Springtime for Hitler?

Springtime for Hitler?

The editors note disagreeing profoundlywith Alexander Cockburns January 26 Beat


The editors note disagreeing profoundlywith Alexander Cockburns January 26 Beat the Devil column titled Bush as Hitler? Lets Be Fair caused a flurry of mail, as did the column itself. About 95 percent of letter-writers were perplexed as to why the note was written. There was a broader range of opinion on whether George W. Bush can be compared to Adolf Hitler.   –The Editors

New York City

I am puzzled by your disavowal of Alexander Cockburn’s column. Is it not the analogy to Germany in 1932 that inspires your appeal to readers to shun Nader and unite behind anyone but Bush?


Gray, Me.

Shame on you for your editor’s note distancing yourself from Alexander Cockburn’s column. There are many differences. But certainly one can look at how an authoritarian clique might take over a society. I’ve heard Isabel Allende speak of the military takeover of her country. I’ve heard an older German speak of how–like a frog being slowly boiled–her people could always deny what was going on. Hitler depended on everyday normal people to play their part. Don’t tell me we can’t learn from that.


New York City

More inexplicable–indeed, surreal–than Alexander Cockburn’s amusing, if bizarre, comparison of George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler was the fact that The Nation found those analogies sufficiently troubling to require a disclaimer. “What the hell did Cockburn say?” I asked myself as I turned the page, only to find the usual mélange of exaggeration, deliberate provocation and valid insight–in short, the same combination of silliness, courage, liberal-baiting and trenchant commentary for which Cockburn is rightly famous.


Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Since Katrina vanden Heuvel took the rather silly step of publicly disassociating herself from Alex Cockburn’s column on Bush/Hitler comparisons, and thus implicitly with my CounterPunch columns on the same topic, I must make a couple of points.

First, in none of my three columns did I say that Bush is another Hitler. My point in looking at the two regimes in their early stages is that both used the same strategies–war, fearmongering, scapegoating of minority groups and the Big Lie–to expand their power.

I would not compare Bush and the RNC leadership to Hitler and the Nazis in 1939 or later, when Jews were being killed and when the German nation was at war with all of Europe. One hopes that even Karl Rove and John Ashcroft, in their drive for, respectively, political power and racial and religious purity, will not drag this nation down to that level of depravity and evil. My comparison is with Hitler and his National Socialists in the early and mid-1930s, when, as today in America, much of the “respectable” media, both in der Vaterland and abroad, were treating Hitler with respect.

No doubt the leftist fringe critics who in the 1930s were writing alarmist pieces drawing comparisons of Hitler to Attila the Hun or Ivan the Terrible were, like today’s Bush critics, being disavowed by more “responsible” editors. I suspect that the fear engendered by the kinds of analogies drawn by Alex and me is that they might offend those who want to hold the Holocaust out as a singular evil in history, and Hitler as a uniquely evil leader. Sadly, he is not unique, except in the scale of his crimes. Recall that in the early days of the massacre of 2 million Cambodians by Pol Pot and his gang of mad Communists, those who began referring to that genocide as a holocaust were criticized by the guardians of the Holocaust. Eventually, as the numbers of dead soared past the first million mark, the atrocity that devoured a third of a nation was permitted to bear that badge of distinction.

Remember, analogies are used all the time–as they should be–and as anyone with a high school math background should know, “analogous to” ought not be confused with an equals sign. There are very troubling goings-on in Washington–a campaign of war without end, the termination of the sanctity of citizenship, a return to Cointelpro, corruption of the very process of counting votes, the equating of political opposition with support for terrorism. In such scary times, it is not at all unreasonable to look back to the last time such tactics were employed, to see what they produced.


Redmond, Wash.

I have long valued The Nation‘s willingness to publish opinions at odds with its editorial policy. It pains me to write this, but–in spite of the editor’s note–I question whether The Nation should have accepted Alexander Cockburn’s column on Hitler/Bush comparisons. I write this as a onetime admirer of Cockburn and his courage in taking and successfully articulating contrarian positions.

But portraying Adolf Hitler as some sort of liberal Keynesian is beyond bad taste: It’s a racist apology conveniently ignoring the reality that the Nazi economy was built on slave labor, that the “government” was a kleptocracy and that the Hitlerite plan for paying for the whole mess was to conquer and occupy Eastern Europe. I suppose it’s possible that there was some leg-pulling going on; if so, I for one don’t get the joke. The Nation and its readers would have been best served had the editor refused to publish.


Los Angeles

Thanks to The Nation‘s editor for distancing herself from Alexander Cockburn’s outrageous column. Cockburn thinks it’s cute to put Bush and Hitler in the same category–“warmonger”–as if that really explained anything about either German fascism or American democracy. You can almost see Cockburn giggle with joy writing that Bush hasn’t sent anyone to the gas chambers–“at least not yet.” As attorney Joseph Welch said to Senator Joe McCarthy: “Have you no decency?” Cockburn praises Hitler as the “first practicing Keynesian leader” because the Nazi government reduced the German unemployment rate to 1 percent. Perhaps Cockburn would like to restore slavery, American history’s sure-fire full-employment policy!

The Bush Administration has done many awful things, but implying that the United States is on the brink of fascism is politically irresponsible, exaggerates right-wing forces’ ability to eliminate civil liberties and minimizes the work of progressives fighting for social justice. Cockburn clearly doesn’t care about building a movement, winning or actually improving the lives of working people. He prefers to tweak progressives from the ultra-left-wing sidelines and throw water on possibilities for change. This is the same Cockburn who two years ago urged the Green Party to run a candidate against Senator Paul Wellstone, then in a tight race, because Paul wasn’t radical enough for Cockburn. Unfortunately, this is typical of Cockburn’s writings.

If Cockburn didn’t exist, the Wall Street Journal would have to invent him. Indeed, he apparently enjoys the right-wing media’s attacks on his Bush-Hitler analogies. “Look at me!” he seems to be saying, with all the self-awareness of a 5-year-old. Cockburn delights in being outrageous, but he’s an embarrassment to the vast majority of progressives who find his “more radical than thou” rants juvenile and reckless. His column tarnishes The Nation‘s reputation.


New York City

Alexander Cockburn omitted the greatest difference: Hitler was elected!



Petrolia, Calif.

After Editor vanden Heuvel asked me to reconsider the comparison of AH with all US Presidents, I did review the record and excused Warren Harding, on the grounds that he was too busy stealing, there weren’t too many Native Americans left to wipe out and, anyway, in the 1920s war wasn’t popular. But Harding aside, I stand by what I wrote, including my reservations about Bush/Hitler comparisons. It’s like comparing Pee Wee Herman to the Marquis de Sade.

Paul Goode and Peter Dreier fire wildly at imaginary targets or the wrong guy. I’ve publicly dissented many times from the idea that America stands on the brink of fascism. It was Dave Lindorff, not I, who wrote that line (I imagine it was tongue in cheek) about Bush not having gassed people “yet.” On Keynes and Hitler I was scarcely making a novel point. A quarter of a century ago J.K. Galbraith wrote in The Age of Uncertainty that Hitler “was the true protagonist of the Keynesian ideas.” In the forward to the German edition of his book The General Theory (1936), Keynes wrote that “the theory of output as a whole, which is what the following book purports to provide, is much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state, than…under conditions of free competition and a large measure of laissez-faire.”

To the extent to which the German economy recovered in the 1930s, it was one of the first to be freed, rather accidentally, from the horrible antics of the bankers who spent most of the 1920s trying to kick industrial society to death. Hitler put Germans to work building the autobahns, even though Germany didn’t have much of an auto industry to put cars on those roads. Hence Hitler’s interest in the Volkswagen. When they ran out of roads to build, they put the concrete pourers to work building the Siegfried Line. The housing boom sprang in part from Hitler’s hopes for increased production of Aryans.

The Nazis didn’t dare cut living standards to the degree needed in planning for a long war. But even if they had, they didn’t have the industrial system to fill the orders. Serious German rearmament really took off only after the invasion of the Soviet Union, and then with the Allied bombing, at which point it soared. The German forces occupying the Rhineland in 1936 were somewhat of a paper tiger, as General Jodl later testified at Nuremberg when he said “the French covering army could have blown us to pieces.”

Through the 1930s the appeasers, also the decent antiwar crowd, all grotesquely magnified Hitler’s supposed WMDs, primarily the Luftwaffe. Then as now, there were weapons of mass deception. The Luftwaffe flew the same planes round and round at an air show in Berlin to fool foreign military attachés. Figures on German aircraft production were inflated and faithfully quoted by Churchill in the House of Commons. The Wehrmacht’s World War II logistics relied hugely on horses, which were pretty much confined to the ceremonial in US and British armies.

But I’ll bet that what really bothers Dreier is any challenge to Democratic Party orthodoxy on the topic of St. Paul Wellstone or Ralph Nader. In 2004 that’s the Thought Crime Beyond All Thought Crimes, which Jeffrey St. Clair and I perpetrate in our forthcoming book Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. C’mon, Dreier! Be a man! Invite us down to Occidental and we’ll debate you and your sometime writing partner, Saul Landau.


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