Prologue (from TPJ): “If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us!” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1832
Dr. Steven Jonas posts his regular Thursday contribution to TPJ, the second part of his comparisons the German Reichstag Fire and the attack on the World Trade Center. Dr. Jonas’s article invokes a simple proposition, will we learn from the lessons of history or will we be condemned to Coleridge’s lantern on the stern.
Fair warning to readers, Dr. Jonas’ article makes a point that few have considered, lighting the bow of our ship of state.
’You Know me Al:’ On the German Reichstag Fire of Feb. 27, 1933 and the 9/11/01
Bombing of the World Trade Center, Part II
Column No. 18
By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - June 24, 2004
On June 3, I published Part I of this two-part series. – “’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” As noted then, most of the material that you read under my by-line is mine. But as I have done on occasion in the past, I presented there some thoughts from a political historian friend of mine, sent privately to me over time. I obviously thought them worthy of note. It happens that my friend wants to remain anonymous in The Political Junkies context. The material was used with his permission. His initials are “A.L.,” and his thoughts, with apologies to Ring Lardner (Sr.), appear in this column from time to time under the title “You Know Me, Al.” In this column, I continue the analysis stimulated by his original work. But before getting to that, let me review briefly the history of the German Reichstag Fire, and add a bit more detail.
The Fire occurred on February 27, 1933, just about one month after Hitler became Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany. The fire was set, most historians now agree, by a Dutch former Communist turned anarchist acting entirely alone, one Marinus van der Lubbe. 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 rapidly shut down all opposition press. They did this usually by simply sending in one of the Nazi Party’s private armies, the SA (“Brownshirts”) to destroy the facilities and beat up the staff. Thus within a matter of days they had gained full control of the German media of the time.
I did not note in Part I --- and I thank the friend who brought that fact to my attention --- that at Hitler’s request when he became Chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933 a national election in Germany had already been scheduled to take place on the 7th of March. This turned out to be just about a week after the Reichstag fire occurred. Those who believed at the time that the Nazis were the real incendiaries had good grounds to think so. For in the final run-up to those elections, the Nazis exploited the Fire for all it was worth, including unleashing a reign of terror, especially against Communists, Socialists, and left-wing labor leaders, carried out by the SA and the SS (at that time Hitler’s private bodyguard) under the guise of 'defending the state against terrorism'.
And so, 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.” To deal with “the Marxist threat,” on Feb 28 all of the civil liberties protections of the post-World War I Weimar Republic Constitution were suspended. It is hardly surprising that in such a state of hysteria, the Nazis achieved their largest vote total ever. Nevertheless, it was still only 43.9% of the total. In no democratic election were the Nazis ever to achieve even a simple majority (sound familiar?) The subsequent “total support” of the Nazis by the German people as a whole as perceived by the outside world was achieved as much through continuing terror continually unleashed against any real or perceived opponents as it was by true love of Hitler and his way.
Following the election, on March 24, 1933, a Reichstag from which all the elected Communist deputies had been purged along with a number of the Socialist deputies, in which many of the Centrist Deputies were totally intimidated, and in which an artificially small quorum requirement has been created by the manipulations of its presiding officer, who happened to be Herman Goering, passed a Constitutional Amendment. It gave virtual dictatorial power to Hitler and his cabinet for a four-year period. Regularly renewed during the Nazi Era, it was called the Enabling Act. In practice, that turned out to mean that Hitler became Dictator of Germany, with absolute power.
In the part of Al’s memo that was published in this space on June 3, he examined some of the reasons how a similar episode of sorts in the United States at this time could have helped the Georgites get through a series of political tight spots --- tight spots that their policies and programs were getting them into at the time: their Leader was a minority President; with the Jeffords defection they had just lost control of the Senate; there was a recession underway; their Leader was being perceived as a weakling (because he was); pushing through the social-control agenda of the Religious Right (essential to keeping their base happy) was becoming more and more difficult. Further, there was a semi-secret grand foreign policy design as developed in the 90s by the neo-con Project for a New American Century (PNAC) that would be just about impossible to implement in ordinary times. It was centered on invading and taking over Iraq as part of a grand design to gain for US control of the whole of the Middle East, and to gain control of vast oil reserves especially in the Kurdish region of Iraq, projected to possibly outstrip those of Saudi Arabia.
And so, there was this terrorist organization based in Afghanistan called “Al Qaeda” led by a shadowy figure named Osama bin Laden. They have already carried several relatively small-scale attacks on US targets abroad over the years, but the Clinton Administration had foiled two major ones: a 1998 plot to blow up 11 airliners over the Atlantic at the same time and a “Millennium Bomb Plot.” But these guys are still hanging around. And during the spring and summer of 2001 substantial intelligence “noise” indicates that they are going to try something big again. My friend Al speculated at the time (November, 2001), not that the Georgites would be directly or even indirectly involved in one way or another themselves (I reviewed current possibilities for a direct, active or passive, Georgite involvement in my column of May 6), but that there was a US Far Right-Wing cabal that was. Al was obviously engaging in some pretty far-out speculation and conspiracy theory mongering here.
Now, while the Nazis apparently had nothing to do with setting the Reichstag Fire, within hours of its occurrence they were able to come up with a plan to use it to achieve previously designed political and Constitutional ends. (Hitler had actually hatched an idea for something like the Enabling Act back in the 1920s.) Physically arriving on the scene of the Fire a few hours after it started Hitler immediately began demanding evidence that it was the result of a KPD plot. (There being no equivalent of the White House Situation Room in those days, with security being provided by the SA and the SS, Hitler, unlike Bush, went directly to the site.) Hitler was immediately told by the investigators that there was absolutely no such evidence and that indeed the most likely suspect, van der Lubbe, had already been captured. He was also told that most likely he had acted completely on his own,
The Nazis, the other German Right-Wing parties, and their financial backers, major elements of the German power elite, had every reason to want to go after their principal political opponents, the Communists (KPD) and the Socialists (SPD), using all available means. However, the civil liberties provisions of the Weimar Constitution stood in their way. Beginning the previous November, even before Hitler took power, proposals had been made in the Reichstag by the ruling Right-Wing coalition, to legislate the suspension of the Weimar Constitution’s provisions for protecting civil liberties. But there was no way that such a plan could command the two-thirds majority needed in the Reichstag for its passage. What an opportunity was presented to Hitler and the Nazi Party by the Fire.
As noted above, very quickly, within days in fact, the Nazi propaganda machinery under Goebbels had whipped major portions of the German population into frenzy about the dangers of a “Marxist” takeover and “blood running in the streets.” As Goebbels once said: “Propaganda has only one object - to conquer the masses. Every means that furthers this aim is good; every means that hinders it is bad.” Given that there was no genuine evidence of KPD involvement in the Fire, one can say one this for the Nazis: they were certainly better at producing evidence of a KPD plot than the Georgites have been about producing any kind of evidence concerning Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Saddam/Al Qaeda connection in Iraq.
What are the Georgite 9/11 parallels to Hitler on the scene ignoring the fact of the capture of van der Lubbe and immediately demanding evidence of a non-existent KPD Reichstag Fire plot? Information that has come out since the time of the 9-11 Tragedy, especially since the publication of Richard Clarke’s and (former Sec. of the Treasury) Paul O’Neill’s books, the Georgites very quickly began to use 9/11 in ways that are eerily similar to how the Nazis used the Reichstag Fire. As Richard Clarke told us, once in the White House Situation Room, Bush immediately demanded evidence of direct Iraqi involvement in 9/11. O’Neill told us that Bush had been obsessed with Iraq from the time he took office. Richard Perle and the neo-con clique had first hatched the plan for an invasion of Iraq in the mid-90s. Despite the fact, that their leadership from Paul Wolfowitz on down (or up, depending upon one’s perspective) occupied major positions of power in the Regime, in the summer of 2001, those invasion plans were no closer to implementation than it had been when Bush as elected. What happened to those plans post-9/11 we know all too well.
As for parallels on the civil liberties front, as noted above, for months the Nazis and their Right-Wing allies had been itching to go after the KPD and to a lesser extent the SPD and eliminate them from the domestic political scene. On Feb. 27, 1933, those plans were no closer to fruition than they had been when Hitler took power on Jan. 30, 1933. But by March 24, 1933, they were fully in place. And so we come to the matter of the “USA Patriot Act.” It is about 340 pages long, filled with dense legal language. It provides for major changes in many aspects the US criminal justice system, especially in the way it gives the President to suspend any individual’s Constitutional Rights on his own authority, simply by declaring someone an “enemy combatant” or a “material witness” in the War Against Terrorism, U.S. citizen or not.
Under the Act, the President is empowered, for example, to deprive such a person of: the protection against unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, due process of law as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the right to an open jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Thus the Act effectively repeals these provisions of the Constitution without even going through the formality of the Amendment process. At least when Hitler wanted to get the Weimar Constitution amended in order to eliminate similar civil liberties protections, he went through the formality of the amendment process (although, as noted, he did rig the Reichstag membership and quorum rules to assure himself of the two-thirds majority required to amend the Constitution).
The Patriot Act was introduced into Congress within two weeks of the 9/11 Tragedy. It was brought to a vote before few if any members had time to much more than glance at it. Due to its length and complexity, it is virtually impossible that it was actually written between 9/11 and when it was introduced. That means of course that it was written before the latter date. And that means that the Georgites, who knew that there was no way of getting such an Act through Congress in the absence of a 9/11 disaster, were at the least waiting, if not prepared, for one to happen.
Then there are the recently revealed Justice Department (2002) and Pentagon (2003) memos in which groups of lawyers came up with ways that Bush could, according to them, legally authorize the infliction of torture. “To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture,” the Dept. of Defense memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws in question is “inherent in the president.”
However, it happens that there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that could be interpreted to provide such "inherency" in the Presidency. In fact the Presidential powers that are spelled out in Article II are quite limited. The Commander in Chief clause refers specifically to the Army and the Navy and nothing else. These lawyers have written their own Enabling Act without even bothering to go through the process of amending the Constitution. At least Hitler did the latter, on paper at least. Under this Pentagon reasoning, the President could theoretically declare virtually any occurrence he didn’t like “an act of terrorism,” or “aiding and abetting terrorism” and then invoke his “inherent powers as Commander in Chief” to do anything he wanted to those individuals involved, up to and including indefinite detention and torture. And no one would access to anything other than the will of the President. This Pentagon proposal provides for nothing less than a bloodless coup d'etat to establish a Presidential dictatorship.
The Reichstag Fire led directly to the Nazi dictatorship and all of its horrible outcomes for the World and Germany itself. 9/11 lead directly to the Iraq Invasion abroad and the USA Patriot Act and the vetting of the “inherent powers” theory at home. As the readers of this column know well, we in the United States still have the chance to stop the possible further progression towards out-and out fascism (as defined in my column of May 27) here. Although the parallels are not exact, I think that bearing them in mind may well assist in the campaign to achieve the goal of preventing that progression from happening, and protecting, indeed strengthening, US Constitutional Democracy.
One last note, on what the Kerry Campaign should begin to consider focusing on. The two major issues at this time are Iraq and the economy. The former, with the new transitional government in place, under the authority of a UN resolution, might just begin to settle down. Both the violence and US casualties might decline. Although the country would remain a terrible mess physically, as it is now, Americans would be exposed to little of that, as they are now. The long-term prospects for bringing the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, who have been at each other’s throats for centuries together peacefully are not good. And long-term, the Georgites still want to figure out a way (certainly Kurdish autonomy in some kind of Federal state would do it) to get their hands on all of that oil. But from now through Election Day, with the UN now standing behind it just as many Bush opponents have been asking for, the US might be able, again for domestic consumption at least, to fashion some sort of temporary peace. As for the economy, the recent modest improvements in it might just continue. Whatever improvements there are would certainly be trumpeted by the Georgites as the outcome of their economic policies.
What would the Kerry Campaign be left with? If those two primary issues swing in the Georgites’ favor, the old standbys of the environment, health care, education, and etc. aren’t going to do the trick. The one major Georgite policy that will not, indeed cannot, change is that in order to achieve its major goals they must repeal traditional US Constitutional Democracy. This is because of the way they think, as revealed by the Justice and Defense Dept. memos written by their lawyers, and because of their dependence on the votes of the Christian Right. For it to achieve its stated long-term goal of establishing a theocracy in the United States, of course the Constitution must essentially be repealed. The Constitution is remote and abstruse for many Americans. But there are ways and means to make it up close and personal for the American electorate.
I hope the Kerry Campaign will begin to take serious look at how to do just that.