Liberty Is Killed During Emergencies: Just Ask Germans

On January 30, 1933, German President von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany. On March 30, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office as the 32nd president of the United States. Both men were taking office with the aim of leading their respective nations out of the grave worldwide economic crisis known as the Great Depression.

On February 27, 1933, Hitler was struck by another crisis, arguably one of equal gravity. A group of communists fire-bombed the German Reichstag, which was Germany’s national legislative body, essentially equivalent to the U.S. Congress.

Thus, within in a month of having assumed office, Hitler was confronted with three major simultaneous crises: an economic crisis, a communist crisis, and a terrorism crisis.

Americans today should be able to relate to what Hitler was facing.

FDR and the Great Depression

Every American is well-versed in the economic emergency known as the Great Depression, when President Franklin Roosevelt effected a massive transformation of American life to deal with the economic crisis.

A good example, of course, was FDR’s nationalization of gold coins, which pursuant to the Constitution, had been the official money of the American people for more than a century. With the help of the Federal Reserve, which had been established in 1913, FDR permanently converted America’s monetary system into a paper-money system.

Another example was Roosevelt’s transformation of the American economy into what we know today as a “welfare state” and a government-managed and government-regulated economy. A good example was FDR’s adoption of Social Security, an idea that, ironically, had originated among socialists in Germany in the late 1800s.

There was also Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act, which placed American businesses and industries into cartels, an economic program that closely mirrored the fascist system implemented by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who had taken power in 1922, and who became a close friend and ally of Hitler.

Roosevelt also engaged in massive public-works projects as a way to get the United States out of the economic crisis.

He also greatly expanded military spending as a way to stimulate the economy.

Hitler and the Great Depression

Interestingly, Hitler was on board with all of the “New Deal” measures that Roosevelt was taking to get America out of the Depression. In fact, he was taking the same types of measures in Germany. Don’t forget, after all, that Germany had Social Security too, especially since that was where the idea had originated. Like FDR, Hitler was using government spending, especially on military expansion, to stimulate the economy. Like FDR, he was using the national government to manage, control, and regulate the economy. Like FDR, he was engaging in massive public works to get Germany out of the Depression, such as the Autobahn, which, ironically, later became the inspiration for America’s Interstate Highway System.

In fact, Hitler even wrote a letter to Roosevelt commending him on the emergency measures he was taking in the U.S. and advising him that he was doing much the same in Germany.

A good book along these lines is Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.

Today, Hitler is judged by the Holocaust, World War II, and his mistreatment of Jews. But what lots of people fail to realize is that during the early years of Hitler’s administration, there were more than a few people around the world who actually admired his leadership and what he was doing to pull Germany out of the Great Depression. Winston Churchill himself, who would later lead England’s war against Nazi Germany, stated that if England were ever to find herself in the same desperate straits as Germany, he hoped that England would be able to find its own Adolf Hitler to lead the nation out of the crisis.

Even people who didn’t care much for Hitler were aware of his notable impact on world affairs. Time magazine named him its Man of the Year in 1938. And take a look at these two articles about the November 1938 issue of Homes and Gardens magazine, which featured a nice pictorial account of Hitler’s life at his chalet in the Bavarian Alps:

The wars on communism and terrorism

Americans today should be able to relate not only to what Hitler was doing to lead Germany out of the Great Depression, but also to the other two emergency threats that he was facing as a result of the Reichstag fire: communism and terrorism.

During World War II, when the United States went to war against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union was made a partner and ally of the U.S. government. But as soon as the war was over, U.S officials told Americans that they now faced a new official enemy that arguably was as bad, if not worse, than Nazi Germany — communism and the Soviet Union, both of which, ironically, had been official enemies of Hitler and Nazi Germany.

The “communist threat” was why the federal government was converted into a national-security state form of government after World War II, which, ironically, was the same type of governmental structure that characterized the Soviet Union. That’s also how America got the Pentagon, the vast military-industrial complex, the CIA, the NSA, and the Cold War, along with state-sponsored assassinations, torture, indefinite detention, coups, regime-change operations, invasions, occupations, wars of aggression, alliances with dictatorial regimes, massive secret surveillance, and other sordid, dark-side programs that characterize communist and totalitarian regimes.

The idea was that America needed to become like them in order to defeat a supposed worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the world, one that was supposedly based in Moscow, Russia — yes, that Russia! Ironically, that’s what Hitler also believed throughout the 1930s and until the day he died.

Americans should also relate to the emergency threat faced by Hitler regarding terrorism, given the massive transformation of American life as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The USA PATRIOT Act, massive secret surveillance of the citizenry at the hands of the NSA, the secret FISA courts, the military tribunals for terrorism prosecutions, coerced confessions, and the power of the military and the CIA to indefinitely detain, torture, and assassinate Americans and others are all omnipotent powers that traditionally characterize totalitarian regimes.

Emergency powers

So, what did Hitler do to confront the emergency threats of communism and terrorism after the firebombing of the Reichstag, which occurred in the early period of the economic emergency of the Great Depression? He did what U.S. officials do when confronted with major crises and emergencies, such as the Great Depression, the Cold War, the 9/11 attacks, and, today, the Coronavirus crisis: He exercised extraordinary emergency powers to deal with the crises.

Hitler first issued an executive order called the Reichstag Fire Decree, which decreed his adoption of extraordinary emergency powers to deal with the crises. Then, he approached the Reichstag and requested it to give him “temporary” extraordinary powers to deal with the crises. Filled with fear over the three simultaneous threats — the economic emergency, communism, and terrorism — the Reichstag granted Hitler’s request in what became known as “the Enabling Act.”

That trade of liberty for “safety” and “security” during the crises and emergencies faced by Germany spelled the death knell for liberty and the death knell for the safety and security of the German people.

By the way, take a look at this article from Politico dated March 21, 2020: “DOJ Seeks New Emergency Powers Amid Coronavirus Pandemic.”

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