The Nazi Point of View

January 18, 1995|By EDWARD ROEDER

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Newt Gingrich's firing of Christina Jeffrey during her first week on the job as house historian was as unfortunate as his hiring of her. Teaching about Nazism (and, for that matter, communism) is done poorly in America, and he shouldn't have fired her for trying to correct that.

The speaker gave this patronage job to a conservative historian undistinguished but for her loyalty to and dependency upon Gingrich. Then he fired her for a 1986 critique of a school history program on the Nazi genocide of Jews and others during World War II. Dr. Jeffrey had written that the course ''gives no evidence of objectivity. The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view and is not presented, nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan.''

Her charge that the course material was too one-dimensional to meet minimal academic standards is credible; the same is true of most texts on Nazis. The Klan's role in a program on Nazi atrocities was presumably to suggest that the German nightmare of 60 years ago could happen here.

If so, a major reason might be that most Americans know of Nazis only as caricatures: They were conformist goose-steppers (like many armies). They claimed to be a superior breed of people (a belief put forth in almost every culture at one time or another). They were anti-Semitic and persecuted blacks, communists, Gypsies, immigrants and the handicapped (hardly dead paranoias today). They deported and massacred millions of people they regarded as inferior (ethnic cleansing, we might say). And they censored and burned books and denied civil liberties (as do most authoritarians).

This comic-book view may demonize, but it hardly explains Nazis. Our World War II ally, Stalin, ordered many times more murders than the Nazis. Since then, America has supported dictatorships that censor and destroy publications, trample on human rights, promote anti-Semitism, think they're better than other folks and march like toy soldiers.

Polls have never shown America so united as in the 1991 Persian Gulf war to restore to power a dictatorship that does all of the above. Some of our Central American and Persian Gulf clients have even engaged in genocide. The U.S. and its NATO allies are mostly ineffectual witnesses to atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, with the new twist of ethnic mass rape.

Crude caricatures of Nazis do not intellectually equip Americans to identify, let alone to argue against or withstand, a rise of neo-Nazism here. From the history taught in most high school and college courses, how would Americans have any inkling as to what was Nazism? How could they understand the appeal to && Germans in the 1930s of National Socialism? And if they don't understand the appeal, how will they see it coming, if it comes here?

It is fashionable in some liberal circles to condemn right-wing politicians as ''Nazis.'' But few who use the label have a clue to what it means, or would recognize political advocacy in that direction. That Nazism is evil is widely accepted, but suppose it came to us as . . . The New Order? Who would know, and how?

When Dr. Gingrich hired a psychotherapist to teach House Republicans how to use charged buzzwords and psychobabble in casting aspersions on Democrats, did that smack of Josef Goebbels?

Do his calls to curb diverse fonts of knowledge -- from the many House ''caucus'' legislative service organizations to public broadcasting and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities -- amount to a Nazi-like effort to monopolize information? Or is the speaker trying to free the marketplace of ideas from competition financed by the central government?

When he fires a historian for politically incorrect utterings, is that what the Thousand-Year Reich would have done? Or are calls for her firing and the whole ''political correctness'' movement more conformist than anti-fascist?

If affirmative action does little for the most disadvantaged blacks, while allowing the best black students to slack off, knowing that they won't need scores as good as their white colleagues to get into the best schools, is that anti-racist, or sophisticated buy-off-the-leaders racism?

When the Los Angeles chapter of the American Mensa Society publishes articles calling for extermination of folks who are old, homeless or retarded, are these self-identified high-IQ people asserting a Nazi-like superiority? Or is it more conformist to suggest that the rest of us are too dumb to debate euthanasia?

Were the Nazis too far left, too far right, too nationalistic and xenophobic, or what?

Does Dr. Gingrich's advocacy of ''welfare reform'' and orphanages for the offspring of welfare rejects hint at a move toward Nazism? Or is that more true of the present welfare state, as it consigns the poor to high-rise state-defined ghettos, isolated from employed people?

Do federal entitlement programs approach National Socialism, or can that be said of efforts to cut off some benefits?

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