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Bringing Up Hitler

adolf-hitlerby Jacob G. Hornberger

Yes, I know that American statists hate it when someone brings up Hitler in the context of U.S. government policies. But it seems to be that bringing up Hitler can sometimes be instructive, especially given his historical role as a benchmark for evil.

That’s not to suggest that every single thing that Hitler ever did was evil, but it seems to me that if the U.S. government is doing something that Hitler did, that ought to at least raise some red flags in the minds of the American people.

For example, consider such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, economic regulations, government-business partnerships, welfare, and a big military-industrial complex. Hitler loved those things, and they were core elements of his National Socialist program.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone, at least with respect to the welfare state. As most Germans undoubtedly know, welfare-state programs originated among German socialists in the late 1800s, and they were incorporated into Germany’s political system by Otto von Bismarck, who was known as the Iron Chancellor of Germany. The welfare-state ideas were later imported into the United States and became core elements of America’s political system during the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

Perhaps that’s why American statists hate it when someone brings up Hitler in the context of U.S. government policies. They fear that Americans, upon learning that Hitler embraced welfare-state programs and regulatory programs, might begin questioning the moral legitimacy of such programs. At the very least, Americans might begin realizing what Hitler and the German people realized: that welfare-state programs are socialist in nature and origin, not free-enterprise.

Another thing about Hitler was his appreciation for how crises could be used to centralize and expand the power of the state. The best example of that was the terrorist attack that became known as the Reichstag Fire, when terrorists fire-bombed the German parliament building. For the Germans, the Reichstag Fire was considered as big an event as the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Hitler didn’t skip a beat. His people charged and prosecuted several people who they believed had conspired to commit the attack. To their surprise, the courts acquitted some of the defendants, which motivated Hitler to organize a special court known as the People’s Court to try people accused of terrorism in the future, to ensure that suspected terrorists would never again be acquitted by the regular German courts.

Hitler also seized on the terrorist crisis to seek a temporary suspension of civil liberties from the Reichstag. After all, he argued, adherence to the protection of civil liberties might enable the terrorists to win their war on Germany. By suspending civil liberties, he argued, Germany could win the war on terrorism, after which civil liberties could be restored.

In the process, Hitler had an advantage. He was actually able to present two official enemies to achieve his goal — terrorism and communism. Not only was one of the Reichstag terrorists a communist, every German knew of the threat to Germany posed by the Soviet Union.

The Reichstag granted Hitler’s request for a temporary suspension of civil liberties. Equally important, Hitler was able to use the twin crises of communism and terrorism to support ever-growing expenditures on the German military and German military-industrial complex.

Ironically, after opposing Hitler in World War II, the U.S. government adopted one of Hitler’s twin threats — the Soviet Union — to justify an enormous and ever-growing peacetime military establishment and a military-industrial complex in the United States. Equally ironic was the fact that the Soviet Union had served as a partner of the U.S. government in its battle against the Nazis in World War II.

In fact, to this day many American interventionists still celebrate the fact that World War II was a great victory because “we” won control over Eastern Europe from the Nazis, with the “we” meaning “our” ally, the Soviet Union. Also ironic is the fact that the U.S. government enlisted Nazis to help it fight its new cold war against Hitler’s old enemy and the U.S. government’s old ally, the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet communist threat came to an end many decades later, interventionist policies of the U.S. government in the Middle East produced, ironically, the other threat that Hitler had relied upon to centralize and expand the powers of the state, build up the military, and suspend civil liberties: terrorism. With the 9/11 attacks the U.S. government declared war on the same enemy that Hitler had declared war on after the Reichstag fire — a war on terrorism.

Ironically, however, unlike Hitler President Bush didn’t even bother going to the Congress to seek permission to suspend civil liberties. He and the Pentagon simply held that since we are now at war against illegal enemy combatants known as terrorists, they didn’t need legislative approval to suspend civil liberties, establish overseas prison camps, suspend habeas corpus, torture people, and deny people fundamental rights and guarantees.

In the process, the irony was that U.S. officials did the same thing Hitler did — use the terrorist threat to justify ever-increasing expenditures for the military and the military-industrial complex.

They also used the war on terrorism to wage an undeclared war of aggression on Iraq, a country that had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Ironically, a war of aggression had been declared a war crime at Nuremberg.

They also established a special Pentagon judicial system for trying accused terrorists that, ironically, bears a remarkable similarity to Hitler’s special court for trying accused terrorists that he established after some of the Reichstag Fire defendants had been acquitted in the regular German courts.

Recently, the Pentagon and U.S. interventionists have been forewarning us about the growing threat from the Chinese communists and the North Korean communists, which, not surprisingly, they are using to justify ever-increasing spending on the military and the military-industrial complex.

Isn’t that ironic? We’re now at a point where the U.S. government is supposedly faced with the twin threats that Hitler was faced with — terrorism and communism. Equally ironic, those twin threats are being used to justify the same three things that Hitler achieved: a suspension of civil liberties, an ever-growing military and military-industrial complex, and a specially created judicial system that will guarantee convictions for accused terrorists.

Would it be inappropriate to bring up Santayana while bringing up Hitler? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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