In November 2005, Fritz Stern received an award for his life's work on Germans, Jews and the roots of National Socialism, presented to him by Joschka Fischer, then the German foreign minister. With a frankness that startled some in the audience, Stern, an emeritus professor of European history at Columbia University, peppered his acceptance speech with the similarities he saw between the path taken by Germany in the years leading up to Hitler and the path being taken by the United States today. He talked about a group of 1920's intellectuals known as the "conservative revolutionaries," who "denounced liberalism as the greatest, most invidious threat, and attacked it for its tolerance, rationality and cosmopolitan culture," and about how Hitler had used religion to appeal to the German public. In Hitler's first radio address after becoming chancellor, Stern noted, he declared that the Nazis regarded "Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life."About the frequent Nazi comparisons:
Stern was of course not suggesting an equivalence between President Bush and Hitler but rather making a more subtle critique, extending his idea that contemporary American politics exhibited "something like the strident militancy and political ineptitude of the Kaiser's pre-1914 imperial Germany." At 80, Stern has just published a sprawling memoir, "Five Germanys I Have Known," (Amazon.com, Amazon.de) and as with that speech, he does not file away his experiences of Nazism in a geographical or temporal box.
Outraged by the facile interpretations of Nazism floating around in the 1950's — "all the tomes and slogans about Germany’s inevitable path 'from Luther to Hitler'" — he charts his own, more subtle interpretation of what caused the Third Reich. Over the years Stern protests the ways radicals abuse the memory of Nazism to support their present-day political agendas, whether the 1960's students who called authority figures fascists and Nazis, or those today who compare foreign leaders they dislike to Hitler and cry "Munich" at every diplomatic gesture.Hitler comparisions are still very popular:
Yet the value of Stern's work is precisely that it has refused to keep Nazism safely on the other side of a historical and geographic chasm. His first book, "The Politics of Cultural Despair" (1961), is one of the durable masterpieces of 20th-century history because it seems to locate the roots of a peculiarly modern malaise. As he explained in a later edition of the work, "I attempted to show the importance of this new type of cultural malcontent, and to show how he facilitated the intrusion into politics of essentially unpolitical grievances."
• Secretary Rumsfeld has German roots, used to visit his relatives in Germany in the 80s, and should know German history.
Still he compared Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez with Adolf Hitler in a speech at the National Press Club:
He's a person who was elected legally, just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally and then consolidated power, and now is of course working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.
Has Chavez massmurdered any minorities or invaded another country in his eight years in office? Besides, while Chavez was elected president by more than 50% of the popular vote in 1998, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor by President Hindenburg in 1933. Hitler's party had been the strongest party in the Reichstag, but did not receive more than 35% of the popular vote. Still it was a failure of the Weimar democracy.
Hugo Chavez was able to consolidate his power due to the high oil price and the US addiction to oil. Venezuela received $ 16 billion (pdf) in oil revenues from the United States in 2004. According to the BBC, he responded by comparing President Bush with Hitler:
The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the U.S. president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush.
Chavez called President Bush "the devil" at the UN General Assemply in September 2006. Is that better or worse than his previous Hitler comparison?
• Stupid comparisions with Germany's most famous politician are still very popular. History News Network's "Hitler Watch" tracks the use of Hitler by politicians, journalists and polemicists and includes the flagrant exploitation of the Holocaust. Their latest item links an Inside Higher Ed piece (October 12, 2006) about Kevin Barrett, a controversial adjunct at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who wrote in an essay "like Bush and the neocons, Hitler and the Nazis inaugurated their new era by destroying an architectural monument and blaming its destruction on their designated enemies."• Another controversial comparison: According to DW World, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, said on October 24, 2006: "Anti-Semitic and far-right attacks have become so blatant and aggressive that it brings to mind the years after 1933" when Adolf Hitler come to power.
Endnote: Fritz Stern was awarded a prestigous national award by Germany's Federal President Koehler (Speech in German) on September 28, 2006. His memoir at "Five Germanys I Have Known" at Amazon.com and Amazon.de:
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