Sunday, January 29, 2012

The roots of fascism

In a previous blog I pointed out a range of thoroughly fascist attacks on Hispanics, on blacks, and on immigrants. The parallels to German fascism of the 1930s and 40s are overwhelming. Those parallels may help us understand what is happening in the United States today.
In the 1930s Germans suffered, as did Americans, from the world wide depression that began in 1929. In addition, the Germans had been defeated in World War I. In 1914 Germans from the right and the left could not wait to sign up to fight for the Kaiser. My father and three Jewish uncles, signed up. Four years later the national dream was in shambles and Germany was defeated.
But very soon, Germans began to say: don't blame us. Someone invented what has become known as the “stab in the back” legend. It hinted darkly at the betrayal of the German military by political forces which were never clearly identified. In typical, paranoid fashion the story was that forces, not further identified, had betrayed the German people and their victorious military by suing for peace in 1918.
The German people did not blame their leaders. The Kaiser fled to Holland where he lived out a long life in a small castle. No one demanded his extradition and punishment. Field Marshall Hindenburg, one of the commanders of the German Army during World War I, was elected president of the German Republic. Instead the Germans turned on the Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies, and began killing the inmates of mental institutions.
This sorry history suggests one of the sources of fascism: a failure to blame the guilty parties for military defeat and, instead, seeking scapegoats. This unjustified exoneration of the leaders of World War I is, of course, at the same time an exoneration of the German people itself. They had trusted in their leaders; they were eager to fight for them. They could not have blamed the Kaiser or Hindenburg without confessing their own foolishness in trusting these leaders. They had approved of the war. They entered it enthusiastically. Now they wanted to forget that and so they blamed the Jews and others.
All this is a long time ago and would not be worth talking about, if the same thing were not happening in the US today. Ever since World War II we have been losing wars – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Some people keep posting stories on the Internet that our soldiers in Korea and in Vietnam were hurt by the rules of engagement. They were fighting “with one hand tied behind their back.” In the local newspaper letter column the same story begins to appear about the Iraq war: we could have won had the diplomats not prevented the military from waging a non-holds-barred fight.
In none of these cases have Americans blamed the leaders that got us into those wars. We enthusiastically elected John F. Kennedy and ignored the saber rattling and Cold War rhetoric of his inaugural speech in 1960. We elected Lyndon Johnson. Henry Kissinger one of the chief architects of the Vietnam war is still around and remains a respected celebrity. His responsibility for the debacle of Vietnam is not often mentioned. When George Bush stole the election in 2000, no one went out into the streets as Russians are doing today over a doubtful parliamentary election. Bush was reelected in 2004 (although not without some serious questions). He had widespread support among the people. No one has mentioned the possibility of blaming him or VP Cheney, or Rumsfeld, or Wolfowitz or any of that gang of super brains who got us into the Iraq war.
The reason for this reluctance is clear: if we blame our leaders we have to blame ourselves for electing or at least accepting them. The ordinary citizen who supports his or her government in time of war has to bear some responsibility if the war is lost. Americans, like the Germans in the last century, do not want to take responsibility for the terrible damage we have done to other people and to ourselves in a series of failed military adventures.
It is much more comfortable to persecute people of color, to try to conceal their contribution to America and to American culture, to make their life as miserable as possible, to try to prevent them from exercising their citizenship rights.
Speaking of poor people who get some help from the government, Rush Limbaugh, a prophet of the far right, said that he too had been poor and had been fired from jobs: “But I didn't blame anyone else for my problems. I knew that if I didn't try to solve them on my own or with the help of friends or family members, no one else was going to take care of me." Taking responsibility for oneself is thoroughly American.
Except when it comes to taking responsibility for military defeats, for failure and misery. Then we turn to fascism, and look for scapegoats among the people who bear a disproportionate burden of living in the United States.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Nazis are coming! The Nazis are coming!
Rush Limbaugh, the voice of the far right, likes to call his opponents Nazis. That's a bad joke because fascism is today widely infecting American politics, especially on the right. Fascism stands for racism. It stands for contempt for First Amendment rights. It stands for a politics springing from irrational prejudice. While Limbaugh and his ilk pretend to defend individual liberties, they in fact want to use the power of the government to enforce strict mind control and uniformity of political convictions.
The Tucson Arizona school district, under pressure from the Arizona state legislature, has shut down the programs for ethnic studies, including Mexican American studies. It has issued a long list of books that will be banned from schools and their libraries. The list contains mostly distinguished Chicano and native American writers. But the list also contains Shakespeare's Tempest, Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, books by Isabel Allende, Gloria Anzaldua, Paolo Freire, bell hooks, Jonathan Kozol, Ron Takaki and Howard Zinn. Children in the Tucson school district will be brainwashed by government decree to believe that there are no racial problems in Tucson, in the state of Arizona, or in the country. As the German Nazis decided that Jewish citizens were not Germans anymore and excluded them from public life (before killing many of them) so the Tucson school district is letting it be known that only white Arizonans are effectively citizens and are Americans.
On Martin Luther King Day, the South Carolina NAACP held a demonstration in front of the Statehouse to protest the legislation passed in more than 30 states that demands photo IDs for voting. It is widely believed that this requirement for identification cards puts an undue burden on the poor, the elderly, and on people of color. It is perceived by many as a repeat of literacy tests for voting or the poll tax. It is one more way to reduce the number of votes of black Americans. It is animated by racist hatred.
At the same time the state of Alabama passed a new anti-immigrant law, that tops any other similar law in its fanatic hatred for Hispanic immigrants, especially if they have no papers. The measure prohibits undocumented immigrants from entering into "business transactions" with the state. "Business transactions" are broadly defined. Some state and local agencies have barred undocumented immigrants from signing up for utilities such as water, prohibited them from living in mobile homes they own and said they cannot renew licenses for their small businesses.
The law also denies bail to any undocumented immigrant arrested for any offense; requires police to check immigration status during traffic stops; and denies court protection to immigrants who have had a contract, such as an employment contract or a lease, violated, the organization said.
In addition, the law makes it a crime for U.S. citizens or legal residents to knowingly assist undocumented immigrants. It demands of every immigrant that they always carry identity papers on their person. One of the first victims of this new law was a Mercedes-Benz executive who was arrested for not having identity papers on him and as a consequence spent a night in jail.
This tremendous outpouring of hatred for people who are different (from whites) is really frightening.
I spent my early childhood years in Nazi Germany. Finally making it to the US, I thought I was safe. But now they come again with their hate, their contempt for traditional US freedoms, their fanaticism.
Wake up America! The Nazis are already here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The cost of war
The president has not quite declared victory but various generals have been quoted in the news as saying that they leave Iraq having done a good job.
No one wants to talk about the costs of war. The media claim about 4500 American dead. No one mentions the many more injured, haunted by nightmares, struggling with anxiety, and unable to find their way back into civilian life.
No one mentions that what we got for our trouble is that about 2% of the Iraqis regard American troops as liberators.
But American losses are, at least, being mentioned. The losses of the Iraqi people are pretty well unknown. No one seems to be interested. It takes considerable effort to find bits and pieces of that horrifying record.
But here are some pieces:
Estimates of the Iraqis who died as a consequence of military action vary from 100,000 to 600,000 persons. The number of injured is usually multiples of the number of dead. We could estimate numbers upward of 1 million or many more.
Many of the injured were children who found and played with unexploded cluster bombs. Many civilians were injured or killed at checkpoints. The U.S. Army explained that it took them a while to put up signs in Arabic for drivers to stop at the checkpoint. Before that drivers just tried to drive through and got killed.
A significant number of Iraqis were tortured in prison or held for long periods of time.
Many children are left with PTSD, with nightmares and terrible anxieties. The incredible brutality of war which leaves adult soldiers psychologically damaged has that much more terrifying effects on children.
About 4 1/2 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes. Almost 2 million left the country; the remaining 2 ½ million left their homes for a less dangerous part of the country. You can just imagine the massive disruption of people's lives. Many of them cannot return because their houses are damaged or because they cannot find work.
Before the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein had invested a large amount of oil money in modern water and sewage systems, in roads and schools. After the massive bombing during the first Gulf War and the periodic bombings in years between 1991 and the second Gulf War, and finally during this last nine years, Iraqi infrastructure is in ruins. In Baghdad less than half the children go to school. Water and electricity are available for a few hours a day.
The US government paid Parsons constructionalso involved in Boston's Big Digto rebuild 142 schools. Parsons took the money and built 20 schools. (We complain about corruption in the Iraqi government.)
According to the International Monetary Fund $25 billion will be needed to rebuild Iraq. According to the Los Angeles Times several hundred billions of dollars will be needed to repair the damage.
Among the damage that needs to be repaired is removing unexploded land mines and shell casings made out of depleted uranium (that is still radioactive).
Much damage cannot be repaired. Not only did the US military allow the plundering of the Iraqi museums. But US troops built their encampments on top of archaeological sites and did irreparable damage to Babylonian antiquities.
Before of these wars started, Iraq had more than 1000 health clinics and almost 200 hospitals. At least half of these are damaged and need to be repaired or completely rebuilt.
The Iraqi parliament is even more dysfunctional than the current US Congress. It is not clear that we have brought a functioning democracy, of any kind, to Iraq.
This is clearly only a part of the story. How many Iraqis see the US leave and say:A job well done?