Moral responsibility: U.S., Germany and Japan

It has generally been my position that the people of Germany and Japan were at least partially morally responsible for the outrages committed by their governments in World War II.

The people of Germany and Japan may have been subject to huge amounts of propaganda, but they fell for it. Their leadership may have been dangerous fascists who ruthlessly killed their political opposition, but the people supported them and let them gain power when they were relatively weak, until the German Nazis and the Japanese militarists were able to commit murder and worse with impunity.

I have always understood that in each society were plenty of people who opposed the Nazis and the militarists from the very beginning, who were often killed and/or imprisoned.

I understand that there were many more people who opposed the Nazis and the militarists but did not speak up for fear of being killed and/or imprisoned.

But I also understand that most ordinary Germans supported the Nazis right up until it became obvious they were going to lose WWII, and that most ordinary Japanese supported the militarists right up until the bitter end.

So I’ve had scant sympathy for the peoples of Germany and Japan in WWII. They suffered a lot, but they brought it on themselves for being a bunch of fascist, racist turdballs.

(I realize that most modern Germans and Japanese are very different people from the ones around during WWII.)

But I’ve had a rather alarming thought. Maybe I need to get my own house in order here. Right now, we’re in situation that has certain resemblances to Nazi Germany in the early 30s.

We’ve got a huge right-wing political machine that has taken power in an election that looks very likely to have been rigged.

The political machine has developed a very effective propaganda arm under the leadership of a brilliant media manipulator. The inner cadre of our leadership are a group of ideologues who have developed their own political analysis of what’s going on in the world, an analysis that has arguably led them to embark on a program that amounts to imperialism in the Middle East.

They have started a largely pointless war with a small-time dictator on the pretense that he had weapons of mass destruction and that he had something to do with 9/11 – both charges which were hotly disputed at the time and have since been proven to be completely groundless.

So, the question that has come into my mind is, just how far down the garden path to imperialism are we? Would the signs of incipient Nazism have been any clearer back in Weimar Germany before the brown shirts got to work?

Before we get out the “tinfoil hat” posts, I’m well aware that we are a long way from Germany in the 1930s. We don’t have armies of brown shirts beating people senseless in the street for having the wrong political viewpoints, or anything like that.

But we do have a right-wing propaganda machine spewing hate to Joe Sixpack 24/7. We do have leaders in power whose feelings about the democratic process are arguably suspect. We are making wars in places we have no business making wars. We do have political ideologues in powers who argue something very much like imperialism with regard to foreign policy.

It seems to me that back when the Nazis were the National Socialists and very much a beer hall gang, the signs pointing to what they would someday become were fairly dim. How were people to know?

And of course, the Nazis were in a culture that had always had its violent, authoritarian elements, going right down to Junker noblemen riding peasants into the muck not too many years prior to the 30s. So the National Socialist agenda might not have been so very obvious in such a milieu.

So the question is, how are we to know the neocons and the Bushites aren’t going to turn into some kind of vile, repressive mess down the road? Certainly, they’ve got quite a few seeds planted along those lines, with the Homeland Defense Act and their secret courts and tribunals for terrorists, and their dreadful human rights record with regard to torture.

It wouldn’t be a huge stretch for Al-Qaeda terrorists to become domestic terrorists, and then it’s not a far cry for terrorists to become “terrorists” who haven’t actually done anything violent yet, just had the wrong kind of political ideas.

And what’s our responsibility to ourselves and the world with regard to the neocons and the Bushistas? Are we like the liberals and moderates in Germany and Japan who slowly felt power slipping from their grasp, until suddenly they found themselves helpless parts of a no-limits war machine? Could they have known what Germany would become, even in the early days of the Brown Shirts?

I’m not drawing any conclusions here. I don’t know that the neocons and the Bushistas will head further down the road of imperialism. But I also don’t know that they WON’T. Am I morally responsible if Bush manages to hang on for another four years and turns the country waaaaay to the right, all the way to the Dark Side? Or am I clear because I’ve voted agaisnt him and publicly opposed him in person and in places like this message board? Or do I share in the moral responsibility should we fail to toss Bush out now while we still can? I haven’t done EVERYTHING in my power to defeat Bush, not by any means.

I’d be very interested in hearing how people from outside the U.S. regard this problem.

Like a new car ramming into a brick wall, an otherwise well-written and seemingly intelligent OP crashes and burns.

I hope you were wearing a seatbelt.

Well, first, to answer your question at the end of your post: If you’ve voted against Shrub, and communicated with your representatives about your wishes, I’d think you’re clear of any moral guilt for legal activities he might take. Unfortunately, there’s likely to be a point if your worst fears come true where that won’t have been enough.

Where to draw that point? I don’t know.

One thing that does bother me about your attempted parallel between National Socialists and US neocons is that the Nazis were using force from the start, even before they strong armed their way into office.

Funny stuff there, man!

Great OP ECOne thing that does bother me about your attempted parallel between National Socialists and US neocons is that the Nazis were using force from the start, even before they strong armed their way into office.

The neocons seem to be quietly closing doors at the moment, which will eventually lead us to the same place had they used force. I honestly don’t feel that the Republicans in general have some nefarious agenda, but I feel the neocons, repubs, dems, the media, and society will push and pull us to that post apocalyptic future via a “ouija board” type of effect.

I wonder if that even made sense.

Great OP EC

The neocons seem to be quietly closing doors at the moment, which will eventually lead us to the same place had they used force. I honestly don’t feel that the Republicans in general have some nefarious agenda, but I feel the neocons, repubs, dems, the media, and society will push and pull us to that post apocalyptic future via a “ouija board” type of effect.

The bottom line is we’re losing rights a hell of a lot faster then we’re gaining them, it’s only a matter of time.

This is exactly how I feel, Great Post.
I imagine and relate to how the regular volk in Germany around 1940, who behind closed doors opposed Hitler, must have watched in silent horror as their country was irretrievably led down a path to the condemnation of their nationality. The stigma of Hitler is still with the German people, when average citizens of the world think of Germany, even now 60 years later, inevitably this conjures up visions of the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust, swastikas, and a small, ugly man with a moustache.
Will Bush be our small, ugly man with a cowboy hat? 20 Years from now, will we have the same collective guilt as the German people because of the path we’ve been led upon by a megalomaniac? I try to assuage my conscience of culpability in this, because of my opposition. But I’m sure there’s an 80 year old man somewhere in Germany with regrets that he didn’t do enough or anything to stop what he saw happening…swept away in the tide of history…I hope I am not that 80 year old man someday.

I’ve wondered this myself. You always hear stories of people that had a chance to get out Nazi Germany but didn’t because they felt that there had to be some kind of limit to how bad things could get. I often wonder if I’m doing that myself. I think this election is the big deciding factor for me. If it happens, and it is reasonably believable, I will relax my paranoia a bit. If for whatever reason it does not happen, it is time to freak out.

Heck, I’m just waiting for the law requiring trousers manufacturers to add oils to the fabric to make the ride down the slippery slope less jarring.

Well, here are a few differences that should put your mind at ease, should you genuinely be worried about the concerns you raised, rather than using your op as an opportunity to make wholly unwarranted comparisons between '04 USA and '33-'45 Germany (Which I’m sure you weren’t, as that’d be quite insulting to those who suffered under the excesses of that time, and generally reprehensible)
Anyway - here goes:
'04 US: Prison scandal - outrage in the country, heads roll, changes are made, and clearly it wasn’t policy vs:
'33-45 Germany: Concentration Camps - apparent quiet assent in the country, enthousiastic cooperation from those involved, state organized policy of mass murder

'04 US: war against a brutal dictator who stated Adolf Hitler is one of his shining examples, who killed hundreds of thousands of people over whom he had power, who waged war of agression against Kuwait and who had and used WMD’s - and now doesn’t and can’t. With a clear goal of leaving this country asap, and no territorial objectives. vs:
'33-45 Germany: war by a brutal dictator who killed millions of people over whom he had power, against nations which were largely defenseless and trying hard to stay out of the conflict, targeting civilian population to force surrender, and a war waged clearly (and announced years earlier) for reasons of territorial expansion,
with no intention whatsoever of leaving.

then there’s:
'33-45 Germany: No elections. No significant dissent voiced vs:
'04 US: Hotly contested election. Protests, dissent, discussion. Up to and including drawing patently ridiculous and reprehensible comparisons between GWB and AH

Just for starters.

I know you were mainly looking for responses from outside the US, and I’m inside the US, however not an American citizen.

As a Canadian my view closely matches World Eater’s. I’m not exactly worried that you Americans will over run us like Poland in 1939 (which you would if you wanted to!) but at the same time your government policies do more to destablize the world than not. The actions of your government, if had been done by a smaller, poorer country, would be enough to get the attention of the US.

I’m damn sure if another country randomly picked up American citizens to torture them in the hundreds, that would get American attention.

It only took 3000 innocent American lives to cause two wars that killed ten times that.

Destabilizing an evil place is not a bad thing. Stabilty should not be a goal in and of itself.

Probably. but if they were say, randomly roaming the streets of Beijing and killing Chinese journalists and police, I’d be happy to let them slowly twist in the wind.

So you’re arguing we have to judge the wars on a utilitarian basis? I can easily defend that…

I’m just amazed at the claim that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have killed 300,000.

Okay, so I was off by a factor of 10. But I’d still like to see a reliable, unbiased cite that gives a death toll of about 30,000.

Its ludicrous to compare President Bush to Hitler, or the Republican party to the Nazis.

I think it’s important to distinguish that we aren’t comparing USA '04 to when Nazi Germany was in full tilt, not at all. What we’re saying here is are we heading down a similar path?

Personally I think we’re headed in a really bad direction.

…In your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, “It’s not so bad” or “You’re seeing things” or “You’re an alarmist.”

And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end?

If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked - if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in “43” had come immediately after the “German Firm” stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in “33”.

But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

My reply is an excerpt from They Thought They Were Free, But Then It Was Too Late, the remembrances of German citizens after the war. Here’s more:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

Once the war began, the government could do anything “necessary” to win it; so it was with the “final solution” of the Jewish problem, which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its “necessities” gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany’s losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it.

My view from my corner of the UK FWIW

I think you’re a long way off needing comparisons with pre-war Germany. The US has had crap governments and threats to its liberties before - it survived Nixon and Carter, it’ll survive four more years of Ape-Boy.
Diminished? Yes, less “American”? Certainly, - but like Nazi Germany? – not close.