I have a feeling that many of you are going to find what you are about to read controversial and difficult to swallow. However, I’ve noticed some things that, to be perfectly honest, are a bit scary. Please bear in mind that what I’m about to share is based on hypothetical situations and worst case scenarios, I’m neither predicting nor suggesting what I’m saying will happen or is happening. Just observations.
There’s a very common saying that goes, “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana, a Spanish-American philosopher, spoke these words in Volume 1: Reason in Common Sense of The Life of Reason all the way back in 1905. There have been many variations of this saying but all of them are 100% true. Unfortunately, as humans, it appears to be within our nature to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Sure, we learn from our own mistakes, but we don’t always learn from the mistakes of others, and that’s where we get into trouble. Take a look at anyone struggling with financial debt or a drug addiction and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Our country, as a whole, seems to be pretty good at learning from our own mistakes and history. This can be seen anytime our economy is threatening to take a nosedive into depression territory. Following the Great Depression our leaders laid out plans to help prevent a similar economic collapse in the future, as long as the emergency procedures were followed the situation could usually smooth itself out. While we’ve gotten close on a few occasions, we’ve yet to fully slip into a complete economic depression. Save your arguments for whether or not our government is doing a good job at staving off an economic collapse, that’s not what I’m talking about today.
On the other hand, we learn from our mistakes, just sometimes not the right lessons. For instance, following the raid on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese the government obtained census information to aid in the internment of thousands upon thousands of Japanese-Americans. In 2004 the Department of Homeland Security obtained information about Arab-Americans from the Census Bureau that many believe led to deportation of people that might not otherwise been targeted. So the lesson we learned the first time around was to be more discreet than putting them in camps and simply throw them out of the country, nicely done.
What I am worried about is that our country may not be so good about learning from other countries’ history and mistakes. What got me thinking was this post, written by an American living in the EU. Please read it, don’t just skim the title and assume it’s a bunch of hatred towards America. This guy doesn’t hate America, in fact he seems to be quite proud of his home, and just like a proud parent watching their child do something that could possibly hurt themselves, he’s scared. While the first part of the title says it all, “America in Decline,” you need to read the entire text to truly understand the reasons for the title. The numbers the author provides in his post are based on data provided by our government agencies, they’re not whitewashed by the media. As he concludes his post he states that, “perhaps the only way for us to remember what we really look like in America is to see ourselves through the eyes of others.” That may not be terrifically profound but it’s gotta get you thinking. Think of an alcoholic, unable to notice their addiction until someone on the outside, seeing their problem, informs them. This author references articles posted on news sites across the world, these news sites have nothing to gain by manipulating the news, and their most common reference material is statistics published by our own government. Yes, I know statistics can be manipulated, but what would be the point.
Here’s a brief summarization of the author’s points.
I know, I know, more healthcare stuff, but this is a serious problem. The EU insures 100% of its population and does so while spending only about 9% of its GDP on healthcare while we have close to 59 million uninsured citizens and spend 15-16% of our GDP. Taking it even further we have 132 million without dental insurance and 60 million with no paid sick leave. I’m not here to discuss which healthcare system is superior, I’ve already gone over that.
The U.S. government’s current estimate of nationwide unemployment is hovering around 10%, the problem with this number is that it excludes those that have simply stopped looking for work. The articles referenced in this author’s post hypothesize that with these people added our unemployment rate may be closer to 20%. As our government struggles to determine if they should continue to pay unemployment benefits, the author points out that, in Germany, when the first round of unemployment benefits expire a second round begins which does not expire. On top of this, Europeans are quite mystified that our unemployment benefits do not provide health insurance.
Food Stamps and Hunger
To Europeans, the thought of providing food stamps to the disadvantaged is extremely humiliating. In America, however, food stamps are thought of as some sort of generous act towards the less fortunate. 40 million citizens currently use food stamps and many of the programs have become concerned that if the number of those that need them continues to rise there won’t be enough go around. The author even includes a disheartening excerpt from a German magazine telling the story of a recently unemployed New Yorker that had been reduced to eating from trash cans due to her lack of money, access to food stamps, and available shelters.
Let’s be honest, when it comes to unemployment and food stamps, there will always be those that abuse these systems. This is particularly disturbing when you consider that there are more and more people out there that need these systems to survive who may not be able to use them because someone is abusing them that doesn’t truly need them.
By the time I reached the end of the author’s post I began to think, “I’ll bet these other countries would just love to see us fail, most of them hate us anyways.” But then I started thinking about it and realized, these are real and serious problems based on actual statistics, not sensationalized fear mongering propaganda. It should frighten us though, but it seems we’ve become desensitized to it. Equally so, if we fall as a country, it’s not just us, not with today’s World economy, we’ll end up taking everybody else with us. These countries’ economies are intertwined with ours and they would fall just as hard as we could. They aren’t saying these things because they get a Peter North style erection every time they see America stumble, they’re truly concerned/frightened about the wellbeing of our nation as they are with their own.
It was at this point that I started to think to myself, “These statistics are intense, and if something isn’t done, they’ll keep getting worse, what is going to happen if the situation gets worse?” This brings me back to the title of the post, “Repeating History,” but not our history, another country’s. Now’s where I ask that if you’ve gotten this far you continue reading the entire post and not stop after the first sentence of the next paragraph.
If one were to compare our current economic and social situation with that of pre-World War II Germany, they might find some interesting similarities. The rise of the Nazis into power within Germany was affected by several factors, some of which were.
- Shame, embarrassment, anger, and resentment as a result of the Treaty of Versailles
- Civil unrest due to Marxist groups
- A global Great Depression
- Counter-traditionalism and liberalism of the Weimar Republic
- Rise of Communism
This combination of events led many voters to begin supporting far right and left-wing political parties (compounded by the dwindling middle-class, sound familiar), on one end there was the Nazi party or National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The Nazis believed that Germany’s status was poor as a result of laissez-faire capitalism, communism, economic liberalism, and democracy. Additionally the Nazis supported the “racial purity of the German people” and sought to protect Germany from Jewish influence and corruption. Thus the Nazis persecuted those they felt were “race enemies” or those that were “life unworthy of living” which lead to the systematic killing of nearly 12 million Jews, Slavs, Roma, Communists, homosexuals, mentally and physically disabled, and many others. We all know this part, we learned about it in school, but how did they wiggle their way into power and how did Adolf Hitler become Chancellor of Germany and gain such immense power.
The Nazis promised:
- Strong, authoritarian government
- Civil peace
- Radical economic policy (including full employment)
- Restored national pride (by rejecting the Treaty of Versailles)
- Racial cleansing, in the name of national unity and solidarity
- Removal of reparations
- Reclaiming of territory lost under the Treaty of Versailles
In the federal election of 1930, mere months after the Great Depression had started, the Nazi party won 107 seats, jumping into 2nd largest parliamentary party. Following that, in the election of 1932, the Nazis became the largest party with 230 seats. So the Nazi party made vast promises to fix Germany’s issues and get the country back into a position of power, among other things, within Europe. It’s no wonder the votes turned out like they did, German citizens were upset, embarrassed, and scared and were looking for someone to save them and fix the problems. That’s how the Nazi party obtained their power, but what about Hitler being appointed the soon to be very powerful position of Chancellor of Germany.
At the time, the current president, Hindenburg, was responsible for appointing the Chancellor of Germany. Hindenburg had been interested in making Germany an authoritarian state as opposed to the previous liberal democracy. This was in line with the Nazi party’s desire to create a “strong, authoritarian government” however, Hindenburg was hesitant to hand over substantial executive power to Adolf Hitler. To get around this, former chancellor Franz von Papen and Hitler created a party alliance that would allow Hitler’s powerful chancellorship. Additionally, Hitler threatened to halt any Nazi party support for the cabinets appointed under Hindenburg’s authority. On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by President Hindenburg, shortly thereafter the government was changed to a totalitarian dictatorship with a coordinated central government.
Our Current Issues
Let’s stop there for just a second and come back to the United States. The items in bold in the list earlier are ones that could be drawn in parallel with situations within our country today. Civil unrest due to Marxist groups, today they aren’t usually referred to as Marxists but instead Socialists. While I certainly don’t feel they’re even close to being Socialist in their views, there are a lot of misinformed individuals out there that feel otherwise.
And the individuals crying out about these Socialists are numerous and not afraid to voice their opinion.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “civil unrest due to Socialists” but it wouldn’t take much to get us there.
While we definitely (and thankfully) haven’t hit a Depression, and with any luck we’ll stay away from one, a recession is only a few letters short of a depression. And like I said, with our world economy, it will be felt all over, as it was with the Great Depression, only more intense.
Sadly, we’re at a very real risk of experiencing hyperinflation. If the government continues to pump cash into the economy while continuing to borrow money from other countries, the U.S. Dollar’s value will continue to decrease, and the cost of things we need will begin to exceed the money we’re making to buy them.
Obviously you can’t have both hyperinflation and a depression, with the measures taken by the government to steer clear of a depression they have put us at risk for hyperinflation. The measures that would needed to fix hyperinflation could lead to a depression and what we could end up with is a very unstable balancing act.
As I said, we’re nowhere near as bad as Germany was at the time the Nazis were voted into power. We’re on the edge though, with a lot of these things all it would take is a little shove for it all to come crashing down around us. What happens when people get scared or upset in general? They make poor decisions, it’s a common human response and doesn’t show up in just politics, you can see this behavior occurring with all kinds of situations. All it will take, when we are at our weakest, is for an opportunist to come along promising to fix all our problems. He/She, like any other politician, would have ulterior motives. Maybe they think a certain class of people are to blame, maybe they feel our capitalism based economy is to blame, could be anything. If they were to be elected, keep in mind at our weakest and at a point where we would make poor decisions and be easily manipulated, they could suggest that very serious changes would be required to restore our country to a good standing. We currently have provisions in place to prevent someone with such twisted views and beliefs from gaining enough power to make these changes, but who’s to say they wouldn’t find a way around them. I hope that this never happens, as I’m writing this the very thought of it brings chills up my spine as it could be bad news for all of us.
Where it went from there
Let’s jump back to the past for a minute, at this point the Nazi party is in full power, Hitler has been appointed Chancellor of Germany and the country had been converted to a dictatorship. It’s at this point that the scary stuff really started happening.
In February, 1933, the Dutch Council Communist, Marinus van der Lubbe set fire to the Reichstag, he was captured, arrested, convicted of arson and executed. However, many people feared that his actions were more than just a political statement, it was an all out signal to begin a communist revolution throughout Germany. The Nazis soon used this event to their advantage and created the Reichstag Fire Decree. This decree successfully eliminated many of German citizen’s rights including freedom of opinion, press, privacy, and illegal searches, all in the name of national security (sound familiar). In March, 1933, the Enabling Act was signed into law and essentially gave Hitler full dictatorial powers, following this he successfully eliminated all competing parties throughout the government and then banned the founding of new parties. For a time between June and July of 1934 Hitler ordered the assassination of his political enemies by the SS and Gestapo. Many Germans at this point remained silently obedient as the Nazi’s promises of prosperity were being fulfilled. At the same time, political opponents, were imprisoned, roughly 3 million Germans between 1933 and 1945, in concentration camps many of whom would eventually be killed. This is where our history classes generally picked up, and we all know where it went from there.
So what are you saying?
Perhaps I should start with what I’m not saying.
- I’m not saying that we’re about to be taken over by a Nazi party or something along those lines.
- I’m not saying that we’re about to slip into a 2nd Great Depression. (at least I hope not)
- I’m not saying that we are weak or incapable of seeing through a candidate’s evil ulterior motives.
- I’m not saying that if an evil opportunistic politician were to get into power within our country the end result would be exactly the same.
- I’m not saying that I am wishing this upon our nation!
This is what I’m saying.
- Humans, throughout history, have been known to make poor decisions when they become desperate or when they are scared/angry.
- Times are a little tough, but they aren’t as bad as pre-Nazi Germany, I’m not a fortune-teller so who knows what the future holds, we can hope for the best.
- An opportunist seeking power, seeing us in a moment of weakness, could prey on our fears/prejudice/anger to get into power.
- Depending on how bad this person is there’s a possibility our country could end up worse off than before they were elected.
The parallels I’ve drawn between our situation and pre-Nazi Germany are weak at best, and certainly shouldn’t be taken as actual testament to what will happen if our situation doesn’t improve. The purpose of these comparisons was to show how people who were desperate/scared/upset by there social situations were manipulated into electing a party whose intentions weren’t what they seemed and how the power that party gained lead to the destruction of that country’s economy and way of life. If we aren’t careful and take the time to think rationally, when our situation has gotten grim, we could be at risk of electing someone who could destroy our way of life and our country as well. Even if we have the best intentions in mind even if we truly have no idea what that person was intending, if we don’t heed the warnings of history, we could be in a similarly awful situation.
This all goes back to being responsible voters and researching candidates thoroughly.