A war fought, a lesson unheeded 

Photo by Porapak Apichodiok from Pexels

Photo by Porapak Apichodiok from Pexels

On Sept. 1, it will have been 80 years since Germany invaded Poland and the Second World War began. The war would claim roughly 70 million lives and feature some of humanity’s lowest and most shameful episodes. When people look at the contemporary political situation in the United States and choose to label the current administration as similar to 1930s Europe, inevitably most on the political right, and even certain moderates, will call this an exaggeration. This is the wrong reaction. It is important to look back at history and look at the patterns that are present between the Trump administration and the numerous fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. 

Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo did not rise to power promising genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and a global war. They told their constituents that their nation was the victim. “Germany was wronged at the Versailles peace conference,” or “Italy was deceived by our western allies in the Great War, and we must achieve glory for ourselves.” All of these nations felt wronged by the outside world that dealt them a poor hand. Trump blames America’s troubles on China or Mexico ripping Americans off. Notice how the extreme right always requires the nation to be a victim. But, more importantly, they promised to restore honor to these nations. Hitler promised a thousand-year Reich and a restoration of German pride; Mussolini promised to restore the Roman Empire; the Japanese militarists promised that through them, Asia would be ruled by Asians. Is any of this really that far from promising to “Make America great again?”   

One cannot look at the Trump era without discussing the prominent role of racism and violence in his rhetoric. In this way, he is hardly different from European fascists. Trump’s comments reducing minorities and the places they come from to terms like “criminals”, “rapists”, “invaders” and “full of AIDS” reduces the individual human beings to labels. They are in fact dehumanized. The fascists of Germany, Italy and Japan also used dehumanizing rhetoric in order to rile public opinion against perceived threats. When Trump’s policy of family separation raised comparisions to the Nazi concentration camps, the comparisons were valid. Yet it is also worth remembering that during the war, the United States used camps of its own to detain citizens of Japanese origin with no regard to due process or their citizenship status. But the racist rhetoric of fascism goes beyond speech, it extends into action. At how many Trump rallies has he endorsed or excused violence that his supporters enacted against his political opponents? This is also a trait of the fascist. Mussolini had the blackshirts, Hitler had the SA and later the Gestapo and SS, Trump has the fine people that make up his base of support. The violence in all these cases is not random, rather it has a very calculated purpose: to intimidate those not among the fascist supporters from voting. This is reinforced by attacks on political rivals. This could be seen in the bombs that were mailed to various high ranking Democrats and members of the media. All of this is done to widdle away democracy. This goes along with attacks on the democratic process like saying elections are rigged. For, if the process is rigged, what is the purpose of democracy? It is crucial to understand that fascism cannot take hold until the faith in democracy is shattered. 

Another factor that went into creating the basis for the Axis powers was when the democracies of the world failed to react to fascism strongly enough until war was inevitable in Sept. 1939. In 1931, when Japan illegally invaded and absorbed Manchuria into its empire, nothing was done. In 1935, when Italy invaded and annexed Ethiopia, the West failed to act. In 1936, when Germany militarized the Rhineland, despite the action being unacceptable according to the Versailles Treaty, no action was taken. In 1937, when Japan invaded China in order to seize its resources and committed some of the worst atrocities in human history, all that was received was condemnation. In 1938, when Germany annexed Austria into the Reich, it was deemed justified. Hitler was just bringing ethnic Germans together into one state. They again let Hitler do this when the German speaking region of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland was allowed to become part of Germany. Hitler later invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in early 1939. All of the deals made with Hitler by the West were made with the understanding that he would seek no further territorial expansion. Yet what they failed to realize is that by giving in to his demands, as well as the actions done by Italy and Japan, they only succeeded in making fascism’s position stronger. You cannot negotiate in good faith with parties whose sole objective is total supremacy.  

So now, when fascism is on the rise today not only in the US, but in places like Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, Brazil and many other places, we must ask ourselves, are we going to do something about stomping out fascism? Or will we make the same mistakes that were made 80 years ago and be forced to fight another global war? The thought that it cannot happen here, or that fascism could not possibly attain power, is wrong. The fascist tendencies of the Trump administration must be taken seriously and called for what they are. This is not a dystopia, not a fan theory, this is our American reality. 

 


Ben Sagal-Morris is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at benjamin.sagal-morris@uconn.edu