History is going to repeat itself, isn’t it?

Read these old pre-WWII newspaper articles, in which a very nice American Quaker is arguing (to a conference of rabbis, no less) that if Jews throughout the world try to instill into the minds of Hitler and his supporters recognition of the ideals for which the race stands, and if Jews appeal to the German sense of justice and the German national conscience, I am sure the problem will be solved more effectively and earlier than otherwise.

It’s weird. The guy also repudiates the notion of boycotts, because that’s economic violence. Buy from fascists, because capitalism is a hell of a drug. There’s even an article from another person arguing that Hitler’s supporters aren’t racist, they’re just economically anxious.

We’ve been through all of this in the 1930s. Unthinking pacifism didn’t work then, it’s not going to work now.


  1. kome says

    In honor of Dr. King, I’ve just started calling those people “white moderates”, regardless of their actual race or if the concern is over a racial issue or some other prejudice.

    From King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
    I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    Ah yes, the “If we were only nicer to hateful, stupid bigots they’d be nicer to us back” school of thought. Funny how that never seems to work.

  3. christoph says

    You can’t appeal to a person’s better nature if they don’t have one.

  4. PaulBC says

    Non-violence clearly won’t work against enemies who want to kill you anyway, but there are many gradations between “civility” and violent conflict. I have no interest in pretending to share common ground with the alt-right, and that now includes a sizable chunk of the Republican party. This leaves open the question of violence.

    Calls for civility miss the point that government is an inherently coercive institution that wouldn’t be needed if every individual could have things the way they like. Aside from centrists, it’s a trope among certain elements of the left that Trump supporters are deluded and would vote for some form of social policy that helped them if only they understood that they are being manipulated by moneyed interests. It’s complete hogwash. Trump supporters love having their guy in charge and for the most part would accept being a little worse off materially if their “values” were represented at the top. They want to go back to the good old days with its old social order (to put it way too politely). Trump symbolizes this even while he fails to deliver the impossible.

    Convincing people like that is not the answer. Fighting them at the ballot box , in court, through public opinion, and through economic pressure would normally be the answer. It cannot be civil, because they will hate you for it. Even then, they usually won’t change. Did the Civil Rights movement change people? Maybe a few, but for most of them, they just needed to understand that they weren’t going to have things their way. The mistake that led to the rise of the alt-right was to imagine that the same views would not recur in a new generation.

    Gandhi’s campaign of satyagraha was also not a matter of being civil, and it was a form of direct action that extended beyond ordinary politics. It is not the same as the Quaker ideal of an orderly, peaceful society, though I’m sure there are many Quakers who have studied Gandhi. It’s unfair to equate this kind of non-violence with passivity, since the goal is to bring the current order to a halt unless things change. There are also general strikes. That’s an act with potentially harmful side-effects, but not an inherently violent one.

    I have trouble imagining a non-violent end to the Third Reich. I have trouble imagining a non-violent end to slavery in the US, at least without dragging it out another generation and extending the atrocity. So there are cases where the violent solution looks preferable. I don’t think we’ve reached that point now. I do think we are not even close to fighting as hard as we should be.

  5. daemonios says

    I do see overtly or covertly racist outburst more and more often, and from sometimes unexpected sources. Last week one of the largest daily newspapers in Portugal published an op-ed by a historian where she criticised affirmative action measures for minorities, namely quotas for political positions, university access, etc. The problem wasn’t so much her stance against those measures. I practically did a double take when reading the piece, I was so shocked.

    She basically said quotas were OK for women because women share in the same religious and moral values, “they are part of a thousands of years old civilisational and cultural entity called Christianity. This does not apply to Africans or gypsies. Neither descend from the Universal Rights of Man decreed by the Great French Revolution of 1789.”

    This is coming from an academic. Someone whose entire job is to study history pretends that there is something like a monolithic, stable “Christian” culture that is unchanged for thousands of years. She expressly denies any possibility of commonality with other religious backgrounds, for some reason. Without batting an eye, she quotes the French revolution, and by implication the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality, in her racist screed.

    Not content, she describes gypsies as unable to assimilate, which assumes two things: that assimilation implies the negation of the “outsider” (and implicitly inferior) cultural background; and that assimilation is even desirable, instead of reciprocal influence between cultures, which is in fact what has happened throughout history. She conflates Africans with Muslims, and expressly attributes to them, without exception, the practice of female genital mutilation (she likes gypsies a little better on this subject because they don’t practice it).

    Having contact with the US reality, this might look pretty benign. Just another day ending in y, something as bad as this or worse was bound to turn up in some corner of the Internet. But hitting so close to home, it bothered me. With our colonial past, which ended violently not 50 years ago, there is an enormous amount of fuel to light a racist bonfire. Add to that the financial woes of European economies, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the multiple calls to abandon the EU rather than reform it, and I’m worried that yes, we are on a path we’ve walked before, with terrible results.

  6. PaulBC says

    Universal rights for us, not for you!

    I like it. Well, there’s an appealing simplicity to it if a lack of consistency. I have, to be honest, often suspected there are just as many racists and xenophobes in Europe as there are in the US. I still remember being in Zürich in the mid-90s and listening to an old academic department secretary expressing open disgust at some immigrants (I’m guessing from the Middle East or North Africa) working on the street around us. I didn’t feel that her view would be found among younger Swiss (and she was in fact an immigrant of many decades from Eastern Europe), but it would have been shocking to hear it stated openly even among people her age in the US at the time.

  7. says

    What puts the lie to the “we need guns to defend ourselves from tyranny” argument is that most of those making the argument are ardent supporters of the Hamberdler and will happily support him no matter how far into totalitarianism he lurches.

  8. PaulBC says

    @Tabby Lavalamp ‘What puts the lie to the “we need guns to defend ourselves from tyranny”’

    Though I thought that line had been overtaken by “We need AR-15s because they are Legos for Adults™.” https://www.wired.com/2013/02/ar-15/ etc. Never mind that they make freaking Legos for adults (architectural sets and Lego technics for instance). Look up the phrase. Look up Jon Stokes. Yup, there’s a guy with a clear set of priorities.

    This view is so much better than those toothless old gun nuts because it is hip and ironic.

  9. flange says

    I think drawing parallels between Trump and Hitler are no longer hyperbole, if they ever were.

  10. unclefrogy says

    that portion of trump’s suporters who will support him no matter what want a ruler who will suppress everything they do not like. they desire a “king” that will do away with democracy.
    The whole pacifist ends in trying to shame the oppressor with the guilt of having killed them. It is trying to take the moral stance of their idol the christ in taking martyrdom humbly. Sorry but some of us are a little to human for that.
    it is a great sadness to have to engage in the kind of struggle that seems to be heading our way . I hope we can avoid the worst possibilities of that nightmare and the rule of law will prevail.
    I will not go quietly into that dark night however I can not just bow down and take the blows in silence. i will try to keep in mind “Ozymandias” to help maintain perspective.
    uncle frogy

  11. jrkrideau says

    @ Tabby Lavalamp
    (I may have the attribution wrong.)
    If we were only nicer to hateful, stupid bigots they’d be nicer to us back”

    Very true. After receiving a quick kick in the crutch, they often pay attention.

    I really do not like violence but I do not have a problem if we must use it.

  12. mountainbob says

    About 30% of American adults are members of the obliverati and have no understanding of history and no empathy for the problems faced by their fellow Americans. They won’t change and most of their kids will grow up to be just like them. Another 30% will join the bottom 30 on one or more issues as their prejudices and interests seem threatened by progress. The answer is to motivate the top group and convince the middle group that their needs are being addressed and no one is coming after their rights and privileges. We can accomplish that again… we made a good run at it in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and even had some successes in the 90s and again in the Obama era. We need strong leadership and a populace willing to compromise on nearly every issue, for progress is only made through the development and resolution of issues, not through dogma and dictat.

  13. khms says

    We need strong leadership

    I always recoil when reading that phrase, even though I can see the logic. But the whole problem with Trump supporters, and people like them, is that they are authoritarians – they want to follow a leader who does the thinking for them. And I really, really don’t want to be one of those.
    This needs to get mentioned on this topic like xkcd on so many others: The Authoritarians

  14. says

    My favorite old newspaper headline is the one saying, in effect — I can’t find the image right now, so I have to paraphrase — “Nazi Party Makes Major Gains In German Government — But Don’t Worry, Centrists Hold Balance Of Power”.

  15. khms says

    Fucking centrists. Yeah. Though, if I recall correctly, a number of them were extorted for their vote.

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    mountainbob @ # 16: We need strong leadership and a populace willing to compromise on nearly every issue…

    Pls name a historical episode in which always-compromisers won out over never-compromisers.

    Wossamatta your head?