Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.”
- Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg Trials
Bring up Nazi Germany in relation to America and you always run the risk of someone invoking Godwin’s Law. I’m normally loathe to make the comparison, simply because anything deemed even tangentially Nazi-related generally warps a discussion beyond salvation. Still, I can’t get past the historical similarities- if not outright parallels- between Nazi Germany and post-9.11 America. Call me out if you must, but I think there’s a legitimate argument to be made.
Post- WWI Weimar Germany was a country adrift- economically, morally, and politically. During the 1930s, the Nazis rose to power, and Germany evolved into a country characterized by propaganda, groupthink, and an intolerance for dissent and critical thinking.
Post-9.11 America has been transformed into a thoroughly militarized and dogmatic society. It can be seen in our unquestioning collective worship of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Not that our men and women in uniform aren’t worthy of admiration, of course, but the degree to which it’s become a requirement is truly disturbing and meaningless. Every time a celebrity mentions our military, the unspoken expectation is that it will include expressions of love, devotion, and gratitude. One only has to remember what happened to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes when he had the temerity to question the accepted wisdom to understand how thoroughly propagandized American speech and expression has become. Questioning the unassailable doctrine that American soldiers are heroes and defenders of all that’s Good, Righteous, and Holy will produce an immediate and exceedingly vituperative and mean-sprited response from Red Meat Conservatives, the self-appointed Keepers of the Patriotic Flame.
This trend is disturbing in a country that has always held dissent to be the highest form of patriotism. These days, Fox News Channel-watching Conservatives believe their patriotism is the One, True, and Only acceptable dogma. Those who venture outside those bounds and dare to ask questions do so at their own peril.
It is absolutely true that the “hero” rhetoric that is attached to all things related to the U.S. military is used to shut down real debate about the merits of what exactly it is that all those heroes are doing out there. If all soldiers are heroes, then all soldiers are righteous. If all soldiers are righteous, then the soldiers’ cause is righteous. The soldiers’ cause is war. Therefore the war is righteous. This is one of the oldest tropes in the “Manipulating the Free Press During Wartime” handbook. You need only look back at the profusion of American flag graphics and distinct lack of pointed skepticism that defined the U.S. media in the run up to the Iraq War to know how well this tactic works.
It is easy for a TV network and its pundits to be patriotic. Theirs is a cheap patriotism. It is a patriotism of platitudes and comfortable symbols and cartoonish enemy villains to be opposed. Dissenters are just easy weenies to be picked on in the media schoolyard….
“I contribute nothing of consequence to this country, yet I reap tremendous financial benefits from it. Therefore I must pay the emptiest sort of lip service to those in the military, and childishly insult anyone who questions the kindergarten version of ‘patriotism,’ lest the public turn its attention to me,” say the terrified, self-serving and ultimately useless pundit class of America, in a single voice.
Patriotism is not the act of mouthing platitudes about Heroes and God and Country as politicians go and start wars for money and send off young men and women to die. If the media can do anything patriotic, it is to loudly question the many varieties of bullshit that are used to pave the way for public support of wars. The 6,472 Americans who’ve died in Iraq and Afghanistan might have appreciated that more than being praised as “heroes” by the same members of the media that did nothing to stop them from being killed.
Dissent is not the enemy. Critical thinking is not sedition. Questioning the prevailing majority-held wisdom is not America-hating Socialist calumny. And yet those who dare speak up and question what’s being done in our name are pilloried as if they’d advocated burning the Constitution and turning America into a jihadist training camp.
No, American in 2012 isn’t quite Germany in the 1930s. That doesn’t mean the parallels aren’t disturbing, though…and we ignore that reality at our own peril.