Wednesday, February 06, 2008

If conservatives really, really hate being called fascists ... #5

-- by Dave

.. then maybe they should stop talking like them.

... Maybe they should stop making all those implications that the reason America's adventure with hegemony in Iraq hasn't turned out so well is because of all those peaceniks and treasonous liberals in the media who helped cheer on the insurgents. The ones who stabbed our soldiers in the back.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Your upcoming book begins with a quote from Cicero about how a nation “cannot survive treason from within.” Surely you’re not calling Democrats traitors. Or are you?

“Buzz” Patterson: I am. They certainly are if their behavior during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is held up to the light of the U.S. Constitution. Article III, Section 3 defines treason against the United States as “adhering to (our) enemies, giving them aid and comfort. Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, and John Murtha, amongst others, are guilty of exactly that. When a government official stands on the floor of Congress and declares the war lost; or travels to Syria, a state-sponsor of terror, and meets with the leadership that is funneling insurgents into Iraq to kill Americans; or, publicly compares our military men and women to Nazis, Soviets in gulags, and Pol Pot; or refers to our Marines as “cold blooded killers” before an ongoing investigation is completed and charges filed, they have crossed the line and have taken their politics to the battlefield. These are behaviors that give aid and comfort to our enemy.

It’s not just the Democrats though but many on the Left — its faculties and administrations on college campuses, big media, Hollywood, and left-wing organizations such as the Ford Foundation,, United for Peace and Justice, etc. What is particularly disturbing to me is that these Americans are doing it while their fellow citizens are fighting and dying in combat. The best ally that al Qaeda has these days is the Democrat Party leadership. It’s reprehensible.
National Review, May 1, 2007

IN THE MAIL: Col. Buzz Patterson's War Crimes: The Left's Campaign to Destroy Our Military and Lose the War on Terror.

I don't think that the left wants to lose the war on terror, exactly — they just want Bush to lose the war on terror. I suspect, however, that Patterson's theme is one that we'll hear more in the future, especially if things go badly in Iraq.
-- Instapundit, June 23, 2007

To some people, Vietnam wasn't a defeat, but a victory. To them, the right side won. And lost. Naturally, they're happy to repeat the experience.
-- Instapundit, Feb. 17, 2007

Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn't exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority -- or even a large and angry minority -- of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?
-- Instapundit, May 24, 2004

The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don't, a lot of people will blame the media.
-- Instapundit, March 5, 2006

If Pelosi wants to be commander-in-chief, let her run for president. Otherwise, today’s vote was a bayonet stabbed in the back of every American troop in Iraq.
Don Surber, March 23, 2007 (also cited and quoted approvingly by Instapundit)

The party of John Murtha shamelessly seeks to defund and defeat U.S. troops on the battlefield and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Congress the terrorists wanted is doing their bidding. ... We'd have to go back to Benedict Arnold to find Americans as eager as Murtha & Co. to see an American defeat on the battlefield.
-- Investors Business Daily editorial, Feb. 16, 2007

Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all you clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send them over to the FBI and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything.”
-- Bill O'Reilly, June 20, 2005

Look, there’s no denying blood is flowing in Iraq. But how much and whose and at whose hand? Self-appointed “spokesmen” in Iraq are skilled in the art of media manipulation. They–like many in the American media–have a vested interest in exaggerating the violence as much as possible.

... Journalists in the legacy press are too busy trying to write the Bush administration’s obituary to notice that they are writing their own.

MSM credibility, R.I.P.
-- Michelle Malkin, hyping the later-discredited "Jamilgate" story

I wonder how many of our troops are being further endangered by the fakery we're discovering here? I wonder how many of their deaths in the coming weeks will be due to this sort of stuff? ... The press is literally trying to not simply destroy the man [Bush] but take down his government and surrender a military action that is important to the survival of our identity.
"The Anchoress," hopping aboard the "Jamilgate" story

What we have discovered in Iraq is the weakest link in the ability of the United States to sustain military operations overseas. That link is the U.S. media. They are Islamists' best friends. ... Without qualm or fear, therefore, they do our bidding day after day. Willingly, gleefully, with much self-congratulation, they pump our storyline into the bloodstream of the Western public.
Michael Novak, Weekly Standard, Nov. 27, 2006

All these are only a fraction of the wave of "stabbed in the back" narratives that have been increasingly propagated by mainstream conservatives in prominent positions over the past few years, especially perking up as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated. Rather than own up to their catastrophe, they fall back on their old standby: scapegoating liberals for their own failures.

But this particular form of scapegoating is one with a history. In fact, it's commonly referred to as "Dolchstosslegende":
The stab-in-the-back legend ... refers to a social myth and persecution-propaganda theory popular in Germany in the period after World War I through World War II. It attributed Germany's defeat to a number of domestic factors instead of failed militarist geostrategy. Most notably, the theory proclaimed that the public had failed to respond to its "patriotic calling" at the most crucial of times and some had even intentionally "sabotaged the war effort."

The legend echoed the epic poem Nibelungenlied in which the dragon-slaying hero Siegfried is stabbed in the back by Hagen von Tronje. Der Dolchstoß is cited as an important factor in Adolf Hitler's later rise to power, as the Nazi Party grew its original political base largely from embittered WWI veterans, and those who were sympathetic to the Dolchstoß interpretation of Germany's then-recent history.

We've touched on this point long before, mostly as part of a broader discussion of eliminationism, though I'm pretty sure it was Josh Marshall back in 2003 who first noted it being floated about the Beltway.

The definitive piece is from Kevin Baker in Harper's from 2006:
It didn't matter that Field Marshal Ludendorff had in fact been the virtual dictator of Germany from August of 1916 on, or that the empire's civilian leaders had been stunned by his announcement, in September of 1918, that his last, murderous offensives on the western front had failed, and that they must immediately sue for peace. The suddenness of Germany's defeat only supported the idea that some sort of treason must have been involved. From this point on, all blame would redound upon “the November criminals,” the scheming politicians, reds, and above all, Jews.

Yet it was necessary, for the purging that the Nazis had in mind, to believe that the national degeneration went even further. Jerry Lembcke, in his brilliant work, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, writes of how the Nazis fostered the dolchstosslegende in ways that eerily foreshadowed returning veteran mythologies in the United States. Hermann Göring, the most charismatic of the Nazi leaders after Hitler, liked to speak of how “very young boys, degenerate deserters, and prostitutes tore the insignia off our best front line soldiers and spat on their field gray uniforms.” As Lembcke points out, any insignia ripping had actually been done by the mutinous soldiers and sailors who would launch a socialist uprising shortly after the war, tearing them off their own shoulders or those of their officers. Göring's instant revisionism both covered up this embarrassing reality and created a whole new class of villains who were—in his barely coded language—homosexuals, sexually threatening women, and other “deviants.” All such individuals would be dealt with in the new, Nazi order.

And of course, it remained in the American political bloodstream well after Vietnam, as Baker describes, and was ready to resurface after the invasion of Iraq:
Given this state of permanent culture war, it is not surprising that the Bush White House trotted out the stab-in-the-back myth when its Iraq project began to run out of steam early last summer. It was first given a spin, as usual, by the right's media shock troops, and directed at both Democratic and renegade Republican lawmakers who had dared to criticize either the strategic conduct of the war or our treatment of detainees. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page opined, “Where the terrorists are gaining ground is in Washington, D.C.” and noted that General John Abizaid, of the U.S. Central Command, had said, “When my soldiers say to me and ask me the question whether or not they've got support from the American people or not, that worries me. And they're starting to do that.”

Again, the link was made. Soldiers of the most powerful army in the history of the world would be actively endangered if they even wondered whether the folks at home were questioning their deployment. The right was looking for a target, and it got one when Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), appalled by an FBI report on the prisons for suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, compared them to those run by “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings . . . ”

The right's response was predictably swift and savage. The Power Line blogger Paul Mirengoff commented that the senator “slanders his own country. Normally that kind of slander is uttered only by revolutionaries seeking the violent overthrow of the government.” Rush Limbaugh harrumphed that “Dick Durbin has just identified who the Democrats are in the year 2005, particularly when it comes to American national security and when it comes to the U.S. military. These are the same people that say they support the troops. This is how they do it, huh? They give aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Matt Yglesias followed up with a piece of his own at TAP, which eventually produced a smug "Huh? Whuzzat?" response from Jonah Goldberg, who since he was at the time enmeshed in his Vewwy Important Wesearch for his Vewwy Sewious Book That Has Never Been Written With Such Cawe or Detail, seemed baffled why the "meme" would come popping up -- Baker's article, evidently, having eluded his otherwise all-consuming attention.

As Yglesias acidly observed:
Suffice it to say that I think the main point of analogy is that mainstream contemporary American conservatism, like inter-war Nazism, believes that military defeats are primarily due to failures of national will. They believe this in part because they massively overestimate the significance of will in determining outcomes of this sort. They also, like Nazis, seem to deny that it might ever better serve the national interest to abandon a military adventure than to continue it. These beliefs serve to foster the further belief that several constitutive elements of liberal democracies -- committed to free speech, to unfettered political debate, the existence of active political opposition movements -- are a source of national weakness.

Moreover, as Brian Beutler noted:
Anyhow, Matt's original article was perfectly prescient, but now that the war is a self-evident disaster, I think it's sort of odd that people are discussing a "stab in the back" campaign as some sort of far-off possibility for some point in the future "after we fail in Iraq". The campaign is already well underway.

However, as we've already stipulated, conservatives really are not fascists or Nazis, and using the "Dolchstosslegende" theme by itself is not evidence per se of being fascist -- rather, it's only one part of the constellation of traits that constitute the pathology, along side many others (including torture, misogyny,, racism, and as we will see, many others). But it is a fairly telling one.

As Brendan Nyhan points out:
However, as Baker recounts, the phrase "stabbed in the back" was first coined by Paul von Hindenburg, a German general in WWI who served as president of the Weimar Republic and not a Nazi (though he eventually capitulated to Hitler and appointed him Chancellor in 1933). And the idea that "military defeats are primarily due to failures of national will" and that "several constitutive elements of liberal democracies ... are a source of national weakness" are (sadly) hardly unique to Nazis.

This is precisely right -- and in fact, the Hindenburg example is highly instructive, since today's conservatives are in some ways in a similar position: using the "stabbed in the back" theme to cover for their own incompetence and cast blame elsewhere. And in the process, Hindenburg handed the real fascists lurking within the body politic the club they needed. Today's conservatives are in the process of repeating that mistake.

That's the threat of pseudo-fascism generally -- not that it is actually fascist itself, but that it creates the ground conditions for the real thing to break out. Which is bad news for liberals and conservatives alike.

Of course, when you pick and start yammering old fascist propaganda at the top of your lungs repeatedly, it also creates a certain impression. And as much as Jonah Goldberg would like that "canard" to go away, his biggest obstacle to achieving that will remain conservatives themselves.

[A note about this series.]

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