Nazi propaganda came full circle

Today’s Switzerland shows ever more disquieting parallels with the Germany of eight decades ago. Not only does the SVP (Swiss People’s Party), the rightmost major party, commandeer about the same percentage of voters than the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) did in Germany on the eve of Hitler’s chancellery, their very language and imagery is eerily similar.

In fact, the only major artistic difference (full color realism vs few colors) on the following propaganda samples is mostly due to the current mainstream of visualization, whereas the basic element (spreading fear by invoking the bogeyman) is the exact same.

 

“The Jew”

The bogeyman of Germany’s NSDAP was the Jew, depicted as a hook-nosed bankier, blamed for everything bad happening to Germany by manipulating Germany’s enemies. Central to these posters is the easily recognizable figure, dressed in black to evoke feelings of darkness, death and fear. In the first image, it is half-hidden behind the flags of the nations threatening Germany (never mind the fact that Great Britain actually put Jewish refugees from Germany behind barbed wire for the duration of the war and stopped refugee ships before they reached the shores of Palestine, whereas the US had strict immigrant quotas, refusing all Jewish refugees above those limits).

“Behind the hostile powers: the Jew”
“He is to blame for the war!”

 

“The Muslim”

The bogeyman of Switzerland’s SVP is the muslim, blamed for just about everything from destroying our culture to destroying our lives (despite the fact that there has never been an islamic terrorist act on Swiss soil, whereas Swiss weapons sold to questionable buyers regularly surface in killings of muslim civilians all around the globe). Central to these posters is the easily recognizable figure, dressed in black to evoke feelings of darkness, death and fear. In the first image, it is complemented by “minarets” that look more like ICBMs with nuclear warheads, casting shadows over the Swiss flag.

“Stop – Yes to the ban on minarets”
“Naturalize unchecked? No to easier naturalization”

 

The Deceit

Just like being a bankier isn’t part of Judaism, so is repressing women by making them wear a full body veil isn’t part of Islam – it’s a perverted, misogynistic tradition hiding behind willfully misinterpreted scripture – much like the classic Christian patriarchal worldview in Switzerland (and Germany), where “Kinder Küche Kirche” (children, kitchen, church) are the only things a woman should be concerned with. But because the getup of an actual terrorist isn’t as scary an image as that of a hidden person, they picked a blatantly wrong and misleading image that in the process not only hurts muslims who as a religious community are at least as peaceful as Christians (especially concerning Europe, where in the last half century Catholic organizations like the IRA and ETA were responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks), but also women, especially repressed and mistreated women towards whom every decent person should only feel empathy and concern, not fear and hatred. But then again, the role model of today’s Nazi propagandists are yesterday’s Nazi propagandists and Hitler’s regime was famous for regarding women as nothing more than “birthing machines” to produce more soldiers for the cause.

While the situation here in today’s Switzerland is not (yet) as dire as in Hitler’s Germany, it’s not for want of trying by the right wing of the SVP. They intentionally whip up emotions and muddy waters around the elections, to cause the very disillusionment with politicians, government and public institutions that led to people voting against their own interests in the US and the UK in 2016. The original issues in question were completely blown out of proportion (see appendix), up to the point where a level-headed and factual discussion about the issues up for popular vote wasn’t possible any more.

Read moreNazi propaganda came full circle

Confronting the past

After the “alt-right” meeting in the Reagan building a few days ago that ended with the audience giving the Nazi salute, many were shocked at such a public display of Hitlerian values, blaming Trump’s campaign for giving these views a legitimate platform.

While Trump definitely contributed to Nazism’s revival in America, the underlying issue is that unlike West Germany, the US never confronted its Nazi-related past.

After all, this is the country where negative eugenics, one of the cornerstones of Nazi theory, was started… not by fringe groups, but by well-respected (pseudo)scientists whose research was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie-Mellon and other prestigious institutes of higher learning.

American eugenicists created lists of people they deemed unworthy of having offspring and sterilized tens of thousands of American citizens between the two world wars. Some of them even went as far as to practice euthanasia on people they classified as undeserving of life. It was after seeing this in America that Hitler realized he could do the same in Germany with their “rejects”, the first rounds of selection based on illnesses and hereditary defects, later expanded to select whole ethnicities for extermination.

An important factor in allowing these selections to work at the high efficiency levels necessary to be able to exterminate millions within a few years was the specific software developed and distributed by IBM, originally written for American eugenicists to aid in their quest of racial cleansing, later actively marketed to the Nazi government of Germany.

Even seeing the horrors of the Nazi regime didn’t change much in circles of power. While highly publicizing liberated concentration camps, after the end of the war in Europe many inmates were to remain behind the barbed wire for months to come, their German guards being replaced by British and American soldiers. A number of Jews who survived the Holocaust died in the camps after they were liberated.

And while the Nazis’ victims were still “being processed” in the repurposed concentration camps, their tormentors were already on American soil, employed by US government agencies for their knowledge in medicine, rocketry and other branches of physics and chemistry. High-level Nazis who oversaw projects costing thousands of lives were welcomed at laboratories and agencies all over America, some of them being so instrumental in areas like rocketry, space exploration and space medicine that even to this day some institutes of higher learning publicly display plaques honoring these “heroes”.

And if that wasn’t dark enough, thousands of ruthless Nazi mass murderes received refuge in America after the war as clandestine agents in the struggle against communism. Their horrible deeds of massacring innocents in the Soviet Union actually worked in their favor in the Cold War climate.

Some of these Nazis are still alive and living comfortably in the United States, protected by a government that even after seven decades doesn’t want to admit what they really did. And without admitting to past mistakes, one is doomed to repeat them.

The suicide of a nation

On the 93rd anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, the American people elected someone who publicly quoted Mussolini, was OK with being endorsed by the KKK and called just about every non-white ethnic group in the United States criminals, terrorists and the like. While most of the world is shocked about this “unprecedented turn”, in reality it’s just the United States going back to its roots. It is after all a country built on one of the largest genocides in human history, in which white supremacists fueled by religious fanaticism exterminated hundreds of nations. To some extent, America tried to come to grips with its past and evolve into a more humane society, but that rubbed many people the wrong way – they felt that what their ancestors did was the right thing, and nobody should say it wasn’t.

When people feel attacked, they lash out and don’t care who gets in the way. At a certain point, they just want to hurt everybody around them, even if they destroy themselves in the process. This is exactly what tens of millions of American voters did on this fateful anniversary, as an anonymous commenter so succinctly put it: “given a choice between two evils, people chose the greater evil”.

When freedom is worth less than nothing

When the American people found out about the secret NSA programs, they were livid. For years afterward, Europe has been pointing and laughing at Americans for disregarding the warning of one of their Founding Fathers: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

No more.

Yesterday, smack dab in the heart of Europe, in one of the freest, most liberal Western democracies – Switzerland -, after years of Snowden revelations, two thirds of voters opted for a state surveillance more oppressive than anything the United States government ever dreamt of. It was not created in secret. It was not implemented over the head of Swiss citizens. Instead, it was freely accepted by the majority of my landsmen.

For decades, the question on the mind of advocates of freedom and democracy was why people oppressed by authoritarian governments accept their rights being taken away. After yesterday, that question is academic at most, and the new question is why well-off people in a functioning democracy would sign away their rights and their freedom for no tangible return of any kind.

The answer is probably not that surprising after 15 years of fear-mongering (also called “The War on Terror”, probably because “The War for Oil, Heroin and Big Bank Bonuses” doesn’t have a great ring to it). The average Swiss citizen’s mind is obviously filled with terrifying images of bearded Arabs wearing suicide vests and charging straight into a classroom (never mind that it did not happen even once). And this blind fear robs them of their faculties, their ability to think clearly.

Because if years of Snowden revelations, Wikileaks and Anonymous taught us anything, it’s that sooner or later that government agency will be hacked and all that vacuumed up data will be available online, either for all to see or to the highest bidder. State surveillance is an illusion of security that is actually less secure than no surveillance, because the number one profiters will be criminals and maybe even terrorists. They will have to put a lot less effort into gathering intel for their attacks, because the government so kindly collected and organized it all for them.

Maybe if those trying to prevent the vote going so wrong would have used the argument “no matter how much you trust your government, do you also trust the criminals who will inevitably get access to the same data?”, people might have realized they can’t vote out of misguided fear. Then again, maybe not – their thought processes were probably more like “terrorists terrorists omg terrorists refugees terrorists terrorists refugees refugees omg omg please wise military protect us from those people who would take our lives or even worse our wealth omg terrorists omg refugees omg omg”

The Swiss government’s war on the weak

Multinational corporations like Glencore and their subsidiaries pay off local governmental forces or hire mercenaries in resource rich third world countries to drive inhabitants off off their legally owned land so they can mine the minerals or drill for oil. Swiss law doesn’t allow for class action lawsuits, so every single ousted person would have to hire his or her own lawyer and sue these huge corporations alone, instead of the thousands of victims banding together and filing one common lawsuit.

Swiss law allows the sale of weapons to any country not on a very short list, provided the buyer promises the weapons won’t end up in the hands of human rights abusers. The sole control mechanism is the so-called “end user certificate” which is exactly what it sounds like: a worthless piece of paper. Regimes not on the list can purchase arms unfettered, even if they have a track record of using these arms against their own citizens in nonviolent protests or their troops are partaking in a neighboring country’s civil war. Not even if such a regime resells (or gifts) the weapons en masse to known terrorist organizations are they barred from further purchases. Even regimes with known human rights violations can buy arms with certain limitations, for example if the war materiel is declared as only suitable for training purposes. That’s how airplanes from Pilatus Werke ended up strafing civilians in Darfur: all the Sudanese regime had to do was use a different order form for the wing-mount machine guns and missile launchers.

Chemical conglomerates like Syngenta scout out highly customized local crops in remote third world locations, take samples without notifying local authorities and then bring them back to Europe and North America where they patent them, to in turn go back to the place of origin and serve farmers with a notice that they either pay the licensing fees or are not allowed to plant the crops their ancestors lived off for centuries.

And while some Swiss NGOs are calling on government and parliament to pass laws fixing the injustice, their pleas fall on deaf ears. Unlike in the US, here in Switzerland the law doesn’t require politicians to disclose gifts and payments received from lobbyists.