Saturday, May 21, 2022

HITLER'S AMERICAN FRIENDS: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States, traitorous fascist sympathizers aren't new

HITLER'S AMERICAN FRIENDS: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States

Thomas Dunne Books
$11.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: A book examining the strange terrain of Nazi sympathizers, nonintervention campaigners and other voices in America who advocated on behalf of Nazi Germany in the years before World War II.

Americans who remember World War II reminisce about how it brought the country together. The less popular truth behind this warm nostalgia: until the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was deeply, dangerously divided.

Bradley W. Hart's Hitler's American Friends exposes the homegrown antagonists who sought to protect and promote Hitler, leave Europeans (and especially European Jews) to fend for themselves, and elevate the Nazi regime.

Some of these friends were Americans of German heritage who joined the Bund, whose leadership dreamed of installing a stateside Führer. Some were as bizarre and hair-raising as the Silver Shirt Legion, run by an eccentric who claimed that Hitler fulfilled a religious prophesy. Some were Midwestern Catholics like Father Charles Coughlin, an early right-wing radio star who broadcast anti-Semitic tirades. They were even members of Congress who used their franking privilege—sending mail at cost to American taxpayers—to distribute German propaganda. And celebrity pilot Charles Lindbergh ended up speaking for them all at the America First Committee.

We try to tell ourselves it couldn't happen here, but Americans are not immune to the lure of fascism. Hitler's American Friends is a powerful look at how the forces of evil manipulate ordinary people, how we stepped back from the ledge, and the disturbing ease with which we could return to it.


My Review
: It's always been a failing of the left-wing political folk to see the Apocalypse in each and every thunderation from the Christo-Fascist Right as the ongoing battle for the USA's soul continues. There are now, there were in the 1950s, there were in the 1930s and 1940s, traitorous scum whose personal vision of a Perfect World contains only people like them, who are willing to do anything legal or not to enforce their will on the eternal majority who don't want that. In an article in The Nation, the author of the think piece I've linked to comments most saliently on the Red Scare years' school-textbook battles, book burnings, and other such performative outrage with this pithy remark:
Most Americans don’t think that proponents of critical race theory are secretly spreading “Marxism” in the schools, either, or that woke corporations are somehow supporting the same evil project. The people who make such claims are a small minority, just as they were in the 1950s.

The fact is that our country's been under some form of internal attack from fascist and/or authoritarian right-wing rabble since Day One. So has every other political structure. Let's not forget the fate of Periclean Athens. It's the eternal project of greedy, selfish control freaks to get everything they can into their own hands and to control what they can't possess.

Author Hart made a well-researched and -written alarm call against calm, resigned acceptance of the culture coup attempted during the 45th president's term in this book. He uses the well-documented and clearly overcome existence, activities, and failures of Nazi sympathizers in the US. It is an effective technique; it uses as its organizing principle a simple structure: Each chapter is dedicated to a single organization active in promoting German/Nazi interests in the US, and gives some crucial details about how and why this choice was made. It also characterizes and puts into timely context the people who made up the institution in question. This avoids a common trap in histories of zeitgeists or social movements, the dreaded alphabet soup of initialism and too-similar or too-often-repeated names. That admittedly more synthetic approach can weave a tapestry of details. It more often than that causes severe MEGO disease.

The most disturbing take-away of this entire loudly rung tocsin is that these forces of anti-democratic rage failed because they lacked a credible, powerful leader. Today's versions, it is very frightening to realize, do not suffer from that lack. It isn't that Author Hart is unaware of this, it's that he seemed to feel he shouldn't make as much of the echoes I heard in each chapter of current events as I would've preferred. There is something to be said for taking off the gloves and hitting the enemy within hard. It's something "they" do a lot of (see my review of The Obama Hate Machine) and with a lot less factual basis than Author Hart presents.

Why this book only gets four stars from me is the quite startling number of uncorrected typos that made it from the DRC I read into the library copy I checked out. Scandalous! And, in the end, there were moments that I found myself not quite satisfied with the case the author made for some person or organization's motivation for opposing the US entry into WWII. Mixed motives are more common than pure ones on every gradation of the ideological spectrum, as (for example) morally based pacifism is present among right-wingers, too.

Perhaps the most telling thing that I noticed go underremarked was the utter ineffectuality of Hoover's FBI in going after right-wing terrorism. Red Scare propaganda against our nominal allies the Soviets was rife. How telling that is...British intelligence informed the US government better about domestic threats than Hoover's FBI.

I was still angered and unsettled and unnerved by this read. I am recommending it to all and sundry who think the Right's victory in the 2022 midterm elections is somehow inevitable. We who do not wish to have our country scourged by the hypocrites and religious nuts of this book's modern counterparts should heed Author Hart's dictum: "{U}nfortunately, the merchants of hate always seem to have someone to listen to them." Let's plug the holes in our national awareness. It can only help the side dedicated to the rights and duties of citizens against the Right's attacks on them.

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