in 1937 - faced with an aggressive and militaristic Nazi Germany, will we shrink from our grand fighting duties in appeasement and fear, or will we stand tall and strong and wage glorious war?

With that cartoonish framework in place, war is always the best option. It is the only option for those who are noble, strong, and fearless. Conversely, the sole reason for opposing a war is that one is a weak-minded and weak-willed appeaser who harbors dangerous fantasies of negotiating with madmen. Diplomacy and containment are simply elevated, PC terms for "appeasement." War is the only option that works.
That about sums it up. As in this -
Anyone who opposes this mindlessly militaristic approach simply seeks, of course, to "appease the mullahs."

This sort of cheap equivalence between Hitler and the tyrant de jour is rather disorienting. One minute, Hitler is a singular manifestation of unique and unparalleled evil to which nothing should ever be compared, lest the uniqueness of his atrocities be minimized. The next minute, though, there are nothing but Hitler spawns running around everywhere, and we need to constantly wage war against each of them in order to avoid suffering the fate of 1938 Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain.
But it's an old trick, and Greenwald documents it.

The president's father here in 1990 -
The most significant aspect of Bush's personal demonization of Saddam Hussein was his comparison of the Iraqi leader to Adolph Hitler. Sometimes this comparison was implicit rather than explicit: "In World War II, the world paid dearly for appeasing an aggressor who could have been stopped."

... On one occasion, he even implied that the Iraqi leader was worse than Hitler: "This morning, right now, over three hundred innocent Americans - civilians - are held against their will in Iraq. Many of them are reportedly staked out as human shields near possible military targets, something even Adolph Hitler didn't do."
Richard Perle in the run-up to our second war against Iraq here -
Appearing on the "Meet the Press" on February 23, Bush administration official Richard Perle compared the charade of visits by United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq with the infamous 1944 visit by Red Cross officials to the Nazis' Theresienstadt ghetto, where the performance of the prisoners' orchestra helped lull the visitors into believing that Nazi treatment of the Jews was not so terrible after all. Perle was referring to Saddam Hussein's systematic effort to hide Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

... Perle's remark was the latest in a series of statements by U.S. officials drawing analogies between current events and those of the Nazi era. President Bush, in his speech after the September 11 attacks, said that Muslim terrorists "follow in the path of Nazism." Other U.S. officials have compared European reluctance to confront Saddam with Europe's reluctance to confront Hitler in the 1930s.
Yeah, yeah. And now just transfer the Hitler label to the guy next door and hum a few bars of Edelweiss. Works every time.

Greenwald -
That, of course, is the central strategy, and it is best accomplished through the never tired Hitler imagery. But this sort of mindset is as simplistic as it is manipulative and, as intended, is a rock-solid recipe for eternal war. Not every dictator is irrational and suicidal. Most are not, including the most brutal. Throughout the 20th Century, the U.S. was able quite successfully to contain, negotiate with, and even form discrete common alliances with a whole array of dictators, thugs, murderous cretins and even militaristic madmen.

And the U.S. is not unique in that regard. No country is pure, and every country, driven by rational self-interest, finds ways to achieve co-existence even with the most amoral regimes. The notion that we have to wage war or even threaten war against every hostile, tyrannical government is itself sheer lunacy, and yet that is the premise driving this crusade for more war.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug who murdered and oppressed his citizens with virtually no limits, etc. etc., but the notion that he was ever in a league with Adolph Hitler in terms of the threats he posed, the capabilities he possessed, or even the ambitions he harbored, was always transparent myth. This equivalence is even more fictitious with regard to Iran, which - although saddled with a highly unpopular president who is clearly malignant and who uses nationalistic rhetoric to boost the morale of his base - is a country that is, in fact, ruled by a council of mullahs which has exhibited nothing but rationality and appears to be guided by nothing other than self-interest.

We were led into invading Iraq by a group of people who are as bloodthirsty as they are historically ignorant. They are stuck in a childish and stunted mental prison where every event, every conflict, every choice is to be seen exclusively through the prism of a single historical event, an event which - for a variety of reasons, some intellectual, some cultural, some psychological - is the only one that has any resonance for them. Even as we are still mired in their last failed war, they are attempting to impose these stunted historical distortions to lead us into a new one.
But it's what they know. And it sells - simplistic and manipulative works. Fictitious equivalences? A transparent myth? Myths have real power. And "The Sound of Music" made over one hundred and sixty-three million dollars (but "Titanic" - about a hopeless disaster - is still number one). Evil fictionalized Nazis sell.

And we're going to war.

How about a little more German?

Bill Montgomery in a second item explains we sort have to go to war, as it's the old flucht nach vorne - the "flight forward." This, he says, "refers to the tendency of both individuals and institutions to seek a way out of a crisis by becoming ever more daring and aggressive (or, as the White House propaganda department might put it: 'bold')."

Or, as he says, it's like the gambler in Vegas, who tries to get out of a hole by doubling down on each successive bet. And everyone in America is mad about poker. There's hours of it on television, what with the endless "World Poker Tour" and "Celebrity Poker" and all. Yes, it's about as exciting to watch as curling, but people do understand it now, and do understand wagering strategies, and bluffing, and far too much else.

As for this flucht nach vorne business, we're reminded of previous examples - "Napoleon's attempt to break the long stalemate with Britain by invading Russia, the decision of the Deep South slaveholding states to secede from the Union after Lincoln's election, and Milosevic's bid to create a 'greater Serbia' after Yugoslavia fell apart."

But real leaders do have to be bold -
The logic is understandable, if malevolent. Instead of creating a secular, pro-American client state in the heart of the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq has destroyed the front-line Arab regime opposing Tehran, installed a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and vastly increased Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Shi'a world. It's also moved the Revolutionary Guard one step closer to the Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields - the prize upon which the energy security of the West depends.

By the traditional standards of U.S. foreign policy, this is a fiasco of almost unbelievable proportions. More to the point, the neocons may believe that unless something dramatic is done to recoup those losses, they cannot safely withdraw large numbers of troops from Iraq, since they are A.) the only remaining source of U.S. influence in the country and B.) the only shield against Iranian infiltration of both Iraq and the Shi'a majority regions of Saudia Arabia and the gulf emirates. Yet the military need for such a draw down becomes more critical with each passing day, as the all-volunteer Army is stretched towards its breaking point.

In other words, the administration, and the Pentagon, have gotten themselves into one hell of a jam - militarily, strategically and politically. As desperate and reckless as attempted regime change in Iran might seem to us, to the Cheneyites it may look like the only move left on the board.
So what the heck, double down. We could get lucky. And if we bomb a lot and use nukes, what's the problem? Yes, you can lose it all. But you might win big. You never know.

But we are told that all this talk of a new war with Iran and bombing the snot out of them, and using nukes for the first time since Nagasaki, is just wild speculation. We're going to fix this one with diplomacy. Of course we will not meet with them on any level at any time on any topic. Like the last time, we are urging the UN to do something, and if they prove themselves as hopeless, corrupt and dithering as our new UN ambassador has long said they are, well, what choice will we have? Someone's got to do the right thing.

It's the same old thing. See Gregory Djerejian at "The Belgravia Dispatch" with this. He's done all the legwork and compiled all the denials from the president and top military and civilian folks before the current Iraq war - there are no war plans, we seek a diplomatic solution and all the rest. He provides all the quotes, with links. And he also provides what we know now. The best is the president publicly saying he has no war plans on his desk, when he was deep in discussions of the details of the war plan he had requested. But he didn't lie, of course. It was on the coffee table by the sofa? "Fool me once, shame on you - fool me twice..." You know how that goes.

Greenwald - "...the array of unreliable and misleading statements made with regard to many matters prior to the invasion of Iraq have completely destroyed this government's credibility, making its word automatically subject to serious doubt by any rational person - including, most destructively, its own citizens, in a way that is almost certainly unprecedented in our nation's history."

Maybe so. But if they do that Hitler thing enough, and tap into our memories of Christopher Plummer singing Edelweiss, the doubts will fade. Maybe.

Yep, it's Springtime for Hitler, again.

Posted by Alan at 21:24 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006 06:22 PDT home

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