Monday, August 11, 2008

Yes, partisan Democrat bloggers use the Dolchstoßlegende

I seem to be in a bit of a meta-mode right now, so please in advance forgive me. I came across a diary over at Daily Kos that seems to have been motivated out of frustration that not only did Cyndi Sheehan actually manage to get the signatures to get on the ballot to challenge pro-war Democrat Nancy Pelosi, but that there are still a few folks over at Daily Kos dare to endorse Sheehan. The title of Eternal Hope's diary was Cindy Sheehan, backstabber, and included the following passage amidst a semi-coherent rant:
Cindy Sheehan backstabbed us -- she used us to catapult herself into fame, and then she stabbed us in the back when she had no more use for us.
There's some revisionist history there to be sure - some revisionism that Eternal Hope has been repeating ad infinitum in recent days. The characterization of Sheehan as a "backstabber" seemed eerily reminiscent of what many of our nation's right-wingers have been doing when mentioning opponents of the Iraq War. Basically what Eternal Hope is doing is utilizing a rhetorical device once used by the Nazis to demonize their opponents during the waning days of the Weimar Republic and of course during Third Reich: that is the Dolchstoßlegende, which I initially described three or so years ago:
The Dolchstoßlegende or Dolchstosslegende, (German "dagger-thrust legend", often translated in English as "stab-in-the-back legend") refers to a social mythos and persecution-propaganda and belief among bitter post-World War I German nationalists, that lay blame for the loss of the war upon non-Germans and non-nationalists.

Many Germans who supported, fought in, or had otherwise known people lost in the enormously costly war, believed the causes for the German/Austrian involvement in the war were justified. They had hoped it would bring a restoration of past glory and a unified German nation-state. Instead, the war caused the deaths of 1,770,000 German soldiers and 760,000 German civilians, devastated the economy, and brought losses in both territory and national sovereignty.

Conservatives, nationalists and ex-military leaders sought others to blame. The common scapegoats were Weimar Republic politicians, socialists, communists, and "international Jewry" — a term referring to Jews with a perceived excess of wealth and influence. These "November criminals", nationalists alleged, had "stabbed them in the back" on the "home front," by either criticizing the cause of German nationalism, or by simply not being zealous-enough supporters of it. In essence the accusation was that the accused committed treason against the benevolent and righteous common cause.

[snip]

Nevertheless, this social mythos of domestic betrayal resonated among its audience, and its claims would codify the basis for public support for the emerging Nazi Party, under a severely racialist-based form of nationalism. The anti-Semitism latent in Germany society was intensified by the Bavarian Soviet Republic, a Communist government which ruled the city of Munich for two weeks before being crushed by the Freikorps militia. Most of the Bavarian Soviet Republic's leaders were Jewish, a fact exploited by anti-Semitic propagandists to tar all Jews with the brush of Communist treason.

[snip]

Due to the highly potent imagery of a "stab in the back", and the common perception amongst political conservatives that politically hostile homefronts defeat otherwise winnable wars, the stab in the back legend is a common legend in a number of modern societies. In particular, the stab in the back legend is often used by conservatives to explain the defeat of the United States in the Vietnam war. In the context of the US involvement in the Vietnam War the stab in the back legend is part of the Vietnam Syndrome complex.
Not only did the Nazis utilize the "stab in the back" legend to its advantage during its rise to power and of course in maintaining its grip on power, but our own right-wingers have been relying on the same basic approach since the Vietnam war ended. I'm sure if I had a nickel for every GOP politician who has used that strategy since the early 1970s, I could retire in style. The "stab in the back" legend has been most recently utilized by our own hardline nationalists in order to silence dissent regarding the Iraq debacle. These folks are bound and determined to spread the myth that shining a light on Bu$hCo's lies to get our military sucked into what is now Mess o'Potamia as well as shining a light on the debacle that the war has truly become is somehow a "stab in the back" to those unfortunate souls who got shipped over there. The true stab in the back to these men and women was committed by the very White House and Congress critters who had that jones comin' down for a war in the first place.
Oddly enough, it's usually the anti-war folks who get targeted by those who invoke the Dolchstoßlegende. It is also the case that former darlings of the Democratic Party have quickly found themselves on the outs once they began to oppose some current war in which the US government was invested. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, was well-regarded by the Democratic party establishment until he had the nerve to vocally oppose the Vietnam War and US imperialism more broadly. As I described around the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's famous anti-Vietnam War speech:

The speech, which was indeed a classic - and one from which Americans have yet to learn much of anything - was part of a transformation in his thinking that occurred during the last year of his life. From Ahmed Shawki's book Black Liberation and Socialism(pp. 200-204):

King began to see the connections much more clearly between racism at home and racism abroad, in particular between the economic inequities at home and the war budget. King also started to rethink his understanding of violence. He was keenly aware that the growing urban unrest in the North was an expression of the frustration and impatience that existed among Blacks - and a corresponding sympathy and openness to more radical solutions. After the Watts riots, King declared, "It was a class revolt of the under-privileged against the privileged." In 1967, he concluded, "after Selma and the voting rights bill we moved into an era which must be an era of revolution.... The whole structure of American life must be changed."

King now made clear that there was a great deal of difference between the violence of the U.S. state and the violence of those rioting in urban centers across the country, and he began to use a different vocabulary to describe his tactics, referring to "massive nonviolence," "aggressive nonviolence," and even "nonviolent sabotage."

Trying to overcome the collapse of the coalition he built to challenge Southern segregation, the apparent failure of the movement in the North, and the growing impatience among Black activists and Blacks more generally, King formulated a new strategy:
Nonviolence must be adapted to urban conditions and urban moods. Non-violent protest must now mature to a new level, to correspond to heightened Black impatience and stiffened white resistance. This high level is mass civil disobedience. There must be more than a statement to the larger society, there must be a force that interrupts its functioning at some key point.... To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be longer lasting, costly to the larger society, but not wantonly destructive. It is a device of social action that is more difficult for a government to quell by superior force.... It is militant and defiant, not destructive.
King's most powerful indictment of the war came on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was murdered. In a speech at New York City's Riverside Church, aptly titled "A Time to Break Silence: Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam," King declared:
Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
These kinds of views were not welcome by many of the liberals who had previously praised King in the struggle to end Jim Crow. As [Michael Eric] Dyson observes:
King's assault on America as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" elicited a predictably furious reaction from the White House. The news media was even harsher.... Richard Lentz notes that Time magazine had, early in King's opposition to the war, characterized him as a "drawling bumpkin, so ignorant that he had not read a newspaper in years, who had wandered out of his native haunts and away from his natural calling." Newsweek columnist Kenneth Crawford attacked King for his "demagoguery" and "reckless distortion of the facts." The Washington Post said that King's Riverside speech was a "grave injury" to the civil rights struggle and that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people." The New York Times editorialized that King's speech was a "fusing of two public problems that are distinct and separate" and that King had done a "disservice to both."
Once King began to attack a war that many "respectable" liberals had deemed necessary, he became public enemy number one among the establishment PC police of the day. Not too surprisingly, the White House, along with the elite media organs of the day began a smear campaign against their former ally.

If King were alive today and making similar speeches about the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I have little doubt that the "Support the Troops" crowd (not only on the right-wing of the nation's political spectrum, but also among the nominally "liberal" and "progressive" wings) would be attacking King as "uppity" and bordering on "treason" and no doubt being "irresponsible" to the civil rights cause.

If King were alive today, I also suspect that he too would be reflecting on how little we had learned in the last four decades.
In almost so many words, establishment pundits of the day were accusing Dr. King of stabbing his movement in the back, if not outright stabbing the troops in Vietnam in the back. Most recently, both McCain and Obama seem more than happy to use the Dolchstoßlegende for their sordid purposes; it appears too that we have a few authoritarian-minded folks over at Kos who likewise have no qualms about using the Dolchstoßlegende when an anti-war candidate has the nerve to oppose a pro-war Democrat. Keep in mind that those invoking that particular rhetorical device to diss Sheehan and her supporters are showing their authoritarian colors. I am saddened, but unsurprised to witness the use of right-wing rhetorical tactics at Daily Kos. In fact, I would say it was ultimately quite predictable as I hinted at back in August of 2005, when Sheehan was still held in high esteem among establishment Democrats:
Stan Goff had a very spirited column in Counterpunch that expresses some of the frustration I share with regard to the Democratic party and much of what passes for its leadership. Apparently, it has dawned on the party hacks, such as Tom Hayden, that there is a rekindled anti-war movement - and rightly so, given the circumstances in Iraq that were created by the White House with little more than a whimper from the Dems. Sheehan's Camp Casey has ignited something at the grass-roots level that got lost sometime in 2003, hence the need of the party elites to douse those flames before they spread uncontrollably. Some excerpts:
For the Democrats, of course, of whom exactly one elected offical (Maxine Waters) has deigned to visit "Camp Casey," this presented quite another problem -- the same problem that the whole movement against the war presented prior to the last electoral farce in 2004. The masses were moving to their left and threatening to expose this moribund Weimar formation as the waste of both money and oxygen that it has repeatedly demonstrated itself to be. But Joshua Frank did an excellent job recently on this site of describing the Democratic Party.

I want to talk about something more specific, and that is one of the tactics being employed by the partisans of this rotting political edifice to try and contain the newfound energy that exploded onto the scene at Crawford and threatens to fill the DC Mall with malcontents on September 24th.

And that is the "exit strategy" proposal drafted by Tom Hayden and being vigorously pimped by by policy-encrusted liberals all through cyberspace, the print media, and soon enough on television. This is the oral fomulaic appeal to "reasonableness and realism" of weak-kneed liberals every time a mass movement threatens to gain any momentum -- we have to present a "reasonable" alternative (always a POLICY alternative, of course), and we have to face the fact that we can't "move" "our" agenda without accepting a "realistic" (read: watered down) approach. You kiddies have acted up enough now; go on and play; leave the rest of this to Daddy and Mommy in Congress.

[snip]

The Democrats are already grooming a few 2008 candidates, including the execrable Hillary Rodham Clinton who has stated her desire to beef up the war against Southwest Asia. Let's not forget that her husband presided over an Iraqi holocaust that George W. Bush is still trying to match. The Republicans are secure for now with their white nationalist popular base. An active and increasingly militant left is a more immediate threat to the Democrats ­ who have prospered from Repubilican reaction for decades now by capturing social bases that feel they have nowhere else to go. That dilemma is real, but it is also predicated on the notion that to "go there" we need to contain ourselves in electoralism and pluralist policy fights that are engineered by corporations and NGOs.

That's why Sheehan and others who propose the radical option of simply leaving Iraq are now being surrounded by the friendly faces of "progressives" who will try and redirect this newfound mobilization along the acceptable policy-debate paths.

[snip]

Let me just say something about how to withdraw. This is my plan. Hey, if Tom Hayden is qualified to write up exit strategies, why not an old grunt like me, eh?
The Plan: The National Command Authority orders all US forces redeployed out of Iraq within one month and out of the theater in two months. Any commander that fails to meet the deadline will be summarily relieved, and replaced with a commander that will thereby be placed on a shorter timeline. I can promise anyone who has no experience of the military that this is perfectly feasible, and that with that kind of command emphasis, the mission can and will be accomplished.
Here, of course, is where we discern the liberal pre-occupation (pun intended) with "overseeing" disengagement and other such poppycock. Oh Gasp! they will delcare. What then will become of these simple-minded brown people who want nothing more than to drink each other's blood? At the end of the day, a liberal can be every bit as much the white nationalist as any rock-ribbed Republican Confederate. They really believe that the United States is the beacon of civilization because we have sitcoms and theme parks, and that the brutality of the US military occupation is an aberration -- the antithesis of our true nature. Under all this verbiage is plain, Anglo-American Kiplingesque white supremacy. Remember the "white man's burden to civilize the dark races?"

Tom, here is a delivery from the cluetrain. Iraqis were doing algebra and astronomy when some of our European ancestors still believed that a bath would leave you vulnerable to evil spirits -- number one clue. Having smart bombs doesn't make you smarter. It just makes you meaner. Get over your chauvinist self. Number two clue -- the primary catalyst for the intensifying violence in Iraq right now is...the US military presence. Tom, you say this yourself later on in your proposal, which only makes this protracted and abstracted "disengagement" thing all the more remarkable.

[snip]

So let me get this straight. The US authorities should be replaced... by a different US authority, renamed, of course, an "envoy." And the the envoy would be the countryman of... the occupying military. This bait-and-switch is... a "political settlement." Wow, I'm really getting the hang of this now. I'm beginning to feel like I might be able to CLEP out of Weasel Wording 101.

Tom reminds us that "[n]either the Bush administration nor the news media have shown interest in these voices [of the antiwar movement], perhaps because they undercut the argument that we are fighting to save Iraqis from each other."

Huh? You yourself are proposing a plan with this assumption at its very core.
But even more astonishing is the attempt to lay the blame for this war at the doorstep of Republicans (and of course the news media). There is an entire party allegedly in opposition to the Republicans -- your party, Tom -- that hasn't shown any interest in the voices raised against the war, until of course two things happened: (1)The polls shifted against the war, and (2)large numbers of non-Republican people became disenchanted with the utter and gutless capitualationism of the Democratic Party and started listening to actual leftists.

Some of us were saying all the way back when that Arkansas horseshit-huckster was in the Oval Office that Iraqis were being killed off by the hundreds of thousands in a war (and its sanctions) that started -- by the way -- in 1990 and has not ceased for one moment since. That war went on all the way through both terms of that sexually exploitative (It DOES matter!) prevaricator, who bombed Yugoslavian bridges and aspirin factories with the same enthusiasm that Bush the Younger has displayed in bombing Afghani weddings and Iraqi hospitals. Where were the Democrats listening to "these voices" then?

Here's another voice the DP can listen to. "You're over." More and more of us are learning that we can never let you take us for granted again. And we can fight Republicans on our own terms... by any means necessary.
Pretty angry stuff that hits on something critical. Where were the Democrats in 2002 when Bu$hCo had the jones real bad for an Iraq invasion? With very few exceptions, nowhere to be found. For that matter, where were the Democrats when Bu$hCo was hellbent on ramming that piece of crap neofascist legislation called the "Patriot Act" through Congress? Or try this one out: where were the Democrats when something fishy was happening with the vote count in Florida in 2000? Or how about the equally fishy vote count in Ohio last year? How about that bankruptcy bill that a bunch of Dems gladly went along with the Rethugs in passing? Get the picture?

If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. And that, as I see it is the real problem with the Dems. The "base" that the party takes for granted has no clue as to what the Dem party actually stands for. Folks periodically ask me what the Dems believe, and I have to say in all honesty that God only knows, and I'm sure even He is a bit puzzled. What we do know is that the Dem party leadership falls hook, line, and sinker for whatever b.s. the White House demands for fear of being labeled "obstructionist," "unpatriotic," and possibly "losing next year's election." That isn't exactly an inspiring approach to representative governing.
Cindy Sheehan has done something that the Dems have largely failed to do with regard to Iraq: she asked the question "why are we there?" If the Dems want to capitalize on the increasing dissatisfaction with the war, they would be well advised to ride the wave of dissent rather than try to contain it. Adding more troops (impractical) and looking for ways to exit with "dignity" (a term that in this context smells of American machismo) aren't going to cut it. Besides, to take an a line or two from an old David Bowie tune, "dignity is valuable, but our lives are valuable too." Tell it straight up: it was the wrong war, at the wrong time, fought for the wrong reasons; and it's high time to get the hell out and stop making even more of a mess of things in the region. There are no good reasons for Americans or Iraqis to keep dying. The party might generate some cross words from the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of the world as a result, but that would have happened any way. In the process, the Dems might even gain a bit of the respect and trust that they've lost over the last couple decades. Otherwise, folks like me (just one of the "base") will keep on eying the third party scene for a better deal.
As I said, the handwriting was on the wall even then. Once it became obvious that Sheehan would not be contained, those friendly faces among the Democratic politicians and punditocracy became decidedly unfriendly as the memories of Sheehan's August, 2005 protest at Camp Casey faded. Just how ugly needs to be exposed once more, as the comments to her last diaries speak for themselves.

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