[...] Those who are ignorant of history make bad, indeed dangerous leaders. And it’s increasingly apparent that Bush is a man without history; or worse still, a man with a malicious understanding of history.
Bush’s speechwriters clearly understand the emotive power of history. In this address, they use it, as Pericles used his funeral oration, to draw political strength from soldiers who fell in battle and who cannot speak for themselves. But deep in this speech, indeed at its very point of catharsis, lies another historical element which should not go unrecognized: it is the stabbed-in-the-back rhetoric of Weimar politics. If you don’t unquestioningly follow my commands, says Bush, you will be betraying our soldiers in the field. Their death will be on your hands. The audacity and hypocrisy of these words is thundering.
Very few commentators today have recognized the moral bankruptcy of Bush’s speech. One did, and he recognized in its core the manipulation of the time-worn theme that was used to murder democracy in Weimar Germany. Interestingly, it’s not a liberal, but a conservative who makes the point: Andrew Sullivan. From his analysis today at The Atlantic (go read it - G):
To place all the troops into the position of favoring one strategy ahead of us rather than another, and to accuse political opponents of trying to “pull the rug out from under them,” is a, yes, fascistic tactic designed to corral political debate into only one possible patriotic course. It’s beneath a president to adopt this role, beneath him to coopt the armed services for partisan purposes. It should be possible for a president to make an impassioned case for continuing his own policy in Iraq, without accusing his critics of wanting to attack and betray the troops. But that would require class and confidence. The president has neither.
Last year, Donald Rumsfeld appeared about this same time before two veterans organizations and gave speeches talking about “appeasement,” “Munich,” and “1938.” The malicious and historically uninformed nature of his remarks could not, I thought, be topped. I was wrong. The resort to the “stabbed in the back” argument reflects the worst sort of political bottom fishing. It is the sort of thing a democratic leader should never do. We should all keep in mind the peculiar provenance of the argument that Bush brandished yesterday and promises to make into a theme: it was used to demolish a democracy and to introduce a totalitarian dictatorship. Weimar fell because it was a democracy without enough democrats committed to its institutional survival. Too few of her citizens mustered the courage to stand for the basic values of a democratic state. And that is the lesson of Weimar Germany which we dare not forget.
We're not going to go the way of the Weimar Republic. Our situation is completely different. Unlike them, the U.S. installed its fascists first, before losing a war and economic meltdown. Fast-forwarding is the modern way.