A Comparison Of Three Wartime Leaders
by Philip Greenspan
"People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders...All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." —Hermann Goering
(Swans - February 28, 2005)
In the first three months of 1933 two new faces emerged to lead the troubled democratic countries of the United States and Germany. On March 4th Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated president of the US. On January 30th, the 51st birthday of Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler was named the chancellor of Germany.
A little over twelve years later and within one month's time, Roosevelt was dead (April 12, 1945), Hitler committed suicide (April 30, 1945), and World War Two, a war that pitted their two countries against each other ended (V-E day, May 8, 1945).
The intervening years were years of such tremendous turmoil that its effects were felt throughout the world at the time and thereafter.
I grew up when both Hitler and Roosevelt were center stage on the world scene. Quite often I think of one or the other as I observe the machinations of Bush and his cronies. I compare Bush's actions in today's context to the prior two's actions and accomplishments. In some respects he is similar and in others quite different. With your kind permission I will ramble on with my thoughts of how those similarities and differences strike me.
Conditions on Assumption of Power
Conditions in both countries in 1933, as in much of the world, were desperate. The depression in the U.S. had so affected the country that revolution was a possibility.
Since the end of World War I, the German people encountered crisis after crisis. The devastation that all of the European powers suffered was compounded for the Germans by the onerous reparations they were compelled to pay under the Versailles treaty. In 1923 a monetary inflation completely wiped out the value of the currency -- the mark was eventually revalued at one-trillionth (0.000000000001) of its value -- and the middle class, the bulwark of stable democratic governments, was destroyed. In time things improved but desperate conditions reappeared with the onset of the world-wide depression.
The conditions that both leaders inherited were transformed by two different political revolutions; and violence in both countries was avoided. The ensuing consequences eventually brought the two countries into confrontation as major belligerents before they departed from the scene.
When Bush took over he did not face a depressed situation. While Hitler and Roosevelt were able to gain the confidence of their people in a short time Bush quickly lost whatever good will he received on taking office.
9/11 buoyed him up. The fear engendered by that event seduced the people to blindly and foolishly accept the administration's belligerent responses. In the ensuing hysteria, Congress, the constitutionally mandated body to declare war, relinquished that duty and, by a vote of 420-1, authorized the shrub to attack any and all countries he deemed terrorist. 420-1, that's over ninety-nine and three-quarters percent; 99.7619 to be exact. Lesser percentages were formerly indications of totalitarian states!
Bush and his cronies, like the other two, are revolutionizing the political environment. Their actions are causing long lasting upheavals not only in the U.S. but throughout the world.
Tactical Rise to Power
Hitler's rise to power was aided by the thuggery and corrupt actions of his Nazi party goons. The party's intimidating presence was a factor in Hitler's rise and lock on power.
Bush is the beneficiary of the intimidating power the Republican Party exerts against the pusillanimous Democrats. He has also been helped by the corrupt practices of state officials in Florida and Ohio, as well as supporters in the electronic voting machine industry, all of whom are suspected of rigging the vote.
Hitler and his thugs were able to take over complete control of the state, and with the unlimited power that he possessed, he inaugurated a series of policies modeled on the pro-business Fascist state that was already working for Mussolini in Italy.
Roosevelt, during the honeymoon that new presidents usually enjoy, put through a slew of legislation that he assumed might cure the depression. The checks and balances of the Constitution prevented FDR from forcing through policies in the same way Hitler did. The Republican opposition and a conservative Supreme Court made him proceed more cautiously.
FDR was an experimenter, willing to try anything. At times he implemented contradictory actions, insisting that they might work. Whatever his motivation -- perhaps he feared a revolution might topple the nation -- he introduced major pro-business legislation as well as programs to assist those struggling from the effects of the depression. While his alphabet soup of programs were no panacea, they restored confidence and hope.
One of his first programs was the National Industrial Recovery Act known as the NIRA. It was fascism with a benign face. It granted labor unions some rights but the major benefits were given to big business. It was hyped as a cure for the depression but it soon became apparent that it was a failure. The Supreme Court gave it the coup de grâce by declaring it unconstitutional.
The Works Progress Administration, Public Works Administration and Civilian Concervation Corps camps put people back to work. The Agricultural Adjustment Act assisted farmers by reducing farm surpluses -- paying farmers for taking acreage out of production -- and giving them a minimum parity price for what was produced. Social Security provided the elderly with a retirement income. Relief, what is currently known as welfare, provided a minimum subsistence to those who were in dire need. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation restored confidence in the banks by insuring deposits. The Securities and Exchange Commission monitored the security markets and financial institutions were subjected to restrictive legislation.
Elite groups were not pleased. They felt Roosevelt was a traitor to his class and plotted against him. An organization known as the Liberty League went so far as to plot a coup, hoping to enlist a popular retired marine corps General, Smedley Butler, as its new figurehead leader. But Butler blew the whistle on the traitors by exposing the plot in Congressional hearings. Because of their power and influence the affair was effectively covered up.
Big business hated the New Deal. After Roosevelt was gone their obedient Republican allies gradually diluted most of its benefits as well as many other regulatory programs that predated it. Some had been enacted by Republican administrations, such as the anti-trust laws and the FCC. The shrub intends to completely dismantle the remaining Roosevelt legacy with the privatization of the most popular and successful of the programs, Social Security.
The philosophy of the New Deal vis-à-vis Bushonomics are complete opposites. The New Deal sought to aid the underdogs. Bushonomics aids the wealthy by not only reducing their taxes but by giving them generous contracts and subsidies while he socks it to the undeserving underclass -- in Nazi terminology, the untermenchen.
Entry to War
Three years after he gained power, Hitler embarked on a road of conquest to achieve "A New World Order." From a country whose armed forces had been restricted and disarmed, he was presumptuous to assume that he could take on the major powers. His mendacity had already tarnished his reputation and the outside world was wary of him.
Bush, whose daddy also envisioned A New World Order, was in contrast to Hitler the recipient of world-wide support and sympathy immediately after the terrorist strike of 9/11. Like Hitler he exploited the crisis to take dictatorial control of the country and obtained a blank check to make war. Unlike Hitler he became CEO of the world's sole superpower. Its armed forces have consistently augmented its arsenal with weapons purchases far in excess of all potential adversaries combined. But by brashly proceeding in defiance of even the former US allies and employing the deceitful and reckless tactics of the Third Reich, Bush became as despised in the outside world as Adolf.
Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces
Three years after taking charge Hitler took the first step on his road of conquest. Against the advice of his generals and in defiance of the Versailles treaty, he marched the army into the French occupied Rhineland. For another five years he was unstoppable. He took over Austria and Czechoslovakia without firing a shot. All the while he was playing his British and French enemies for fools. They were hoping they could lead him to war against the dreaded communists in the Soviet Union.
But by entering into a non-aggression pact with Stalin, he neutralized that potential enemy and split his next target, Poland, with that hated devil.
Although the French and British now declared war against him, they were not aggressive. They were satisfied to "sitskrieg" behind the Maginot Line, while he unleashed a blitzkrieg throughout Europe, invading Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands. In May 1940 he invaded France to confront the French army, considered at the time to be the strongest in the world, and their ally, the British. Within two months the French surrendered and the British were lucky to retreat to the home island. Most of the remaining European countries apprehensively joined the axis powers in the war. The exceptions -- Albania, Greece and Yugoslavia were quickly defeated.
It wasn't until after his attack on the Soviets in February 1943 at Stalingrad that the tide finally turned against him.
For almost ten years he was unstoppable, but time ran out. The Allies were able to outproduce the Reich and had more total troops available. They could outlast the Germans who had already expended their top forces. It was downhill for the Wehrmacht. The Fuhrer predicted that his Third Reich would last 1000 years; it did not last a generation. Among the price paid by the Germans for their support of the Nazis was a military and civilian death toll of 6.85 million; 9.5 percent of the prewar population.
Roosevelt anticipated participation in World War II well before the US was threatened. He was anxious to get into the fight but knew the public was overwhelmingly opposed to getting involved. He realized that it was imperative that they be brought around. Accordingly, he deceptively insisted that he opposed war and promised to avoid it while proceeding step by step with preparation. He successfully got congressional enactment, by a one vote majority, of the first peacetime draft.
The shock of the Pearl Harbor attack, like 9/11, was the necessary ingredient for public support. Once the U.S. was in he became a masterful wartime leader. Not only the military but everyone was enlisted in the struggle. Most civilian products no longer appeared. Businesses retooled to produce abundantly not only for the US armed forces but for allies as well. Jobs that became vacant when men entered the armed forces were filled by women. Farmers increased production to feed the home front and allies abroad. Wages, prices and rents were frozen to prevent inflation. Food, clothing, and gasoline were rationed. Taxes were raised to help pay for the war and to prevent inflation. The new tax rates were so high that a payroll deduction, "pay as you go," was imposed to insure that people would be able to pay what was due. War bonds were aggressively marketed to soak up additional funds. Business profits earned from the unusual conditions of wartime were subjected to an excess profits tax.
About sixteen million men, mostly draftees, staffed the armed forces during the course of the war but only forty thousand, .0025 percent, refused to serve. All sorts of goodies were provided to prevent the morale of the troops from sagging. They received the best available provisions. Their pay was increased; for the newly drafted private it jumped from twenty-one to fifty dollars a month. Loads of benefits known as the "GI Bill of Rights" -- including home and business loan guarantees, financial aid for education, etc. -- were promised.
Bush's strategy and tactics are quite similar to Hitler's. They both employed deceitful propaganda to unjustifiably attack their next victim. They enacted domestic laws that promoted "patriotic" support for their programs. They overruled the advice of their generals. They purged all potential opponents in government and those who might not agree with their policies.
But Bush's outcomes do not match the early successes of the Fuhrer. Within five years Adolf's formerly defeated army knocked off every targeted country. The Reich then controlled almost all of Europe and a portion of North Africa as well.
Bush, with the mightiest military machine, attacked two weak sisters who could offer little resistance. But four years after the initial attack he has been unable to subdue the occupied countries. They are continually harassing the US military and the foreign carpetbaggers. The response is a replay of Nazi atrocities that shocked the civilized world. This time, however, they are delivered under the aegis of the stars and stripes.
Hitler also had to contend with the resistance in occupied Europe -- a resistance that received aid from outside sources, the allied powers. Yet for most of the war the resistance was only a minor irritant and he was able to successfully continue his wartime activities against powerful opponents.
Rather than emulate the success of FDR by putting the entire country on a wartime basis, Bush instead claims that civilians can aid the war effort by being consumers! Instead of raising taxes to pay for the war, Bush reduces taxes. Instead of an excess profits tax, Bush awards generous wartime contracts to favored corporations to provide services formerly performed by the army itself. Instead of granting the troops a GI Bill, he has been abusing them. He short-changes them on equipment. He reduces their meager pay and benefits. He extends enlistments by utilizing little known loopholes. Retired veterans discover that the promised benefits are more a mirage than a reality. Can there be any doubt that the morale of the troops is falling? Perhaps that is why AWOL or conscientious objector status are options being increasingly considered.
The Home Front
It is not difficult to understand why the US and the allies in World War II were able to obtain the support of their home front citizens. The forces they were fighting were so evil that support for the "good guys" came easily.
What puzzled me and many others was how citizens of such an advanced and civilized country like Germany could be taken over by an abominable gang like the Nazis and actually support them. What was there about Fascism and Nazism that could persuade people to support tyrants like Adolf Hitler?
The puzzle still exists but it has expanded to include the U.S. The "Good German" has resurrected into the "Good American." How can they justify the irrational and immoral actions of a government that is bent on murdering, maiming and torturing innocent people? A few relatives and friends of mine, I am sad to admit, fall within the Good American category. It is extremely difficult to engage them in an intelligent and rational discussion. They look at me as some ungrateful, misguided . . . well, I really don't know what they think of me.
They claim innocence since they do not engage in those heinous activities and support the government because it is out to destroy the terrorists. Unfortunately in war collateral damage will occur. Those few bad apples who are guilty of war crimes deserve the punishments inflicted on them. Adolf Eichman similarly claimed that he personally never killed, tortured or engaged in any criminal activity; but he was a cog in the wheel that permitted those activities to continue. By their support as reluctant as it may be they are also complicit in those dastardly crimes.Internal Resources
America the 'Beautiful' on Swans
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Philip Greenspan on Swans (with bio).
This material is copyrighted, © Philip Greenspan 2005. All rights reserved.