The NSA spying program, recently revealed, is troubling on many levels. The most troubling, however, may just be Americans lack of concern over it.
poll shows majority ok with NSA spying.
The most disturbing thing about the above poll is that in 2007, the same poll showed that a majority of Republicans/Conservatives favored domestic spy programs while a majority of Democrats/Liberals opposed them. So basically, it seems that Americans don't care if their government spies on their communications just as long as they support the person in charge. You know who else didn't care if their government spied on them? The Germans in 1933.
History is full of important tips for how we should handle our present...actually that's pretty much the point of recorded history. Unfortunately, too few people pay attention to history for it to make much difference. And most people decry any kind of historical point if it involves Adolf Hitler. It seems that most people think that Adolf Hitler was the worst human being to ever exist and so want to erase him from history, and our minds, entirely. I disagree. I think Hitler was the worst human being to ever exist and so I want to learn about the things he did so that we can prevent them from ever happening again. Forgetting Hitler is the first step to letting another one rise.
Still, as soon as many people hear a comparison to Nazi Germany they cry foul and chastise me for even making such a comparison. Here's why they shouldn't. And why every American (heck, every human) should be concerned about the NSA and other government programs designed to spy on citizens.
On February 27th, 1933, the German parliament building, called the Reichstag, was burned to the ground. To this day, no one knows exactly who started the fire. (Some claim the Nazis themselves did it.) But German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party leaders nonetheless blamed it on the Communists. They said that the Communists were planning a revolution against the German government and that the Reichstag Fire was supposed to be a sign to Communist terror cells all over the country to begin a wave of attacks. Within 24 hours of the fire, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom of Expression were all suspended. The majority of German citizens gave up these rights without a second thought. It was necessary, they said, in order to prevent the terrible attacks the Communists were planning.
School teacher Louise Solmitz justified it by saying, "[The Communists] wanted to send armed mobs into villages to commit murder and plunder. Hostages would be taken from the Middle Class. Wives and children of police officers used as human shields."
Brunswick resident Elizabeth Gebensleben added, "This ruthless intervention by the government may appear strange, but we must clean up. The Communists have to disappear."
And author Sebastian Haffner described the attitude of most Germans with this: "All of [the people I talked to] are very interested in the question of who really started the fire, and more than one of them hinted that they had doubts about the official story. But none of them were bothered that from now on their telephones would be tapped, their letters opened, and their desks broken into." [Emphasis mine]
Thousands of people associated with the Communist Party were imprisoned across Germany, without evidence or trial. Simply being a member of that political party was enough to get you arrested, indefinitely imprisoned, or worse. Yet the majority of German people approved of the invasive measures of the Nazi government and applauded the round up of the Communists. After all, the government was only doing it to protect its citizens. And giving up some degree of privacy is worth it in order to be safe. Plus, as long as you weren't a Communist, you had nothing to worry about. The German people were ok with it.
All you have to do is replace the word communist with the word terrorist and you have the America of today. Shall we continue our view of history to see how it worked out for the Germans?
On the 23rd of March, 1933, the German parliament voted to pass the Enabling Act, basically making Adolf Hitler dictator. After all, it was a time of national emergency, and the Nazis would be better able to protect the citizens from Communist terrorists if Hitler didn't have to constantly go through the German parliament. Again, the German people applauded the move. One said, "We cry with happiness and joy! All traces of resistance have been eliminated. Enthusiasm grips the entire nation! We can hardly believe that our beloved Fürher stands alone at the head of the Reich!"
Sebastian Haffner described the following months like this: "Church bells ring; children wave flags. There are daily parades. The people have become used to cheering, even when there's no reason for it. It is reason enough that people who distance themselves from the Nazis are tortured to death daily with steel whips and electric drills."
The German people enjoyed a prosperous year. Most had high hopes for their future and the future of their children. They were unconcerned with reports of political dissidents being targeted by the police and government. They cared less about the government spying on their communications. They celebrated the arrests of the Communists and believed they were living in a better Germany than they had been a year ago. 1934 looked like it was going to be a good year. For some, it was anything but.
In 1934, the Nazis began their eugenics program. Weeding out "undesirable genetic traits" was a key to this. And so the German government began surgically preventing anyone with undesirable traits from breeding. Over 400,000 Germans were forcibly sterelized for such "genetic flaws" as blindness, deafness, epilepsy, homosexuality, mental depression, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and physical deformity, among others. Including suffering a nervous breakdown, as one factory worker explained to her friend: "I have been informed by writing that I am to be rendered infertile. I reject this decision. I cannot understand why they want to sterilize me since I've done nothing wrong. Anyone could have suffered from a nervous breakdown."
Suddenly, having the government listening to your phone calls and reading your mail didn't turn out to be such a minor thing. The government knowing private details about their citizens made it a whole lot easier for them to determine how to handle them. Accusing the government of crimes in a letter could get you arrested. Asking your sick aunt how she was doing over the phone could get her sterilized. There was no place to hide.
I know, I know...it couldn't happen here. Well do you honestly think that the German citizens thought that the things that happened to them would in 1933? Do you think that Germans with epilepsy thought that they would be forcibly sterilized? Do you think that German Jews thought that they would be slaughtered? They didn't, as author Erich Ebermayer explained in 1933: "We are having lunch with a law professor and his wife. They are both Jewish. The amazing thing is that this clever, charming woman is not at all opposed to the Nazis. On the contrary, she lectures us on the outstanding qualities of Adolf Hitler, on the greatness of the age which we are allowed to witness, on the national rebirth. And she is firmly convinced that no harm whatsoever will come to educated Jews in Germany."
What do you say, American? Firmly convinced that no harm whatsoever will come of the government spying program? Firmly convinced that "it could never happen here?" I hope and pray that you are right. But history tends to disagree.