The American Civil Liberties Union has been taking a lot of heat recently for defending the free speech rights of Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other low-life scum in places and events such as the recently concluded uproar and demonstrations in Charlottesville VA. As far as the ACLU is concerned, the principle of every American having the right to freedom of speech, as embodied in the first amendment to the Constitution, is sacred and never to be “abridged” as the Constitution states, no matter how vile, vulgar or bigoted that speech may be. Of course, free speech rights are “abridged” virtually every day in common sense ways that the framers of the Constitution never envisioned. For example, try verbally threatening someones life, and see how fast you wind up in the clink should the cops overhear that threat. Or try crying out “fire” in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, and you will also accrue that same jail house experience. To say nothing of all the civil libel actions that could brought against you should you wrongfully defame someone’s character. Because of all the backlash received from the Charlottesville experience, even the ACLU may now be reconsidering its long-standing position regarding the sacredness of the first amendment. So let’s go back a century and see the consequences, end results and havoc that unbridled freedom of speech can lead to.
The year is 1919, and WWI has recently ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1918. The Allies have inflicted harsh punishment on Germany, through the Treaty of Versailles, for instigating the war in the first place. One of the provisions of that treaty was that Germany would not be allowed to militarily re-arm without permission of the Allied countries. The German economy is a disaster as a result of that war, with a combination of rampant inflation and high unemployment. The Allies refuse to provide any economic aid to help Germany recover. A young German corporeal, (originally from Austria) who was wounded toward the end of the war, finds himself with little money and no job prospects upon being released from the hospital. Although he fought for four years, he could only achieve the rank of Corporeal whereas almost all other recruits in similar circumstances rose to at least the rank of Sergeant. In his younger days he fancied himself as an artist; but his paintings were mediocre at best and certainly not salable.
With no particular job skills, and virtually out of money, the ex-Corporeal, in desperation, visits an office of the German government’s bureaucracy in Berlin and practically begs for some type of work whereby he could earn a paycheck. At first he’s denied, but finally the head bureaucrat agrees to give him some work. He tells the ex-Corporeal that a fringe element of rabble-rousing morons, calling themselves the German Workers Party, is trying stir up unrest against the government because of the existing deplorable economic conditions. While the bureaucrat believes the movement is really too small for the government to be concerned, just to make sure, he would pay the ex-Corporeal to attend one of their meetings and report back his findings.
So ex-Corporeal Adolf Hitler agrees to sit in on the next gathering of the German Workers Party. There are less than 20 people in attendance. Various attendees give speeches about Germany’s dismal current state of affairs, but they all revolve around the same themes. Germany’s predicament was due to two major factors-the harsh treatment at the hands of the Allies through the Treaty of Versailles, and, of course, because of the Jews. The same Jews that constituted about 3% of the German population, and were almost all peaceful shopkeepers or teachers. The demonization of Jews throughout, not only Germany, but virtually all of Europe, had been a universal imperative almost since the crucifixion of Jesus, or for nearly 2000 years. While the speech-givers at that get-together were amateurs, Hitler liked what he heard. They jibed almost exactly with his own prejudices and deep-seated hatred of all Jews.
Hitler never did report his findings back to the bureaucrat that hired him. Instead he continued to attend meetings of the German Workers Party, and began making impassioned speeches of his own, castigating both the Allies and the Jews. Hitler found that he had a natural talent for speechifying and demagoguery. Soon, as word spread, hundreds of people and then thousands, began attending these meetings, to hear Hitler demonize the Jews and Allied powers. Hitler quickly rose to top party leadership, and renamed the German Workers Party as the National Socialist, or Nazi Party. And in a particularly brilliant public relations move, he found an ancient tribal symbol, and adopted as the insignia of his newly formed Nazi Party. It came to be known as the Swastika, and it began popping up everywhere-on armbands, flags, shirts, etc. Since Germany had a rich cultural history, especially in music, philosophy, literature, and education, most Germans considered Hitler a fringe crackpot during the 1920s. But as Swastika armbands and flags began showing up more and more in the public square, greater numbers of Germans began paying more attention to Hitler’s impassioned vitriol and demagoguery, and Nazi power and popularity exploded throughout German cities. For those that were unbelievers, Hitler had formed gangs of Nazi goon squads, called the brownshirts, that roamed throughout Germany beating up or other wise terrorizing any and all opponents.
By 1933, due to unbridled German political machinations, the former ex-Corporeal from WWI, ascended to the German Chancellory and within months used his power to become absolute dictator. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. Hitler broke every provision of the Treaty of Versailles, especially when it came to vastly re-arming Germany. The Allies, by comparison, stood by and did nothing. By 1939, Hitler felt he was powerful enough to initiate WWII which eventually would kill 60 million people on the European continent alone. About 6 million Jews died in German concentration camps during the Hitler-initiated Holocaust. Millions of American and other Allied forces were slaughtered on European battlefields. And it all began with the demagogic power of freedom of speech.
So the next time you hear someone defend the unbridled and unconstrained ideal of free speech, you might want to point out how that ideal led to the greatest slaughter, tragedy and misery in the history mankind. Germany, today, 70 years after the end of WWII, is a thriving democracy; but its constitution forbids the advocacy of Nazism in any way, shape or form. And yet, it seems to perform quite well, even with this constitutional prohibition.