How often in the pages of the Daily Republic have I seen history enthusiasts declare something like, “Hitler took away the guns; Mao took away the guns; Stalin took away the guns, and look what happened!” The point of the argument is that it can happen here.
No it can’t.
Certainly the vision of jack-booted government agents kicking in your front door does exist in the Technicolor imaginings of some of our more excitable citizens, but in fact, it can’t happen here. To claim otherwise is a misuse of history.
We live today in modern times. Modern people (and certainly post-modern people) will not tolerate dictators nor genocides. Proof? Let’s look at the conditions that resulted in genocides in the 20th century and compare them to today.
In the case of Germany, you have a people who were at the threshold of modernity. Culturally and economically, the Germans were largely modern. The problem was in governance.
The Germans still respected a strongman leader. Not for them this French thing called equality. Many Germans thought that they were a different species of human; one that did best with a military leader. Long before the rise of Adolf Hitler, Germans were longing for a fuhrer, a leader to lead them to their “place in the sun,” the leadership of Europe and therefore, the world.
Enter Hitler. He disparaged modernity. War and dominion was the dream he gave his people. He told German women to have lots of babies so they could die in the wars of the fatherland. He predicted “Europe today; tomorrow, the world!”
Americans, do you have babies so that they can die in war? Would you tolerate a dictator? Of course not; you’re modern. If Barack Obama wanted to confiscate all guns, would he find millions of people to dress in brown shirts and rummage in your closets? Of course not.
There are no good dictators. German dreams of conquest were dashed and they have become thoroughly modern today. No strong man need apply.
Stalin? The problems of Germany magnified by 30. The only governmental tradition was also a strong single leader, a Caesar (czar). Well, how about a “man of steel” instead? Someone named Stalin. When he ordered his loyal cadres to confiscate the food that the recalcitrant Ukrainians had withheld, they did so. Six million Ukrainian farmers starved to death.
Could the U.S. government take away the food of millions of Americans? Plainly, it’s unthinkable. Cadres would refuse.
China? They had an emperor for 2,000 years. Confucianism instructed them to shut up and obey. Obey your emperor, obey your husband, your father, your older brother, but always obey. So in the Great Leap Forward, Mao said to melt your pots and pans for steel and 30 million people obeyed and died. Thirty million – Hitler and Stalin were pikers.
If President Obama told you to melt your pots and pans because steel is the metal of modernity, would you?
No, modern people know that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Applying premodern events to modern countries is an abuse of the study of history. The U.S. is a modern nation, universally suspicious of governmental power and golden dreams. Democrats and Republicans, both pointing to a Constitution that divides power, are suspicious of power. Hitler, Stalin and Mao can’t happen here.
When you hear otherwise, just say, “That’s a misuse of history.”
Jack Batson is a former member of the Fairfield City Council. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.