This is important in light of what I discussed at the outset of this essay because of what appears to be a flawed perception in the minds of many Americans regarding the past. The caricatured version of events held on to by far too many appears to be something like this:
Germany was fascist.
Fascists were racist and exterminating other races.
Therefore we went to war to fight Germany—thus fighting fascism and racism.
Unfortunately for the modern narrative, however, is the reality that America did not fight WWII in order to stop Germans from killing Jews. Although there is substantial evidence showing that many Americans knew of the horrors of Nazi Germany (or, at the very least, should have known), the ongoing efforts to ethnically cleanse Deutschland and much of Europe simply was not a primary (or even secondary) cause for the American committal of military forces. Point of fact, the United States was already a year into their direct involvement in the war before it ever publicly acknowledged the ongoing German atrocities.
Making this even more complicated is the acknowledgement of America’s race-based imprisonment of its own citizens at that time. If we want to make the claim that if the state subjugates one race differently than others then it is inherently fascist, then we must also accept that America had decidedly fascist leanings by locking up Americans of Japanese descent for no other reason than their heritage.
So with regards to current events, we have some problems making a clear-cut correlation with historical realities.
First, fascism itself is difficult to pin down beyond what I outlined above. If that is our working definition, then it is a fairly big umbrella. Any policy or politician who puts “America first!” is in danger of being labeled “fascist.” But is a legislative effort by the United States government that holds America’s interests as most important inherently wrong? Perhaps, perhaps not—it is a worthy discussion for philosophical inquiry, but goes far beyond the scope here. Just pondering the question for a moment, however, should indicate how quickly this gets rather convoluted.
Second, stating that violence against fascism is justified because of our efforts in World War II is more than slightly problematic given the particular brand of Nazi fascism; specifically with regards to its unique efforts in the realm of military expansionism. To argue that punching modern fascists just for being fascists is justifiable because we unleashed Patton on Europe ignores why we entered the war in the first place and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that modern fascists do not have an Army.
Can we answer the question posed at the outset in any direct fashion? We can try, so long as we understand how complex this gets.
The answer is yes, but only if we allow for the fact that fascism can take on many forms, and that the form employed by Nazi Germany was its own unique brand of fascism. So with the answer of yes comes the rather large caveat that although we did enter WWII to stop a fascistic government, we did so because it was using its military to attack other countries well beyond its borders—not because it was inherently racist or of a “Germany first!” mindset. Can that mentality lead to expansionist policies? Certainly, but the issue of whether conquering and pillaging is a direct result of them is another question.
History is messy. Trying to shove historical events into modern narratives is even messier.
Be careful of the correlations you make by reading more about particular time periods within their own context and shy away from surface-level comparisons. We will all benefit from doing so.
In a time of hyper-specialization, Gregory is an accomplished and educated generalist who understands that knowledge from a multitude of disciplines is necessary for true wisdom. A continuous wanderer and seeker of knowledge, he has worn three different colors of beret for the US Army and worked in everything from metal fabrication, music, and bar tending to politics and publishing while on a constant search for life’s meaning.
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