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Thursday, June 14, 2007

American Freedom

In 1955, the University of Chicago Press released a remarkable book, They Thought They Were Free, by Milton Mayer. Mayer had traveled to a small town in post-war Germany to live and befriend ten of the common citizens, every one of them a Nazi. He wanted to know what life was really like under Hitler, how the common man viewed it, whether they understood the evils inherent to the socialist system that had ruled them.

Keep in mind that in 1955, Germany was still looked on with enormous suspicion by everyone. German invasions of neighboring countries had started three of the last three major European wars (Franco-Prussian, WW I and WW II) in the last century, and there were quite a few people who believed the German people were congenitally unable to live peacefully. Indeed, prior to his death, FDR even proposed that the entire nation be sterilized.

Mayer’s conversations found something quite different. The small-town citizens in Germany were much like small-town people everywhere. They paid their taxes, went to their jobs, had their little internal quarrels and that was about it. They were Nazis because National Socialism was freedom and they were free men under its rule. Only one of the ten saw anything problematic in it at all, at any time.

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. I once had a sociology professor who spouted on and on about how dictators oppressed their subjects, forcing them to do things that the free man would never do.

He was completely wrong, of course. As history has shown time and again, the strongest man is only as strong as his arm or his vision.

Any ruler, whether democrat or despot, saint or sinner, potentate or president, rules only because a substantial number of people permit him. A ruler maintains himself in power by convincing enough people that (a) there is an insoluble problem and (b) he is the best man to address that problem. If either (a) or (b) ever fails to be convincing, then his rule ends.

When the Italians were convinced that Mussolini was no longer an asset, he became a lamp-post ornament. The Italians could have hung him anytime they wanted to; they simply weren’t convinced his exit was in their interests until they met a stronger strong-man. In this sense, the only distinction a democracy has over a dictatorship is a reduced (but not entirely eliminated) tendency to kill the ex-leader as he exits, stage left. It’s not at all clear that there is such a thing as a dictator.

Mayer points this out early on:

When I asked Herr Wedekind, the baker, why he had believed in National Socialism, he said, “Because it promised to solve the unemployment problem. And it did. But I never imagined what it would lead to. Nobody did.”

I thought I had struck pay dirt, and I said, “What do you mean, ‘what it would lead to,’ Herr Wedekind?”

“War,” he said. “Nobody ever imagined it would lead to war.” [The baker saw nothing wrong with Nazism until September 1, 1939, when, he was told, Poland attacked Germany.]

The lives of my nine friends – and even the tenth, the teacher – were lightened and brightened by National Socialism as they knew it. And they look back at it now – nine of them, certainly – as the best time of their lives; for what are men’s lives? There were jobs and job security, summer camps for the children and the Hitler Jugend to keep them off the streets.


An anti-Nazi woman jailed for listening to foreign radio but actually for hiding Jews (which was not technically illegal), said, “I remember standing on a Stuttgart street corner in 1938, during a Nazi festival, and the enthusiasm, the new hope of a good life, after so many years of hopelessness, the new belief after so many years of disillusion, almost swept me, too, off my feet. Let me try to tell you what that time was like in Germany: I was sitting in a cinema with a Jewish friend and her daughter of thirteen, while a Nazi parade went across the screen, and the girl caught her mother’s arm and whispered, ‘Oh, Mother, Mother, if I weren’t a Jew, I think I’d be a Nazi!’ No one outside [of Germany] seems to understand how this was.”

That, Mayer discovered, is how Nazism became a mass movement:

The crash of the synagogue dome awakened the Rupprechts. They could see the glowing half dome from their house.

“Papa,” said the mother, “It’s the synagogue.”

The father said nothing.

“Of course it’s the synagogue,” said 14-year old Horst, excited, “Juda verrecke! May the Jews drop dead! May I go to the fire? They’ll all be there, Pa. Can I?”

“They won’t all be there, Horstmar. You won’t be there.”

It was a long speech for his father.

“Horst, Where did you learn to say ‘Juda verrecke’?”

Horst replied, “In the Ha-Jot, the Hitler Youth.”

“So,” said his father, “in the Ha-Jot.”

“They don’t teach it, Pa, you just hear it there. The other kids say it. They all say it.”

“Like ‘they’ll all be there,’ ” said his father.

“You just hear it, Pa, don’t you understand?”


America is free in the sense that it is the strongest. It has the strongest economy in the world, the strongest military in the world. But, as Scripture points out, every man under the power of sin is a slave, not a free man. So, is America free?

The Nazis killed six million Jews, five million Gentiles, three million of those being Catholic. They were tried for crimes against humanity, one of which is abortion.

America has killed forty million children and thousands of mothers precisely via abortion, millions of these abortions being carried out using exactly the same techniques used by the Nazis in the camps.

Adolf Hitler attempted to carry out a Putsch in 1923 and received a five year sentence, of which he served about nine months.

The serial murderer, Jack Kevorkian, who used essentially the same gassing and poisoning techniques used by the Nazis, was acquitted of murder numerous times before he was finally convicted and sentenced to 25 years: he served eight.

Nazi doctors conducted deadly medical experiments on camp prisoners for about four years starting in 1941.

American doctors conducted deadly medical experiments on the black community for about forty years, starting in 1932 and only ending in 1972.

The Nazis began compulsory sterilization programs in the 1930s. Theirs ended in the 1940s.

America began compulsory sterilization programs in the 1900s. Ours ended in 1981. Certain segments of our population even today recommend mandatory hormonal sterilization for welfare recipients and/or illegal immigrants.

By 1935, it was illegal for a Jew to be a citizen in Germany. Hitler contemplated mass deportations of Germany's illegals to Madagascar.

In 2007, we call for the mass deportation of Hispanics who have been declared legal outlaws by the state.

We think we are free. Are we?

I am an American of German extraction. Are we - am I - more free in this country than my cousins were in Germany sixty years ago?

Well, there are no brownshirts to break down my door. I can run a business more easily here than anywhere in the world. Economically, I am very free, just like the ten men Mayer interviewed. But is money all that matters?

Aren’t we all in the American version of the Hitler youth? Euthanasia, contraception, abortion, sterilization: even when it is not explicitly taught, everyone talks about the need for these things. It's obvious that we should accept contraception, sterilization, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and fight to deport Hispanics without proper papers.

Don't I understand?


As long as we sterilize ourselves, kill our own children, euthanize the aged among us, rail against the dirty, conniving illegal, are we free? Are these things to be proud of?

In these respects, I am not proud to be an American, because I am not sure we’re free.


M_David said...

Good post.

I agree with your analysis about American culture.

However, I think you underestimate the amount of serious Christian culture in the US that German culture simply lacked and still does today.

Also, Germany, like Japan, is an orderly culture that does not tolerate dissent. For example, homeschooling is illegal there. Germans are very group-oriented people with strict laws.

Even US racism is different and in large part stamped out ruthlessly - we fought a very nasty war to outlaw slavery, for example. We have God on our coins and in the Pledge. Even Chesterton said America has the soul of a church.

So, in America you get a lot of personal sin (abortion, etc.) but not so much governmental sin (forced abortion). The two are very different, and I would take America any day.

I agree that there are as many sinners in the US as anywhere, but the government is much better - it rarely persecutes Christians or forces them to sin. Also, being a Republic, if Catholics just had children, we would take over, so we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

BTW - a sidenote on Hispanic birth rates from the topic below: first generation have a TFR=2.7 (higher than Mexico!), but the second and third drop off quickly towards the American average. So Hispanic "Catholic" culture has no power to change the US, as the data shows that they integrate to our ways in a few generations.

c matt said...

In some ways, I see the American version as worse. What our culture does, witht he blessing of the government, is to transform these vices into virtue. Public schooling is not mandatory, but private school is so prohibitive and living costs in general make home schooling not feasible for many that public indoctrination via schools is effectively mandated. Private schools also have to comply with certain requirements. The cultural push uses the government as a means of rewarding approved behavior, giving huge incentive to get with the program. It slowly convinces most of us that our vices are really virtues.

Rather the enemy be raging in front of you to force his will than by sweet words make you believe his will your own. Our governement is a master at propaganda.

Athos said...

Thanks for a very thoughtful post. I prefer to look at the degradation of our western culture from the pov of René Girard's mimetic theory, which is in full agreement with the Church's Magisterium. It posits that if a culture and people reject or fail to teach the revealed deposit of faith, we humans regress quite quickly (2-3 generations) to our fallen, pagan state.

The OT prophets would recognize our condition immediately via our children sacrifice, worship of disordered passions, and growing bloodlust in our forms of "entertainment".

Nietzsche was right: the choice is simple, either Christ or Dionysus. May we heed the signs and may God raise up Jonahs to preach to the growing "Ninevite" culture in America.

Striking Iron said...

Though I agree that abortion/other aspects of the culture of death (as John Paul II aptly named the whole world's cheapening view of life), I think you're missing some very, very basic points:

1. Abortions are not mandatory here. They are just as evil, brutal, and just as horribly wrong, and should be a crime just as much now as when the Nurenburg trials were going on. But nobody's being forced to have abortions.

2. You are able to say everything you just said. I am able to read it. If you had said it on the radio, I could listen to it. And no arrests, no railroading, no legal, political or physical reprisals for you criticizing the government.

If you had similarly criticized Germany during the war, or tried to educate the German people about the evils they were being surrounded by, you would be arrested at least, and more likely killed. And perhaps thats why so many Germans thought they were free- nobody could show them otherwise.

3. Abortion, whether physical or chemical (through abortifacient contraceptives), are a business both here and worldwide. An evil business, bordering on satanic. But a business, and not a government program. Planned Parenthood is not a branch of the US government or military. The SS/Gestapo was most definitely a part of the German government.

4. The reason so many Catholics were killed in Germany is that so many opposed the Nazis both in principles (for example, preaching against them) or in practice (by hiding Jews). Here in the US, if a priest preaches against abortion, do they take him away to a work camp somewhere? If you, Steve, go protest in front of an abortion clinic, do you have to kiss your family goodbye first? No. And why? Because in the US, we are free to practice our religion both in beliefs and morals. This freedom simply didn't exist in the third reich. Just ask Blessed August von Galen, who was the archbishop of Munster, or read here:

Point 3 simply reiterates point 1, which is that while people are able to kill unborn babies and get away with it, they are not forced by the government to do so. In Germany, the opposite was the case.

In short, therefore, your post is wrong. There is plenty of evil in the US, and we are not a shining moral example in many, many ways. But we are free. You're free to not be proud, but you ought to be grateful. Thanks for being willing to put your original comment on the main page though.

Jordan Potter said...

"But we are free."

You don't seem to understand what God means by "free." It's not what you and America mean by "free." The only freedom that matters is the freedom that God created us to enjoy -- the freedom to know and serve and love God and neighbor. America will never be truly free until America becomes a Catholic nation.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Striking Iron

You happen to be wrong on all four points.

1. As even Planned Parenthood's own studies show, 80% of women having abortions are coerced into those legal abortions by family members. Planned Parenthood has long advocated coerced abortion.

Abortion was illegal in Germany, outlawed by the foundational German constitution of 1871. The Nazis legalized it in 1934. We legalized it in 1972, and have killed 40 million - a much higher death toll than the Nazis ever attained.

2. All the historians of WW II document numerous instances where people spoke, wrote or otherwise publicly communicated their hatred for Nazism without ever being punished or even approached. Indeed, Mayer relates several such instances. You should also try reading The Limits of Hitler's Power. It's quite eye-opening on what a totalitarian government can and can't do.

3. Abortion is a government program - Planned Parenthood receives direct government grants. Indeed, as Jim Sedlak of STOPP points out, their revenue from abortion is actually decreasing, but their govermnent funding is INCREASING.

Furthermore, USAID is synonymous with abortion promotion throughout the world - foreign funding is generally tied to legalizing abortion in target countries.

4. As in Nazi Germany, anyone who doesn't actively interfere with the regime is generally left alone, but a loud enough voice gets attention.

For example, simply preaching against the politicians who promote the killing can get a preacher heavily fined for violating tax laws, and hauled off to jail if he refuses to pay. Actively trying to interfere in the operation of American death camps will get you thrown in jail for violating the FACE law.

As it happens, I know more than one person who DID have to kiss his/her family goodbye for days, weeks, months and even years at a time because they peacefully blocked abortion clinics. Indeed, one woman (Joan Andrews Bell) who I heard several years ago spent over a year in solitary confinement simply because she unplugged a suction currettage machine in an abortion clinic (and it wasn't even being used at the time).

"Just ask Blessed August von Galen, who was the archbishop of Munster, or read here:"

See Joan Andrew Bell above.

As for not coercing abortions, you are sadly misinformed on US law. The state has every right to sterilize you at any time it chooses to do so. SCOTUS ruled on that in Buck V. Bell (1927) and that ruling has never been overturned. Furthermore, in 1997, federal courts ruled that coerced abortion was legal, see this link.

I don't mean to be crude, but you don't know a damned thing about Nazi Germany or US contraception and abortion policy.

Striking Iron said...

"Actively trying to interfere in the operation of American death camps will get you thrown in jail for violating the FACE law."

Alright, well let us know when you go to jail. Or at some point, will you admit you're not going to jail, and therefore the "american gestapo" really aren't out to get you?

"Furthermore, USAID is synonymous with abortion promotion throughout the world - foreign funding is generally tied to legalizing abortion in target countries."

One of President Bush's first actions in office was an executive order, issued on the 28th anniv. of Roe v. Wade, getting rid of any funding for international org's providing abortions.

Again, nobody's arguing that abortion isn't just like the genocide of the nazis, soviets, etc. Nobody's arguing that abortion doctors aren't murderers. Nobody's saying the judges and politicians who protect abortion aren't abusing their power.

But as a whole, the US is no totalitarian regime. Again, I reiterate, you're not going to dissappear suddenly for speaking out against planned parenthood (and more power to you for doing so; I myself have worked on "Face the Truth" tours, educating people on how terrible abortion is). The March for Life doesn't get busted up, with protesters being tossed into police trucks or something.

While the woman you mentioned did go to jail, and that's ridiculous of that judge to let it happen, she didn't go to a death camp. Maximillian Kolbe interfered by preaching against the genocide and by hiding Jews. He didn't just go to jail for a year. He was tortured to death. The two simply do not compare. don't know a damned thing....
You know, I think that guy on the last post's comments was right. You do start to get insulting when people disagree with you.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I've already been jailed twice for abortion demonstrations, thank you very much.

Furthermore, what Bush commanded and what the bureaucracy actually does are two different things. See this link. I don't believe Bush is a modern Hitler (Clinton was a lot closer), but Hitler had exactly the same problem.

You don't seem to appreciate that the US doesn't follow Gestapo policies largely because they don't work. The Powers That Be in the US have developed a much better way of creating totalitarian government - amusing us to death.

Why kill people physically when killing their reputation and cutting them out of all policy positions is just as effective and raises fewer hackles?

Brave New World was just as totalitarian as 1984, just as deadly, but people had a lot more "fun" in BNW. And BNW is a lot easier to implement than 1984.

Finally, insofar as the truth is insulting, then I definitely do insult people from time to time. I would apologize for reality, but reality generally takes care of itself.

Striking Iron said...

...insofar as the truth is insulting, then I definitely do insult people from time to time. I would apologize for reality, but reality generally takes care of itself.

The reality in this case is that you don't give people much reason to be open to your ideas when you talk down to them condescendingly and generally act supercilious.
Just because readers disagree with you, doesn't mean they "dont' know a damn thing". That's not you winning an argument, that's you being arrogant.

But I will read Brave New World, it sounds interesting.

c matt said...

But I will read Brave New World, it sounds interesting.

I am surprised that anyone who considers himself well educated in real-politik or the oppresiveness of governments and social systems has not read Brave New World. It should be required reading.

c matt said...

Brave New World recognizes two fundamental ways to control the populace - beat the crap out of them so they fear you, or feed their lower appetites so they will do whatever you want to get satisfaction. Feeding the appetites is the far superior method of control - in fact, it makes the submission so voluntary, opposing it is dang near unthinkable. The dependence on the government to fulfill this need becomes an addiction. One of the strongest drives is the sexual appetite, and BNW shows how the government uses it to great effect.

The trick is turning the personal sin into a social virtue. We see that happening all around us in the US, with at least implicit government approval (the sin of abortion and contraception turned into the social virtue of "responsible reproduction", the sin of pornography turned into the virtue of "free speech" or "artistic expression"). In BNW, the first step was to divorce sexual intercourse from human procreation. It was accomplished by making sexual encounters non-procreative, casual and frequent. The second step was to make test tube procreation routine - that is, the government controlled procreation through artifical means and genetic manipulation.

Remember this was written in the '20s or '30s (and criticized as preposterous). Yet, in 2007 America, artificial means of procreation are rarely even newsworthy they are so routine (I recall news of a test tube baby would be front line in the '70s). And hookups are about as common as hiccups, if not more so.

Striking Iron said...

So, basically a "Pane et circenses" setup. "Bread and circuses" being the Roman empire's method for keeping the city mob content through 100% welfare and daily entertainment. Only no gladiators fighting mock sea battles for us.

Not a new idea, but still interesting.

Striking Iron said...

For example

"... Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions -everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses."

-Juvenal, Satire 10

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Exactly - Huxley, being classically educated in the still decent English schools of the late 1800s, knew his Latin and Greek.

He wrote Brave New World just a few months after the Anglican church, via the Lambeth conference, permitted contraception for married couples.

The whole story is, in fact, a subtle parody of the Anglicans and their stupidity. You can find an analysis of it that I got published in Envoy here

Aurora said...

Wow, you have a fascinating blog. It was referred at my blog by an anonymous poster. Is it you? I look forward to reading your posts and working out where you're coming from!

Aunty Belle said...

Ya'll, keep in mind that a new sort of Naziism is risin' in the EU...a conformist legal structure is choking out religious practice, or even religious speech.

Meawnwhile, the UN jes' concluded its "Forum on Reinventing Government" in Vienna and ya' can bet it is not freedom friendly.

I'jes' returned from Europe and will tell ya'll...we have much to be thankful for in the USA, but soon we will lose it too--freedom ain't free--we must defend it.