Archive for June, 2009

June 3, 2009

10 reasons why Obama isn’t Hitler

Obama as Hitler

Obama as Hitler

TRY GOOGLING “+obama+hitler” and you’ll come up with eight and a half million references. Switch on talk radio and you’re liable to hear twice as many before cocktail time. New York Times columnist David Brooks recently succumbed to the temptation, insinuating certain parallels between the American president and the German dictator.

But it isn’t just Obama who gets compared this way. Playing the Hitler card is quickly becoming America’s pastime. It certainly requires a lot less skill than baseball. Whether it is Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Rush Limbaugh, Kim Jung Il or Vladimir Putin – they have all seen their card pulled from the deck the moment they got in someone’s way. And as everyone knows, there’s “only one way” to deal with Hitler. But this is not just a diversion. FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly famously compared abortionist Dr. George Tiller to Hitler and the Nazis, and we have seen the result.

George Orwell had this game figured out as early as 1946, and probably much earlier than that: “The word Fascism has now no meaning,” he wrote, “except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” Back in 1953 neocon philosopher Leo Strauss identified the “reductio ad Hitlerum,” by which any person or argument could be demolished by even the most tenuous association with Hitler. (Example: Hitler liked German shepherd dogs. Joe Blow likes German shepherd dogs. Ergo, Joe Blow is like Hitler. Joe Blow is Hitler.) Today anyone who has ever ventured onto an Internet forum knows all about “Godwin’s Law,” which states that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Rants about “econazis” and “feminazis” clog the blogosphere like hair in a sink. While the United States does not have a monopoly on this sort of rhetoric, it’s hard to imagine a country where the H name is thrown around with less basic curiosity about the man and his career. I think it’s time we put the bite back into this name. So who was Hitler really and how useful is he as a political touchstone? In the following I have compiled a list of ten key character traits of the historical Hitler that can be used as points of comparisons with other public figures. So step right up and take the challenge: Can your favorite politician or pundit pass the Hitler test? … (Continued)

June 1, 2009

Who is buried in Rosa Luxemburg’s tomb?

Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg

“THE PAST IS NEVER DEAD,” William Faulkner once wrote. “It’s not even past.” How true. Germans were just getting used to the bizarre news that the policeman who killed student activist Benno Ohnesorg in 1967 was not an unreconstructed Nazi but rather a Stasi agent when they were rocked by a new blast from their undead past: Rosa Luxemburg, the celebrated co-founder of the German communist party who was murdered by German Freikorps soldiers in 1919, may not have spent the past ninety years lying honorably in her tomb at the “Memorial of the Socialists” in East Berlin after all, but instead… a few miles away in a glass display case in the pathology department of Charité hospital.

Patron saint

As a political icon, Rosa Luxemburg is located somewhere on a line running from Che Guevara to Joan of Arc. Nine decades after her death, this unlikely visionary is still the patron saint of the German left. Today she is the one communist everybody loves to love. But it was not always so.

Rozalia Luksenburg was born in 1871 in the town of Zamosc near Lublin in the Russian section of partitioned Poland. Her cultural identity was typically muddled for that corner of the world – she was Jewish, Polish, Russian and, most notably, German, all tied up in one diminutive package. Like so many other spiritually displaced persons, she became active in left-wing politics and co-founded the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland in 1893. Five years later she married a German and moved to Berlin as a German citizen, where she joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD), pushing it in an increasingly revolutionary, antiwar direction. Despite her gender, her accent, her small stature and a painful limp dating back to childhood, she quickly became one of the party’s most sought after speakers.

Luxemburg’s theoretical writings focused on political economy and her own concept of imperialism. Her own principal contribution to Marxism was the notion of “spontaneity,” i.e. the need for grassroots organization of the workers’ movement rather than centralized leadership by a party elite. At the outbreak of the First World War, Luxemburg joined with other radical members of the SPD in calling for an international general strike and an immediate end to hostilities. This “International Group” developed into the revolutionary “Spartacus Group,” later renamed the “Spartacus League,” which formed the core of the future communist party. She was duly arrested and sent to prison for several months in 1915 and then placed in “preventive detention” in 1916, where she remained for the duration of the war.

Luxemburg got out of prison just in time for the revolution of November, 1918 and immediately joined forces with her colleague Karl Liebknecht in the workers’ and soldiers’ council movement. Her health was poor and the global transformation she had been dreaming of for so many years was now flying to pieces before her eyes. Luxemburg criticized Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and feared the predominance of this authoritarian Russian clique over the grassroots revolutions that were breaking out across Europe. She believed that the movement should gain popular legitimacy by taking part in Germany’s first democratic parliamentary elections scheduled for January, but her party (now officially the Communist Party of Germany or KPD) rejected this idea in favor of a nation-wide uprising to topple the provisional government and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. Luxemburg let herself be persuaded and pledged the unpopular and utterly hopeless “Spartacus Uprising” her full support…