Warning: Some of the images in this article are graphic in nature.
“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.”
Since the Greek philosopher Plato issued this warning over two millennia ago, humanity has observed the truth of his statement over and over again throughout the course of history; bloody conflicts, economic hardships, social upheavals, and natural disasters have led to the rise of brutal dictatorships.
Upon the conclusion of War World I, Germany, as one of the major aggressor nations in the conflict, was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, ceding 13 percent of its home territory and all of its overseas colonies and agreeing to make hefty reparations payments for the damage and destruction of property which were the results of the aforementioned war. The treaty also included an infamous war guilt clause, by which the nation agreed to take full responsibility for the war. Germany’s first democratically elected Chancellor—Philipp Scheidemann—chose to resign rather than sign the treaty, which ended up devastating the German economy and subjecting its people to incredible humiliation.
Enter the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The political leaders of this party understood that the key to power over the German people lay in a policy that offered sympathy with their sufferings. They centered their campaigns on slogans of German greatness which extended confidence to a beaten and defeated nation that desperately wanted to believe in itself again. They promised full employment to a populace with a 30% unemployment rate. They staged violent protests that offered young people a way to vent their pent-up frustrations. As Martin Gilbert explains in A History of the Twentieth Century, the party ”continued to offer [the unemployed] a direction both for their emotional bitterness and their physical energies.”Protective tariffs placed on German goods by foreign countries contributed in large part to the German Great Depression, and the collapse of the U.S. stock market on Black Tuesday affected the German economy negatively as well. The nation was not able to make its reparations payments, and the German government began to print money. A three-year episode of hyperinflation followed. By 1933, there were six million people unemployed in Germany.
The party also boasted a strong leader with bold plans and an eccentric personality. This man was Adolf Hitler, and the party is better known today as the Nazi party.
We have a similar situation in America today. Like post-WWI Germany we have unemployment, unrest, and violent protests. And, like post-WWI Germany, we have a population that is becoming increasingly reckless and vulnerable to the ambiguous and charismatic rhetoric of a dangerous leader. Late last year, these elements combined in a movement which has had a significant impact on the world’s political scene: Occupy Wall Street.
We’ve heard two stories about the Occupy Movement. While the Daily Mail showcases a gallery of photos that depict the Occupiers as orderly citizens cleaning up after themselves, abused by the police, and willingly enduring hardships in order to effectively protest corporate greed and government corruption, Breitbart shares video footage of Occupy activists who are apparently confused about the purpose of the movement, activists who are well-known anti-Semites, and activists who call themselves Marxist communists and socialists. Todd Kinsey shares photos of far greater embarrassments. This hysterical clip of a superlatively agitated Occupy protestor has been triumphantly broadcasted by conservative bloggers as an example of the general Occupy attitude — although I imagine that even some liberals got a laugh out of it.
No one is exactly sure what the Occupy movement wants as a whole; different groups of protestors seem to have different aims. However, some aspects are clear: the movement is the result of unemployment frustration; it is an attack on crony capitalism and government corruption; it is a haven for Marxist and communist sympathizers, and it is encouraging class warfare.
It is disconcerting to realize the reason the Nazi party was able to successfully exploit the German people’s struggles was because they worked the hardest to identify with them and sympathize with their bitterness. Did the Nazi party really give the people what they wanted? Hardly. Their rise to power precipitated the Second World War which plunged Germany into a bloodbath and depleted the country of its manpower and resources. Nevertheless, because they displayed the most concern for the sufferings of the German populace, they won their allegiance and trust. Likewise, due to the fact that Conservatives have failed to identify with even the righteous elements of the Occupy protests, the exasperation and energies of the occupiers – most of whom already lean towards socialism – are being exploited by Marxists and by advocates of big government and opponents of personal liberty.
“We are on their side,” said President Obama, referring to the protestors. “The most important thing we can do right now is those of us in leadership letting people know that we understand their struggles.” However, the President has received $3.9 million in donations from Wall Street just this year, and has raised over $12 million for the Democratic National Committee – a rather odd set of numbers, given his support for a movement which has its foundation in criticism of Wall Street’s financial shenanigans and scandals.
Have we really nothing to protest? Is there really no evil at work in our political system that is not worth standing up against? How about the $16 trillion in secret bailouts that the Federal Reserve distributed to U.S. and foreign banks over the past three years? When you realize that our entire GDP is only $14.5 trillion and that neither Congress nor the American public knew anything about these bailouts, you just might feel like carrying a few signs in the streets. How about the new version of the National Defense Authorization Act that President Obama just signed into law this week? When you find out that the controversial clause in this bill leaves the door open for military detention of United States citizens without trial, for “association in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners,” or “belligerent acts,” against the U.S., you might also feel inclined to stand up for what is right and make some noise.
My challenge to my conservative friends is simple: rather than demonizing the Occupy movement, why aren’t we instead focusing on the real fiscal corruption? Instead of bashing them and making fun of them, we should be encouraging them to question in a more constructive manner the current system which seeks to take advantage of their passionate frustrations.