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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Nov-16-07 01:54 PM
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“When Citizens Turn a Blind Eye to State-Sanctioned Atrocities ..."
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Since I was a child no subject has interested me as much as Hitler and the Nazi Holocaust, on which I’ve read dozens of books – perhaps hundreds if I count related subjects. I’m sure that discussions with my parents, their personal experiences with anti-Semitism, and the fact that some of my distant relatives were Holocaust victims had something to do with my long intense interest in the subject. But beyond that, I have always felt that this is a subject that has crucially important implications for the future of humanity. Never having personally experienced such mind boggling evil, my awareness that it was so widespread in Germany during the 1930s and early 40s and that it engulfed the whole world in catastrophe, killing tens of millions of people, has always struck me as something that demanded explanation.

If I could summarize what I’ve learned from all my reading on this subject, it would be two highly related things: The first is that, contrary to what some have claimed, the Nazi Holocaust was not unique. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, numerous genocidal episodes have involved the brutal murders of tens of millions of people, including the Armenian genocide and the genocides in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Darfur. Mass murders in the USSR under Stalin and Cambodia under Pol Pot were similarly devastating, evil and brutal, though they may have met the definition of genocide. Prior to the 20th Century the near total European colonization of Africa and America resulted in a long drawn out genocide against the native peoples of those continents. And undoubtedly these kinds of things have been going on throughout history, though they are not as well documented as those that occurred in the 20th Century. It has become my firm belief that while these episodes differ in scale from each other and from the Nazi Holocaust, they don’t differ substantially in kind.

The second thing I learned is highly related to the first: Since genocide and similar mass murder episodes have not been rare in the past, they will only be rare in the future if the human race develops the means and the will to prevent them from occurring. In that sense, genocide prevention is a lot like what our Founding Fathers said about democracy: It should never be taken for granted, and it can be maintained only with eternal vigilance.

Parallels to present day United States

Despite the above, until recently I never thought – consciously – that anything remotely similar would happen in my country during my lifetime. But my opinions on that have changed dramatically in the past few years. And consistent with my life-long interest in the subject, I’ve written extensively on DU about what I see as historical parallels between Nazi Germany and present day United States:

How Hitler’s “war on terrorism” served as a basis for his rise to power and subsequent genocidal actions; the role of racism in the American peoples’ passive acquiescence to the atrocities against Muslims perpetrated by our government; why I think it’s important to recognize the similarities between our current day country and past tyrannical regimes; the operation of brutal prisons and concentration camps by our government (in response to someone who objected to my Nazi comparisons by saying that “we don’t have concentration camps in our country”); that yes it CAN happen here; and much more.

In a similar vein, Naomi Wolf has recently discussed, in “The End of America”, the ten steps that generally accompany the transition from democracy to tyranny, and the fact that all ten steps have already been taken in our country:

 Invoking of an external threat
 Development of a paramilitary force
 Creation of a secret prison system
 Surveillance of ordinary citizens
 Arbitrary arrest and detention
 Harassing of citizens’ groups
 Targeting of dissenting individuals
 Intimidation of the press
 Equating dissent as treason
 Subversion of the rule of law

Relevance to present day United States – the role of the American people

I’m not going to talk any more in this post about George Bush or Dick Cheney. I have previously said that they’re evil, they’re cowards, and they’re tyrants. But that’s not my primary emphasis in this post.

The background for the core tragedy of our current situation was concisely and poignantly summarized by Naomi Wolf when she said this:

Our Founders set out to prove that ordinary people could be entrusted with governing themselves in a state where no one could arbitrarily arrest them, lock them up, or torture them.

Well, it was a very noble sentiment, and it worked fairly well for most of the two and a quarter centuries of our nation’s history. But quite clearly, if that’s what our Founders set out to prove, they are now in the process of being proven wrong. For the fact of the matter is that our current government IS arbitrarily arresting, locking up and torturing thousands of people. The fact that the good majority of them are not American citizens (yet) is not very relevant in my opinion.

Naomi Wolf also succinctly summarized the central moral lesson of Nazi Germany and today’s United States:

When citizens turn a blind eye to state-sanctioned atrocities committed against others, so long as they believe themselves to be safe, a fascist reality has fertile ground in which to take root.

A brief simplified history of how we got here

Books can be written – and they have been – on how our country got to the brink of fascist tyranny. Chalmers Johnson’s “Nemesis – The Last Days of the American Republic” – is an excellent book on this subject. In this post however, I will merely summarize a couple of key events:

The abuses and torture of our prisoners have been frequent and abundantly documented. Regarding those abuses, the U.S. Supreme Court so much as branded George W. Bush a ‘war criminal’ for violating the Geneva Convention, in their Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, as explained by Vyan. In that decision Justice Stevens, speaking for the majority, explained that the petitioner Hamdan was “entitled to the full protection of the Geneva Convention”, and that the “military commission convened to try him was established in violation of both the UCMJ and Common Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention”. Justice Kennedy further elaborated on the Geneva Convention that the USSC determined the Bush administration to have violated:

The provision is part of a treaty the United States has ratified and thus accepted as binding law… moreover, violations of Common Article 3 are considered “war crimes,” punishable as federal offenses…

This was a truly remarkable statement – and it is equally remarkable that it received so little commentary by our national news media. Here we have the Supreme Court of the United States branding our president a war criminal – as defined by international law. That opinion was not written by a liberal. It was in fact written by one of the five Supreme Court Justices who handed George W. Bush the presidency in 2000 by putting a halt to the counting of votes in Florida.

And what was the response of our Republican Congress to that? Was there any consideration of impeaching the war criminal? Not at all! Instead, Congress went right ahead and passed the Military Commissions Act, which essentially legalizes (as explained in detail in this post by Eliot C. Cohen) many of the war crimes that Bush and Cheney have committed. It gives George Bush the right to arbitrarily arrest and lock up (as Naomi Wolf put it) anyone whom he deems to be an “unlawful enemy combatant”, and it essentially makes the Geneva Conventions inapplicable to U.S. law, even though we remain a signatory to them. With respect to torture – no problem, George Bush issued a signing statement when he signed the law, which essentially says that he will “view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security.”

So there you go. Congress legalizes acts committed by the president which are deemed war crimes by international law, and there is little outrage from our corporate news media or from the American people. What ever happened to “Never Again!”?

A little silver lining

This is just an aside, but I must mention it because I consider it very important. Though Congress voted for the Military Commissions Act, all five currently declared Democratic candidates who were in Congress at the time voted against it. And the other three Democratic candidates who were not Congresspersons at the time (Edwards, Gravel, and Richardson) undoubtedly also would have voted against it had they been members of Congress at the time. In stark contrast, all current Republican candidates for president, with the exception of Ron Paul who voted against it, undoubtedly would have voted in favor of the Military Commissions Act, as did the great majority of Republicans in Congress. This represents a huge difference between the two groups of candidates – a difference which may very well determine whether or not we recover our democracy after 2008. Like many other DUers, I too have grave concerns about a couple of our current Democratic candidates. But for anyone thinking about not voting for president in 2008, please give a lot of thought to the alternative.

Concluding remarks

There is no question that George Bush and Dick Cheney have repeatedly violated domestic and international law and the U.S. Constitution, and that in so doing they have taken our country a long way down the road to tyranny. Nor is there any question that all of the ten steps to tyranny discussed by Naomi Wolf in “The End of America” have been largely fulfilled already in our country.

But as I said, I don’t wish to emphasize the Bush administration in this post. George Bush and Dick Cheney can’t make our country into a brutal dictatorship by acting alone, without some help – at least in the form of passive acceptance – from the American people. So the more important issue is why there hasn’t been more outrage over all this. Is it true that so many millions of Americans have accepted the arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture by our government of so many thousands of men simply because they believe themselves to be safe? Have so many millions of Americans bought George Bush’s ridiculous line that “We’re fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here”?

It appears that the comparison of George Bush with Adolph Hitler is not the only relevant comparison here. It also appears that too many of the American people have a similar attitude to the Germans of the 1930s.

And why not? Do we really believe that Americans are inherently superior to Germans? I doubt it. Rather, I used to think that it couldn’t happen here because of our own history and relevant world history that we had to draw from. We have available to serve as a guide for us the principles for which we fought the American Revolution, which were enshrined in our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence. And we have the examples of tyranny and genocide which should serve as a warning for us.

The question now is, have we learned enough from history to avoid world-wide catastrophes such as the Nazi Holocaust and World War II? Or, do too many Americans, like George W. Bush, consider our Constitution to be just a damned scrap of paper, which we can feel free to dispose of in times of fear. Martin Niemoller said something many years ago that was very similar to Naomi Wolf’s statement, but in different words:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me -
and by then there was no one left to speak out for me.

Americans need to understand that statement and internalize it – before it’s too late.
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