The US Today vs. 1930s Germany: Analogy Doesn’t Fit

by William Standish

Mr. Standish has spent more than twenty years as an intelligence analyst, targeter, and collector, working with and within many Intelligence Community agencies, both civilian and military.
I’ve heard commentaries, call-ins, read articles and posts that compare us to 1920s-30s Germany. I get it — anyone who’s seen a single post since he became a long-shot possibility knows that I detest just about all he stands for. But I think that there is a danger, for those of us who are not Trumpophiles, in patterning our minds to look for too many similarities.
There are certainly commonalities, and it is quite possible that Trump and our rising populism will become a FUTURE case study for “where they went horribly wrong,” but we shouldn’t over-play the analogy.
In the time running up to Hitler’s consolidation of power, Germany was not coming out of a recession or recession-light; it was in destitution. Further, its destitution was rooted in an utterly conscious humiliation by its European neighbors. There was nation-wide misery, no rational reason to think it was going to end soon, and no support from outside…The country had reached a point where it was questioning its own value and its future. In this despair, human nature became the Germans’ greatest weakness — they were at rock bottom and facing only two options: deep soul-searching to determine what role their culture had played, to chart a path to overcoming those; or seek excuses and rationalizations. In this vacuum, Hitler’s words were a balm to the aching national psyche.
For us, there are many who feel left behind. Some may not want to face that coal mining in the Information Age is not a viable long-term solution, etc, but there is no nation-wide, crushing destitution that leaves all of us feeling there is no hope for the future.
Hitler found it convenient to demonize the Jews. This was made easier by quasi-science of the time — worldwide, to include in some corners of the US – that had “proven” that Jews were a human-like species, etc. And Jews, particularly in Europe, had suffered from centuries of culturally inbred hate, passed from generation to generation.
For the US, honestly – and according to (reliable) polls – most people don’t know a Muslim and don’t know the first thing about Islam. Frankly, other than a para or two in History class, most people honestly just don’t give Muslims a thought. So, while there is fear of Islam and fear of Muslims – reinforced through recent history – this is not an area where there is a deep cultural well being tapped into. This is the kind of ignorance that can, in many cases, be dissipated when a person sits down and talks to an actual Muslim, etc. So there’s not the reflexive revulsion that Hitler horribly tapped into.
People have compared Bannon to Goebbels. I don’t know…he may be. But I’d say the key difference is the dissemination of information today. When a source (correctly or incorrectly) reports some insider info, it is retweeted globally within minutes. Yes, the media can be manipulated…and we must watch, because there ARE disturbing signs, to be sure.
Most importantly, we are not 1920s Germany or Germans. There is an ethos unique to the US (as there is for pretty much every country) that makes drawing analogies dangerous and illogical. Germans were not monolithic, but they were much more so, particularly in commonality of even regional versions of a national identity. We may not melt so well as a melting pot, these days, but we are still the most diverse country on Earth. This diversity creates a critical thinking and individuality that countries in what we’re considering comparable circumstances have not benefited from.
Bottom line? Be watchful, mindful, and wary — never, ever forget the evil that came from Hitler’s Germany (or from slavery or from the Khmer Rouge, etc). But know that OUR particular brand of broken needs to be seen — and confronted — through its own, unique optic. Only in doing so will we be able to fix our own problems…


A Few Words from Susan Hasler…

One of the most intense, ambivalent, addictive, and weird relationships of my life has been with an agency of government. The Central Intelligence Agency is an overbearing and jealous partner, the type who doesn’t respect your privacy and tries to take over your life in an unhealthy way. It interferes with other relationships by limiting what you can talk about with outsiders. It asks you invasive personal questions. It wants to know where you got your money and how responsibly you spend it. It wants more of your time than it’s willing to pay for—a lot more. It stimulates you with an addictive stream of information from sources ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. It wants you to be creative while not breaking any unwritten rules. It wants you to take risks but not make any mistakes. It demands primacy over everything else in your life. It’s into kinky accessories like tire slashers, razor wire, radiation detectors, Humvees, and pop-up terrorist barriers.
The CIA was a place to swim in ideas and intellectual debate and to drown in frustration. There I met my husband, some wonderful friends, creative minds, and impressive intellects. I also ran up against glib careerists, pants-wetting bureaucrats, and the occasional borderline sociopath. The CIA gave me a stunning window into two of the great global paradigm shifts of our time: the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of international terror networks. The CIA gave me acute acid reflux.
You come to terms with CIA, wish it the best for the sake of your country, but you don’t get over it even years after you’ve left. Despite the Agency’s faults, I can’t condemn it  without denying the part of my self that was shaped to fit its needs. I often find myself defending CIA. In a world where so many indulge in non-thinking, name calling, and meme-level “debate,” it’s still a place that tries its best to practice intellectual rigor. It’s better than people think. It has been the scapegoat of choice for politicians for generations, allowing them to say “intelligence failure” rather than admit policy failure. If you have a passion for your subject matter, the CIA is a good place to be.
Now that I’ve left, I am grateful for the training I got there, for all the people who questioned my thinking and forced me to admit my intellectual biases and fight against them. I still marvel at the range of expertise in the Agency. I still admire the analysts’ strong sense of professional ethics.