Repealing Godwin's Law
"Evil is real and it must be called by its name and
it must be confronted" - Dick Cheney at Auschwitz
It's been several days now, but I still can't get past the peculiar disgrace of Dick Cheney. The green parka with white fur, and the brown, lace-up hiking boots were inappropriate enough for a solemn ceremony at the world's most notorious symbol of runaway eugenics. But the toque, with the words "Staff 2001" - that's almost too much, even for a conspiracy theorist. Cheney might as well have been cradling Flight 11's "unrecovered" flight recorders in his lap, and sneering into the camera, "What you gonna do about it?"
It's easy to ask, What was he thinking? Harder, is to answer, Was he thinking that? Because without knowing his mind, we can assert with some confidence that Cheney's choices were deliberate. Unlike a thoughtless tourist, the Homeland's acting President would have been conscious of the impression he was making. And if, somehow, he wasn't, he had the fail safe of a staff well-versed in protocol to set him right. (In other words, no need to call Putin the night before and say, "So, what are you wearing to Auschwitz?")
But I'm going to cut myself some slack on this singular morbidity. As I said, it's been just a few days. And after all, it's been 60 years, and we still can't get past the Nazis. None, more so than the CIA.
Saturday's New York Times:
CIA Said to Rebuff Congress on Nazi Files
The Central Intelligence Agency is refusing to provide hundreds of thousands of pages of documents sought by a government working group under a 1998 law that requires full disclosure of classified records related to Nazi war criminals, say Congressional officials from both parties.
Under the law, the C.I.A. has already provided more than 1.2 million pages of documents, the vast majority of them from the archives of its World War II predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services. Many documents have been declassified, and some made public last year showed a closer relationship between the United States government and Nazi war criminals than had previously been understood, including the CIA's recruitment of war criminal suspects or Nazi collaborators.
For nearly three years, the CIA has interpreted the 1998 law narrowly and rebuffed requests for additional records, say Congressional officials and some members of the working group, who also contend that that stance seems to violate the law.
These officials say the agency has sometimes agreed to provide information about former Nazis, but not about the extent of the agency's dealings with them after World War II. In other cases, it has refused to provide information about individuals and their conduct during the war unless the working group can first provide evidence that they were complicit in war crimes.
Former Congresswoman and member of the working group Elizabeth Holtzman contends that "the CIA has defied the law, and in so doing has also trivialized the Holocaust, thumbed its nose at the survivors of the Holocaust and also at Americans who gave their lives in the effort to defeat the Nazis in World War II." Looking at Cheney, maybe there's a pattern emerging.
If the Nazis are truly in the dustbin of history, what are we to make of the fact that, 60 years on, the Agency is still keeping secrets about their post-war recruitment, even violating the law to do so? (And these are just the secrets that we know they're keeping. I would expect that the most privileged secrets have left no paper trail. As, I believe, Richard Helms advised.)
But when we talk about the relationship between the Nazis and American institutions, we must talk about more than Project Paperclip. Because there's more going on here than the virtual co-founding of America's National Security State by thousands of Nazi scientists. Before the CIA existed, before the War, even before Hitler's rise to power, Anglo-American eugenics was informing and inspiring apt pupils in Germany, including the future architects of genocide.
The Carnegie Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, JP Morgan and Averell Harriman can be counted among the head cheerleaders and principal financiers of the American eugenics movement, which found keen partners in great academies like Harvard and Yale and in numerous state and federal departments. Edwin Black writes in War Against the Weak that "they were all bent on breeding a eugenically superior race, just as agronomists would breed better strains of corn. The plan was to wipe away the reproductive capability of the weak and inferior." Sixty thousand Americans were sterilized in the process, many without their knowledge.
American eugenic crusades proliferated into a worldwide campaign, and in the 1920s came to the attention of Adolf Hitler. Under the Nazis, American eugenic principles were applied without restraint, careening out of control into the Reich's infamous genocide. During the pre-War years, American eugenicists openly supported Germany's program. The Rockefeller Foundation financed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and the work of its central racial scientists. Once WWII began, Nazi eugenics turned from mass sterilization and euthanasia to genocidal murder. One of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute doctors in the program financed by the Rockefeller Foundation was Josef Mengele who continued his research in Auschwitz, making daily eugenic reports on twins. After the world recoiled from Nazi atrocities, the American eugenics movement — its institutions and leading scientists — renamed and regrouped under the banner of an enlightened science called human genetics.
Investigative journalist Jon Rappaport makes a similar point regarding MK-ULTRA and related programs, and draws an even more distressing conclusion, in his 1997 lecture "The CIA, Mind Control and Children":
I would say this is a Nazi project, but a lot of the Nazis are American-born. It shouldn't be excused or explained away on that basis because as we know, if we look at Nazi psychiatry for example, they learned a lot from the Americans, especially about eugenics. This is not something where we should say, " ... well, the Nazis took over ..." This is home-grown stuff. This is Americana at its worst, at its lowest form. This is also the sub-sub-basement that you walk into when you are a materialist, when that is your philosophy. And I don't mean you are a materialist in the sense that you want money, possessions ... I mean, philosophically. The materialist position is that we are meat, and tissue, and cells, and electrical impulses, and that's it. When that system collapses, we are gone, never to return. My own feeling is that when you espouse and embrace that philosophy, the ultimate, ultimate sub-basement that you end up in is that sub-basement ... that's where you end up. Finally, that's where it all comes out.
Formally stated, Godwin's Law, or the Rule of Nazi Analogies, posits that, "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." The law was articulated about ten years ago by Mike Godwin, then-legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to counter a proliferation of Nazi analogies online which he regarded as illogical and offensive rhetorical overreach. As popularly understood, the law implies that the first person to invoke the Nazis in a debate loses the argument.
Godwin can be forgiven for believing, in the mid-90s, that Nazi comparisons were overraught. To think the same now must require a massive infusion of Kool Aid from Sidney Gottlieb's punchbowl. But as suggested, much of what we're seeing in America today has antecedents which pre-date Nazi Germany, with a significant homegrown component, that give the appearance of German Naziism but which actually served in part as its inspiration.
It is a project which Franklin Roosevelt frustrated, and the heirs of the project mean to see through now to conclusion. We can see it show its public face in such things as the recent New York Times article "Can Anyone Unseat FDR?" ("Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state," says Stephen Moore, who wants to "jab a spear through it"), and Bush's only seemingly empty jargon of an "ownership society." If the project succeeds, then Nazi Germany, rather than a grotesque aberration of modern history, will be regarded as merely "ahead of its time."
As we trundle on towards this century's astonishing convergence of crises, we should remember there are many powerful people with familiar names who believe the problem is not that there are too few resources; the problem is there are too many people. And what are we going to do about them?