First it was the Thousand Year Reich. Now it’s the Global Caliphate. The pattern is as simple as it is stark. It always begins with the unruly rabble-rousers. A curiosity at first, then a police problem, then a raised governmental eyebrow. Eventually, the rabble-rousers attract more rabble. Now the jails begin to fill. Then the streets. There is violence. Then the sympathizers appear, making the case that, well, when you think about it, the growing rabble has a point or two or three. Money starts to flow in from supporters as well as the sympathizers. The rabble rousers finally get organized. The media gets involved, with the rabble getting their hands on communications capabilities and attracting attention from other media not their own. The latter media follows along, ignoring the first stirrings, then not, then with some leaping over the side into the deep water with the rabble’s “rising star.” And don’t forget the foreigners. They are always there to be attracted, supplying everything from money to support in their own country, when not simply abandoning their own country altogether and joining the cause.
And rising stars? That is exactly the way the leaders of these rabble-rousers are presented, even if the terminology is not used. Sometimes these rising stars come in two personas — the intellectuals and the activists. Sometimes? They are both in one.
If there is anything to learn from this historical pattern, it would be that Mistake Number One is to not take what’s happening very seriously and do something about it. As then-Obama White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan was clearly advising an agreeable President Obama not to do something about Islamic radicalism. In case you missed it, there was this jewel awhile back from Brennan — who is now the director of the CIA. Said Brennan of ISIS:
We are not going to organize our counterterrorism policies against a feckless delusion that is never going to happen. We are not going to elevate these thugs and their murderous aspirations into something larger than they are.
Ahhhh yes. The feckless delusions of thugs. Just one no big deal. Unless, of course, one realizes the world has been here before. With ISIS and all those Islamic radicals making it perfectly plain that in their quest for a global caliphate they are following the old, well-worn pattern of history. A pattern that once produced the vision of the “thousand year Reich.”
The classic text here would be The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, the late radio journalist for CBS and various newspapers of the day who began reporting on the Nazis from his post in 1920s Germany. Shirer describes the Nazis of the early 1920s precisely as thugs with a feckless delusion of world domination. In Shirer’s words the early Nazis were “uniformed rowdies” whose bullying tactics frequently landed them in jail. In the day, to borrow from Mr. Obama’s description of ISIS, the early Nazis and their “uniformed rowdies” were seen as a “manageable problem.”
But over time the Nazis would exploit the use of communications. Then, with money coming in, the party options were still primitive — but they maximized those options. The party convinced a donor to help them acquire “a run-down newspaper badly in debt, the Voelkischer Beobachter, an anti-Semitic gossip sheet which appeared twice a week.” By 1923 it was a daily, “thus giving (the Nazis) the prerequisite of all German political parties, a daily newspaper in which to preach the party’s gospels.”
Among these rowdies was a young ex-German army corporal from Austria who soon began to get attention. Writes Shirer:
In the summer of 1921 the rising young agitator who had shown such surprising talents not only as an orator but as an organizer and a propagandist took over the undisputed leadership of the party.
The new young leader possessed a “ruthlessness and tactical shrewdness.” He used every tool at his disposal to advance his cause. It was Hitler who focused on the purchase of a newspaper to spread the party line. On one early occasion his tactics could be as cleverly benign as a libel suit over an unfavorable pamphlet published by early rivals, which he settled by demanding a public repudiation and “dictatorial powers” over the fledgling party of “rowdies.” By July, 1921 this was formally established as the “leadership principle,” eventually to be “the law first of the Nazi Party and then of the Third Reich.”
Now the money began coming in, along with notice by not just the local police but the larger governmental apparatus — and even astute foreigners. Shirer writes of a young American assistant military attaché in Berlin named Captain Truman Smith who, in November of 1922, was
sent by the embassy to Munich to check on an obscure political agitator by the name of Adolph Hitler and his newly founded National Socialist Labor Party…. a dozen political leaders in Bavaria (telling) him that Hitler was a rising star and his movement a rapidly growing political force.
Smith would return to Berlin and write a report warning — in 1922 — that while young Hitler was, in Shirer’s words, “scarcely known outside Munich” he was — Smith’s words — “a marvelous demagogue” whose group of “rowdies” had now “acquired political influence quite disproportionate to its actual numerical strength…”
How was this accomplished? Shirer gives an important example. What this group of “rowdies” lacked, the young Hitler realized
was an emblem, a flag, a symbol, which would express what the new organization stood for and appeal to the imagination of the masses who, asHitler reasoned, must have some striking banner to follow and to fight under. After much thought and innumerable attempts at various designs he hit upon a flag with a red background and in the middle a white disk on which was imprinted a black swastika. The hooked cross — the Hakenkreuz — of the swastika, borrowed though it was from more ancient times, was to become a mighty and frightening symbol of the Nazi Party and ultimately of Nazi Germany.
Shortly thereafter the symbol morphed from flag to armbands, with standards created for the growing rallies:
The Nazis now had a symbol which… seemed to possess some mystic power of its own, to beckon to action in a new direction the insecure lower middle classes which had been floundering in the uncertainty of the first chaotic postwar years. They began to flock under its banner.
Soon the rowdies began to get support outside of their own circle of thugs. And yes — it was an American connection.
In March of 1923 the young Hitler attracted support from “a Harvard graduate, Ernst (Putzi) Hanfstaengl, whose mother was American and whose cultivated wealthy family owned an art-publishing business in Munich, loaned the party one thousand dollars against a mortgage” on the party owned newspaper. “This was a fabulous sum in marks in those inflationary days and was of immense help to the party and its newspaper. But the friendship of the Hanfstaengls extended beyond extended beyond monetary help. It was one of the first reputable families of means in Munich to open its doors to the brawling young politician.” Putzi, as he was called, later ended up having to “flee (Germany) for his life.”
Note that the money was used for a communications tool of the day — a newspaper. So thus financed, with a brand new symbol waving at party gatherings and anywhere else the rowdies showed up, the rowdies were on their way. Eventually appearing over a decade later on the world stage as the mighty Third Reich. Their leader becoming the Adolf Hitler the world recalls today, the fearsome Der Führer leading a massive military power bent on global domination and a “thousand year Reich,” for a moment in time controlling all of Western Europe and part of Russia to boot. Not to mention gaining support well outside Germany. As with this massive rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden featuring the “German American Bund” — Nazi supporters surrounded by American and Nazi flags, gathering beneath a portrait of George Washington — or these gatherings in New Jersey and Long Island. All cheering vociferously for Hitler.
Today, all of this repeats as the pattern surfaces yet again. The “rowdies” of Islamic radicals have morphed into the Islamic State, controlling swaths of Syria and Iraq. There is the black flag of Mohammed that serves exactly the same purpose as Shirer noted of the red, white and black Nazi standard: a physical symbol with a “mystic power of its own, to beckon to action in a new direction.” As Hitler made certain that the early Nazis had their own communication capabilities today’s Islamicists are skilled communicators. The other day the New York Times lead story was headlined:
ISIS DISPLAYING A DEFT COMMAND OF VARIED MEDIA
The story went on at length about the Islamic radical savvy with “state-of-the-art videos,” Twitter, Facebook and You Tube.
Money? As reported here by NBC:
Ransom payments for kidnap victims, crimes like extortion and robbery and, lately, oil sales are believed to have brought in “hundreds of millions of dollars” for ISIS during its two-year reign of terror, U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News.
And don’t forget today’s version of Putzi Hanfstaengl, the Harvard-educated son of an American mother. As Americans are learning the hard way, there are Westerners rallying to the banner of Islamic radicalism, with a Brit wielding the beheading knife in those infamous videos of American journalists.
ISIS is but the latest face of an age old quest for an Islamic caliphate. It has moved from a gang of Middle Eastern rowdies to an organized army to a full-fledged state.
Dismissing ISIS and the larger issue of Islamic radicalism as some sort of “manageable problem” is a major mistake. In the wake of the second beheading of an American journalist, it is crystal clear that ISIS and radical Islam sees itself at war with the West, America at the very top of that list. (As if this wasn’t clear decades ago.)
Alas, the president of the United States sees what’s happening, says he has no strategy to deal with it but seeks to make of this drive for a global caliphate a “manageable problem.” As is frequently noted, history repeats. It repeats, as less frequently noted, because the nature of man never changes.
The vision in action of a global caliphate is far more than a manageable problem. If it isn’t dealt with — and soon — it is an invitation to global tragedy.
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