It’s not really my intention to spend the week bagging on Sally Jo Sorenson – proprietor of Bluestem Prairie, and one of a tiny fringe of Minnesota “progressive” bloggers that don’t belong under police surveillance.
But I saw this post, and I just couldn’t resist.
Zeit Full Of Geiste: History is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, we need to learn from it, or we’re screwed. On the other hand, lazy, out-of-context historical parallels are a rhetorical crutch that can be an unsatisfactory substitute for actual thought. On the other other hand, rejecting historical comparisons can also be a lazy unearned “gotcha”.
So it’s a three-edged sword, I guess…
The big historical kahuna this past hundred years, of course, is World War 2. And World War 2 is an amazingly complex subject, open to endless debates on nearly-infinite tangents. And one of the most potent subjects in the biggest war in human history was “how did the Nazi Party – a fringe fascist party that preached a pseudo-mystic, ethnic-mythology-based hypernationalism, ethnic purity, and conquest in pursuit of both – ever take power of what would today be called a “First World” power?”
History’s my bag. So are languages. (Music, too, but that doesn’t really apply). I would have majored in History, but back in the eighties the job outlook just wasn’t there if you didn’t want to be a teacher, so I went with the much-more-marketable English degree.
But I minored in History, and German – mostly because of my interest in, well, Germany in history. Indeed, you could very well say dürch meine Interesse in Deutche Geschichte waren Deutsch und Geschichte in College meine Nebenfäche.
Point being, making Nazi analogies can be intellectually lazy; saying “Obama is taking us the way Germany went in the twenties” can be as lazy as chanting “Bush is taking us the way Germany went in the twenties”.
But then so can rejecting them out of hand. Germany started the 20th century as a constitutional monarchy with one of the most literate populations, advanced economies, respected educational systems (we modeled ours after theirs), richest artistic canons and well-developed industrial bases in the world. Forty years later, they were firebombing London and machine-gunning Polish villages. Wondering “what’s the worst that can happen to a large, wealthy, advanced, progressive society” isn’t entirely idling.
But for heaven’s sake, both are dumb if one is utterly ignorant of the history involved.
Politically Uncorrect: Anyhoo, Sorenson unleashed the post in question swiping at a woman from Hutchinson, Kitty Werthmann, and someone who wrote to praise her in the Hutchinson paper.
Werthmann – a native of Austria who was a child during the Anschluß (Hitler’s relatively peaceful coup bringing Austria into the Reich) – has been preaching that America is on the same road to Tyranny that Europe was on.
Is she right? On the one hand, I take most such claims with a block of salt. On the other? Our government is spying on us; Obama has used the IRS to stifle opposition speech, and Homeland Security to demonize and harass political opponents. Petty abuses are the starter drug of the tyrant – and the road from freedom to tyranny is always a slippery slope. Always. Nazi? Probably not. Authoritarian? Doy.
But I come not to analyze Werthmann – I’ll leave that to the reader.
No, I come to assail Sally Jo Sorenson.
Shamelessgoy: Mostly, her piece addresses Werthmann’s heritage – presumably with intent to discredit her perspective on Naziism. I’m going to add some emphases for later reference:
An Austrian Catholic who immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s, Werthmann was 12 when Germany annexed her native country. By her own account, she witnessed Nazi oppression first hand, but was never sent to a concentration camp or jailed herself. Prominent horrors of Hitler’s regime for Werthmann, president of the South Dakota Eagle Forum, include equal rights for women (historians have discovered a rather different story about women in the Third Reich than what Werthmann recalls).
(It was a mixed bag; German women got some rights they’d not had before, but also were strongly urged to be good brood sows, creating new Volksdeutsch to carry on the Kampf. The Nazis even gave out medals – the military kind – to women who had the most kids, provided they were Aryan. But I digress).
The letter-writer noted some of the cultural mileposts that Werthmann cites as evidence. Sorenson responds:
While no state-sponsored prayer in schools has been the law of the land since a Supreme Court ruling in the1960s, Piker and Werthmann seem confused about flags being “taken out of our schools.” As for banning wearing of crosses, that seems to be related to bone-headed, if well-intentioned, anti-gang efforts; such restrictions have been condemned by both the American Center for Law and Justice and the ACLU.
(And the Germans had all sorts of reasons for their laws as well – which were opposed by more-liberal Germans, including the GCLU. OK, I made the “GCLU” up – but point being, there was a debate over the changes in German law. Until debate became illegal – which was enacted by legal means years before it required deportations and concentration camps. One of the first steps? Declaring debate “seditious!” Seriously - it’s not like a bunch of brownshirts charged into the Reichskanzlerei and forcibly converted Germans from playing Hayden and and Fußball and Dreigroschenopern to firebombing Rotterdam overnight; there were years of gradual change But again, I digress)
Sorenson chronicles a fascinating back-and-forth in the Hutch paper’s letters section, before concluding:
Dare to challenge a sketchy analogy between Obama and Hitler made by a non-Jewish Austrian Catholic who survived the German annexation without being imprisoned?
Then you must have forgotten the Holocaust. Or just be too young to remember.
Or perhaps you’re just staggeringly ignorant about history.
Parade of Calumny: Look at the parts I bolded in Sorenson’s screed; Werthmann is “Catholic”; she’s “non-Jewish”; she was neither “imprisoned” nor “sent to a concentration camp”.
Then I guess Kitty Werthmann’s World War 2 was pretty posh, huh?
Well, not necessariliy. The Nazis murdered Jews, of course – 70% of all Jews in Europe. Over 90% of all Jews that had lived in Eastern Europe.
Of course, they had a jones for gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses and gypsies, as well. And the mentally ill. Few of any of those groups survived the war.
Communists in Germany and every place they conquered? Yep. Them too – indeed, like totalitarians everywhere, they murdered not only enemies – communists, but also Social Democrats, Monarchists and “liberals” of all stripes – but friends who might get in their way; other fascists, and even Nazis who lost out in intra-party squabbles.
Yes, they also murdered plenty of Catholics. Protestants – even Lutherans in Germany, the home of Martin Luther, too, for that matter. The Nazis – a fundamentally atheistic movement – wanted to co-opt the German churches, especially the state Catholic and Lutheran demominations; linking traditional German Volk culture to Naziism via the Church was a key part of re-engineering German society. The Nazis didn’t waste a lot of time on clergy who didn’t play ball. The early concentration camps were full of non-compliant priests and pastors, goyim all.
And of course you didn’t have to be murdered, imprisoned or deported to the camps to have suffered horribly. Germany suffered between 5 and 7 million dead, including as many as 2.5 million civilians – as much as a tenth of the entire population. Austria alone lost a quarter of a million soldiers and 120,000 civilians – in a nation of six million, not much bigger than Minnesota is today. By the end of the war – when Werthmann was a teenager – Germans and Austrians, Nazis and just-plain-folks alike were living hand-to-mouth, scraping to get by in a way Americans never, ever have since maybe the Civil War.
And after the war? The parts of the economy and infrastructure that hadn’t been bombed flat or firebombed to a crisp had been fought over by five different armies; the towns that the Russians didn’t destroy by carpet-rocketing or the US and Britain didn’t blow to smithereens with their artillery out of sheer tactical overkill were looted and burned by the French out of pure spite. The people were treated (not without justification) as unindicted co-conspirators under strict military occupation. Food was strictly rationed in the West for a decade, and in the East tacitly until 1991. Germans (and Austrians, who were treated as the willing accomplices so many had in fact been) alive at the time talk of being constantly on the ragged edge of starvation – whether they were actual Nazis, sympathizers, goers-along, or utterly apathetic about German politics.
But Kitty Werthmann isn’t Jewish, so according to Sally Jo Sorenson, clearly World War 2 must have been a gas.
This is your Minnesota “progressive” blogosphere’s best in action.