Monday, January 14, 2013

Hitler, gun control and the American culture war

Alex Seitz-Wald has a good piece that takes on of the gun proliferation advocates' favorite factoids, The Hitler gun control lie Salon 01/11/2013. It's a real look at what gun laws were under the Third Reich.

Of course, anyone who gets their history from the NRA or anonymous forwarded e-mails just knows that Hitler banned private ownership of guns. And the fact that it isn't true won't stop them from saying it.

I have a minor quibble with one historical point mentioned: I would have specified that Hitler's public works projects were primarily in the service of preparing for war.

As he points out, German Jews "and other persecuted classes [sic]" were eventually banned from owning weapons. But there was never any attempt to stage an armed Jewish uprising, nor would such an attempt have been feasible. He quotes historian Omar Bartov, "The [Russian] Red Army lost 7 million men fighting the Wehrmacht, despite its tanks and planes and artillery. The Jews with pistols and shotguns would have done better?"

The German conspirators against Hitler, including those of the famous July 20 plot that probably not one in 10,000 of Wayne LaPierre's admirers could say what that is, also did not plan a mass uprising. They did use force. But their aim was to assassinate Hitler with a bomb and stage a military coup against the NSDAP (Nazi) government. It was not a plan to seize a radio station and call on everyone to get their handguns and hunting rifles and march on Berlin. Nor would that approach have had a large chance of success.

Also, they might have mentioned that Hitler did not take power primarily by force. The conservatives (yes, conservatives!) appointed him as Chancellor.

The NSDAP did have kind of a private army, the SA (Brownshirts), that had a big effect in causing disorders, a conscious strategy. But when Hitler decided to suppress them in 1934 (the Röhm Putsch, aka, Night of the Long Knives), the SA couldn't manage much resistance despite being armed thugs trained in street fighting.

Oh, there were also anti-Nazi private fighting groups before 1933: The Social Democratic Party's Reichsbannner, union groups and the Communists' Red Front. Can you picture any followers of the NRA's Wayne LaPierre participating with socialist union members in street-fighting against Nazis?

Me neither.

Seitz-Wald also links to this article by Deborah Homsher, Response to Bernard E. Harcourt's On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler, and Nazi Gun Laws: Exploding the Gun Culture Wars (A Call to Historians) Fordham Law Review 73/2 (1/2004). The article to which the title refers is Bernard Harcourt's On Gun Registration, the NRA, Adolf Hitler, and NaziGun Laws: Exploding the Gun Culture Wars (A Call to Historians) in the same issue.

Harcourt looks at the ways in which the gun proliferation advocacy has become thoroughly integrated in the rightwing "culture war" narrative. He quotes then soon-to-be NRA President Charlton Heston from a notorious 09/11/1997 speech known as the "The Second Amendment: America's First Freedom, for instance, is laced with references to Hitler's Germany":

Heaven help the God-fearing, law-abiding, Caucasian, middle class, protestant, or even worse evangelical Christian, midwest or southern or even worse rural, apparently straight or even worse admitted heterosexual, gun-owning or even worse NRA-card-carrying, average working stiff, or even, worst of all, a male working stiff, because then, not only don't you count, you're a downright nuisance, an obstacle to social progress, pal.
That pretty much sums it up. White Christian nationalism and white-guy whining married to the gun proliferation advocates and the gun lobby.

On December 7 of that same year, Heston had this to say in a speech to the Free Congress Foundation:

I wonder - how many of you in this room own guns but chose not to raise your hand?

How many of you considered revealing your conviction about a constitutional right, but then thought better of it?

Then you are a victim of the cultural war. You are a casualty of the cultural warfare being waged against traditional American freedom of beliefs and ideas. Now maybe you don't care one way or the other about owning a gun. But I could've asked for a show of hands on Pentecostal Christians, or pro-lifers, or right-to-workers, or Promise Keepers, or school voucher-ers, and the result would be the same. What if the same question were asked at your PTA meeting? Would you raise your hand if Dan Rather were in the back of the room there with a film crew?

See? Good. Still, if you didn't, you have been assaulted and robbed of the courage of your convictions. Your pride in who you are, and what you believe, has been ridiculed, ransacked, plundered. It may be a war without bullet or bloodshed, but with just as much liberty lost: You and your country are less free. ...

The Constitution was handed down to guide us by a bunch of those wise old dead white guys who invented this country. Now, some flinch when I say that. Why? It's true...they were white guys. So were most of the guys who died in Lincoln's name opposing slavery in the 1860s. So why should I be ashamed of white guys? Why is "Hispanic pride" or "black pride" a good thing, while "white pride" conjures up shaved heads and white hoods? Why was the Million Man March on Washington celebrated in the media as progress, while the Promise Keepers March on Washington was greeted with suspicion and ridicule? I'll tell you why: Cultural warfare.
Speaking of the folks that Sarah Palin would later label the Real Americans, he said:

These people have precious little time or resources to battle misguided Cinderella attitudes, the fringe propaganda of the homosexual coalition, the feminists who preach that it's a divine duty for women to hate men, blacks who raise a militant fist with one hand while they seek preference with the other, and all the New-Age apologists for juvenile crime, who see roving gangs as a means of youthful expression, sex as a means of adolescent merchandising, violence as a form of entertainment for impressionable minds, and gun bans as a means to lord-knows-what. We've reached that point in time when our national social policy originates on Oprah. I say it's time to pull the plug.
Heston was only a first vice president of the NRA when he gave that speech. We could speculate on whether it helped or hurt his popularity within the organization, but he became its president the following year.

Harcourt notes that there is no small irony in gun proliferation advocates trying to label liberal gun control advocates and their other culture-war enemies as being Nazis:

The Nazi-gun-registration argument is also a bit disorienting because, at least whenever I have been to a gun show, there are always displays of Nazi paraphernalia. The fringe pro-Nazi element in this country has far more ties to the pro-gun community than it does to the anti-gun community, and you are far more likely to see a swastika at a gun show or a pro-gun rally than you are at the anti-gun Million Mom March on the Washington Mall.
Much of the discussion between Harcourt's and Homsher's article is around ways for gun proliferation opponents to effectively counter the gun lobby's culture-war arguments.

Harcourt points hopefully to the Hitler gun control trope as a hopeful example about how the potential diversity of opinion among the gun proliferation supporters. "The fact is, there is tremendous fragmentation internal to the pro-gun community on the specific issue of Hitler and gun registration. Not all pro-gunners buy the Hitler argument." The first thing I thought of when I read this was the diversity of opinion among UFO devotees. They will have seemingly technical and well-informed debates among themselves about this or that claim or their Grand Theory of where the extraterrestrial visitors or coming from and what their intentions are.

But when it comes to addressing the fanaticism and unwillingness and/or inability to do sound reality-testing on the subject, those divisions are mostly not very meaningful. And the fact that some gun proliferation supporters may be tired of being embarrassed by having the fact that they're lying about the Hitler gun control thing pointed out to them also isn't a very promising sign of flexibility on the gun proliferation issue. As Homsher says in her response:

It is the repetitive qualities, the deaf and deafening qualities, of the American gun debates that most amaze me. We cannot analyze these debates properly unless we recognize that, in many cases, they are not conducted by scholarly methods, where the evidence is collected before the conclusions are reached. Instead, frequently, the conclusions are reached first and supporting evidence - from Nazi Germany, from the post-Civil War South, even from Cambodia, Indonesia, or China - is then mustered to be used as ammunition.
Tags: ,

No comments: