Column No. 97 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - February 16, 2006
The original text for this two-part series was written between November, 2001 and May, 2004. As the Georgite theocratic-fascist assault on US Constitutional Democracy continues unabated, using “the war on terrorism” as its primary raison d’etre, I thought that it would be useful to re-visit this subject.
For those readers who may not be au courant with the early history of the Nazi takeover of Germany, let me lay out the bare facts of the period. Following the end of World War I, the first republican form of government was established for Germany. Its capital was in the provincial city of Weimar. Thus it came to be known as the “Weimar Republic.” Entering the 1930s, its President was the World War I hero Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg. It never had a fully stable government. With increasing unrest and severe economic difficulties resulting from the Great Depression, as part of a deal with the non-Nazi Right-Wing political parties, on January 30, 1933 Hindenburg appointed the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler as Chancellor (the equivalent of Prime Minister). Although a central element of the Nazi Party line was that the Constitution was a useless piece of paper standing in the way of progress for the German people (sound familiar?), as part of the deal Hitler agreed to abide by it.
A month into his term, things were not going so well for Hitler. He had already made his first roundups, of known Communists and left-wing labor leaders. But, the Depression was still on, he still had Pres. Hindenburg to deal with (and Hindenburg did not trust him), the army was on the fence (in fact, many of the Old Prussians could not stand the "Little Corporal," an enlisted man and an Austrian to boot), and there was still a functioning Reichstag (parliament), without the Communist elected deputies, but with enough Socialists and other Nazi-opponents to deny him the two-thirds majority he would need to amend the Constitution. Then something dramatic happens.
On February 27, the German Parliament building in Berlin also called the Reichstag, burns down. Most historians now agree that the fire was set 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.) Despite being reliably informed about van der Lubbe’s role, within hours, Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels, et al, had proclaimed the fire to be the result of a German Communist Party (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.) That the KPD knew nothing of it and that the “incriminating documents” speedily 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 was 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.) 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 (“Sturmabteilung,” also known as the “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.
At Hitler’s request when he became Chancellor 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 an intensified reign of terror, especially against Communists, Socialists, and left-wing labor leaders, carried out by the SA and the SS (“Schutz Staffel,” at that time Hitler’s private bodyguard, also known as the “Blackshirts”) under the guise of 'defending the state against terrorism'. 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.
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. 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, and in which many of the Centrist Deputies were totally intimidated by uniformed SA goons standing around the chamber (shades of the scene outside the room in which the Miami Dade election board was about to start a recount in 2000 when Bush goons, lead by none other than John Bolton, began banging on the glass wall surrounding the room and screaming threats). It 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 became the Dictator of Germany, with no Constitutional or judicial limitations of any kind on his power. There would be no legislative limitations either, since the Nazis had made sure that they controlled it as well. 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.
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 this plan to use its occurrence to achieve previously designed political and Constitutional ends. (Hitler had actually hatched an idea for something like the Enabling Act back in the 1920s.) 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.
Sound familiar? Does history repeat itself, at least in broad outlines? We shall take a look at 9/11 and how the Georgites have used it next week.