Our fascism, and theirs: In Bizarro world of neocons, it’s always 1939
The administration’s new theme, designed to sell the Iraq war and the larger “war on terrorism” as an historic struggle against “fascism” – or “Islamo-fascism,” as the president and his blogger fan club would have it – is not merely a very bad joke. As an analysis of where we are and what we are facing, it is worse than useless to compare Osama bin Laden’s scattered, ragtag legions with the massed might of the Wehrmacht: it is a delusional inversion of reality. Listen to Rummy as he tries to convince us it’s 1939:
“It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else’s problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear. It was, as Winston Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.
“There was a strange innocence about the world. Someone recently recalled one U.S. senator’s reaction in September of 1939 upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II. He exclaimed: ‘Lord, if only I had talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided!'”
He’s talking about Sen. William E. Borah, the “Lion of Idaho,” a staunch opponent of U.S. intervention in World War II – along with the overwhelming majority of the American people at the time. This majority included, I might add, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who – at least in his public pronouncements – declared his total opposition to U.S. intervention in the European conflict. When Hitler invaded Poland, the president gave a press conference the next morning in which he echoed Borah’s hope that American involvement could be avoided. Questioned as to whether the U.S. could stay out of the war, he said, “I not only sincerely hope so, but I believe we can, and that every effort will be made by the administration to do so.”
Was Roosevelt, too, a victim of this “strange innocence”? Whatever else one may say about him, “innocent” is hardly the word that comes immediately to mind: he was, in fact, a coldly calculating politician and champion liar who, step by step, embroiled us in a worldwide conflagration that killed millions, handed Stalin half of Europe and much of Asia, and ensured the Soviet mutant a half century more of monstrous life. In any case, the president that Rumsfeld and the other 1939ers would liken to our reigning chief executive echoed Borah’s hopes for peace, however insincerely.
Roosevelt was a lot smarter than the current crop of warmongers, however, in that he pursued his goal – involving the U.S. in a world war – by indirection and stealth. In 1939, the strategy of the War Party was to gradually but persistently push the U.S. into war via a series of provocations, both overt and covert: this crowd is opposed in principle to such subtlety. They declare outright that a new world war is on the horizon, one that will last for at least a generation. Far from making every effort to avoid it, the American government is openly delighting in the prospect: Bush brays, “Bring it on!” While regretting, in retrospect, this burst of honesty, his only mistake was in letting the mask slip down that far.
Justin Logan, an analyst with the foreign policy studies program at the Cato Institute, saw through the rhetorical subterfuge early on:
“Can we get a name for inappropriately invoking the appeasement of Nazis? This is a tactic frequently used by neocons and various sundry warmongers who wish to portray opposing various wars as morally equivalent to pulling up a lawn chair and a Corona to watch the Holocaust. For a recent example of ‘The Fallacy of ’39’ (as I’ll call it until somebody offers something better), see Bill ‘I’m One of the Worst NYT Columnists – And That’s Saying Something!’ Safire’s latest, in which not invading Iraq would be the same as failing to oppose Nazism.”
Charles Krauthammer has found this fallacy particularly useful: whether it’s China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran, as Brendan Nyhan points out, the face of the enemy always morphs into the mustachioed visage of the German chancellor. Somehow, it’s always 1939.
I won’t go into the absurdities of conflating German national socialism or Italian fascism with the theological obscurantism peddled by Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. Suffice to say that the modernist vision of a super-centralized corporatist state, secular at its core, that constitutes classical fascist ideology is in many ways the opposite of the Islamist vision, which is supranational, not super-nationalistic, and nowhere commands state power. There is, at any rate, no real attempt to validate the Fallacy of ’39: it is simply asserted, without any real arguments drawing on the supposed historical parallels. It is nothing but rhetorical wind, the passing of which is meant to befoul the political atmosphere and smear the War Party’s opponents as the contemporary equivalent of Nazi sympathizers.
Bin Laden and his fellow terrorists are monsters, surely, but they are not fascists – a term that has a very specific meaning, one that hardly fits al-Qaeda. Yet there are fascists in this world. We are indebted to Lew Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, for identifying a new variant of this totalitarian creed in what he calls “red-state fascism,” which is fast becoming the dominant ideology of the neoconized GOP. To be sure, he diagnoses this as an incipient breed of the fascist virus, not yet full-blown, but a dangerous trend nonetheless – and one that has been greatly exacerbated since the publication of Lew’s prescient article. I took up this theme in a column, as did Scott McConnell in The American Conservative, and those interested in the subject can peruse these pieces at their leisure. The point, however, is that the “Islamo-fascist” meme is a classic example of projection – that is, superimposing one’s own motives and psychology on someone else.
The “red-state fascism” exemplified by the Bushian Republican Party does indeed resemble the classic version in more ways than one: There is the Leader Principle, which gives the presidency nearly as much legal and political weight as the national socialists gave their Führer. There is the creation of a super-centralized surveillance society, in which the civil liberties of individual citizens are liquidated in the interests of “national security.” And there is, above all, a militantly expansionist foreign policy, a vision of world hegemony founded on conquest and baptized in the blood of innocents.
When the Bushians call bin Laden a “fascist,” the only proper response is, Look who’s talking!
There is a fascist threat to America, all right, but it isn’t coming from overseas. It isn’t hiding in the caves of Wahhabistan, but lurking in Washington’s corridors of power. The same people who warn us of a “fascist” threat coming from abroad are the main purveyors of authoritarianism on the home front. And that is what life is like in the Bizarro World of America in the year A.D. 2006, where the most militant fascists of all style themselves the leaders of a new “anti-fascist” popular front.