Among the loose affiliation of reactionary right wing internet talkers, a truism is that, if the Jews of Germany had guns, the Nazis would never have achieved total power or would have had a far more difficult time exterminating their victims.
This argument is attached to the defense of the 2nd Amendment as an example of a possible worst case scenario anywhere the authorities seek to strip civilians of their “right to bare arms” and protect themselves.
Ardent liberals counter with a (selective) examination of the facts including both the power of the legal infrastructure, as well as issues of social conditioning that all coerced Jews into subjugation and eventually extermination.
They are of course not wrong, but what goes missing in this counter narrative is the extent to which it is the liberals who were and thus remain complicit in the maintenance of a false narrative, that in being false, ironically supports the reactionaries.
The fact is that many Jews did have guns, and were part of (semi) well organized anti-fascist militias and paramilitary organizations and that they engaged in an armed rebellion against the fascists.
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were Jews. They had guns. The Spartacus League, regardless of what one thinks of its politics, was armed. They fought against the fascists and they were crushed. They were not alone and thousands of others – Jews and non Jews – were arrested, tortured, and in many cases, executed. Defeated during the 1920s they were far more vulnerable in the 1930s and when the Nazis saw their chance, and declared a state of emergency after the Rheistag fire, among the first people arrested and sent to the first camps, were leftists and among the left many of the Nazis’ victims were Jews.
But behind that, buried within the narrative as it is presented, is the complicity of the liberals who being more afraid of the Bolsheviks and the Marxists than they were of the fascists, made common cause with the extreme right.
Thus, the contemporary reactionaries are not wrong when they say, if the Jews of Germany had guns, the Nazis would have had a far greater challenge, but what they leave out is that it was the liberals and the conservatives who outsourced the savagery to the fascists; that the fascists won, and it was not “Jewish passivity” that led to cattle cars and the abyss.
This in turn is an example of the persistent fabrication of narratives in the service of socio-political hierarchies. And we hasten to add, it is not a habit of only one part of the political spectrum. However, for the contemporary conservatives and neo-fascists, the elision of the facts that contextualize the left’s response to the bankrupt post war system after 1918, allows for an assault on the contemporary progressive agenda. By separating what came before from what came after, by amputating the narrative from context and context from stubborn facts, the fiction is presented as an official autopsy; an excavation of a buried truth that in the light of day proves the illegitimacy of one’s opponent.
For the liberals the limp rejection of the right wing narrative allows both righteous indignation in the face of the blatant knuckle dragging, mouth breathing barbarism of the right, but also allows them to claim the moral high ground by pretending that their political ancestors were not complicit and that it is not the heritage, the very DNA of liberalism that in every instance it has first, made common cause with fascism to defeat the left, and only after having exhausted all other options, did what was right. In other words, appeasement is the political version of children who having murdered their parents, demand mercy from the court because, they are orphans.
Consider the film or photographs that depict British Prime Minister Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler. A symbol of perfidy, weakness and betrayal. And yet, that image is essential as prologue to the image of Churchill as everything opposite that – honest, heroic, resolute. But add the facts of what occurred prior to Chamberlain having to meet with Hitler and the narrative changes.
Consider then that decades later, a dictator on the eve of a war is defined as another Hitler, but the prologue to that assertion involves a photograph of a high ranking member of the political establishment shaking hands with the dictator.
To say that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant and a menace, is to push against an open door. To say that he was, as Bush the First claimed, another Hitler means, that either he was, when shaking hands with Donald Rumsfeld, not Hitlerian, or was and the establishment was either too stupid or too feckless to care, or saw that he was and viewed him favorably as a cudgel with which they could destroy the indigenous left, again changes the narrative. Thus, either Bush was analogue to Chamberlain, or the thug, while absolutely a thug, did not arrive from nowhere and was put into power with the assistance of his future enemies.
This is the mirror image in reverse; the narrative spliced, recast, transformed to suit the new narrative which asserts a different moral requirement, but rests on the manipulation of the previous facts to maintain its claim to authority. This is the system of control, exercised by both the left and the right; conservative and liberal. The presentation of facts is in its method a silent assertion of terminal authority. The content and the image fuse and both become symbols of a truth as tautology.
Recently we have been treated to a pair of film biographies of Winston Churchill. Framed as anti-Brexit celebrations of stubborn commitment to unity in the face of division, and a moral defense of basic ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity in the face of the blunt savagery of fascism, this is Churchill as flawed hero but hero above all else.
In this narrative Churchill is aware of his faults and is more Shakespeare’s Henry V than common pol. Like Henry he grows into the burden of command and leadership, and triumphs against both the weak sisters of the appeasement camp, and the monsters of the fascist nightmare.
In this narrative he is troubled by memories of Gallipoli and his responsibility for the deaths of thousands. But, summoned to greatness he answers the clarion call and saves the world from itself. He defeats Brexit, and the Germans and fades away into history until need summons him again.
And, this is not a lie, per se. On the one hand this is the fate of all great figures – to be subsumed within an endless set of narratives until fact is transformed by the alchemy of memory, and time into fable and fable into myth. Thus Churchill, like Arthur and Lancelot, or JFK or any other heroic figure, becomes an amalgam of fact and not quite truth and outright lie all taffy-pulled to suit the needs of different narratives.
But the facts remain. In an attempt to defend T.S. Eliot from being an anti-Semite and a fascist, the amateur literary critic James Wood admitted to the bigotry of Eliot’s poetry, but codified it as a minor rash confined to one limb and not an all-over rot of the soul. It was, said Wood, not essential to Eliot’s world view. What goes missing in this episode of pseudo-intellectual moral palsy, is that even if one grants the premise, the fact remains that if Eliot’s anti-Semitism was not essential to his work, his work was essential to the justification of anti-Semitism in England specifically and to Europe generally, and was of a whole and in support of both the fascist attack on freedom and liberalism’s suicide, as it attempted to escape by throwing leftists and Jews on the fire.
Thus, one returns to Churchill going to Italy to declare Mussolini the man of the hour; the champion of the noble defense against the godless Bolsheviks. This of course is the Mussolini who was on the payroll of British intelligence and a decade later, in one of his lesser known books, Churchill would say of Hitler that while he was a bit rough and his methods more like Al Capone than a statesman, history may yet prove him correct.
That Churchill later was the indispensable man and deserves full credit and honor for doing what was right is true, but the fact remains that his first instinct was to do what was wrong, and evil.
The story it is often said, must be told. True enough but what is just, if not more important, is to ask who is telling it, and what are they leaving out, what are they including and in what order are they arranging the details.
As we stand again before the on-ramp to catastrophe, as we watch the liberal consensus being set on fire and set itself on fire, it is essential to know the facts, and to repeat them.
The issue is not what if they had guns with which they could have defended themselves.
The issue is, what if they had allies who did not betray them to the devil.