Thursday, October 16, 2008

Willful Ignorance: The Continuing Story

As I've mentioned from time to time, there are plenty of folks who seem to proudly wallow in their own ignorance. Examples abound:

That video is courtesy of Lenin's Tomb. The same blogger also posts an image and a statement:

Other billboards include one describing Obama as the 'next Benedict Arnold' (ie, in bed with foreign invaders), and another reportedly offering a sum of money to whoever kills him. Other billboards just remind voters of 9/11 and let them draw their own conclusions. This may be a sign that the reactionaries are getting desperate as the economic meltdown pushes Obama to the top of the polls. But it is also a sign that they're preparing their comeback tune: something along the lines of 'liberal betrayal', and 'stabbed in the back'. The first sign that the GOP are regaining strength in either legislative chamber will probably produce calls for impeachment.
At a Sacramento county GOP website, the following was posted for a while:
Yup - the toxicity is so thick you could cut it with a knife. At this time, I think a reminder of the Dolchstoßlegende, or "knife in the back legend" (also sometimes referred to as "stabbed in the back") since it is a rhetorical device typically favored by right-wingers. To wit:
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.


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.


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.
As mentioned before, we've been seeing this particular rhetorical device used with greater frequency as the "War on Terra" has proven to be costly in terms of both life and treasure. We will see this tactic used more over the coming years:
The tactic--Dolchstoßlegende, which means, literally, "dagger stab legend"--is associated with attacks by German anti-Semites on Jews in the aftermath of World War I and is a familiar response for frustrated American right-wingers when reality fails to live up to their ideological fantasies. Following the inevitable collapse of nationalist China, unhinged accusations of a liberal conspiracy inside the US government that purposely "lost" China to the Commies ruled the foreign policy debate. Consider these words from GOP Senator William Jenner of Indiana: "This country today is in the hands of a secret inner coterie which is directed by agents of the Soviet Union.... [A] secret invisible government...[has] led our country down the road to destruction." The China lobby--the AIPAC of its day--tirelessly policed American politics to insure that no one with national aspiration dared recognize the reality of the Communist Chinese victory.

During Vietnam, Ronald Reagan tried to blame protesters for killing troops, charging, "Some American will die tonight because of the activity in our streets." The right created the myth of antiwar protesters spitting on soldiers, although a detailed study by Jerry Lembcke, in his The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, found not a single verifiable incident of such behavior. And while it is a given among conservatives--and even reporters--that critical media coverage somehow hampered the war effort, Daniel Hallin's The Uncensored War notes that most reports, particularly on television, rarely deviated from patriotic, pro-American assumptions. Indeed, the Army's official history of the media's role in the conflict, published by the Army Center of Military History, explicitly rejects this line. None of this prevented Norman Podhoretz from reviving the charge in 1982 with a thinly researched book-length essay called Why We Were in Vietnam. Fortunately, the country was not in the mood; the vast majority of Americans surveyed over the past thirty years have said US involvement was a mistake from the start. (Nowhere in his book did Podhoretz admit that one of those leftists calling explicitly for a US defeat was the then-editor of Commentary--a fellow by the name of "Norman Podhoretz." He argued in 1971 that a Vietcong victory was preferable to "the indefinite and unlimited bombardment by American pilots in American planes of every country in that already devastated region.")

The coming campaign's foundations are already in place. They rest on three building blocks: an attack on the loyalty of those willing to recognize reality; the construction of an alternative reality in which victory is deemed to be imminent; and, finally, a shifting of blame for a supposedly premature withdrawal to those who refuse to play along.

Matthew Yglesias, in the Center for American Progress's "Think Again" column, noticed preparations for such a campaign as early as May 2004. Roll Call's Morton Kondracke pretended that "the media and politicians" were "in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq," while Tony Blankley of the Washington Times added, "the president's political and media opposition want the president's defeat more than America's victory." Two years later, when most Americans had turned against the war, Spencer Ackerman, writing in The New Republic, noticed that not a single contributor to a National Review symposium advocated withdrawal. Typical were comments like those of former Bush Pentagon analyst Michael Rubin, who announced, "The US is losing in Iraq because American politicians and the general public have not decided they want or need to win."

George W. Bush has both feet firmly planted in the "stab" camp, and offered it aid and comfort when he tried to link the "unmistakable legacy of Vietnam"--"boat people," "re-education camps" and "killing fields"--to calls for withdrawal from Iraq. Podhoretz's recent entry into the sweepstakes is, appropriately, a retread of his 1982 attack on his ex-friends and former self. In his clinically delusional book World War IV, Podhoretz paints Bush as a "great president" and professes to see in Iraq "enormous strides that had been made in democratizing and unifying the country under a workable federal system." No less implausibly, he compares war opponents, like former National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, to a "domestic insurgency" with a "life-and-death stake" in America's defeat. Podhoretz flatters himself and his fellow armchair generals with his claim that his screeds in Commentary and the Wall Street Journal editorial pages represent a "war of less bloody than the one being fought by our troops in the Middle East."

Podhoretz's paranoid ravings notwithstanding, it is likely that he has been less effective in laying the groundwork for the post-Iraq stab campaign than second-generation neocon generalissimo William Kristol, who despite mountains of contrary evidence professes to detect an "astoundingly" successful surge and a military situation that is "better than anyone expected." Kristol's Weekly Standard recently ran a cover drawing of an American soldier viewed from behind within the sights of an unseen weapon, beneath the headline Does Washington Have His Back? Another Standard headline reads: They Don't Really Support the Troops.

Such visual, visceral propaganda attacks would have fit in perfectly with those employed against Jews by right-wing anti-Semites in the days before Hitler. One might have imagined that American neocons would have pulled back before crossing that line.

The campaign is coming; forewarned is forearmed.

Never mind that Obama and his particular set of allies are hardly progressive or leftist (except perhaps from the particularly deluded perspective that passes for conventional "wisdom" in the US), and are bound to spill plenty of blood in the name of maintaining US hegemony abroad, while continuing to enforce a slightly softened neoliberal economic policy at home. Among our most rabid nationalists, even that is simply unacceptable. Hence, expect to see the immediate tone surrounding the campaign to get uglier over the next few weeks, and for the political climate to remain ugly over the next several years as we continue to deal with the a tanking economy - and the desperation to find scapegoats.

Be vigilant.

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