naomi wolf on parallels between US and despots of history

I thought about this a lot when I was in Germany this summer, seeing all the monuments to the atrocities of the Nazis, and even reading the last Harry Potter book – there is an identifiable pattern to despotism. Naomi wolf says this of her recent book that talks about the rise of despotism in the current US body politic:

But I guess the book really began with a very personal story, because I was forced to write it, even though I didn’t really want to, by a dear friend who is a Holocaust survivor’s daughter. And when we spoke about news events, she kept saying, “They did this in Germany. They did this in Germany.” And I really didn’t think that made sense. I thought that was very extreme language. But finally she forced me to sit down and start reading the histories, of course, not of the later years, because she wasn’t talking about German outcomes, ’38, ’39; she was talking about the early years, 1930, ’31, ’32, when Germany was a parliamentary democracy, and there was this systematic assault using the rule of law to subvert the rule of law.

And once I saw how many parallels there were, not just in strategy and tactics that we’re seeing again today, but actually in images and sound bites and language, then I read other histories of Italy in the ’20s, Russia in the ’30s, East Germany in the ’50s, Czechoslovakia in the ’60s, Pinochet’s coup in Chile in ’73, the crushing of the democracy movement in China at the end of the ’80s. And I saw that there is a blueprint that would-be dictators always do the same ten things, whether they’re on the left or the right, and that we are seeing these ten steps taking place systematically right now in the United States.



Today, there was a story on Morning Edition about GOP presidential candidate rhetoric which calls the war on Iraq things like “the front line on the war on terrorism”.  Romney’s website refers to the war on Iraq as ‘defeating the jihadists’.  Mike Huckabee says that we’re engaged in a  ‘world war’ and that “radical islamic fascists have declared war on our country and on our way of life.” But, as the NPR reporter indicates, these words don’t mesh with the reality of the war in Iraq:

Al Queda in Iraq has  few foreign fighters.  It’s a home-grown group.  American officers say many of them are fighting more for money  than for religious fanaticism.  Meanwhile the powerful Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq are not exporting terror, they’re vying for power in Iraq, sometimes battling each other …

The report goes on to quote a defense analyst saying that politicians prefer catch phrases to a serious discussion of the war.

This report makes me think of the language described in Wolfe’s interview and it’s even more frightening when there is so apparently little basis for this kind of fear.