Saturday, July 15, 2006

I Declare Godwin's Law Null and Void

The Dolchstoßlegende, (German "dagger-thrust legend," often translated in English as "stab-in-the-back legend") refers to a social mythos and persecution-propaganda theory popular among post-World War I Germany's nationalists , which claimed that Germany's defeat was attributable to German citizens who had sabotaged or otherwise 'lacked dedication to' the promoted cause for the war effort—ie. "to unify the German nation." From a spectacular article in Harper's on the American right wing's enthusiastic adoption of the dolchstosslegende from the proto-Nazi post-WWI German nationalists:
Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.
The article draws a thread from the mythic death of Siegfried to a Republican party of 1948, who erroneously blamed a super-powered Alger Hiss at Yalta, claiming he abused a 'dying' President Roosevelt into 'giving Eastern Europe to the Russians' when in fact Roosevelt secured an agreement from Stalin for the self-goverance of all European peoples. Nevertheless, facts can't stand in the way of a good myth and the conservative dolchstosslegende was born.

Over time, it gained several wrinkles:
  • the 'betrayal' of General MacArthur, who after his humiliating defeat by invading Chinese in Korea, insisted on atomic war with China, inclusing a 'belt of radioactive cobalt' across the Korean border to forever prevent further crossing;
  • the 1952 Republican platform which accused the Democrats of treason;
  • of course, the Vietnam War:
Once again, we were told that American troops were not being “allowed” to win, if they could not mine Haiphong harbor, or flatten Hanoi, or reduce all of North Vietnam to a parking lot. Yet Vietnam was a war with no real defeats on the ground. U.S. troops won every battle of any significance and inflicted exponentially greater casualties on the enemy than they suffered themselves. Even the great debacle of the war, the 1968 Tet offensive, ended with an overwhelming American military victory and the Viet Cong permanently expunged as an effective fighting force. It is difficult to claim betrayal when you do not lose a battle.
As early as 1969, Reagan was insisting that leaders of the massive Moratorium Days protests “lent comfort and aid” (sound familar?) to the North Vietnamese, and that “some American will die tonight because of the activity in our streets.”
It would do no good to point out that there is no objective evidence that veterans were ever spat upon by demonstrators or that POWs were ever left behind or that Jane Fonda’s addle-headed mission to Hanoi did anything to undermine American forces. The stab-in-the-back myth is much more powerful than any of these facts, and it continues to grow more so as time passes. Just this past Christmas, one Faye Fiore wrote a feature for the Los Angeles Times about how returning Iraqi veterans are being showered with acts of good will by an adoring American public, “In contrast to the hostile stares that greeted many Vietnam veterans 40 years ago.” The POW/MIA flags, with their black-and-white iconography of shame, now fly everywhere in the United States, just under the Stars and Stripes; federal law even mandates that on at least six days a year—Memorial Day, Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, and one day during POW/MIA Week (the third week of September)—they must be flown over nearly every single U.S. government building. There has been nothing else like them in the history of this country, and they have no parallel anywhere else in the world—these peculiar little banners, attached like a disclaimer to our national flag, with their message of surrender and humiliation, perennially accusing our government of betrayal.
The net effect of all the these examples was to make the Culture war the dominant mode of politics, leading to the hyperpartisanship of the current Administration. But this isn't all doom and gloom, in fact, the article shows that the dolstosslegende will not work with Iraq: Bush has demanded too little from the American public, even showering the rich with tax cuts. He even sought to use the divided opinion on waging war to his political advantage. In doing so, he decoupled the heroic status from the state. And without a heroic state, there can be no villainous betrayer.

Of course, this leads to this week's Baghdad Quiz from Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly, the question being how conservatives would explain a catastrophic meltdown of Iraqi society leading to a de facto Shiite theocracy:

So here's the question: if this is how things turn out, what will be the primary conservative storyline to explain what really happened?

  1. Insufficient force and resolve were brought to bear. We should have turned Fallujah into a modern-day Dresden.

  2. The media undermined the war effort. The terrorists knew they only had to wait us out.

  3. Iraqis are still better off than they were under Saddam, and Los Angeles hasn't been nuked. Liberals don't understand a victory when they see one in front of their eyes.

  4. We were wrong about the efficacy of force in creating liberal democracies. We're now sadder but wiser.

Liberal hawks have been making excuses for their support of the war's humanitarian interventionism even as the WMD excuse was yoinked away, and now they too have been using what Matt Yglesias recently referred to as the 'incompetency dodge'. This can be summed up in the phase I was for the war, but we needed more troops. Well how many, you ask them. Wel General Shinseki said half a million they reply, and we should have listened. No, that would be our entire armed forces including every bureaucrat, Guardsman and officer to strap on gear and go to the desert. Nevermind taking them off the search for Osama, that means pray for no more hurricanes. Ludicrous, just like a paint-by-numbers democracy installation.

It ends on a chilling note, however: Bush is at a presser in Latvia in 2005 and he denounces the betrayal of Yalta, putting it in league with the Munich Agreement in unjust agreements. So we have the president of the United States of America, in an Eastern European palace, denoucing his own nation in order to appease his hosts into torturing secret prisoners.

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