Yesterday I blogged about an amazing woman, Dorothy Thompson, a journalist who spent quite a lot of time observing, and even interviewing, Adolf Hitler. She warned the world about fascism for years before most people were even paying attention. She was so outspoken about it before that was fashionable that she was actually the first American journalist to be kicked out of Nazi Germany.
Fascism does sneak up on you. That’s how it works. It chips away at your rights bit by bit until one day you look up and you have none. It attacks the media first. It targets minorities as it requires someone to blame. It whips up hate and violence and isolation and fear.
We’d like to think we conquered fascism with World War II when Dorothy Thompson was reporting, but nothing could be further from the truth. In light of that, I decided to read an article that she wrote in Harper’s Magazine back in August, 1941, entitled Who Goes Nazi?
This article is a work of art. The premise is that she is at a party, observing everyone, and based on what she knows about these people, she’s predicting which ones would become Nazis. As she takes you through the room from clique to clique and reveals their secrets, you kind of feel as if you’re watching a black and white movie from the 40’s. You hear her voice over, making her ghastly predictions, as the party goes on and everyone pretends to be pleasant. There’s a tension that’s not being acknowledged. This is society in microcosm.
But the scariest part about it is it could be applied to the present just as easily as that party from 80 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We have not learned from history.
Ms. Thompson doesn’t name names. She moved in rather influential circles in her time. She wasn’t attempting to shame anyone in particular. She was just identifying types. So she calls them Mr. A and Mr. B and so on. After revealing them to you, she then explains why each one would never become, or perhaps already is, a Nazi. I highly recommend that you read this article. But for my purposes, I’ll focus on Mr. D. Because we all know him.
I think young D over there is the only born Nazi in the room. Young D is the spoiled only son of a doting mother. He has never been crossed in his life. He spends his time at the game of seeing what he can get away with. He is constantly arrested for speeding and his mother pays the fines. He has been ruthless toward two wives and his mother pays the alimony. His life is spent in sensation-seeking and theatricality. He is utterly inconsiderate of everybody. He is very good-looking, in a vacuous, cavalier way, and inordinately vain. He would certainly fancy himself in a uniform that gave him a chance to swagger and lord it over others.
When I read that, the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. Because we all know who this describes to a T. We may not have created a monster, but we’ve certainly elected it.
The crux of the article is that happy, confident, wise people don’t go for fascism. It’s those who are full of fear, resentment, insecurity, or self-loathing that feel quite at home with it. So take a good long look at yourself, as well as at the people you surround yourself with, and keep as far away from the dark side as you possibly can.
I love reading about influential women who were way ahead of their time. At the same time, I’m rather frustrated that so many seem to become lost to history. Dorothy Thompson, for example, used to be as well known as Eleanor Roosevelt. When Katharine Hepburn made the movie Woman of the Year in 1942, people at the time instantly figured out that her character was based on that of Thompson. And yet I just read about her for the first time today.
After she graduated from Syracuse University in 1914, Thompson felt that she had an obligation for fight for women’s suffrage, as there were so few educated women to do so at the time. She did that through 1920, when the 19th amendment passed. Then she went to Europe to pursue journalism. In fact, she is considered the First Lady of American Journalism by some.
In 1928 she married Nobel Prizewinner Sinclair Lewis and they later had a son. During that time Thompson continued to go to Europe to write hard-hitting articles. She was also appointed the head of various news bureaus, which was quite unusual for a woman at the time. In 1931, she interviewed Adolf Hitler and then wrote a book entitled I Saw Hitler, which was a dire warning of what could happen if he won power in Germany. Their marriage inspired Lewis to write a dystopian novel entitled It Can’t Happen Here. That is definitely on my to-read list.
Because of her harsh criticism of Hitler, she was expelled from Germany in 1934. She was the first American journalist that the Nazis kicked out. Dictators don’t like journalists who criticize them. Fake news! It was ever thus.
She then wrote a New York Times syndicated news column that got over 10 million readers, and NBC hired her as a news commentator and her broadcasts were some of the most popular in the United States. This gave her a successful speaking career. She made the cover of Time Magazine in 1939.
Thompson never stopped criticizing Hitler and fascism. She even famously walked into a Nazi rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden and shouted down a pro-Nazi audience that was 20,000 strong. Needless to say, she was roughly escorted out.
In an eye-opening and highly recommended (by me) article entitled “Who Goes Nazi?” published in Harper’s in 1941, she says that people don’t choose fascism based on class, race or profession. She said it was those people who are full of fear, resentment, insecurity, or self-loathing that make that dangerous choice every time. When I read that, it sent chills up my spine.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Here lately I’ve been binge watching a series called The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime. It’s 4 seasons long, and it’s about what America would be like if the Axis powers had won World War II. In essence, Japan has the Western states, the Nazis have the Eastern ones, and the Rocky Mountains are the neutral zone.
This show makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. I’ve written about fascism before. I fear we are flirting with it now, as we don’t seem to learn from history. In fact, we seem to be irrationally idealizing a past that never existed.
As uncomfortable as The Man in the High Castle makes me, the writing is phenomenal. It causes me to look at things with fresh eyes. One character said, “You’ve got your own little inner fascist telling you what you can and cannot do.”
That really resonates with me. According to Wikipedia, “Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.”
If that doesn’t describe my inner voice, nothing does. My inner voice is all about explaining to me how I can’t or shouldn’t do things. It’s all about walls and roadblocks and keeping me from doing anything outside the box. My inner voice wants me to be a good little soldier and follow orders.
“You’ll fail.” “You’ll be laughed at.” “People will think you’re crazy.”
Fortunately, I often chafe at this type of control, and can therefore resist it. But every once in a while, when I’m feeling tired or insecure, that little voice has caused me to avoid taking chances, or has prevented me from speaking up. And now that I consider it a fascist voice, I abhor it even more.
I think it’s high time that we all overthrow the little dictators in our heads. Cast off the oppression. End the torture. Free our minds so that we can be our best selves. We can do it.
And incidentally, if you are someone who uses the terms fascism and communism interchangeably, here’s a little primer by way of clarification.
I just watched season three’s finale of The Handmaid’s tale. I was alternatively weeping for joy or holding my husband’s hand in a vise-like grip due to the suspense. It is, without question, the best television series that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
Everyone I’ve talked to seems to be on one side of the fence or the other about this series. Either they love it and are every bit as obsessed with it as I am, or they have never seen it and don’t want to because it’s got the reputation of being upsetting.
Yes, it can be upsetting. It’s full of rape and mutilation and adversity and violence. It shows what can happen when ruthless fascists take over and think they know what’s best for our society more than we do. It’s the worst-case scenario regarding the subjugation of women. It is about the heartless suppression of the voice of the people and a blatant disregard for human rights at a time when we’re already seeing way too much of that in real life.
But to focus on the darkness is to miss the entire point. That’s not why I watch The Handmaid’s Tale.
I watch it for the triumphs that are so hard-won amongst all that misery. I watch it to remind myself that no matter how bad things get, there will always be those of us who are willing to fight for what is right and never give up. Even while it exposes the ruthlessness of humanity, it also reaffirms my faith in what is good and straight and honest and true. It is an opportunity to celebrate the strength of women against all odds. It also demonstrates just how messy morality can be.
The acting is phenomenal. And the character development is beyond compare. Everyone is full of complex flaws, and I genuinely feel as though I’ve seen more than one person completely lose their mind on this show. And yet they persist.
I’m not going to lie. I also watch The Handmaid’s Tale to bear witness, and to learn what it might take to survive if this nightmare comes to pass. Because sometimes surviving is the greatest triumph of all.
I challenge you to watch at least the first three episodes of this show. If you’re not hooked by then, at least you won’t have to live with regrets. You will at least have had a taste of perfection. And I assure you that each season so far has been even better than the last.
This show is horrible in its excellence. I can’t wait for season four. Best. Show. EVER.
It happened again the other day. I heard someone use “Communism” and “Fascism” interchangeably, like they are the same exact thing. And that thing, in that uneducated person’s mind, seemed simply to be a synonym for “bad”.
I can’t criticize oversimplification. I tend to use that crutch quite a bit in this blog, and could arguably be accused of it in this very post. But I’d like to think that I shy away from utter ignorance and stupidity. Most of the time, anyway.
So to break it down for you into nice bite sized pieces, I’ll start by saying Communism does not equal Fascism. If you have any doubts on this subject, read up on the Spanish Civil War. (But that can get pretty darned complicated in and of itself.)
A big difference in the two ideologies, in OversimplificationLand, is what they worship. Fascists worship a past that never truly existed. They tend to use slogans like Make America Great Again, implying that America used to be just how they want it to be: A lily white land where everyone of “value” is rich and there’s no crime or conflict, and women stay in their places and everyone is heterosexual.
Communists, on the other hand, don’t worship the past. They claim to worship a future that can never truly exist. Their slogans run along the lines of Workers of the World Unite, implying that there’s some magical yet not-too-far-off place where everyone is going to agree on everything and play fair. They think we’ll all work as hard as we possibly can (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”) and that we’ll equally share in the world’s bounty, as if greed and corruption doesn’t exist.
Indeed, Communism stresses equality in all things, in word if not in deed, as if no one is going to keep score and be resentful of those who they feel are found wanting. Fascists have a slightly more uncomfortable problem, because their unspoken truth is that they stress inequality. They don’t want minorities to have equal rights. They don’t want women to have equal power. They certainly don’t want homosexuals to lead equally comfortable lives. That’s what attracts people to Fascism: the idea that they deserve to be better off than others.
Neither ideology appeals to me. Neither one is realistic. Both require corruption and cruelty and lies to survive. They are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. But we make the mistake of looking at the spectrum as a straight line to our peril. Because they are so similar in their evil intent to control the masses and get what they want and to hell with the common man that they bend that spectrum like a horseshoe. They are at opposite ends, and yet they practically meet up.
(Don’t even get me started on capitalism, here, which is also greedy, corrupt, and attempts to control the masses. Our ideology is complicit, too. What does that do to the shape of this hypothetical spectrum? It boggles the mind. Maybe it’s one big cloverleaf with greed at the intersection.)
Most of us aren’t on any team, and never will be. We won’t even be invited to play. We are cannon fodder. As mentioned in Galaxy Quest, we are the collective redshirt guy a la Star Trek. No one knows his name because he’s only there to die halfway through the episode to prove that s**t just got real. We serve our purposes. It might be fun to get us all riled up every now and again, but in the end, we only have bit parts in this grand power play.
But dammit, Jim, the least we can do is not use Communist and Fascist interchangeably. Yeah, in OversimplificationLand, they can be used as synonyms for bad, as can capitalism, but they’re different kinds of bad. At least get that right.
The other night I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the screening of a documentary before it hits the airwaves. Here were some of the descriptors used:
Hungry for greatness.
Prone to using comical facial expressions, such as pursing of the lips or thrusting out the chin.
Encourages physical intimidation.
Calls himself a genius.
Repeats lies until they are believed.
Dumbs down his rhetoric.
Has corporate support.
Loves to throw rallies where he can be adored.
Get’s people’s support by exploiting broadcast media.
Is considered a God-like hero by many.
Claims to have very easy answers for complicated issues.
Polarizes his people.
Encourages intimidation by the police.
Takes advantage of the population’s feeling of fear.
Supporters appear almost hypnotized and unwilling to see facts.
Claims an ethnic group is the source of all problems.
Is very hostile toward intellectuals and the free press.
Who am I describing here? If you thought it was a current political leader, I wouldn’t blame you. It fits perfectly. But no. This documentary was entitled Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism in Europe. The descriptions above were of Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco.
If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up, nothing will. There was also a discussion afterward. Some of the points Rick was trying to make were:
Fascism doesn’t suddenly appear. It’s incremental. It’s a slow chipping away of your rights, until one day you look up and you have none.
We should never take our freedom for granted.
Education is the key. Without critical thinking, we are lost.
Whenever someone criticizes an independent media and attempts to alter the rule of law, especially with regard to the constitution of a government, that person should be considered highly suspect.
To make things even more creepy, it turns out that the showing, which was at SIFF Cinema Egyptian here in Seattle, took place in the very venue in which Nazi rallies used to be held in Seattle. So I sat and watched a documentary about Fascism in a seat that had once been occupied by a Nazi.
Nazis also marched in our very streets. You can read more about Seattle’s love affair with Nazis here. I know it’s hard to believe, but if it could happen in this liberal enclave, it can happen anywhere.
Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism in Europe is very eye opening. It will most likely be on your local PBS station in about a week. Here in Seattle, it premiers on KCTS9 on October 23rd at 7:00 pm. If you’re unable to catch it live, you can also see it on-line at Rick Steves’ website. I hope you’ll take the time. Knowledge is power.
First, let me give you my “bonafides”. According to Ancestry DNA, I’m about as white as a human being can be. That always has, and probably always will give me a leg up in society. I won’t even try to deny it. I also won’t deny that I’ve done little or nothing to earn this leg up. I was born into it, and oh, do I ever take advantage of it.
I can go weeks, months, even years not having to think about pesky racial issues if I so choose. I can live in a white bubble and have absolutely no contact with any minority for days on end. I don’t have to watch “them” on TV, or listen to “them” on the radio if I don’t want to. I can simply close my eyes and clutch my pearls. If I so desire, I can shop exclusively at white-owned stores without putting forth much effort at all. I probably do without even realizing it. I have the luxury of not having to care one way or the other.
People assume I’m law-abiding and honest. People assume I’m non-violent. People assume that I’m supposed to be wherever I happen to be, any time of the day or night. I’m a harmless fat old white woman. I’m as likely to get shot as I am to be struck by lightning. Most people don’t even look at me. I can become invisible. I often feel invisible. It’s lonely, but it has its advantages.
No, I’m not rich. I’m barely middle class, and I’ve only clawed my way up to this precarious and ever-shrinking perch in the past 3 years. I know what it’s like to be down there in that bucket of crabs, where everyone is scrabbling to get out, and just when you think you’ve made it, the other crabs pull you back down. I was there for 50 years. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. I understand that despair.
But here’s where you and I part company: I don’t assume that all the crabs that have been pulling me down are non-white. I don’t even bother to blame the other crabs regardless of their color. If you’re caught in a crowded, desperate bucket, it’s only natural to want to get your crabby butt out of there. It’s not the other crabs, guys. It’s the freakin’ bucket. There shouldn’t be a bucket.
That bucket was made by rich white people. It’s the corporations and the politicians and the institutions that are your biggest threat. It’s the military-industrial complex that is using you as cannon fodder and replaceable cogs in the machine.
Railing at your crab-mates is a mere distraction. Glorifying Confederates, who lost for good reason, and Nazis, who lost for good reason, makes you look like fools. Being violent because you’re angry does not further your cause. It will never bring you respect or support or dignity. It won’t get you out of the bucket. Fascism has never benefited the masses, and like it or not, we are part of the masses.
I know it sucks that we’ll never have a delightful and stress-free retirement. I know it’s scary that things are getting more crowded and therefore more competitive. It’s high time you realize that automation is a much bigger threat to your job than other humans are. And most of those machines, by the way, are owned by white people.
If you honestly think for one minute that your crab-mates are out to destroy you or your way of life, ask yourself this: why are all of us striving for the same things? We all want a decent, safe, secure life. A way to feed our children. A roof over our heads. Peace. We have a lot more in common than you seem to think.
Don’t you get it? We are all in this together. And together we are stronger. The very fact that we are a mass is the one thing we have that those bucket manufacturers do not.
The reason you have the day off today is thanks to the labor movement, a movement of the masses. We can do great things if we stand shoulder to shoulder rather than turning our back on each other, or even worse, locking ourselves into mortal combat with each other while the bucket manufacturers gleefully watch from a distance.
Turning on each other is the last thing, the absolute last thing, we should be doing. Don’t be a pawn.
At a time when the US seems to be struggling with what to do with its Confederate statues and memorials, I can’t help but remember my trip to Budapest back in 2006. What an amazing city, with a lot of very tragic history. They were occupied by German forces in WWII, forcing them to embrace Fascism even as the Nazis were applying internal terror to control the people. So it’s understandable that the Soviets might have seemed like liberators to them at first.
The Soviet Red Army occupied the city in 1945. During the peace talks, Great Britain and the US basically gave the country over to Stalin. After much torture, spying, interrogations and fear brought down upon the citizenry for years on end, in 1956, a student-inspired revolution took place, and while it relieved some of the societal pressure, it ultimately failed. The control finally started crumbling in 1989, but it wasn’t until 1991 that the last Soviet occupying soldier left Budapest. By then, all the soviet era statues had been joyfully pulled down.
And lo and behold, despite the absence of these statues in the public squares, Hungary’s dark history has not been erased any more than ours would be without Robert E. Lee gazing at us in our city parks. In fact, the people of Budapest handled their statues in a brilliant way. They dragged them all to one location, and turned that into an opportunity to teach about their past oppression in the hopes that it will never, ever happen again. They created Memento Park.
I remember standing among these monuments, and thinking how intimidating they must have been in their heyday. Some of them are 20 feet tall. All of them make the men look strong, the women look hard-working and dedicated, and for the most part, the people all look like anonymous and mindless machines. It must have been terrifying to pass them every day, knowing that’s what your government expected you to see, feel, and believe.
Now, gathered in an educational park, lined up like so many dominoes of long-dead subjugation, they seem rather pathetic and powerless. Children climb on them. People take pictures in front of them while they make funny faces. But mostly, they learn that none of us should go backward, into an era of the exaltation of hate and control.
History shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s what books and teachers are for. Monuments are not history. They are for glorification, and should be removed from our public spaces as our society becomes older and hopefully wiser. Learn from these silent statues, taken down from their shining pedestals. Learn, but don’t deify.
I hope we follow suit in the US. The time is long overdue. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos of me in Memento Park in Budapest.
Very often, I hear people confuse Communism and Socialism and Fascism. They use the terms interchangeably, which makes me realize they really haven’t a clue as to each system’s basic tenets. They have just been taught that they mean “bad” and feel that’s all they need to know. I find this very disheartening, and potentially dangerous. Knowledge is power.
Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are wide spread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.