The N-Word
Posted by Lurch on November 29, 2006 • Comments (7)TrackBack (0)Permalink

Diana McWhorter, writing in today’s Slate< discusses the comparisons no one is permitted to make: post-Weimar Germany and post-2001 United States.

The taboo is itself a precept of the propaganda state. Usually its enforcers profess a politically correct motive: the exceptionalism of genocidal Jewish victimhood. Thus, poor Sen. Richard Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, found himself apologizing to the Anti-Defamation League after Republicans jumped all over him for invoking Nazi Germany to describe the conditions at Guantanamo. And so by allowing the issue to be defined by the unique suffering of the Jews, we ignore the Holocaust's more universal hallmark: the banal ordinariness of the citizens who perpetrated it. The relevance of Third Reich Germany to today's America is not that Bush equals Hitler or that the United States government is a death machine. It's that it provides a rather spectacular example of the insidious process by which decent people come to regard the unthinkable as not only thinkable but doable, justifiable. Of the way freethinkers and speakers become compliant and self-censoring. Of the mechanism by which moral or humanistic categories are converted into bureaucratic ones. And finally, of the willingness with which we hand control over to the state and convince ourselves that we are the masters of our destiny.

Others have compared the steady erosion of civil liberties under Mr Bu$h’s rule to the theme of the frog in a pot of water that does not notice the flame until suddenly the boiling water kills it. Thus, we find ourselves in 2006 a nation debating just which sorts of torture are acceptable when interrogating people innocent of any crime. The word-masters have successfully shifted the topic from the pure evil of torture to one of degrees of bestiality. We discuss under which circumstances Mr Bu$h is allowed to violate the Constitution by authorizing the NSA to wiretap Americans without a court order rather than the evil criminality of the authorization itself. The point of Godwin’s Law is not that comparing Mr Bu$h to Adolph Hitler is beyond the pale. The real foundation is the discussion of the apparatchiki and bureaucrats who turn his sociopathic inclinations into laws, orders and policies. Documents recently surfaced that point to Mr Rumsfeld at the instigator of the torture policies in force at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but that is not accurate of course. At some point we will find documentation that he drew his authority from an approval by Mr Bu$h himself. This is undoubtedly as certain as green apples, Mom’s apron, and Lassie’s ability to find Timmy each week.

The most literal shock of recognition was the repulsively callous arrogance of the term "shock and awe." (The Iraqi people were supposed to pause and be impressed by our bombs before being incinerated/liberated by them?) Airstrikes as propaganda had been the invention of the German Luftwaffe, whose signature work, the terror-bombing Blitz of England, did not awe the British people into submission, either. Then there were subtler reverberations. When Bush's brain trust pushed through its executive-enhancing stratagems, I happened to be reading about brilliant German legal theoretician Carl Schmitt, who codified Hitler's führerprincip [sic] into law. (In the Balkans of cyberspace, I discovered, lurked an excellent article by Alan Wolfe detailing how Schmitt's theories also predicted the salt-the-ground political tactics of the Karl Rove conservatives.) When the administration established a class of nonpersons known as the "unlawful enemy combatant," I flashed on how the Nazis legalized their treatment of the Jews simply by rendering them stateless. And then in 2004, the Republicans threatened to override Senate rules and abolish the filibuster in order to thwart the Democrats' stand against Bush's most extremist nominees for federal judgeships. This "nuclear option" (so named by Trent Lott in acknowledgment of his party's willingness to destroy the Congress in order to save the country) struck me as a functional analog of the Enabling Act of 1933, which consolidated the German government under Chancellor Hitler and effectively dissolved the Reichstag as a parliamentary body.

We had a little fun with the Fuehrerprinzip issue here, when we discussed the turning away from the Dark Force by MG Paul Eaton (ret). It drew an interesting comment from a concern troll who seemed to argue that because Iraq didn’t immediately turn into a G-rated version of Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi’s Perfumed Garden under General Eaton’s stewardship, his criticism of Mr Bu$h’s most excellent Iraq adventure is obviously flawed.

A quick note to concern trolls: It is not necessary to mirror something in order to mimic it. The fact that we have no Hitlerjugend nor Reicharbeitsdienst does not invalidate the comparison.

There’s lots more good comparisons in Ms McWhorter’s essay and a relaxed reading will hammer home the point that Godwin’s Law is sometimes not an issue.

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Posted by: Mike at November 29, 2006 04:04 PM

Lurch, great post and Ms McWhorter articulates perfectly the parallels between our current regime and another across the pond and in the past. It would be interesting to compare the reception her article receives now versus how it would have been received two or three years ago by a random sample of Americans-at-large. Mike

Posted by: lisa at November 29, 2006 07:30 PM

Yes, there is no historical precedent for this griffin,--the unlawful enemy combatant. it is a nefarious conflation of terms. I wrote a bit on it a while back, but figured no need to do a Noam Chomsky. If I find it, I might put it on the site.

And you are correct to point out how we've become mired in the minutiae of outright violations--the "degree" of torture, vs. the repellant nature of torture; when can GWB violate the Constitution, vs. the unacceptability of its evisceration. As an American, I feel that document is inviolate...Hmm, maybe they were thinking the same thing, and that's why they chose purple for the thumb color.

Posted by: Lurch at November 29, 2006 07:35 PM

It might be slghtly more acceptable now, Mike, although most Americans are very poorly educated in History.

Posted by: Lurch at November 29, 2006 10:07 PM

There actually are historical precedents for "unlawful enemy combatant”, Lisa. If you remember your Old Testament (or Talmud, and to some extent Torah if that’s your preference) there’s a great deal of historical descriptions about armies defeated, cities burnt and sacked, and people put to the sword. (Women and children especially, because that’s where the revanchists come from.)

The Mongols did much the same thing during their conquests: the city surrenders or every living thing therein is killed. During the Hundred Years War when England and France battled for rule over the disputed provinces, the English common man in the person of the longbow archer, proved his value as a weapon of battlefield supremacy. At the battle of Crecy in 1346, and again at Agincourt, English archers killed and wounded thousands of the flower of French military strength. These archers were so feared by the French aristocracy (and despised, since they were common men) that orders were given to cut off the fore and middle fingers of any taken as captives.

To this day the British use two upraised fingers, nails pointed towards the object of their contempt, in the same way Americans use the one-fingered salute.

I have no idea why purple was chosen as the "voted" color. Maybe because it is vibrant, and persistent? It's considered the "royal" color - would the Republicans want Iraqis thinking in those terms?

Posted by: lisa at November 30, 2006 11:12 PM

Thank you. So that explains why the French are like they are. It's those damned English ruffian archers what removed the best of 'em. As for "purple"--a bad pun on (in)violate =[in violet]...pretty awful, forgive me.

Posted by: Lurch at December 1, 2006 06:08 AM

Pretty awful pun. You are forgiven, but you are now on probation.

How did you miss tyng [in]violate and [in]violet to [in]violence when writing about Iraq?

Posted by: lisa at December 1, 2006 08:12 PM

Thank you. Properly chastened.
As to your suggestion, one can only stretch these things so far, and it's safe for me here!

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