Burning democracy

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Imagine the Capital building in Washington on fire. Or Westminster in London. Or Parliament House in Ottowa or Canberra. Imagine the enormity of it. Germans waking up on 28 February 1933 didn’t have to imagine it.

The Reichstag was on fire. That was the message the Berlin Fire Department received at 9pm on Monday, 27 February. The attack on the legislature was a powerful symbolic statement, an act of terror.

The Nazis had the most to gain from the atrocity and are thought to have been the instigators and executors; see herehere and here. There are good reasons to believe it.

Scare the electorate and it will unite, has been a strategy politicians have long used. Reichstag President and senior Nazi, Hermann Göring said in 1946: ”Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” The Nazis portrayed the fire as a Communist attack. Hitler had been the Chancellor for 28 days. There was to be an election on Sunday, 5 March at which the Nazi vote increased from 37 percent at the last election on 31 July to 44 percent.

It is likely the fire and its aftermath won votes for the Nazis. But they might not have lit the fire. That’s the opinion of The Holocaust Memorial Museum, the eminent historian Richard J Evans and others.

The fire started in the legislature’s debating chamber that took 90 minutes to extinguish. The building was destroyed. It took less than 24 hours for another blow to be struck that ultimately destroyed democracy.

That people with Communist links started the fire is indisputable. That the Nazi party maximised the opportunity to tighten its grip on power is also indisputable. But whether or not the Nazis were behind the origins of the fire is disputable.

The Reichstag Fire was instrumental in creating a dictatorship in Germany. The declaration by President Hindenburg of the Protection of the People and State (“Reichstag Fire Decree”) the day after the fire was the first of three incontrovertible actions that ensconced Hitler in power. The other two were the Enabling Act (Law to Remove the Distress of the People and the State) of 23 March 1933 and the Night of the Long Knives from 30 June to 2 July 1934.

The Nazis used the fire to justify the removal of more civil liberties that began in Hitler’s first week as Chancellor. A Decree for the Protection of the German People was enacted on 4 February, 1933. It put restrictions on the media and empowered police to ban political meetings and marches. It hindered campaigning for the 5 March election. The 28 February decree imposed more restrictions.

Hitler was having dinner with Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels when the telephone call came with the news the Reichstag was on fire. Goebbels didn’t believe it and didn’t tell Hitler. It wasn’t until the caller rang again that he was persuaded. The pair sped to the scene. There they found Göring who, as Minister of the Interior for Prussia, was responsible for police and emergency services. There was a rumour an underground passage linked his Berlin house to the Reichstag.

The Nazi leaders were in “state of panic” at the fire scene which is not consistent with knowing about the fire before it started. The next day, the Preussische Pressedienst (Prussian Press Service) reported that “this act of incendiarism is the most monstrous act of terrorism carried out by Bolshevism in Germany”. The Vossische Zeitung newspaper warned its readers “the government is of the opinion that the situation is such that a danger to the state and nation existed and still exists”.

They would’ve primed the populace for the decree announced the day after the fire by President Hindenburg. The Protection of the People and State (“Reichstag Fire Decree”) 1933:

  • Abolished freedom of speech
  • Freedom of assembly and association
  • Freedom of the press
  • Suspended the autonomy of federated states, such as Baden and Bavaria
  • Legalised phone-tapping, the interception of correspondence and other intrusions.

Given the haste with which the decree was prepared and implemented, it was likely it was ready and waiting for an excuse to use it.

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An unemployed Dutch bricklayer and Communist sympathiser, 24-year-old Marinus van der Lubbe, above, was arrested at the scene. He had firelighters and other incriminating evidence in his possession.

Four Communists were charged along with van der Lubbe: Central Europe Section of the Communist International head Georgi Dimitrov, chair of the German Communist Party in the Reichstag, Ernst Torgler and two Bulgarian colleagues. Van der Lubbe admitted starting the fire. It is worth keeping in mind the unemployment rate at the time was about 30 percent. In March, 1933 van der Lubbe said: ”In my opinion something absolutely had to be done in protest against this system. Since the workers would do nothing, I had to do something myself. I considered arson a suitable method. I did not wish to harm private people but something belonging to the system itself. I decided on the Reichstag. As to the question of whether I acted alone, I declare emphatically that this was the case.” His first attempt to light a fire didn’t work. He took his shirt off, lit it and went to five rooms.

The trial judges were led by a former minister-president of Saxony, a conservative, but not a Nazi, Wilhelm Bünger. The trial began at 8:45am on 21 September 1933. Van der Lubbe gave evidence first. He had injured one of his eyes and so had sight in only one which gave credence to the claim he did not act alone.  Van der Lubbe had been a member of the Dutch Communist party but left in 1931. He still considered himself a Communist.

Dimitrov used his court appearance to propagate his views. He declined a court-appointed lawyer and defended himself.  When the lead judge, Wilhelm Bünger, told Dimitrov to behave himself, the accused replied: “Herr President, if you were a man as innocent as myself and you had passed seven months in prison, five of them in chains night and day, you would understand it if one perhaps becomes a little strained.” Dimitrov’s defence was so effective he reduced Göring to rage. Part of the trial transcript is here and worth reading. The trial was just as much a propaganda battle as one for justice.

Bünger found the “Communists had planned the fire, but dismissed the charges against Torgler and the three Bulgarians on the grounds of insufficient evidence“.

Van der Lubbe was found guilty. He was executed on 10 January 1934.

But doubt about his guilt has persisted. He was posthumously pardoned in 2008 after numerous legal battles.

Debate about who started the fire has persisted. Richard J Evans’s has raised these questions and observations about the fire:

  1. Why were the Nazi leaders in a state of panic at the scene of the fire?
  2. Why was there no mention of the planned fire in Goebbels diaries? He had mentioned greater crimes such as the extermination of European Jews.
  3. If Van der Lubbe was acting for the Nazis, why wasn’t he a paid-up member of the Communist party?
  4. Van der Lubbe had tried to set alight other public buildings.
  5. Van der Lubbe was interrogated for hours but didn’t deviate from his story that he acted alone. He never accused the Nazis of starting the fire.
  6. The Nazis could’ve easily found another excuse to further clamp down on civil liberties.

The fire’s origins are an intriguing story. The consequential further curtailment of Germans’ civil liberties included a new court. Hitler was so outraged at the result of the Reichstag Fire trial he established the People’s Court that would give the judgements he wanted. The court opened on 1 July 1934. It had jurisdiction over a wide range of offences including black racketeering, work slowdowns, defeatism, and treason. The death penalty was the usual punishment for these crimes. There was no presumption of innocence, defendants could not represent themselves or by a lawyer. Defence lawyers were in court but rarely spoke. There were prosecutors but most of the questions were asked by the judge.

Out of the ruin of the Reichstag came the building of a despotic, despicable dictatorship.

Under radar

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Another step towards World War II was made when Nazi leader Adolf Hitler secretly authorised the founding of the German airforce, the Luftwaffe on 26 February 1935. The airforce contravened the Versailles Treaty that forbade a German military airforce. World War I air ace and long-term Hitler crony Hermann Göring was appointed Luftwaffe commander in chief.

Hitler had made Göring Minister for Aviation on 27 April 1933 and it’s likely planning for the rebuilding of the German airforce began then. Lufthansa, the German civilian airline, founded in 1926, trained the men who became Luftwaffe pilots.

One of the new planes, the Me-109, was tested in combat in 1937 in the Spanish civil war. The Luftwaffe had 1000 bombers and 1050 pilots by the time Germany started World War II on 1 September 1939. The Luftwaffe was instrumental in the Nazi’s lightening attack of extreme speed by troops in vehicles, such as tanks, supported by planes.

Democracy threatened

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The President of the United States’ latest threat to democracy: journalists should have to name sources. Not long before he made the comment in a speech, his staff briefed journalists on the condition of anonymity to discredit a New York Times story about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials. Let’s put aside the hypocrisy of this and concentrate on the potential pernicious consequences.

President Richard Nixon, who had broken the law, would’ve stayed in office if journalists couldn’t protect their sources. Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and their unnamed source, Deep Throat, revealed the Watergate scandal in 1972. In 2005 retired FBI agent Mark Felt said he was Deep Throat.

I’ve worked on both sides of the mass media fence as a journalist and as a media advisor. I’ve been on the receiving end of inaccurate reporting. The media is not some holier-than-thou institution that’s beyond reproach. The media sometimes gets information wrong. It destroys reputations. It’s a thorn in the side of governments. Which is why the media is the first thing to be restricted whenever there’s a coup.

The media’s watchdog role is vital for our democracy. As President Kennedy said in December 1962, it’s one of the ways governments are held to account. Unnamed sources are essential for the revelation of information that otherwise would be kept hidden. The consequences are disastrous when that doesn’t happen. Without it, the media is a mouthpiece for the government as we saw in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

It doesn’t take long for a country to change for the worse. The Nazis were not taken seriously until the 1930 election for the federal legislature. Less than three years later Hitler was Chancellor. Five days after taking office, a Decree for the Protection of the German People was enacted on 4 February, 1933. Restricting media freedom was one of its provisions. The Nazis thought the media was the enemy too.

Trump’s media attacks are insidious, dangerous and must be resisted.

Strike a page-turning chord

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I devour books about the inter-war period. There’s a plethora of non-fiction and fiction. I post my thoughts from time to time about my reading journey. Here’s my review of The Black Orchestra by JJ Toner.

When committed Nazi and Abwehr signalman Kurt Muller discovers the body of a colleague his life changes forever. Police investigate and conclude the cause was suicide. Kurt isn’t convinced. He starts an investigation of his own that leads him to a horrible truth. He had to choose between his conscience and duty to his country.

Complicating his life is G who has a secret of her own. The love complication is ratcheted up a few notches when Liesel from the Propaganda Ministry comes to write a profile about an Abwehr spy.

As this fast-paced, easy-to-read story unfolds, Kurt is drawn deeper into a mire of danger and intrigue. I was constantly asking: how is he going to get out of this?

Kurt is a likable, a little naïve and well-rounded character. The portrayal of time and place takes the reader there. The level of detail provides an educative and entertaining experience.

Second World War fiction fans will enjoy this page-turner.

 

 

No return

Democracy did not end when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. Its demise began with the legislative election of September 1930 and was hurried along by Hitler’s three predecessors. 

Germany had three chancellors in 1932: academic economist Heinrich Brüning, an aristocratic dilettante, Franz von Papen, and the ambitious scheming soldier, General Kurt von Schleicher.

One person or event cannot be blamed for Hitler’s appointment but Papen, Hitler’s Vice Chancellor, did more than most to pave the way for the disastrous dictatorship.

“Superficial, blundering, untrue, ambitious, vain, crafty and an intriguer,” was how the French ambassador in Berlin, M. François-Poncet described Papen at the time of his appointment as Vice Chancellor. Schleicher said: “He doesn’t need a head. His job is to be a hat”. 

 

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Chancellor Hitler and “The Hat”

 

The main contributing factors that led to Hitler’s appointment were catastrophic economic and social conditions that created political chaos exacerbated by politicians’ lack of support for the Weimar Republic Constitution.

Adolf Hitler was the leader of a minority extremist party not taken seriously by most Germans until the onset of the Great Depression. The Nazis won just 2.6 percent of the vote at the 20 May 1928 elections. The Wall Street crash began on 24 October 1929 as a ripple and ended in a tsunami – especially in Germany.

At the end of 1929, 1.5 million Germans were unemployed. At the end of 1932 that had quadrupled to six million – 25 percent of the workforce. American banks started calling in the loans that had been propping up the economy since 1924. The US was the biggest buyer of German industrial exports. In 1930 the US imposed tariffs to protect its companies. German industrialists no longer had access to US markets and found credit almost impossible to obtain. Runs on German banks in 1931 resulted in several closures.

The dire economic situation was reflected by social chaos, much of it provoked by Nazi paramilitary storm troopers. The brown-shirted thugs would march into Communist neighbourhoods and insight violence that often escalated into riots. One-hundred-and-fifty people were killed in political violence in Prussia in 1932. In the Reichstag election campaign in June and July there were 461 riots, 82 people were killed and 400 injured.

The Depression’s effects were exacerbated by Brüning’s policies that the Social Democrats (SPD)  supported to keep the Nazis out of power. Brüning cut government spending, including civil servants’ wages, increased taxes and cut the government deficit which was 38 per cent lower in 1932 than in 1928. He cut prices and real incomes fell. The impact of all this was unprecedented unemployment that earned Brüning the nickname of ‘Hunger Chancellor’. He has been blamed for Hitler’s eventual appointment as Chancellor. But that doesn’t take into account other mitigating circumstances, including Papen’s role.

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Brüning (above) called unscheduled elections for 17 September 1930 in which many thousands of hungry, unemployed and disenchanted voters supported the Nazis. The party increased its 1928 vote of 2.6 percent to 18.3 percent; a gain of 95 seats. The result was the beginning of the end of the legislature’s involvement in governing Germany.

The Nazis made the chamber virtually unworkable with continuous points of order and other disruption. The Reichstag sat an average 100 days a year in the 10 years before the election. From October 1930 to March 1931, the average was 50. From March 1931 to July 1932 it sat 24 days and from July to February 1933, three days.

Brüning’s perceived inability to manage the economic and social chaos and land reforms he wanted to introduce led to his isolation and loss of President Hindenburg’s support. Hindenburg was angry Brüning had not persuaded the right-wing parties to support him instead of Hitler in the 1932 presidential election. Hindenburg was the virtual presidential candidate of the left in the March/April elections which was ironic as he was an old right-wing warhorse.

Brüning also wanted to sub-divide the bankrupt estates and provide them to the unemployed. Many of Hindenburg’s inner circle were aristocratic land owners who persuaded the President the proposal was “socialist” and should be resisted. Brüning gave notice of his resignation on 10 May 1932 and left office on 31 May.

He left Germany in 1934 after being tipped off his life may be in danger. He became a visiting professor at Harvard University in 1937. His warnings about Hitler’s plans for war and later Soviet expansion were ignored. He died in 1970 at the age of 84.

Papen and Schleicher wanted an autocratic government that would include Nazis. They ignored Hitler’s oft-repeated dictum he would accept no role in government except Chancellor.

 

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Schleicher (above) had several meetings with Hitler in 1932. They made a “gentleman’s agreement” on 8 May in which Schleicher would force Brüning from theChancellorship. Brüning had banned the Nazi paramilitary storm troopers on 13 April. Schleicher agreed to install a new presidential government that would lift the ban and dissolve the Reichst
ag for elections in the summer of 1932. Hitler promised to support the new government which Schleicher said would destroy democracy. Schleicher kept his side of the deal, Hitler didn’t.  

Papen was Schleicher’s fourth choice as Chancellor, which says much about how the role had lost its allure. Papen  was sworn in on 1 June. Schleicher selected Papen’s cabinet of politically inexperienced chief executives and aristocrats dubbed the Barons or the Monocle Cabinet. Derogatory names did not deter Papen from making dramatic and damaging decisions. One was the sacking of the Prussian government.

Prussia was Germany’s biggest state. Its population was bigger than France’s and its geographical area was half of Germany. The sacking would be tantamount to the US federal government sacking the government of California. The dismissal was precipitated by a riot on 17 July, 14 days before the Reichstag election. Nazi storm troopers marched into the Communist district of Altona in Hamburg. Eighteen people were killed and more than 100 were injured.

Papen justified the dismissal on the SPD government’s failure to maintain law and order. Papen’s decision was a “mortal blow” to parliamentary democracy, writes Richard J Evans in his insightful and readable book, The Coming of the Third Reich. How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany. “It destroyed the federal principle and opened the way to the wholesale centralisation of the state. Whatever happened now, it was unlikely to be the full restoration of parliamentary democracy. After 20 July 1932, the only realistic alternatives were a Nazi dictatorship or a conservative, authoritarian regime backed by the army.”

The winds of political fortune started to blow against Papen. Like his predecessors, he ruled via Article 48 which gave the President power to make laws without reference to the Reichstag. But the legislature could revoke any Article 48 law by a majority vote within 60 days of it being signed into law. The Reichstag could also pass a vote of no-confidence in the government.

The SPD was the second biggest party in the Reichstag behind the Nazis. Papen’s role in bringing down Brüning and sacking the Prussian SPD government enraged the SPD. The Reichstag passed a vote of no-confidence in the government on 12 September 1932 with 512 for, 42 against and five abstentions. Papen never recovered. Another blow to his leadership was the withdrawal of Schleicher’s support caused by Papen not acting as the puppet Schleicher expected. Papen had alientated every possible ally and so he had to resign when Schleicher persuaded the army to withdraw its support.

Schleicher became chancellor on 3 December. His tenure ended on its 58th day. His life ended on 30 June 1934 when he was murdered by the Nazi SS .

The Weimar Republic’s success was fatally undermined by the right-wing parties’ lack of support for it and the constitution’s lack of checks and balances for which the United States’ Constitution is famous. The Weimar president could dismiss the chancellor, even if the chancellor had the Reichstag’s confidence. Worse, the president could appoint a chancellor who didn’t have the Reichstag’s support. Article 48 allowed the president to suspend civil liberties and rule by decree, which contradicted other clauses. Hitler used Article 48 extensively. Germany’s democracy was built on unstable foundations that Hitler destroyed with the help of the other political parties.

Two months after Hitler’s appointment, freedom of the press and individual freedoms were restricted by the Reichstag decree of 28 February 1933 and the Chancellor’s legislative power without requiring the Reichstag’s approval was extended by the Law to Remedy the Distress of the People (Enabling Act) of 23 March 1933. The first steps of the path to absolute power were being built. The Night of the Long Knives purge from 29 to 30 June 1934 in ended the path. Vice Chancellor Papen became German Ambassador to Austria. Two of his staff were murdered during the purge.

Borrowed tune

erdoganThe 84th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s assumption of power is in just a few days. There will be a vote in Turkey in just a few months for a new constitution that could give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (above) unchecked power. History has a litany of examples of the disastrous consequences of unchecked power.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is an oft-quoted phrase attributed to the nineteenth century English historian and moralist Lord Action. The full quote is in a letter he wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

And that’s why attempts to attain absolute power must be resisted. Unchecked power has consequences for which there is no redress. The great strength of the United States Constitution is its checks and balances.

The President of the United States borrowed from the Hitler playbook during the election campaign. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing the same. I am not suggesting Erdogan is another Hitler. But I am suggesting there are similarities in the way Hitler attained absolute power and what Erdogan is doing.

A guaranteed way to unite the people is to create a crisis. The German national legislature, the Reichstag, was destroyed by fire on 27 February 1933. Elections had been called for 5 March. The government declared it was arson and blamed the Communists. Dutch Communist bricklayer Marinus van der Lubbe was charged and executed. But there’s doubt he was the culprit. Nevertheless, 4,000 Communists were arrested. The day after the fire the Decree for the Protection of People and State became effective. It gave the government power to:

  • Arrest and imprison people without a specific charge
  • Dissolve political organizations
  • Suppress publications.

Erdogan’s apparent opponents attempted a coup on 15 July last year. Erdogan  accused a US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, of fomenting unrest. Mr Gulen denied involvement and condemned the coup. But in the conflict’s aftermath, 6,000 people, including high-ranking soldiers and judges, were arrested.

Now Erdogan wants to create a presidential government. The proposed constitution includes giving the president power to:

  • Decide whether or not impose a state of emergency
  • Intervene in the judiciary
  • Directly appoint top public officials, including ministers.

Turkey has a history of political instability and coups; there had been four since 1960. But that is not a reason to give the president untrammelled power, any more than the alleged external interference in the country’s political affairs.

Liberty deprived isn’t usually won back. I hope the Turkish people reject the new constitution which would lead to a president having unchecked power and all the inherent danger that would bring.

Election of firsts

The first election in Germany after the Great War was just 14 months after the signing of the Armistice.  Voting method was proportional representation for the election of 421 legislators on Sunday, 19 January 1919. Proportional representation is often criticised on the basis it was the system that “elected Hitler”. Hitler was never elected in a free and democratic election. Contrary to popular opinion, neither the voting method or the Weimar Republic constitution are solely responsible for the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.

 

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Citizens of Berlin! This is the party of work and reconstruction. Elect German Democratic.

There was universal suffrage and the voting age was 20 for the 19 January 1919 election. We take these concepts for granted but in Europe in 1919 they were avant garde. Women 20 and over could be candidates as well as vote. In Britain they could do neither. Men there had the vote at 21 but women had to be 25.

Critics say proportional representation produced Hitler. It did – to a point. The National Socialist Workers Party’s electoral success during the Weimar Republic peaked at 230 of the 608 seats – 38 percent – in the election of 31 July 1932. Hitler’s claim to the chancellorship was on the back of his party’s electoral success, which was on the wane when he was appointed on 30 January 1933. His party won 196 of the 584 seats – 33 percent – at the 6 November election.

It is true the Nazi party would not have achieved the success it did if the voting method was first past the post. But the electoral system was not the only reason for Hitler’s appointment. Throughout 1932 the Nazis succeeded in virtually paralysing government in Germany by refusing to co-operate with the other political parties. If those parties had united in their opposition to the fascists that paralysis would’ve been ended. The other parties’ failure enabled unelected players to install the former Austrian corporal as Chancellor.

The Weimar Republic Constitution did not create a powerful Chancellor. Clauses 52 to 56 imposed two checks on the role’s power: the Reichstag and the President.

In the 19 January 1919 election the Social Democratic Party won 163 of the 421 seats (38 percent) with 39 percent of the vote; the Centre Party 91 seats, 19 percent, with 21 percent;  the German Democratic Party, 75 seats, 19 percent with 18 percent.

Voter turnout was 83 percent. The high turnout suggests Germans wanted to exercise their democratic rights, contrary to the claims of right-wing parties at the time.

 

 

 

An opening

Tony Blair is back. After almost a decade out of politics, the controversial former New Labour UK Prime Minister is taking tentative steps to be involved, albeit not directly. Blair’s intention to contribute more to the political debate is welcome because his is a persuasive voice of the centre. If you can’t forgive him for the Weapons of Mass Destruction lies and debacle in Iraq, maybe you could, in the interests of reasoned debate, at least listen to what he has to say.

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In the decade since he left domestic UK politics there have been controversial times. The New Statesman says Blair “is not quite a fugitive in his own land but, because of the Iraq War and his extensive business operations since leaving office, as well as some of the dubious company he has kept among the global plutocracy, he is widely reviled, a fate that frustrates him but to which he is resigned”.

But, as Richard Carr, Lecturer in History and Politics at Anglia Ruskin University, writes, when Blair talks we should listen. Blair “brings an actual track record of carving out a new political economy. As we all work out what comes next – and what the chancers now do with the mandates they have acquired – we should at least listen to what he has to say”. And what he has to say is thought-provoking.

“You’ve got to unpack, first of all, what bits of the so-called liberal agenda have failed and what bits haven’t. And you’ve got to learn the right lessons of Brexit, Trump and  these popular movements across the Western world. Otherwise you’re going to end up in a situation where you seriously think that the populism of the left is going to defeat the populism of the right. It absolutely won’t.”

And he argues the old political dichotomy of left and right are no longer useful because at a certain point they meet each other at an isolationist point*. He says globalisation is driven by technology and people that cannot be reversed. The question of our time is how to make globalisation just and fair. The centre doesn’t have an answer. But I am sure he will come up with one that will provoke plenty of controversy. It may even be something Labour could adapt and the chances of Britain becoming a one-party state may be reduced.

What do you think? I’d love to read your thoughts.

* Find out more about your ideological bias here and where you stand on country-specific
political issues here.

Speeding Nazis

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Pervitin was a shopping staple in Nazi Germany. And it propelled the Blitzkrieg of 1940 when Nazi troops occupied six countries in the first nine months of World War II.

Pervitin was a methamphetamine. It fuelled the German army. It fuelled the civilian population’s happiness. This is the proposition promoted in Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany a non-fiction book by novelist Norman Ohler.

Hermann Göring’s morphine addiction was well known. I have read and seen documentaries about Hitler’s drug use. And others have written about Pervitin’s role in the Blitzkrieg. Ohler cites the work of historians, including Werner Pieper, Peter Steinkamp and Karl-Heinz Frieser.

Ohler’s readable and revelatory book puts drugs front and centre of the Nazi regime in a way no one else has. There’s plenty of apparent evidence for Ohler’s argument. It helps explain Blitzkrieg that turned soldiers into machines that could go for days without sleep. It helps explain Hitler’s miraculous recovery from the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944. He met the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini just a few hours after a bomb went off. The bomb badly damaged the building it was in and shredded Hitler’s trousers.

Ohler has his critics. Eminent World War II historian Richard J Evans writes Ohler’s interpretation of the evidence is spurious. Evans doesn’t go as far as accusing Ohler as being a Nazi apologist but he criticises him for going some of the way. Ohler’s claim Pervitin was on the grocery shopping lists of most Germans before the war was a sweeping generalisation not supported by fact. I agree with Evans’ assertion that Ohler’s claim is “dangerous” because it implies Germans weren’t responsible for their support for the Nazi regime, “still less for their failure to rise up against it”. Evans writes this apparent absolving of responsibility explains why Blitzed is a bestseller. Hardbacks sold out in Germany before Christmas last year.

Ohler writes Hitler’s drug use “did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions”, and concludes “he was anything but insane”. But Evans says the disclaimer is contradicted by everything else in the book.

“It’s all too reminiscent of the claims made by some old Nazis I spent an evening drinking with in Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller, the starting-point for the 1923 beer-hall putsch, in 1970: Hitler rescued Germany from ruin but went mad during the war. Here, too, is a good reason for the book’s success in Germany.”

Blitzkrieg is portrayed as an 11-day drug rampage, writes  author and critic Mike Jay in the London Review of Books. The “breathless narrative overdrive” is “exhilarating” but Pervitin’s role is not “delineated”.

Hitler’s decline into ever-increasing dependence on a wide range of drugs is documented in the second half of the book.Hitler’s personal physician, Dr Felix Morrell, was with Hitler continually from 1940 to April, 1945. Hitler was the addict; Morrell was the supplier.

Blitzed is a rollicking read and provides a new angle on Nazi Germany. I enjoyed it but as with everything an element of scepticism is needed.

 

 

Check fail

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If there is one phrase that describes the United States Constitution, it is checks and balances.  So concerned were the founders that the power of government had to be restrained, checks were imposed at every level – even on the people.

It is why the President is not directly elected. The Electoral College is a safeguard, intended, as one of the founders, Alexander Hamilton, wrote in 1788, to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

The Electoral College will elect the 45th President. Political reality dictates it will be Donald Trump. The Republican Party candidate was right when he said the “system” was rigged. It is. In his favour. He lost the popular vote by almost 2.8 million, more than four times the margin by which Democrat candidate Al Gore beat George W Bush in 2000.

There isn’t one vote one value in US Presidential elections. A Wyoming citizen’s vote is four times as powerful than that of a Michigan citizen. A vote in Vermont is three times as powerful as a vote in Missouri.

It will not be the first time the candidate who loses the popular vote becomes President. But it is the first time:

  1. foreign power has been found to try and influence the result
  2. The FBI played a reprehensible and perhaps decisive role influencing the vote
  3. The President elect’s conflicts of interest that extend to 20 countries.

The Electoral College should support the will of the people and vote for Hillary Clinton, as Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argues.

He is right. One of the hallmarks of conservatism is honouring institutions and processes. This is one of those times.