Friday, October 29, 2010

UNHALLOWED

Halloween is my least favorite holiday, the one that has strayed furthest from its original intentions, and has been most overwhelmed by candy–capitalism. The worst part about it, from my point of view, is that it now involves treats with no tricks. I am on full general strike against it.

It's not so much that I want to see infantile maliciousness attack the community but that I am a great fan of the word “or”. “Trick or treat”? – the homeowner has a choice, and should he choose the former, the onus is then on the tricker to come up with punishments that fit the crime. What tricker is prepared for that these days? Our corporate criminal element cultivates both treat and trick. Should not our children practice running the world?

It's not only the loss of imagination that I mourn, but even worse, a loss of the sense of Evil as a power to be meditated upon and respected. I left a career – or rather was invited out – as a minister because my congregations were unenthusiastic about exploring the evil around us. A personal critique of my denomination can be summed up in one sentence: they want Easter without Good Friday, transfiguration without death. "The world out there is bad enough–we don't need to go through it here on Sundays." In short, they had no theology of evil. Which these days, we need more than ever.

The great seasonal gift of this past week has been the Wikileaks release of 400,000 internal documents related to our military behavior in Iraq. It was both trick and treat, an apotheosis of Halloween behavior. And of course, in a culture which refuses to acknowledge its own evil, our government's initial response has been to shoot the messenger, with the mainstream media predictably complicit.

While media worldwide - mainstream and otherwise - focused on the contents of the communications – prisoners abused, raped and murdered; the civilian death toll covered up; the shooting of men trying to surrender (“you can't surrender to a helicopter”); the abuses of our private security firms; the hundreds of civilians killed at checkpoints – the US media focused almost entirely on whether Julian Assange had the right to release such documents, whether he is a sexual offender or not, and what punishment for him is appropriate.

This refocusing is perhaps predictable in our celebrity culture: everything comes down to the actions of particular, limelighted people, and the underlying currents are ignored. Julian Assange and Wikileaks are not the abscesses that need to be opened in order to heal. Their targets are. We should thank them for reviving the true spirit of Halloween.

Friday, October 22, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WORLD

 "I'm depressed."  A most common comment.  Depressed about what?  The answers are various: our dangerous, deaf, moronic leadership, the ongoing wars, religious strife, public and private corruption, joblessness, lack of child care, housing, perverse spending priorities, the entire fate of the earth.  So I thought I might bring some cheer this month by calling for a birthday celebration, a BIG birthday celebration -- the October 23rd anniversary of the birth of ... EXISTENCE.   

That's right.  On October 23rd, 4004 BC, at 4PM, Eastern Standard Time, or midnight in the Garden of Eden, God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was without form and void.     

Such was the conclusion of James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin, after profound and exhaustive study of scriptural genealogies and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories.  His conclusion was incorporated into an authorized version of the Bible printed in 1701, and thus came to be regarded with almost as much unquestioning reverence as the Bible itself. 

Six thousand and six years old!  That's a lot of years.  And after all that time, what have we come to?  The Decline of the West.   

Way back in 1919, Oswald Spengler saw it all, the grand pattern, the "inward form of History", repeating through all recorded time, and in every major culture, including ours."For everything organic the notions of birth, death, youth, age, lifetime are fundamentals…"     

He saw all cultures come into springlike being, youthful and vigorous, flower in their summery, unique ways, and then autumnally decay.  Their winters were frozen into rigid, petrified forms, and these forms he called “civilization”.  Our Western culture had been born around the tenth century, flowered in the gothic and the Renaissance, became “civilized” in the eighteenth century, and in the nineteenth century, with the industrial revolution, had begun the process of spiritual decline.  The upcoming death of Western Culture was as certain as that of any other living organism.  History was Destiny, unfolded through the cycle of human cultures, all of which shared a common rhythm and pattern.  We cannot choose our destiny, we cannot alter it.  We have no choice but to make the best of our historical situation.   

Stark.  Dramatic.  No wonder it attracted so much attention.  In this wintertime essay, he drove his metaphor hard.  When the freezing point of a culture is reached, like water, it expands and can shatter its container.  Though spiritually exhausted, it gathers the technical and material capacity for outward reach, desperately grabbing at life.  And so begins what he called an Age of Caesarism.  He predicted the coming of totalitarian states, not by looking at the social movements around him, but by taking the longest possible view.  He predicted a coming age of imperialist wars in which nations would complete their spiritual death, and finally fall to pieces, yes, like Rome, but also like every other culture, finally succumbing to the invasion of new forces, alien, hostile to the old, full of springlike, spontaneous creativity and religious devotion.  In the inevitable final battle between civilized engineers and God-inspired barbarians, the engineers would go down clutching pens and pencils.  Artists would also succumb: this was not a time for soul.  Art would be frustrated by society’s rejection, or corrupted by its licentiousness and power -- a spiritual vocation gone astray.  The Zeitgeist is inevitable, a time of perverted men in a hopelessly perverted age, liars calling liars liars.     

Spengler spoke of the endless repetition of the “already-accepted”, of standardized art, of petrified formulas which would ignore and deny history. “Events,” he said, would become “the private affairs of the oligarchs and their assassins,” and would arise from administration, not society.  He foresaw professional armies operating with an entirely different morality than civilian society.  In 1917, he noted, “In a few years, we have learned virtually to ignore things which before the war would have petrified the world.”     

Oh well, happy 6006, anyway!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

INTO THE FLAMES

Late last month, Pentagon officials stood around supervising the scene as St Martin’s Press destroyed the entire first run of Anthony Schaffer's new book on spycraft and special operations in Afghanistan.

Was there a good old bonfire -- as with the Nazis, or the anti-Harry Potterites? Somewhere in the center pentagon of the Pentagon? Or was there a festive scene roped off over at Madison Square Park with folks peering down from the Flatiron Building?

I queried my editor about how publishers "pulp" books, and he, in his innocence, never having pulped one, suggested that perhaps they feed the books into a large machine which turns the shreds into packing material, new paper and jiffy bags.

I suspect publishers don't actually burn books these carbon-conscious days, but offer them up as sacrifice to the chemical companies to deal with. And for a hardback book, that's a multi-step process, tearing off the covers, and dealing with them separately, cloth, cardboard, glue, and possibly plastic.

But whatever the process, "book-burning" is a description more accurate than an anodyne "recycling of printed material", and 9,600 copies met their maker as brass looked on, checking to make sure the deed was done.

Interesting, too, was the price we taxpayers forked up for the party. The book retails at $25.99, and Amazon sells it for $14.21 plus $3.99 shipping. The Department of Defense twisted St. Martin's arm to sell them the first run -- none to bookstores or Amazon -- for only $47,000. If you do the math, that's only $4.90 a copy. What a buy we got!

Not to be accused of censorship, our Freedom Fighters allowed St. Martins to publish a heavily redacted copy of the second edition. The great Russian writers had to deal with this all the time, so who are we to complain?

I once tried to burn a book. New in grad school, I thought I could make the world a better place with a ritual burning of Kafka's The Trial. I went out and splurged on a new, hardcover, Modern Library edition, along with a hefty tin pail in which to make the fire. With the LA Times for kindling, and some good Los Angeles brush and sticks, I had a nice blaze going, said an anti-blessing, and consigned the book to the flames. Kafka smothered the blaze in billows of smoke with no significant damage to self, and unhip neighbors upstairs called the fire department -- which didn't quite get the issue. Also I melted a hole in the floor's shellac. So you see it was a good idea for our defenders to check to see that the job was done, and done right.

Why am I telling you all this? Most commentators have deplored the censorship aspect of this chapter of national-security mania. But I want to use these events to draw your attention to a story by that dark spirit of Salem, Nathaniel Hawthorne, a tale frequently left out of anthologies — "Earth's Holocaust" – an incisive cautionary to would-be reformers, radicals or revolutionaries like me, or possibly you.

Once upon a time, the inhabitants of the world determined to rid themselves of the evil accumulation of “worn-out trumpery”, by heaving it all into an enormous bonfire. Into the flames went

coats of armor, nobility
sceptres of emperors and kings
hogsheads of liquor
bank notes
enamored sonnets
diplomas
weapons and ammunition
machinery to inflict the punishment of death
marriage certificates
daybooks and ledgers
statute books and printed paper in general
priestly garments
the Bible


Interesting list.

As the fire burns down, and the satisfied reformers leave to go to bed to wake to their new world, a little party—convivial, but despondent—is left hanging around the fire. It is the last murderer, the last thief, the last drunkard and the hangman.


"The best counsel for all of us is," thought the hangman, was "that, as soon as we have finished the last drop of liquor, I help you, my three friends, to a comfortable end upon the nearest tree, and then hang myself on the same bough. This is no world for us any longer."

 
The despair of the wicked at the new-created world.
        
"Poh, poh, my good fellows!" said a dark-complexioned personage, who now joined the group—his complexion was indeed truly dark, and his eyes glowed with a redder light than that of the bonfire; "be not so cast down, my dear friends; you shall see good days yet. There's one thing that these wiseacres have forgotten to throw into the fire, and with which all the rest of the conflagration is just nothing at all; yes, though they had burned the earth itself into a cinder."

           
"And what may that be?" eagerly demanded the last murderer.



"What but the human heart itself?" said the dark-visaged stranger, with a portentous grin. "And, unless they hit upon some method of purifying that foul cavern, forth from it will reissue all the shapes of wrong and misery—the same old shapes or worse ones—which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes. I have stood by this livelong night and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. Oh, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!"

You can see, perhaps, why this is rarely anthologized.


Call it depraved or misguided, but it is this "foul cavern" — foul, if often sublime—that continues to attract and orient my attention. It's why I write novels.

Oh, btw, the title of the book the DoD recently burned is Operation Dark Heart.

Friday, October 8, 2010

POTENTIAL HOLOCAUST IN AMERICA 3: IN THE HERE AND NOW

[The end of last week's essay: Just in case there were any legislative objection to these judicial proceedings, Hitler pushed through the “Enabling Act” which allowed his handpicked cabinet to make laws having the same validity as any passed by the Reichstag, even ones disregarding the Constitution. The circle was closed, complete and tight. The living dead would soon become the dead -- period.]

Laws are being made here, too. And Presidential Enabling Acts, aka "signing statements". And court seats being filled.

The cast of characters is somewhat changed. Instead of Jews, we have the poor and soon-to-be-poor, the homeless, the disabled, the aged, the immigrant "Other" -- an open-ended, potentially unruly, group, getting larger with each job loss and foreclosure.

We have no Nazis, only Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Both parties agree that the foremost task is to eliminate the deficit, and both agree that the main hit will be on services to the poor, without tapping the military budget or corporate welfare. Both agree that taxes for the most part need to be cut -- it's good for getting re-elected. Asses and Pachyderms (from Gr: "thickskinned") may argue over numbers or priorities, but the fundamental assumptions -- and the potential victims -- are precisely the same. And outside the beltway is a population of Good Americans, voting their pocketbooks, not paying much attention to details evolving inside. How could they? All they know is what the government- and corporate-controlled media choose to tell them.

All the propensities of the Authoritarian Personality are still at large in this social consciousness, along with the tendency to behave as Milgram’s subjects did with respect to “legitimately constituted” authority. Weber’s analysis accurately describes what is going on today: bureaucracy, science, efficiency, and value-free thought running the show in the interest of “Progress” and “Freedom and Democracy” -- and maximization of profit.

Social forces and individual thought habits are distressingly similar to those in Nazi Germany. The poor and the "Others" are as despised as were the Jews. Helping them is as verboten. There are no cultural safeguards in place which would prevent a holocaust-like social cannibalism, a society-wide suspension of morality with regard to the designated “problem”.

There would be no help on a global level, either, since every national state claims the right to dispose of its citizens as it will, starving them, imprisoning them, executing them as it finds necessary. The United States refuses to recognize judgements of the World Court except when such judgements suit its purposes, and refuses to ratify several international treaties concerning human rights. International objectors like Amnesty International are delegitimized as “interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign nations”. The legitimacy of national sovereignty is built into the United Nations. Besides, who would take on the United States, militarily or economically for any mere human rights issue?

Thus, all the pieces are in place for another holocaust -- this time against the poor and "Other". Native racism adds to the potential, since -- no surprise -- many of the poor are immigrants and people of color, and code words overlap: “End welfare as we know it” = “Get the minorities under control.” Hence the ominous double significance of our move toward prison expansion. The U.S. already has a far greater percentage of its population behind bars than any other industrial country -- the highest in the world. The vast preponderance of prisoners are poor people of color.

A comparative check on where we are now in the six historical steps above is sobering -- and frightening.

Step 1. Defining the enemy. The poor are clearly defined as “the problem”. Not the profit-driven economy. Not the culture of violence. Not the controlled information system. Studies focus on the pathology of the “underclass”. The Poor are the problem. They are “other” to “normal Americans”. Consequently they must to be “dealt with”. Highest priority : "excess" population, a drain on the nation, unviable.

Step 2. Eliminating the enemy from the economy. By national policy, there are fewer and fewer jobs available to the poor, and fewer and fewer salaries that could raise a family out of poverty. Wall Street is bailed out, while money for public sector employment is denied, and corporate profits recover, with CEOs reaping massive benefits at taxpayer expense. Education funding is similarly squelched, so that the problem army of the poor can only swell. “Otherness” is increased as the media focus in on the predictably rising problems of crime, the inner city, and immigrant workers, ignoring problems elsewhere, and their root causes.

Step 3. Ostracism by custom and law. It is frightening to make such a list, but almost every step taken by the Third Reich has some parallel here and now -- with no built-in limits:

 -- Laws passed by Congress can be overridden by executive orders, presidential “findings”, National Security directives, or simply aborted by not disbursing committed funds.

-- Courts are routinely packed with obedient federal appointees. The current composition of the Supreme Court is the biggest scandal of all. Legal rights of poor defendants are being systematically reduced, and money for good lawyers diminished.

-- The current push in Congress is for law to serve the state and its rich financiers at the expense of individuals. Corporate personhood triumphs. Eavesdropping technology and "anti-terrorism" stand guard at the gates. The government moves to limit consumer and environmental protection. These laws are being made deliberately, without even pretending to be a democratic response to the will of the people. There is increasing governmental readiness to evade constitutional law.

-- The many Nazi restrictions on employment are all replaced by the fact that -- for the poor and uneducated above all -- there are simply no jobs. Affirmative action is increasingly questioned. The situation has worsened catastrophically with jobs exported and capital flight, and its attendant dog-eat-dog resentments. With no money for private transportation, no money for parking, and increasingly expensive, inadequate public transportation, the poor are deprived of the mobility necessary to find and maintain employment -- even if there were employment to be had.

-- Municipal services are neglected or abandoned in poor neighborhoods, and the police remain an occupying army, protecting and serving the threatened rich. Consequently, living conditions and ghettos become ever more intolerable.

-- Student loans are being cut at the same time that tuitions are skyrocketing. Thus education increasingly excludes the poor as effectively as discriminatory laws did the Jews. Without an educated workforce, the vicious spiral continues downward.

-- "Economics of scale" are driving out smaller, local businesses in favor of large corporate operations -- if they even choose to locate in poorer neighborhoods.

Remember: such policies are not accidents. They are designed and signed by upper-class men and women, and approved by well-prepped voters.

Step 4. Removal from view. In addition to long-existing ghettoization, foreclosures on housing toxically mortgaged, and increasing inter-racial suspicion, many municipalities are now enacting draconian laws to “get the poor out from under our noses.” Sleeping in public spaces, panhandling, even accepting free food have been criminalized. Here in Burlington, Vermont, an ordinance was floated to make it illegal to sit in a street, or even lean against a building. When there are no more poor on the streets or in the subways, how will we know when there are no more poor at all? As the plight of the poor is made ever more intolerable, radical solutions become ever more thinkable.

Steps 5 and 6 -- slave labor and death camps have not yet been literally established. Nevertheless there is recognizable social movement in that direction. Prisons are currently the greatest growth industry, and there is increasing practice of substituting prison labor for outside workers -- at substantially smaller wages. As a co-worker once said to me, “Why should I support those criminals? Let ‘em earn their keep.” (She would also kill everyone on death row right away, so that her taxes wouldn’t be used to support murderers.)

Great for profits, terrible for labor, further incentive to put as many people behind bars as possible. And the attachment to capital punishment continues. Less legal protection for prisoners, less chance for appeal, more designated-capital crimes, destruction of habeus corpus and Miranda protections in the name of "fighting terrorism"; micro-fascism at the airport, greater surveillance, and now Obama giving himself permission to assassinate Americans without trial -- all to general public approval.

Given the above array of conditions, what can we surmise about the likely American future?

HOLOCAUST THINKING IN AMERICA

There is a scent of pre-holocaust in the air. It is a mood, a direction faced, a lingo, haze of assumptions. And look! -- there is a Jack-in-the-box with a box’s six sides: authoritarianism, consumo-conformity, efficiency, moralism, patriotism, and a penchant for punishment.

Turn the crank:

All around the mulberry bush
the monkey chased the weasel,
the monkey thought ‘twas all in fun...

Now just hold it there. What will pop out at the very next move?

We don’t really know. The mind rebels. Tens of millions of children in poverty experiencing a “greater sense of personal responsibility”? Welfare cut-offs flooding an already non-existent job market getting people "back to work”? Or giving them back their “self-esteem”?

There is discontinuity in the curve of thought here -- except for one constant -- it is definitively the poor and "Other" that are poised to fall off the line into god-knows-what abyss. And the numbers of those impoverished are growing as the middle class shrinks away into unknown territory.

The number of officially poor is now over 45 million, higher than at any time in the 51 years of counting. 2009 saw the largest increase ever. The most vulnerable families are those headed by single mothers, and among them the hardest hit are those headed by single women of color. Two-thirds are employed. But in addition to chronic low wages, many single mothers have seen their work hours cut in the recession. The number of Americans on food stamps is at an all time high, and the Republicans want to cut into those food stamps in order to "fund childhood nutrition".

One out of every seven mortgages is delinquent or in foreclosure, 10 million Americans are on unemployment, more than half of them in long-term joblessness. Bankruptcy filings have risen 20% in the last year. One out of every five children lives in poverty.

Even though there are six people applying for every available job, the new "welfare as we now know it" (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) insists that one has to find a job in order to continue benefits. So since there are no jobs, TANF is eliminating benefits for 85,000 families a month, even as the destitute swamp welfare offices, having exhausted all other options. Obama wants his administration to "break the cycle of dependency," dontcha know.

Where have the jobs gone, the money? The current income gap is the largest its been since the late 1920s, the result of a long series of policy decisions by legislators bought and paid for by the high-class bandits making out. The race to the bottom is fueled by a race to the top. The dynamics seem irreversible.

The assault on America is a bipartisan operation. Whatever their deceitful rhetoric, neither party is willing to place serious limits on corporate speculation and profitability. Neither will question the need for public austerity and private profit, nor the enormous damage done by the military industrial complex.

The Republican's current "Pledge to America" is most importantly a call to continue the Bush tax cuts for the rich to maintain the income gap and protect its well-heeled beneficiaries. Secondarily, it is a plan to repeal even the pathetic Affordable Health Care Act, itself written by lobbyists from insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Even while in the minority, the Republicans have blocked benefits for homeless vets, health care for 911 first responders, a jobs bill that gives tax breaks to companies hiring new employees, an act to ensure women are paid the same wages as men, have tried to block unemployment benefits extension, and have succeeded in blocking stricter regulations for financial institutions. Their ultimate goal, often stated, is privatization of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The Democrats have put up no fight in the interest of "compromise". Is there a pattern here?

Such an immiseration project must be protected by spreading fear of "terrorism", and the use of illegal spying now openly practiced, with sweeping new regulations for the internet. Robert Mueller, director of the FBI has stated that, “There is a continuum between those who would express dissent and those who would do a terrorist act.” One spokesperson from an FBI/police "information fusion center" claimed that the protest of a war against "international terrorism" is itself "a terrorist act". The USAPATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism -- 1st prize for acronyms) stands behind him. And for good measure, Obama has come up with approved "kill lists" of suspected terrorists -- including Americans -- he claims he can exterminate with impunity. The final solution, no doubt.

HOLOCAUST AND TOTALITARIANISM

Many of the classic structures of a totalitarian state are already in place in contemporary America, Land of the Free. Many new ones, too -- modern and post-modern. Official lawlessness no longer bothers to hide itself, and is tolerated or approved by the population at large. Criminal investigations into state crimes are blocked in the interests of "national security". Checks and balances among the three branches of government have been manipulated into a seamless, self-validifying whole. Make that four, as the media becomes ever more embedded in the corporate beltway.

But while totalitarianism is almost certainly a necessary context for holocaust, genocide, nakba, shoah, it is not a sufficient condition: the cooperation of the population is necessary. And that is where the Milgram Experiments come in (see part one of this essay). When the authorities say "do it!", a population of authoritarian personalities, born and bred, will do it.

American murder, massive and limited, even if openly criminal, seems to have widespread support by a swamped population, ready to lash out at designated victims. Americans know about torture of detainees in hidden prisons. They know of American slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if they are only discovering such activities in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and well-supported in Palestine. Hey, freedom isn't free. They know, too, about the slave labor of prisoners, and of undocumented workers, frightened and hiding. Let the torture, war and racist attacks proceed, I guess, if USA is once again to be Number One. Gott mit uns!

Should some object, they, like Germans in the thirties, will find no levers of change in their much-vaunted political process, all of whose candidates stand behind the American project of victory, "democracy", and control of resources. As Jay Gould said back in the 1880's, "I don't care who they vote for as long as I get to pick the candidates."

And those candidates are -- with notable exceptions -- no dummies. They can see as clearly as anyone the general direction in which we are headed. Why else reduce or remove the safety net for Americans while pouring trillions into armaments , corporations, and banks? A group -- the poor and Other -- has been identifiedas the problem and the need for a “solution” given highest priority -- Step 1, above.

Now we are poised at the edge of the precipice. "Terrorism" and its attendant and well-tended-to fear, make Step 2 certain: they virtually guarantee that most people will not be able to make the transition into productive work. They further assure galloping immiseration of the poor as they are cut off from food and cash assistance, childcare and nutrition for their children. The consequent desperation will require more policing, desperate, more “final” and effective solutions, solutions which can ensure that the misery of the poor does not inflict itself on the top 10%.

Steps 1 and 2 have been taken. Steps 3 and 4 are underway. The smell of holocaust is in the air. Our civilization provides no safeguards. The Zweckrationalit├Ąt dynamic described by Max Weber -- the very one that nourished the Jewish holocaust in a most civilized, advanced-industrial Germany -- still rules. Is it realistic to say “It can’t happen here”?

We have the Jewish holocaust behind us, and the words “Never Again” engraved in our collective heartminds. But our own history -- previous and subsequent to the holocaust is not reassuring. Native Americans were wiped out to make room for middle America. “Pioneers” were rewarded by the government with land deeds for expropriating Native American territory and violating treaties. It is not necessary to go over the “social suspension of morality” with respect to African Americans, or the atrocities committed during the Civil War.

In our own time, we have seen World War II with its mass firebombings and atomic attacks, then two more wars, wiping out gooks with high-tech weapons. They don’t value life like we do. Just to keep our hands in it, we buried Iraquis alive and incinerated fleeing columns of troops with gas-air explosives. And now our middle-east atrocities. I don’t have much faith in home-grown American morality resisting commands to solve a problem by slaughter.  Richard Miller notes that

Most Germans did not believe the final steps would be taken. They saw each measure as a discrete event and failed to understand that each step prepared the way for the next. The SS Journal Das Schwarze Korps noted in 1938, “What is radical today is moderate tomorrow.” In 1933 the Nazis had no plan to kill all the Jews, and even militants would have shrunk in horror from such a suggestion. Gradually, over the next decade, “reasonable people” found that they had to become a little harsher. By 1943, the context of the war against Jews had escalated to the point where warriors could blandly pass bureaucratic memos back and forth about behavior that would have seemed unconscionable in 1933. “ (Nazi Justiz, p.3)

Our leaders are now passing such notes, and setting in place such laws concerning our current "Others". Proposals are being negotiated which would have horrified officials of earlier administrations. This is our 1943. Will we allow a similar denouement? It can happen here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

HOLOCAUST THINKING 2: HOW THE NAZIS DID IT

I know one is not allowed to use the word "nazism" in any discussion of current practices, that the holocaust is unique, etc., etc. -- but if you don't see the similarities between the structures put into place in Germany in the mid- and late-1930s and those evolving here, now, well then, you don't see structural similarities.

National Socialist Strategy

What were the moves the Nazis evolved to “overcome animal pity”  with regard to Jewish victims?

Step 1.  Defining the enemy.  Jewishness was clearly and legally defined as part of a problem.  Thus the Jews were made “other” to the rest of the population.

Step 2.  Eliminating the enemy from the economy.  Jews were not allowed to work in state-affiliated institutions.  Jewish stores were boycotted and vandalized.  “Otherness” was thereby increased, as the Jews were forced from the normal productive economy, and were now an ever-increasing problem -- and not just by definition.

Step 3. Ostracism by custom and law.  Many other discriminatory laws were put into place. No Jews allowed, here or there, this place or that.

Step 4. Removal from view.  Ghettos were created to wall the problem off from the rest of the population. Jews thus became less visible.  When they began to disappear, there was often little to notice.  As intolerable conditions developed in the ghettos, inhuman measures were justified as humane.  Jews were killed in “acts of mercy” -- in order to “spare them the agony of famine”.   In deliberately intolerable conditions, the stage was set for even more radical steps.

Step 5. Transport to slave labor camps, using these “outsiders” to support the economy.

Step 6. Transport to death camps.  The “Final Solution”.

Tactics: Ostracism as a policy in Nazi Germany

To better make some later comparisons, let me provide more detail about Step 3 above:  “other discriminatory laws”.

In his hair-raising book, Nazi Justiz (Praeger 1995), Richard Miller describes the gradual, multifaceted ways in which Jews were turned from productive members of society into an kind of “living dead” who were permitted to wander through society, but forbidden to take part in it.  The mass killings in the camps was only a late development, the logical “final” successor of many incremental “solutions” inflicted along the way on an increasingly desperate people.  

Miller concentrates on Germany in the 30s, after the rise of Hitler, but before the war, all changes affecting Jews were done “legally”, “democratically”, with support from the media and the German people.  In this “time of peace”, a variety of local and national laws were passed, with due deliberation, in no way a result of military desperation. Across the country , jot by innovative jot, legal and social restrictions fell into place which sealed the victims’ fate. 

The movement began with “unofficial” boycotting of Jewish businesses or professionals.  Boycotts spread to those who patronized Jews in any way, thus taking goods and wages away from good German citizens.   Having a street conversation with a Jew could lead to charges of “race pollution” and “civic disloyalty”, and perhaps to being paraded through town, with a sign around one's neck.  Such “unofficial” boycotts were peppered with equally “unofficial” violence, of which Kristallnacht was the most coordinated example.  Naturally, there was no police protection.

Having recognized a “mandate” from the people, governments began to act.  A pastiche of creatively sadistic local law and ever more inclusive national law took control of Jewish life, and eventually obviated the need for “unofficial” populist action.  Place by place, Jews were not allowed in parks, theaters, libraries, museums, sports stadia, beaches, athletic and social clubs.  They could not be guests in hotels, or get service at restaurants.   One profession after another banned Jews from being licensed.  Jews would no longer be granted permits to open retail stores, or be allowed into blue or white collar unions or the jobs they controlled.  They couldn’t be patent agents or lawyers, tax consultants or swimming instructors, lifeguards, jockeys, actors, lottery salesmen, stock brokers, antique dealers, archivists. They couldn’t rent out park chairs, or distribute motion pictures, or deal in art or literary works.  They were prevented from dealing in currency, engineering construction projects, selling guns.  No Jew could be a detective, private guard, accountant, or work in a credit agency.  No Jew could be a tourist guide, a peddler, auctioneer, or real estate agent, or manage a factory, house, estate, or land.  Needless to say, all the new business and newly opened job opportunities went to Aryans, vastly increasing the popularity of the Nazi regime. Jobs, jobs, jobs. And housing.

In areas where Jews were not yet banned, other ways were found to shut them down.  Before real estate licenses were outlawed for Jews, tax authorities refused to deal with Jewish agents, leaving few property owners interested in hiring them.  Sugar was cut off to Jewish bakers and candy-makers, effectively destroying their businesses. Legal Jewish newsstands would be refused newspapers; Jewish textile managers could no longer get raw materials.  Jewish businesses could not put ads in commercial directories, newspapers, on billboards or the radio.  Eventually all employment was restricted except particularly disagreeable tasks: cleaning public toilets and sewage plants, jobs at rag and bone works were considered possibly “suitable” for Jews.  Outside of such work, Jews had to somehow fend for themselves.

How could even that be made more difficult?   Travel bans and invalidation of passports were obvious.   But how about no parking for Jews?  Special license plates to identify Jewish cars for special harassment.  Soon enough, prohibition of drivers licenses, and then restriction from public transportation.  Impoverished Jews could not rent their homes, sublet, or sell.  Retirement benefits and contracted pensions were cancelled, as were all insurance policies.  Jewish students were not allowed to take finals, and so couldn’t complete their schooling.  All student loans had to be repaid within 2 weeks, regardless of contractual payment schedules; those in default were subject to police action.   Jewish streets were not cleaned, nor were other municipal services available.  German police, when present at all, were an occupying army, and beatings and attacks were common.  Many main sections of towns became off-limits to Jews, and any remnants of Jewish culture came under attack:  Jewish art and music were censored as “decadent”, and even jazz was attacked as “a barbarian invasion supported by Jews.”

Because Jews were to be restricted from so many areas, they needed to be easily identified. Rush-hour passengers were not about to tolerate checking IDs of every boarding passenger.  Eventually the yellow star was required, with strict punishment for any Jew who did not wear one in public.  Jews were forbidden to name their children with “Aryan sounding names”, and had to adopt the middle names “Israel” or “Sarah”, and use these names when identifying themselves.

Germany has long been known as a land of “law and order”.  But Jews could not use the justice system to thwart clearly illegal onslaughts.  All courts were packed with government appointees to enforce, not judge, official policy.  The object of the law was to protect the state, not the individual citizen. If Jews were a menace to the state, then all laws oppressing them, were both legal and just.  Furthermore, laws were seen as implying “direction”,  and were not confined to their original settings. For instance the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service spoke only of dismissing Jewish government employees.  Martin Heidegger however, as rector of the University of Freiburg, ended fellowship payments to Jewish students under the guiding spirit of that decree. 

Courts built rulings on Nazi party resolutions, and took their philosophical guidance from Hitler speeches.  In 1934 Goering complained that defendants still had so many rights that convictions were being impeded.  Naturally, Jewish defendants were at an extreme disadvantage.  Jewish lawyers were barred from court; Aryan lawyers could not serve Jews.  Consequently, Jews had to represent themselves against highly trained adversaries.  Judges were instructed to view Jewish witnesses “with extreme caution”, and no verdict was to be passed when a sentence would have to be based entirely on Jewish testimony.

Just in case there were any legislative objection to these judicial proceedings, Hitler pushed through the “Enabling Act” which allowed his handpicked cabinet to make laws having the same validity as any passed by the Reichstag, even ones disregarding the Constitution.  The circle was closed, complete and tight.  The living dead would soon become the dead -- period.

Next week: You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows -- here and now in America.