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D-Day, Bergdahl, and Conscience in Nazi Germany


Perhaps it’s fitting that President Obama is in Normandy celebrating the Allied invasion that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany, given the brouhaha that has broken out over U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.

After all, let’s not forget that the Nazi regime viewed the duty of the German soldier much as American conservatives view the duty of the American soldier — that it is the duty of the soldier to loyally wage the war his government is waging and to not question whether his government is in the right or wrong in waging the war.

German officials pretty much felt the same way about the duty of the civilian citizenry. Once the government goes to war, German officials held, the time for debate is over and it is the duty of the citizen to rally to the government and support the troops.

Don’t American conservatives feel the same way? Don’t they look upon citizens who criticize or condemn a certain war as subversives or traitors? Isn’t that the way they looked upon antiwar protesters  during the Vietnam War? Isn’t that what COINTELPRO was all about? Isn’t that how many of them view critics of the Iraq War, the Afghan War, the “war on terrorism,” and the U.S. assassination war? Isn’t that what the NSA surveillance scheme on Americans is all about?

What would be fascinating is to conduct a survey among American conservatives regarding their attitude toward Hans and Sophie Scholl and the other members of the White Rose. They were the German students during World War II who made an independent-minded appraisal of the war their government was waging, decided that it was wrongful, opposed it, and exhorted their fellow citizens to stop supporting the troops and the government.

Now, how would American conservatives respond when learning of the White Rose?

I would assume that their knee-jerk reaction would be to say: “Those young people in the White Rose did the right thing because the Nazis were evil and America was fighting them.”

But that would be missing the point. The point is this: If American conservatives were instead German citizens living during World War II, would they still consider the members of the White Rose to be doing the right thing? I don’t think so. Given their mindset favoring deference to authority, conformity of mindset, and obedience of orders, it seems to me that they would have had the same mindset as the average German — that citizens, be they military or civilian, have a duty to support their government during time of war.

Consider the Afghanistan War. The U.S. government says: “We had to invade Afghanistan on grounds of ‘national security.’ The Taliban government was harboring terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11. The troops are defending our freedoms.”

Conservatives blindly accept all that. Even the mildest asking of questions is enough to send them over the edge, causing them to exclaim, “You hate America! You hate the troops! You’re not a patriot! You a terrorist! You’re a traitor!”

What’s wrong with doing an independent-minded appraisal of the Afghanistan War? What happens if a soldier or a civilian does that and arrives at the conclusion that the war is just a crock, one built on lies, and that the U.S. military and CIA have no business being over there killing, torturing, maiming, and incarcerating people? Should people just continue following orders and continue supporting the troops even though they have concluded that their government is in the wrong and is wrongfully killing people?

American conservatives and World War II Germans would say that during war citizens aren’t supposed to engage in that sort of critical thinking. They’re supposed to just defer to authority, obey orders, and conform their mindsets to whatever the authorities are saying. The dictates of the U.S. national-security state, they say, trump the conscience of both the soldier and the civilian.

Is that really the type of “freedom” that America won with its defeat of the Nazi regime? If so, isn’t that rather perverse?

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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