"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, November 11, 2011

What they fought and died for

While I dislike the thought of politicizing Remembrance Day any more than it already has become politicized, neither can I stomach the idea of the leaving it to the flag-draped yahoos who are so busy venerating the holy troops that they forget what exactly those people who made the supreme sacrifice and those who survived were fighting for and against in World War Two.

Not everyone who signed up volunteered, and not everyone who volunteered went for some high moral reason. Some of them signed up because they needed a job, because they were ashamed not to join up, because all their friends were going. Many were conscripted. That doesn't matter. What they thought they were fighting for, whether it was "king and country" or as I once heard it put "keeping India British," isn't as important as what they fought for in terms of practical effect. Nobody joined the army to stop the Holocaust, they didn't even know it was going on at the time, but the practical effect of fighting the Nazis was to put a stop to their efforts to kill all the Jews.

They were fighting for your right to disagree with others, even to disagree with wearing poppies on Nov. 11. They were fighting for your right to speak out against authority - even if it means squatting in the park or public square. They were fighting for your right to be free from being asked for your papers any time a cop didn't like your looks. They were fighting for the rule of law, for equality of strong and weak, rich and poor. They were fighting against racial and religious discrimination.

They were fighting against fascism.

Fascism isn't just Nazis or the style of government under Mussolini. It rather emphatically is not what existed in Russia under Stalin or China under Mao, though it shares their bloodthirsty totalitarianism. Fascism didn't begin or end with the Second World War. There were plenty in England, Canada and the United States that were open fascists and many more that thought it was swell that Mr. Mussolini was able to make the trains run on time or that Mr. Hitler had done great things for Germany.

Fascism took a serious beating from 1939 to 1945, but it wasn't stamped out. Spain stayed fascist. Indonesia was pretty much a fascist state under Sukarno and Suharto and it has raised its ugly violent head numerous times and places in Latin America.

Fascism is not dead, it just smells bad. So bad that people who espouse it don't use that name anymore, don't even realize for the most part that what they are espousing is fascism. But calling it "chocolate freedom liberty dessert" doesn't make it smell any less like the shit it has always been.

I won't point any fingers at any groups or individuals here. You can figure out who they are for yourself. There are a few handy checklists or definitions at the usual place, but I'll provide you with two I think are the most complete. As you might expect, there is a great deal of overlap, and oddly enough, both come up with 14 identifying characteristics.

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottoes, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forgo civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
Umberto Eco put together a similar list in his excellent 1995 essay Eternal Fascism,  saying that fascist movements share these traits (I'm paraphrasing his longer essay)
  1.The cult of Tradition. The idea that all knowledge exists and must simply be interpreted. The combining of often contradictory cultural notions to find the same enduring truths ("America's government comes from the Bible!")
2. A rejection of modernism. While fascism may embrace technology, it rejects the ideas of the Enlightenment and generally thinks the Age of Reason was the beginning of civilization's moral decline.
3.The cult of action for  action's sake. Doing is good, thinking is bad. Thinking is for the effete intellectuals "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Fascism is profoundly anti-intellectual.
4.Disagreement is treason. Science uses disagreement to further knowledge, but if people disagree how can we be sure who is right? Being right is very very important. Disagreement and making distinctions is immoral modernism.
5.Hatred of diversity. Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.
6.Feeds on frustration, especially economic frustration that individuals are not doing as well as their perceived social inferiors i.e. "Where's  my  Cadillac/smart phone/big screen TV? All those welfare bums have one!"
7.Appeals to those who feel deprived of a clear societal identity by telling them they are special by virtue of being born in the same country. (I am Canadian! I am an Englishman! I'm an American) American exceptionalism, the master race notion of the Nazis all fit in here. "Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside."
8.Fascism is both the victim of and the key to victory over an overwhelming enemy, i.e. We are the downtrodden salt of the earth and they control everything, but we will still beat them by virtue of our inherent superiority because they are weak and effete (yeah, I know its completely self contradictory, a lot of fascist 'thinking' is, see #1)
9.Permanent war of one kind or another."There is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare."
10.Total contempt for the weak, for example cheering for allowing people without health insurance to die.
11. Every one of us is a hero and ready to make the supreme sacrifice. The motto of the Spanish falangists was "Long Live Death" - this urge to show how you are a hero by dying a glorious heroic death tends to be problematic so it often gets rechannelled into other forms, such as #12
12. "Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons -- doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise." Or sometimes you just buy a really big truck and watch a lot of football.
13.Fascism is based on a selective populism. The party reflects the will of The People as interpreted by the leader. The fascist leader will say 'The government you elected doesn't understand you, it is rotten. Only I and the party really understand the Will of the People, the Silent Majority.' The fascist will insist they are "not a politician" and will inevitably campaign against "the government" as if "the government" suddenly fell from the sky or was imposed by outsiders. "There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People." (I'm looking at YOU blogosphere!)
14.Fascism uses Newspeak. In everything from framing issues  strictly Manichean terms ("You are either with us or with the terrorists") to the widespread use of euphemistic shorthand and so called dog whistle  (notice anything some people don't like is the result of 'political correctness') Fascism uses a small vocabulary to limit distinctions and control chains of reasoning through semantic limits.  ( you can't call Dick Cheney a babykiller on TV, you can't even call Newt Gingrich a liar or Pat Buchanan a fascist, you can't even call Glenn Beck a jackass)
 I would further add a few items to both lists. These are not necessarily items that are not included or implied in the above lists, they are more a manifestation of combinations of the ideas outlined in the other lists. 
 1. Fascism is driven by an urge to control. Somebody has to be in charge. The boss must show they are dominant. You must obey authority. 
2. Fascism requires an enemy. If there is no handy enemy, one must be created. This enforces unity, puts everything on a "war footing" and plays to the Manichean mindset and enforced simplicity that goes hand in hand with anti-intellectualism. People are a lot easier to control when they are scared of something. 
3. Fascism constantly looks to the usually imaginary past as golden era that must be reclaimed. Fascists are all about seeing the country "reborn" and seeing us get back to the "good old day" before smarty pants effete intellectuals and decadent bohemians ruined the country. "We want our country back." 
4.Fascism is violent. Either in the imagery they employ, the eliminationist language or in the actual physical act, fascists love the notion of taking direct action rather than thinking. "Lock them all up and throw away the key!" "All the politicians do is talk talk talk, why don't they DO something!" See the movie "Joe" or read any blogging tory for all the examples you could want. 
5.Fascism worships strength and simplicity. Whenever someone starts talking about the need to demonstrate "strong leadership" and "common sense" whether its through bombing someone or imposing a flat tax, you are getting a whiff of fascism. Ditto for all the fascination with anyone in a uniform that gets to do 'heroic' stuff like soldiers and police. They want action heroes. They want the guy who hangs drug dealers, not the guy who comes up with a way to successfully treat addiction or reform drug dealers. 
6. Fascism is aristocratic. For all its populist talk, fascists worship power and that means worshipping people who are perceived to have power and use it to take decisive action, whether it is the grand exalted leader, the titan of industry, the general or the university football coach. The rank and file think that the powerful person is a hero and they aspire to be like them. Their heroes are not Nobel winning scientists, great artists or philosophers or humanitarians. 
 So the next time you hear someone sounding off about how we are "losing our country because of multiculturalism and we have DO something about it" or how "the muslims"  or  "the gays" or the "liberals" are wrecking everything or how such and such is a strong leader because at least he takes action instead of endlessly debating what to do, you can be sure you are smelling fascism. And it isn't limited to the right wing either.



The Mound of Sound said...

Barry Broadfoot in his book "Six Lost Years" interviewed hundreds of men and women who served. Their explanations of why they signed up varied from the young guy who simply wanted a pair of boots to the guy who actually wanted to fight fascism. Many joined because it was "the thing to do" others for adventure and others still to get away from the old lady and the kids. It's curious how so many get omitted from our remembrance rituals. We remember those who joined to 'defend Canada.' We don't care to remember the guy who just wanted a pair of boots. The odd thing is they both died the same.

What did they really 'fight' for? What fighting men always fight for - for the guy on their immediate left and the guy on their immediate right. That's what they fight for. That's what they're willing to sacrifice their life for.

Beijing York said...

We remember those who joined to 'defend Canada.' We don't care to remember the guy who just wanted a pair of boots. The odd thing is they both died the same.

Very poetic, MoS. Reminds me of something Steinbeck might have written.

Anonymous said...

Are Canadians not living in a dictatorship right now?

Other country's think so. The Australian media wrote, how badly Harper is destroying democracy in Canada. They see it and we don't?

Harper is a Neo-Nazi. He is a Reformer and the founder of the Northern Foundation. The skinheads helped Harper to organize that party. This was in 1989.

When we see the profile of a fascist dictator...Harper fits far too many points of the profile.

Six members of my family were in WW11. Canada was part of the Commonwealth. They fought for England, to stop the Nazi gangsters, as Churchill called Hitler and his henchmen. WW1 was also started by Germany. There was a huge distrust of Germany, on the Canadian prairies area where I grew up.

Quite frankly, Harper wasn't worth dying for.

Churchill even warned Uncle Joe Stalin, that Germany was going to attack Russia. Stalin refused to believe it. He thought he and Hitler, would share all of Europe...As one Monster to the other. The Commonwealth people had no use for Communists either.

democommie said...

Dear Mr. Reverend Paperboy, Sir:

I read your lists and they remind me of some countries with bad peoples and crappy laws. I feel very lucky to live here in the USA! USA!! USA!!!, where everyone is equal and happy and, and, excuse me, there's someone knocking at my door and saying I have to come with him...