Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Our "moderate" enemies, II

Sir Ian Kershaw, a professor of modern (German) history at the University of Sheffield reviews how wrong British newspapers were about Hitler:

The Guardian thought on September 25 1930 that the exclusion of the Nazi party from Reich government, given its electoral success, was not in the best interests of German democracy and that their involvement would "in the long run ... help to perpetuate this democracy". ....

The Guardian maintained its view, however, that Hitler, "while full of the verbiage of revolution", was "no revolutionary leader". It claimed that he lacked courage, and that his baleful threats before the Leipzig court raised unnecessary fears, while his assurances of proceeding legally had hardly been noticed. It dismissed him on September 29 1930 as "the ranting clown who bangs the drum outside the National Socialist circus". Few things, the newspaper had remarked three days earlier, were less likely than that Hitler would gain sole power in Germany.

By 1932, as the crisis of German democracy deepened, British newspapers devoted far more attention to Nazism. Even now, however, underestimation of Hitler was commonplace. The Observer, still on February 21 1932 seeing Hitler as no more than a demagogue propped up by financially powerful nationalists, reversed course following his candidacy for the Reich presidency in March, when it wrote (March 20 1932) that it would be wrong to regard him "as a mere agitator and rank outsider". Here, as in the Guardian (which still implied on March 30 1932 that Hitler was no more than a charlatan), the emerging view was that he was a "moderate", who might possibly develop into a statesman, but could not control his own violent and unruly movement.

The press also warned against over-emphasizing the anti-semitism of this "moderate" leader:
The Observer, in its article on March 20 1932, hinted that attacks on Hitler's anti-semitism exaggerated the danger, adding: "It must not be forgotten that the major part of the German Republican Press is in Jewish hands."
The desire of liberals to believe the best our enemies repeats today as we are urged to give the benefit of a doubt to the to the moderate and pragmatic enemies like the mullocracy in Iran or urged to believe that "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is not really Al Qaeda.

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