German and US Public Support for Wars: WHY SO LITTLE U.S. OPPOSITIION TO U.S. WARS? WHY IS THE PUBLIC SILENT? By Dick Bennett
Several explanations of German public support of Nazi wars and occupations give us material for analysis of public support of—or at least acquiescence to-- recurrent US wars and occupations.
Public support, once high, now is declining. A new CNN/Opinion Research poll (PDF) (Dec. 2010) shows support for the conflict continuing to wane. “The poll now shows 63percent of the American public opposed to the war. The breakdown showed strong opposition across race, gender, regional and age lines. President Obama’s claims of progress in the Afghan War don’t seem to be cutting into the realities of record death tolls and official predictions of more record death tolls to come, A secondary question asked the public how “things are going” in Afghanistan and showed 56 percent of Americans believe the war is going either “moderately badly” or “very badly.” An interesting aspect of this is that the poll was taken in the days (Dec. 17-19) immediately following the president’s Afghanistan speech (December 16).” (Ditz).
Of course one nation was a dictatorship and the other is a republic, but the issue is the aggression of their foreign policies and why the public went along.
How did the Nazis gain such broad support from the German population?
One view is that the Third Reich was a nightmare of fear and intimidation, created by the Gestapo, the prisons for dissenters, and torture. .
A much stronger explanation is that the German populace was already extremely anti-Semitic needing only a little incentive to be willing executioners.
A third view marshals the evidence of the power of Hitler’s personality greatly magnified by an extraordinary national propaganda machine.
And a forth explanation is that the Nazis satisfied the economic self-interest of the people, by decent wages, a graduated income tax, a pension system, and plunder from the occupied territories, which enabled the Nazis to keep their own populace and their soldiers content, and their occupied territories quiescent.
A historian has written, “The Nazis were not only the most notorious murderers in history but also the greatest thieves.” In comparison, the US is inefficient. But one historian does claim that “…a few million people have died in the American holocaust, and many more millions have been condemned to lives of misery and torture as a result of US interventions [against the alleged international communist conspiracy] extending from China and Greece in the 1940s to Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s” (Blum 1995). So the question stands: How did U.S. elected rulers gain such broad support for its longest war against Afghanistan fought simultaneously with a second war against Iraq, and additional wars emerging after ten years (Pakistan and Yemen)?
Of the four explanations listed above, only the first three seem to apply to the U. S.
Fear does permeate our country. The communist and socialist parties have been virtually eradicated. “Liberals” are now under similar attack. The FBI has revived aspects of their 1960s COINTELPRO. Many of the US populace do not want to sign petitions for fear of being placed on an “un-American” or “terrorist” list. The FBI is not the Gestapo, and the Marion super-max prison is not Buchenwald, but they’re enough, maybe, to explain why so few “citizens” publicly decry the leaders and policies of the government.
Replace Jews with Muslims and you see the parallel scapegoating today. Over a thousand Muslims were detained after 9-11, hundreds for extended periods without charge, and reports of bigoted actions against Muslims are numerous to the present. Invading and occupying Muslim nations and killing tens of thousands of Muslim civilians, and assassinating and torturing thousands of suspected terrorists without benefit of trial, have not produced more than the outcry of the peace movement. The U.S. willing executioners are small numerically compared to the Nazi slaughter, but intrinsically it’s similar behavior.
Presidents Bush and Obama are cardboard cutouts compared to Hitler; their rallies possessing the drama of a boy scout gathering compared to the spectacles organized by the Nazis at Nuremberg for Hitler’s rants, but combined with the fear and bigotry their speeches and persistence carried the Congress and the populace forward to continued war. Only one member of the House of Representatives voted against the resolution (not Declaration of War) supporting the invasion of Afghanistan, but that was much more the shock of the plane bombings and the pre-existent hatred of “ragheads” than from any cult of personality surrounding President G. W. Bush.
The fourth, economic, explanation does not seem to apply at all, for although the war industry capitalists are making money, the income of the general populations has continued to decline, along with state and municipal services.
Have we then answered the question why the U.S. public generally is so acquiescent against its governments’ illegal, unjust, financially disastrous wars? The peace movement can get to work especially on extricating the public from the fear and bigotry which fuels their support or their passivity? But these explanations don’t seem adequate to me. The public does not seem so timorous or so prejudiced; the presidents lack Hitler’s charisma. Other motives and causes seem to be in play.
Have the people become so cynical and exhausted by endless war that they cannot recognize and feel the suffering of the victims of our wars? MORE
Or is it something else, distinctly different from fear, hatred, cynicism, or numbness Is it simple proximity? The wars are over there and outside our peripheral vision. What’s happening to jobs, to income, to mortgage and credit rate--these engross attention. We don’t pay directly—we are not taxed directly—for the wars, but our government hides the reality by borrowing. The wars therefore affect these personal matters only tangentially. We don’t feel complicit in the deaths of innocent Iraqi and Afghan children. Even though we believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people, few feel responsible for the harms perpetrated against innocent people abroad, even though we know our children and grandchildren will eventually pay the taxes that fund present harms.
Andrew Bacevich adds another persuasive explanation. Perhaps he has the key. He examines the cluster of assumptions and practices that have driven US foreign policy since WWII. They have become so deeply accepted by the public that few are aware of them. Bacevich divides this tenacious consensus into two parts to shine a light on them, which he labels "credo" and "trinity."
The US credo is a system of purposes by which the world should work and for which the US is responsible. These norms summon the US alone to transform the world as the US sees fit, since the US is fundamentally benign and good for the world. It has become virtually unquestioned dogma, Bacevich argues, which explains why US global leadership and primacy have become the prerequisite for U. S. political office and public approval. Question “the troops” under God, and political defeat is certain.
And the means is hard power, coercion above all. Thus the US must maintain military forces not for defense but for overwhelming armed force projected around the world. Military might is now as essential to the public’s identity as is the credo. The sacred trinity has become the second part of the US foreign policy cluster of iron assumptions: the US must maintain a global military dominance, must organize its forces for global power projection, and must counter real or imagined threats by global intervention and invasion.
“Together, credo and trinity—the one defining purpose, the other practice—constitute the essence of the way that Washington has attempted to govern and police the American Century.” Given this ingrained consensus during seventy years of imperial expansion, other explanations of US public conformity are clearly seen as functions of sustaining the consensus. And the similarity of German and US assumptions of national superiority justifying conquest becomes clearer.
--Aly, Gotz. Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State. Metropolitan/Holt, 2007. The Nazis used economic policy to retain power.
--Bacevich, Andrew. Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Metropolitan, 2010.
--Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Common Courage, 1995.
-- Ditz, Jason. “Poll: 63 Percent of Americans Oppose Afghan War: Opposition to War at Highest Levels Yet.” December 30, 2010
--Goldhagen, Daniel. Hitler’s Willing Executioners. 1996.
--Herzog, Dagmar. “Handouts from NYT Book Review (2-18-07). Rev. of Aly.
--Swanson, David. War Is a Lie. 2010.