’You Know Me Al:’ On the Reichstag Fire of Feb. 27, 1933 and the 9/11/01 Bombing of the World Trade Center. Part I

Column No. 15 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH – June 3, 2004 (reformatted, 10-16-07)

Note To Readers

A note for the reader. Most of the material that you read under my by-line is mine.  But as I have done on occasion in the past, I present here some thoughts from a political historian friend of mine, sent privately to me over time, that I think are worthy of note.  It happens that he wants to remain anonymous in The Political Junkies context.  The material is used with his permission. His initials are “A.L.,” and his thoughts, with apologies to Ring Lardner, appear in this column under the title “You Know Me, Al.”

The particular piece with which I begin this two-part column was written in November of 2001, in response to an article by a political observer whose identity I also choose not to reveal.  I do not agree with every observation in it, and certain of his/her surmises/conclusions do not bear the scrutiny of time well.  Nevertheless, these observations bear some serious attention.  Part II, which will also include a few thoughts of my own on the subject, will follow next week.


For those who may not be au courant with the history of Nazi Germany, let me lay out the bare facts of the Period.  The President of the German Weimar Republic, the World War I hero Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, as part of a deal with the non-Nazi Right-Wing political parties, appoints Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.  On February 27, the German Parliament building in Berlin, the Reichstag burns down.  The fire was set, most historians now agree (although “Al” himself thought differently as you will see below), by a Dutch former Communist turned anarchist acting entirely alone, one Marinus van der Lubbe.  (The Reichstag conveniently happened to be decorated with highly flammable furniture, drapes, and wall-coverings.  Apparently, a few matches did the trick.)  Within hours, Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels, et al had proclaimed the fire to be the result of a German Communist Party (KPD) plot.  That the KPD knew nothing of it and that the “incriminating documents” quickly produced by the Nazis were later proved to be forgeries meant nothing at the time.

The Nazis quickly created a national hysteria over the “threat of the Communists and Socialists (SPD),” lumped together as “the Marxists,” to the “peace and tranquility of the German nation,” to the “security of the German volk.”  The fact that one of the reasons that Hitler came to power in the first place was that often in the pre-Nazi period the KPD and the SPD were more at each other’s throats than they were together defending the Republic against the Nazi threat.  (Stalin bore a major responsibility for the KPD’s posture at the time.)

To deal with “the Marxist threat,” on Feb 28, with Pres. Hindenburg’s approval, all of the civil liberties protections of the post-World War I Weimar Republic Constitution were suspended.  On March 24, 1933, a Reichstag from which all the elected Communist deputies had purged along with a number of the Socialist deputies, and in which many of the Centrist Deputies were totally intimidated, passed a Constitutional Amendment giving virtual dictatorial power to Hitler and his cabinet for a four-year period.  It was called the Enabling Act. In practice, that turned out to mean Hitler.  It is fascinating to note that the sticklers for the “law” that they were, the Nazis, in what passed for the “Reichstag,” dutifully renewed the Act every four years of the Hitlerite period.  With this as a brief introduction, let us now turn to the first part my friend’s piece, written, you will recall, in response to an article by a third party.


In preparation for laying out the "grand design," let's briefly review the history of the Reichstag fire, which you mention in one of your two most recent emails, and then try some thoughts on for size.  A month into his reign, things are not going so well for Hitler.  He has already made his first roundups, of known Communists and left-wing labor leaders.  But, the Depression is still on, he still has Pres. Hindenburg to deal with, the army is on the fence (in fact, many of the Old Prussians can't stand the "Little Corporal," an enlisted man and an Austrian to boot), and there is still a functioning Reichstag to deal with, without the Communist elected deputies, but with enough Socialists and other Nazi-opponents to deny him the two-thirds majority he needs to change the Constitution.  What to do?

He gets a half-wit to either really set the fire or let himself get set up as the scapegoat, but it his troops who either really do it, or get the scapegoat to, blames everything on the "Communists terrorists," manipulates the remaining membership of the Reichstag in his favor by scaring off some of the Socialists who are still there and intimidating a few other opponents, and gets the Enabling Act passed by the two-thirds vote it needs, since it is a Constitutional amendment. The rest is history.

Okay.  So what's the possible parallel in the US?  How about the following?  In 2000, the Right-Wing and their industrial partners such Big Oil and the military-industrial complex, succeed in getting a President in place, very important for them for if Gore had won, he might, just might have been there for eight years and he would not have been as easy a target as Clinton. On things like energy policy and the environment he might, just might, have gotten things done.  So, they avoided that horrible prospect (horrible for Big Oil, at least), BUT:

A)  They know that their man didn't really win, and further, is a minority President (a fact the media have completely ignored). (Interesting: the Nazis never got more than 37% of the vote in any open election in pre-Nazi Germany.)

B)  Their guy is a weakling (just like Hindenburg was).

C)  There is a recession underway.

D)  They have lost control of the Congress through the defection of Jeffords.  Since that happened, none of their programs, from energy/environmental policy to more tax-cuts for the wealthy and the large corporations, are going through.

E)  They had been able to fend off the implementation of a moderate Democratic agenda during the Clinton years (and even such a moderate agenda is thoroughly inimitable to their goals) because of the never-ending War on Clinton.  But the country liked his program and his politics, and there is no guarantee that the next Democratic President would be so uniquely attackable, because of his/her personal foibles, as was Clinton.

What to do?  Meet their needs, of course.  At what cost?  At whatever cost, just as long the whole thing is kept secret.

The needs to be met included the following:

A)  Replacing a weak chief executive with a strong one, either literally or functionally.

B)  Finding an excuse for the recession, so that this doesn't get blamed on this Bush and the Republicans, as was the last one.

C)  Bypassing or having a compliant Congress on important measures (since they couldn't possibly win votes on stuff like invading Afghanistan to secure a route for the oil pipeline from the Caspian to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan, or securing major, retroactive tax cuts for the large corporations, or trashing the environment).

D)  Being able to ignore the judiciary (which, despite their efforts since the Reagan years, still has some judges who know what the Constitution is, e.g., the one who has put a stay on Ashcroft's repeal-by-decree of the Oregon law permitting people control over the end of their lives).

E)  Eliminating Constitutional rights by Presidential decree, but even more important, establishing that the President could commit such a revolutionary act by decree.

F)  Giving the President the possibility of presiding over a "permanent war" against terrorism.

But, the Right-Wing-Republican/religious-fundamentalist cabal being postulated here couldn't accomplish that agenda with a finger snap.  Just as Hitler could not have gotten anything like the Enabling Act through the Reichstag with the Communists and Socialists in place, so the cabal had no chance as things stood to achieve their principal goals. In fact at the time of the 9/11 horror the political tide was beginning to turn against them, especially with the economy going into recession and the Senate in the hands of a functional Democratic majority that was proving not-too-pliable.

How nice would it be in terms both of politics and policy to have an excuse to get their program going in such a way that could withstand criticism from most people and most countries around the world too. For just one example, being able to invade Afghanistan, establish a military presence in Central Asia, and bring Pakistan back into the fold of the "acceptable" nations (so that after the shooting stops, the pipeline can be built).  How else could they establish what will likely become a permanent military presence in the Central Asian Republics?

And then, if the same event that could do those could open up the possibility of beginning the destruction of Constitutional democracy at home.  As noted above, we are not talking here simply about the invasion of individual rights, but also the end of "checks and balances:" the bypassing of the independent judiciary, the bypassing of the legislature, and the substitution of rule by Presidential Decree. And then to top it all off, to be able to sneak through their right-wing domestic agenda under the cover of "fighting terrorism" (a ploy that Paul Krugman of the New York Times has eloquently written about more than once).  What better than a grand "terrorist" event, like the destruction of the WTC?


And that’s it for the first part of “Al’s” piece.  Rather conspiratorial, even given the knowledge that the US government itself has engaged in numerous conspiracies over the years, from the destruction of democratic government in Iran in 1953 through the Iran/Contra plot of the 1980s.  But then again, hey, you never know. And for those conspiracy theorists among you, just wait until you see Part II next week!