The German Reichstag Fire of 1933 and 9/11: Some Comparisons. A Revisit, Part II

Column No. 98 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - February 22, 2006

Last week we reviewed briefly the history of the early days of the Nazi Period in Germany and how Hitler et al used an event known as the Reichstag Fire to enable the passage of legislation know as the Enabling Act.  What it enabled was the establishment of the Hitlerite dictatorship.

What are the possible parallel in the US?  How about the following?  In 2000, the Republican Religious Right and their industrial partners such as Big Oil and the military-industrial complex, succeeded in getting a President in place.  This was 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 knew that their man didn't really win, and further, was a minority President (a fact the media have completely ignored). (Interesting: the Nazis never got more than 39% of the vote in any open election in pre-Nazi Germany.)

B)  Their guy is a total incompetent when it comes to running the national government.

C) There is a recession underway.

D) They have lost total control of the Congress through the defection of Sen. Jeffords.  Since that happened, none of their programs, from energy/environmental policy to more tax-cuts for the wealthy and the large corporations, were 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 the achievement of their goals) because of the never-ending War on Clinton.  But the country liked his program and his politics, and there was 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 it doesn't get blamed on this Bush and the Republicans, as was the last one.

C)  By-passing or having a compliant Congress on important measures (since they couldn't possibly win votes on stuff like invading Afghanistan simply to secure a route for a petroleum pipeline from the Caspian to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan that Big Oil wanted to build, or securing major, retroactive tax cuts for the large corporations, or trashing the environment to increase corporate profits).

D) Being able to ignore the judiciary (which, despite their efforts since the Reagan years, still had some judges who know what the Constitution is).

E) Eliminating Constitutional rights by Presidential decree, but even more important, establishing that the President could commit such revolutionary act by decrees (often secret ones).

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 implement 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.

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 could be built).  How else could they establish a permanent military presence in the Central Asian Republics?

And then, if the same event that could open up the possibility of beginning the destruction of Constitutional democracy at home, and to top it all off, enable them 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?  There was this terrorist organization based in Afghanistan called “Al Qaeda” led by a shadowy figure named Osama bin Laden (funded during the Soviet Occupation days by the CIA).  They had already carried out 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. Major elements of the US counter-intelligence establishment warns the incoming Bush Administration that these guys are really dangerous.  During the spring and summer of 2001 substantial intelligence “noise” indicates that they are going to try something big again, as indicated by the famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing that gets pretty specific about the threat.

Let us put aside for the moment the possibility that the Georgites were either actively or passively involved in 9/11 (see my May 12, 2005 TPJ column “Possible Explanations for Bush-Behavior On and Around 9/11").  What were 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.  Yes indeed, there was the feint towards Afghanistan, and al Qaeda really did carry out the 9/11 bombing while the KPD had nothing to do with the Reichstag Fire.  The parallels are surely not exact, but the fact is that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11.

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, for months even before Hitler became Chancellor 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.  As noted numerous times in this space, it provides for major changes in many aspects the US criminal justice system, especially in the way it gives the President the power 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.  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 in advance of the two-thirds majority required to amend the Constitution.  Since atomic weapons were only a tiny gleam in the eyes of a few nuclear physicists at the time, the term “Nuclear Option” was not used to describe his bending of parliamentary rules.)

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.

We know what else has followed in terms of Georgite violations of the Constitution: abrogation of international treaties (the Geneva Conventions) on the President’s authority, the authorization of torture in violation of US law as well, the massive domestic spying program that has nothing to do with “fighting terrorism,” the use of warrantless searches to “fight terrorism” as a prelude to the use of warrantless law enforcement for any purpose whatsoever.  Interpreting the Commander-in-Chief clause in a way that no other President has come close to doing, this “Original Intentionist” Administration has set up a “Unitary Executive” which under the President could 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. The Georgites may well be on their way to attacking Iran, as a “preventive measure,” without going to Congress for an authorizing resolution much less a formal declaration of war as required by the Constitution.  In process in the United States is a bloodless coup d'etat in slow motion 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.  Now the Georgites are contemplating invading Iran, something that, given the deplorable state of US conventional forces brought on by the War on Iraq, might lead the US, in concert with its right-wing allies in Israel, to use nuclear weapons.  So you think that the outcome of the Second World War was bad?  We know a lot about the Reichstag Fire and what that apparently random event meant to the history of the world.  One wonders if, after the possible long-range outcome of 9/11 and how it has been used by the Georgites, if there will be anyone around to record the history.