Thursday, May 19, 2005

It Could Happen Again

I'm in Amsterdam, at the start of a several city tour. I'm with a group of speakers brought together by Jimmy Walter, a man of means and vision, who is trying to raise worldwide awareness re the discrepancies between the official story and the evidence in the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks on America. I don't know most of the other speakers, but am meeting them slowly as we prepare for our first event.

But today was a 'free' day, and I wandered over to a most amazing place. Amid the peaceful canals, the relaxed coffee shops, the sculpture gardens atop houseboats, and the ringing of church bells sits a reminder of a horrific time on the planet: the house and annex of Anne Frank, which is now a museum.

The building has been newly remodeled, and I was a little trepidatious as I entered. It looked sleek and modern and I thought oh, it won't be much of an experience.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Within minutes I was in tears. Each wall and exhibit had another quote from the budding young writer, and they were heartbreaking.
"Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, and I'm terrified our hiding place will be discovered and that we'll be shot."
Her father knew this would get to her, and had brought into their hiding place her collection of movie star pictures from magazines and she pasted them on her wall to make it "cheery." Some of the pictures are still on the wall, now behind glass. It was incredibly moving to stand in the room of the girl whose writings have moved so many around the world, including myself. I read her diary in school, and was fascinated at the ingenuity used to keep them safe, terrified that they'd be discovered, and heartbroken when they were eventually betrayed.

The musical "Once on this Island" ends with this line: "Our lives become the stories that we read." Anne Frank wanted so much to be a journalist, to be a famous writer. I wonder if she had any idea how many people would be so moved, indeed shaped, by her writings of her experiences in hiding. Both as a child and as an adult, I've never been able to fathom man's inhumanity to man.

Watching what is happening in my own country, I fear it could happen again. The same terms - "dirty", "traitor" that were applied to Jews in Hitler's Germany are now being applied to gays and liberals in Bush's America.

Richard Cohen wrote a good piece re this in the Washington Post when Anne Coulter's book "Treason" was published. Wrote Cohen,
In some ways, the nutso American brand of archconservatism mirrors traditional anti-Semitism. Jew-haters proclaim that Jews control the media, international finance and almost everything else of importance -- but, somehow, Jews have accumulated a 2,000-year history of expulsions, pogroms and, finally, the mass murder of the Holocaust. It is the same with American liberals. They control everything, and yet, somehow, the White House, both houses of Congress and, with the exception of several delis in New York, the entire business community are in the hands of conservatives. It's hard to figure.
Many Germans really didn't see it coming until the Nazis were firmly entrenched in power. Could we be as blind, having already born historical witness to the consequences of inattention? What are the signs? How do we know when to sound the alarm?

Laurence Britt wrote an article detailing 14 signs of the coming of fascism, based on a study of the regimes of Hitler's German, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulos' Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's Indonesia. These sounded so familiar I feel compared to rerun these 14 signs here. I've linked each of the signs to something I feel demonstrates that. The links were not in the original, and I hope the author would be pleased, not offended, that I took such liberties.
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.
Scared yet? Where do we go from here? I left Anne Frank's house sobbing, but more determined than ever to do what I can to sound the alarm. It's going to take a lot of us. And we have to reach out past the people we usually talk to - past friends, family and friendlies to those who most need to hear this. How are we to do that?