Good grief, Newt Gingrich is "teaching" history again. On the Bill O'Reilly show the other day, Gingrich came up with his biggest lie about history yet. He said, "I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us...it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion."
Wow. And to think that the real fascists were neither gay nor secular. ln fact, the real fascists supported -- and were shamelessly supported by -- ultra-traditional Christian religion. I'm talking mainly about Spain's Franco, Germany's Hitler and Italy's Mussolini, who were the most powerful and destructive figures among European fascist rulers of the 20th century.
Hitler himself -- who is the focus of American conservatives' fascistophobia -- was born and raised a Catholic, and never left the Catholic Church. Indeed, he encouraged his top leadership people to stay Catholic as well.
This subject could fill a book -- an encyclopedia, in fact. So in this post I'll point out just a few things. But they are things that should stand every American's hair on end.
What Is Real Fascism?
I got a close-up look at real fascism in the 1960s, when I lived in Spain, working for a U.S. media company there.
By then, Spain had been governed by fascism for two and a half decades, and was opening up to foreign trade and tourism. But the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco was still firmly in place, complete with state religion, secret police, political executions, and censorship. Even my own magazine, the Reader's Digest, was subject to franquista censorship. With traditional Catholic morality still in place, Spain prohibited divorce, birth control and women's equality. And extreme homophobia had kept the gay community pretty much wiped out, going back to when the Civil War broke out in 1936, and fascist troops executed gay poet Federico Garcia Lorca in the first days of the war.
El Caudillo (Spanish for "leader") also enjoyed a cozy concordat with the Roman Catholic Church. This was good for Franco...not so good for the Church. Its close relationship with this cruel dictator and its failure to point out Franco's abuses and atrocities had finally, after 500 years of entrenched Catholicism in Spain, cost the Church its credibility with many Spanish people. When I was there, only around 20 percent of the population were still practicing Catholics. The rest had abandoned Catholicism in disgust. Even some of the remaining faithful were more than ready for fascism to go away.
Throughout the 20th century, a number of fascist regimes popped up like thunderheads along the Western horizon, all the way from north Europe to South America. They all had certain dark quirks in common. They were totalitarian, right-wing and military -- fiercely nationalistic, often expansionist, and enjoyed strong support from wealthy aristocracy, industry and big business.
Webster's Dictionary makes a stab at defining fascism, saying it "exalts nation and often race above the individual. [It is] a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition."
But the Webster's definition carefully avoids mentioning religion. Yet Europe's fascist regimes had religious underpinnings. Much of Europe's ultraconservative Christian leadership -- notably the Vatican -- supported and appeased those 20th-century fascist movements. In fact, the tie to conservative Christianity made fascism the sworn enemy of communism, which had stomped on the churches in every country it took over. The Christian tie also made fascism obsessively and moralistically controlling of the sexual, reproductive and family lives of its citizens.
Last but not least, the "forcible suppression" of fascist regimes was directed at classes of people that conservative Protestants and Catholics had always hated and feared -- notably Jews and homosexuals.
Fascist Pacts with Christian Churches
Those big three dictators -- Hitler, Mussolini and Franco -- all had concordats with the Catholic Church. Mussolini signed his in 1929, while Hitler negotiated his concordat in 1933 with Cardinal Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII. Franco renewed Spain's handshake with Rome right after he won the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War. This way, three different partnerships were created in which the Vatican helped the three dictators to keep a grip on their tradition-minded Catholic citizens while getting perks and support from the regimes in return.
In Hitler's case, with Germany being 2/3 Lutheran, he needed Protestant support as well. So thousands of Lutheran clergy and church members swore an oath of absolute loyalty to Hitler, making der Fuhrer (German for "leader") the de facto head of the German Lutheran Church. The following year, Hitler consolidated his rise to power because he got 84.6% of the nationwide popular vote, representing both the Protestant voters in north Germany and the Catholic voters in south Germany.
To their credit, some courageous Lutherans and Catholics organized resistance movements against Naziism. But they paid a terrible price when they were caught. The rest of the population failed to see, or chose not to see, where their country was going, even though Hitler had laid it all out for them with ruthless clarity in his speeches and his book Mein Kampf.
Ever since World War II ended in 1945, both the Vatican and the German Lutheran Church have been dodging questions of accountability for that blip in their history when they cooperated with the Nazis and failed to speak out about Nazi atrocities.
Hitler on Being Christian
Americans who believe that Hitler was a "secular" and "pagan" figure have never bothered to read Mein Kampf. Today it's one of the least-read among history-making books. Copies have been quietly removed from most public and school libraries, so the only place you can find it is online and used-book services.
And no wonder it's ignored. When I read it for the first time, I was amazed to see the many invocations of Almighty God, and the admiring mentions of the Holy Roman Empire. And comments like the following: "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
Hitler's speeches are revealing too, though only specialists in academic cubbyholes study them today. They're familiar to American TV viewers, who see the vintage news footage of the Fuhrer ranting in German at the podium. But the TV documentaries are careful to not translate, or else they choose speeches without any Christian content. Reason: many of the speeches glaringly reveal Hitler's Christian bent. Like the one in Munich on April 12, 1922, when he talked about his perceived Christian duty to war on Jews. "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter."
No, Hitler was not your conventional sectarian Christian. Indeed, he despised conventional Christianity, and kept it around only to use it for his own purposes. Unlike Franco and Mussolini, who ruled countries that were heavily Catholic, he had to deal with a country whose people had literally split in two over issues of faith, north Germany vs. south Germany. So he aimed to create a state Nazi religion that would unify the country, bringing Protestants and Catholics together in one belief. The idea was to draw heavily on symbols and traditions from Germania's early Christian past, before Catholics and Protestants split during the Reformation. (And by the way, the swastika may have pagan origins, but it moved into widespread Christian use till well into the Middle Ages...which explains why Hitler felt comfortable with choosing it as the Nazi logo.)
So Hitler's personal Christianity was a new and amputated version, with the Old Testament lopped off because it was written by Jews. Only the New Testament would be taught. But wasn't Jesus Jewish? Yes...but that was machs nicht for Hitler, because the New Testament shows Jesus warring against Jewish tradition and practices. So Hitler's ideology laundered Jesus to fit the Nazi plan. Indeed, the Nazis were drawing on a broad streak of anti-Semitism that had characterized Roman Christianity from its earliest times, through the Middle Ages with all their horrendous persecutions of Jews, and past the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther went on record with his own anti-Semitic statements.
Another glaring hint can be found in Hitler's term for his reign: das Dritte Reich -- the Third Reich. In German, Reich means empire. You have to ask what the first and second Reichs were. The first Reich was Charlemagne's establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, which was Catholic and largely Germanic in nature, and lasted from 800 A.D. till 1806 -- just over a thousand years. The Second Reich re-established the German Empire in 1871, with King Wilhelm I of Prussia as the new Emperor. This stage 2 of the Empire incorporated Protestants (which made German Catholics very uneasy). The Second Reich collapsed with Germany's defeat by the Allies in 1918.
Hitler was fond of saying that the Third Reich would "last a thousand years," like the first one.
Spain and Italy Follow Suit
In Spain, the Falange (fascist party) had a simpler task, since it had to deal with only one religion. So it accommodated itself to traditional Catholicism.
By the time Franco appeared, Spain had lived under state Catholicism as a monarchy since 1492, with a leadership role in the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburgs and Bourbons on its throne. Spanish liberals had made two ill-fated efforts to throw off imperial rule and establish a republic -- one in the 19th century, and one in 1934 that was terminated by Franco's troops during the Spanish Civil War. Franco, and his clerical and upper-class supporters, were determined to keep Spain from ever going republican or democratic.
By 1969, when I was still in and out of Spain, Franco's health was failing and he finally announced that the Bourbons, who had ruled Spain since 1700, would return to rule after his death. Fortunately, the Bourbon heir, Prince Juan Carlos, was a forward-looking man who knew that most Spanish people wanted change. So Juan Carlos cooperated with dismantling of the fascist state, and building a democratic and constitutional monarchy from the ground up. It was an inspiring thing to see.
Meanwhile, in 1922, Benito Mussolini had taken leadership in the National Fascist Party, then seized power from the struggling Kingdom of Italy. Mussolini was not a believer, and his cultural MO was to evoke the grandeur of Italy's Roman past -- but he had no problem signing his 1929 concordat with the Catholic Church and getting the Pope to tolerate his movement by returning papal lands to the Vatican and passing laws favorable to Catholics. Even though il Duce (Italian for "leader") joined Hitler in starting World War II, many Americans took Mussolini less seriously than Hitler -- they thought his bombastic, pompous, strutting manner was laughable, compared to the eerie grimness of Hitler. But, like his German partner in war, Mussolini perished in the closing days of World War II.
Franco, who was the smartest of the Three, had resisted their pressures to join them in World War II. He alone survived to deal with the U.S. in the post-war era.
Does my thumbnail portrait of three fascist rulers sound like anything that LGBT activists are standing for? I think not. In fact, everything for which our liberal, pluralist, democratic, individualist movement stands is exactly the kind of thing that the real fascists tried to stamp out.
Now we come to the $64 question. How does a talking head like Newt Gingrich get away with such an appalling lie about history?
Manipulating Hitler's Image
In my opinion, Gingrich gets away with it because the conservative American media have already laid the groundwork for lies like his -- by deliberately obscuring the dark Christian roots of Hitler and his National Socialist Party.
For decades now, producers and finance sources of many "documentaries" for network and public television have felt it necessary to create a myth that the Nazis were "pagan" and "satanic." Recently, in their series Decoding the Past, the History Channel even floated the idea that Hitler was the Anti-Christ predicted by Nostradamus. By now, so many of these shows have been aired that American TV viewers who watch the History Channel, A & E, PBS, Discovery, etc. really believe that they are being shown an array of established fact about Nazi ideology.
Another interesting fact: out of the Big Fascist Three, Hitler alone was targeted for this special propaganda treatment. Was it just because of the Holocaust? Not necessarily -- the Spanish and Italian fascist regimes also persecuted Jews. So was it because Hitler's misdeeds were more extensive -- destroying more countries and peoples -- than the misdeeds of Franco and Mussolini? Was Mussolini given a pass by our media because most Americans had viewed him as a buffoon? Possibly. It's hard to make a case that a buffoon is the Anti-Christ.
General Franco was definitely given a pass by the U.S. media. After all, he had kept his country out of World War II, and afterward he allied with the U.S. against "the Reds." World War II was barely over before our former ally, the Soviet Union, was suddenly our new enemy. Spain's strategic position next to the Straits of Gibraltar, astride the main flight and communication routes across Europe, was irresistible. So our 1950s conservative god-fearing apple-pie Norman Rockwellish U.S. government was ready to cozy up to this big fascist survivor. El Caudillo obligingly opened his naval base at Rota, near Gibraltar, to the U.S. Sixth Fleet. About the same time, the U.S.started establishing Spanish support facilities for our SAC bombers with their hydrogen-bomb payloads.
So the U.S. media could hardly be calling Franco the Anti-Christ if our government wanted all these good things from him.
As a sideline, conservative media are developing a sub-myth that the Hitler movement itself was "homosexual." They point to the fact that stormtrooper chief Ernst Rohm 's homosexuality and that of a few of Rohm's buddies was evidently known to Hitler during the early years. However, Hitler's willingness to use people and institutions -- including the Catholic and Lutheran Churches -- explains his temporary forbearance in Rohm's case. During the social violence attending the Nazi Party's rise, Hitler needed Rohm's muscle to establish and protect himself. Eventually, however, Hitler felt secure enough to get rid of Rohm. During the famous "Night of the Long Knives," the Fuhrer had Rohm and his gay associates massacred. This event -- and the fact that homosexuality was a capital crime under the Nazis, who sent an estimated 100,000 homosexuals, mostly gay men, to the death camps -- sends its own clear message. The Nazis' real views on sexual orientation were the same as those of ultra-traditional Christians in the U.S. who want to have all homosexuals put to death.
In my opinion, there are two big reasons why our conservative media have singled out Hitler for radical re-positioning as a "pagan" and "secular," even "perverted" figure.
1. Generally speaking, the twisted Christianity of the Nazis is such a deep embarrassment for conventional U.S. Christians that they would rather not hear the word "Christian" publicly mentioned in the same breath as "Adolf Hitler," thank you very much.
2. The U.S.'s ultra-traditional church activists want to keep American voters from making any unwelcome comparisons between Nazi ideology and their own present-day ultra-traditional Christian ideology.
After all, these ultra-traditional church activists say openly that they want to take over the United States, get rid of democracy and the Bill of Rights, establish a state religion, invade and occupy other countries, control everybody's sex lives, and kill any factions that they don't approve of. Some of them are even fiercely anti-Semitic. Indeed, their aims are laid out in their own writings, which can be found and read by anybody who really wants to know what they're up to.
And these ultra-traditionals rely on flacks like Newt Gingrich to help keep public attention diverted in the "right" direction, by going on talk shows and bearing false witness that we gay people are the "fascists."