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…


3 Replies to “The US Today vs. 1930s Germany: Analogy Doesn’t Fit”

  1. The most cogent analysis of an issue that has been troubling me for a while. It is just too easy to make this analogy and from the beginning it just did not fit for me. My greater fear that while bolstering ourselves against this historic analogy and more realistic threat may escape our notice.

  2. I couldn’t agree more strongly with both comments. I believe that the greatest threats posed by the historical analogy are drawing inaccurate conclusions or latching onto off-mark causal assumptions, when the lessons of history should merely serve to focus our attention on current or emerging dangers and potential, if partial, solutions. Moreover, since history, ultimately, “came out okay” — despite horrendous, unspeakable evil, the Good Guys won, in the end — it may give us a (tantalizing, and false) sense that things will work out, eventually. But things never “just work out” — actions and sacrifices are what end Evil, as was the case in WWII. Penelope is spot-on in noting the peril of allowing even a tempting straw-man – like the Hitler-ish Trump – to divert our attention (and our action) from the persistent wrongs that current leaders represent in and of themselves. It is foolish to dwell on the evils of yesterday’s Hitler when we should be identifying and confronting the wrongs that we see around us, today.

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