(I’m taking a brief detour from solari economics to commemorate a little-remembered but vitally important historical event. More solari in coming days.)
This past Friday, February 22, 2013, marked the 70th anniversary of Sophie Scholl’s beheading. She was 21 years old on the day of her execution.
Sophie Scholl was a student at der Universität München in 1943 during the height of Nazism’s blood-and-iron grip on German civil society. She was part of a nonviolent, philosophically-oriented student resistance movement called the White Rose. Beginning in June 1942, the White Rose embarked on a resistance campaign that consisted of writing anti-Hitler and anti-Nazi graffiti on buildings, distributing a series of six leaflets via bulk mailing and, on February 18, 1943, anonymous leaflet distribution on campus grounds.
It was this final attempt at campus leafletting for which Sophie and her brother Hans, also a White Rose member, were arrested. She was taken to jail and interrogated (questioned, not tortured) over the course of four days. Sophie, Hans, and another White Rose member, Christoph Probst, were tried, sentenced, and executed by guillotine all on the same day: February 22, 1943.
The video clip is from the extraordinary and stunning film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. The scene depicts her trial and was, remarkably, taken from actual court transcripts. (The judge character in this scene, official title of President, is supposedly rather accurate.) The entire film is available on YouTube here. I highly recommend everyone see this film and take note of the similarities between the Nazi rhetoric, and the rhetoric of political discourse in contemporary America.
What is so striking to me are the crimes for which Sophie, Hans, and Christoph were executed, based on their leaflets: treason, “aiding the enemy” and “demoralizing the troops.” I assume it is not necessary to point out how similar this is to the language of recent United States legislation such as the Patriot Act and most recently the 2012 NDAA, which would grant the Executive branch power to use the military for detention of American citizens on American soil, indefinitely, for “aiding” an extremely ill-defined terrorist enemy. The Obama administration is currently fighting legal challenges to this unprecedented curtailment of domestic civil liberties.
The White Rose leaflets themselves are salient in their insistence on truth, as measured in facts and conscience; their condemnation of apathy; and their calls to passive resistance — what we would call civil disobedience — based on the facts at hand and on what acquiescent Germans knew in their hearts.
From Leaflet II:
It is impossible to come to terms with National Socialism on an intellectual basis, because it is simply not intellectual. You cannot speak of a National Socialist ideology. If such a thing existed, you would be forced to try to defend or engage it on an intellectual basis. Reality offers us a completely different image. When the movement was still in embryonic form, it relied on deception of its fellow man. Even then, it was rotten to the core and could preserve itself only on the basis of constant lies. Hitler himself wrote in an early edition of “his” book – a book that is written in the most awful German I have ever read, despite which the nation of poets and thinkers have elevated it to the status of the Bible: “You would not believe how one must deceive a nation in order to rule it.” If this cancerous growth in the German nation was not too noticeable in the early phases, then that is because there were enough forces for good at work to try to slow its growth. But as it grew larger and larger and finally ascended to power by means of one last vulgar corruption, the abscess erupted and defiled the whole body.
From Leaflet V:
The war is coming to its certain end. Just as in 1918, the German government is trying to draw attention to the growing submarine danger, while in the East the armies endlessly retreat and an invasion is expected in the West. America’s mobilization has not even reached its zenith, yet even now it surpasses anything that has gone before in history. With mathematical certainty, Hitler is leading the German nation to disaster. Hitler cannot win the war, he can only prolong it! His guilt and the guilt of his assistants have infinitely exceeded all measure. A just punishment grows ever closer!
And what is the German nation doing? It sees nothing, it hears nothing. It is blindly following its seducers to destruction. Victory at any price, that is what they have written on their flags. I will fight to the last man, says Hitler, but yet the war is already lost.
Germans! Do you and your children wish to suffer the same fate as the Jews? Do you wish to be measured with the same measure as your seducers? Shall we forever be the most hated and rejected nation in all the world? No! Therefore, separate yourselves from the National Socialist subhumanity! Prove with your deeds that you think differently! A new War of Independence is beginning. The better part of the nation is fighting with us. Rend the cloak of apathy that you have wrapped around your hearts! Make up your minds, before it is too late!
Do not believe the National Socialist propaganda that has driven the fear of Bolshevism into your very being! Do not believe that Germany’s salvation is wed to a victory of National Socialism for better or for worse! A band of criminals cannot attain a German victory. Separate yourselves from everything connected to National Socialism while you still have time! Later, all those who hid themselves cowardly and undecided will have to stand before a terrible and just court of law.
From Leaflet VI:
Freedom and honor! For ten long years, Hitler and his associates have abused, stomped, and twisted these two glorious German words till they are loathsome. Only posers* are capable of doing this, posers who cast the highest values of a nation before swine. Over the last ten years, they have more than shown us what freedom and honor means to them – they have destroyed all material and intellectual freedom and all moral substance in the German people. The terrible blood bath that they have caused in all of Europe in the name of the freedom and honor of the German people – a blood bath that they cause anew every day – has opened the eyes of even the stupidest German.
*Posers = “Dilettanten” in the original German. The insinuation here is that Hitler and his associates are inauthentic and not true Germans, a grave insult. The word is normally translated as “dilettante.”
Is it even possible to read this stuff without feeling like Sophie Scholl, et al., were reaching forward through time to bitch-slap us here in 21st century America? It is simply astonishing how relevant the White Rose leaflets are in light of the crackdown on civil liberties we have experienced since September, 2001. Meditating on this stuff the past few days has made me realize just how far gone the United States really is. Everything — and I mean everything — required for a full fascist military crackdown on the populace is in place. The only thing lacking is a brand name to pull it all together, and it seems that argument rages currently among the various factions of the American right.
Oh, pardon a tangent here for a moment, but I just have to set the record straight: fascism has always been, is now, and will always be a phenomenon of the political right. Fascism is not the equivalent of tyranny or authoritarianism; it is a right-wing manifestation of such, in the same way communism turned out to be a left-wing manifestation. Authoritarianism is not limited to any given political context. It can appear pretty much anywhere; fascism is the word that describes authoritarianism when it appears from the right.
Likewise, socialism is not the equivalent of fascism. Hitler called his party “National Socialism” in an effort to rob the left of its claim to the word “socialism,” which in the early 20th century had very positive political connotations. In his own words:
“Why,” I asked Hitler, “do you call yourself a National Socialist, since your party programme is the very antithesis of that commonly accredited to socialism?”
“Socialism,” he retorted, putting down his cup of tea, pugnaciously, “is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists.
“Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic.
“We might have called ourselves the Liberal Party. We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national. We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity. To us state and race are one.”
In case it slipped past you: what Hitler is saying here would be like saying, oh say for example, that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation. It’s a complete distortion of historical fact — a lie — to bolster an illegitimate claim to absolute power.
Political discussion in the United States has become so confused that it is impossible to use the words “fascism” and “socialism” at all, because the ignoramuses on Fox News use them to mean whatever the hell they want, everything except what they actually mean. They have to do this of course — any intellectually honest assessment of fascism would reveal their own behavior to be fascistic; any intellectually honest assessment of socialism would reveal that the happiest and most prosperous nations on Earth are in fact social democracies. And that would compromise Rupert Murdoch’s personal wealth.
In any event, re-exposing myself to this material, and to the film linked above, after many years has brought a level of sobriety to my thinking that I have been avoiding for a long time for very personal reasons which I won’t get into here. But I do find myself asking the same question that’s been haunting me since I left Christian fundamentalism — the most overt form of homegrown American fascism — behind for good: what is the critical mass required for a full-blown fascist-fundamentalist takeover? We are perched right at the gates of Hell. What can be the final straw?