Counter-factual history novels almost always seem better in theory than in practice.  They always sound interesting at first, but too often they end up feeling very contrived and ham-handed, at least in my experience.

In any event, there is one entitled Dominion by C.J. Sansom, about an alternate history wherein Britain and Nazi Germany are allied.  I have not read it.  I have only heard about it because of Peter Hitchens’s column addressing the book’s controversial portrayal of Enoch Powell. If you don’t know who Enoch Powell was in real life, the short answer is that he was a British politician who got a reputation as a racist because in 1968 he said:

A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries. After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: “If I had the money to go, I wouldn’t stay in this country.” I made some deprecatory reply to the effect that even this government wouldn’t last for ever; but he took no notice, and continued: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”

I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation? The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children. I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else…

The most famous part of the speech is his conclusion:

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.

I don’t know if he was a racist or not, but I think on the evidence of that speech, we can safely say that he had an intense dislike of immigrants.

So, that’s real-life Enoch Powell for you.  Meanwhile, in this book Dominion, Powell is portrayed as very friendly to the Nazi-government that fictional Britain is allied with.   Peter Hitchens–though not really a Powell fan–doesn’t like this one bit, writing:

Powell was one of the first to volunteer for war in 1939. He was , as it happens, deeply opposed to the policy of ‘appeasement’ .  It is infantile leftism to imagine that there was anything in common between his conservative opinions and the exterminationist Judophobia of the German National Socialists. In fact, I think it typical of the unthinking modern Left, that they cannot see the difference, and indeed do not want to see it.

Well, now this is kind of an interesting question.  If we conclude that Powell was an ardent nationalist, who opposed foreigners mixing with the native population, I think it is fair to say there is something in common with the ardent nationalism and protection of German soil that characterized the Nazi party.  You could say they are not the exactly same thing, and that Powell would never have gone to the same violent and evil lengths in service of his views, and by all appearances this is true.  But still, there is something in common.

But again, this in itself proves nothing.  The Nazis also wore uniforms and had weapons, thus giving them “something in common” with every other military in the world.  This does not automatically mean that they are all the same thing.

In his book Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, Patrick J. Buchanan wrote:

By its nature, nationalism, especially a virulent strain like Nazism, is difficult to export. When Britain went to war, Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists, volunteered at once to fight for Britain. [p.346]

Exactly.  Fanatical nationalists will ultimately end up fighting against any foreign influence, including attacks by other fanatical nationalists.  (Mosley, by the way, also is apparently in Dominion, also as a pro-Nazi.) You may disagree, but Buchanan seems like a good person to consult about this, since he and Powell seem, based on their writings, to be almost of one mind on the immigration issue.

So, Hitchens is probably right, although not in the way he thinks. A nationalist like Powell would naturally have fought the Nazis–after all, they were foreigners!  This is the thing about nationalists: not only do they fight other people who are not nationalists, they also frequently end up fighting each other as well.

I’ve long wondered who one compared people one didn’t like to before Hitler, and Brian Palmer of Slate has provided the answer:

 “In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, many Americans and Europeans had a firmer grasp of the bible than of the history of genocidal dictators. Orators in search of a universal symbol for evil typically turned to figures like Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, or, most frequently, the Pharaoh of Exodus.”

Makes sense, I guess. But, as I’ve said before, if the Bible was their reference point, why would they not have used the Devil himself?

(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan)

A reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog wrote in to him to complain about the Triumph of the Will/Undefeated line that I objected to last week. Sullivan’s response: “It was meant to be a joke.”

Well, I mean, I assumed that. What else could it have been? My point is I don’t really see how it’s a funny joke. I mean the joke is: This movie about a current politician is like another famous movie about a historical politician–who, incidentally, became infamous for committing innumerable hideous crimes against humanity.

This isn’t really that good, if I understand it right. There’s nothing particularly humorous about it as far as I can tell. If not for the fact that Nazis are involved, it would be an obvious statement: political propaganda films are like other political propaganda films. The only reason to bring it up that I can see is to compare Palin to the Nazis.

I have a confession to make: For some reason, I used to have trouble remembering the title of Barack Obama’s first book, which is Dreams from My Father. Jokingly, when I couldn’t recall it, I would call it “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Barack”, alluding to this. This isn’t terribly funny, but I submit that it is funnier than Sullivan’s joke, because it’s sort of bizarre comparing a fantasy/horror novella with a memoir, but it also has a funny near-coherence–the word “dreams” and the fact that Obama’s book is a sort of “quest” to find out about Barack Obama Sr.

So, not the stuff of great comedy, I freely admit. (But remember: I like Obama, so I wasn’t trying really hard to make something funny out of his book.)

At any rate, maybe I’m just too stupid to understand Sullivan’s joke here. I really can’t see it to save my life. Can someone enlighten me?

I enjoy Andrew Sullivan’s blog, but I wish he wouldn’t do things like this:

“Palin has been airbrushed out of the GOP race by the entire scene – from Politico to National Review. And yet, for some unfathomable reason, she has secretly put together an hour long Triumph Of The Will “Evita” “Undefeated” documentary that will attempt to do what Josh Green tried: to reframe her as a visionary reformer.”

I, along with many others, have repeatedly expressed my dislike for the Nazi comparison rhetorical device. Now, of course, a great many movies were influenced by that film. (I have even heard it said that the ending scene of Star Wars: A New Hope was influenced by a scene from it!) Maybe it will turn out the Palin film has some technical similarities, although so far I know of no reason to think it will. Such comparisons are very interesting from the point of view of a film student, but I don’t think that’s how Sullivan meant it.

My Conservative friends used to tell me, with an air of someone revealing esoteric and terrifying knowledge, that the Obama “Hope” poster was based, in some way, on the famous photo of Che Guevara. Well, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit. What poster designer wouldn’t mimic one of the most iconic pictures in the world? But it seems to me it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the ideology of the figures depicted. Same logic applies here.

So, Congressman Steve Cohen said of the Republicans:

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels…You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it.”

One of the countless reasons I find the Nazi-comparisons that are used so much in political debate to be so damned irritating is that often, in order to make them, people like to draw upon true, but purely superficial, similarities between whoever they are attacking and the Nazis.

Goebbels was not the first guy to ever use propaganda. The only reason to pick Goebbels, out of all of the other propagandists throughout history, seems to me to be to evoke a subtle association in people’s minds with the horrible atrocities he and the Nazi government he spoke for committed.

If Congressman Cohen had substituted “Bernays” for “Goebbels” in his claim, he would’ve been about as accurate, less disrespectful, and shown himself to be a man of learning beyond what we generally expect of our elected officials, besides.

Rob Reiner compares the Tea Party to the Nazis, and brings up the possibility of them having a charismatic leader. He says:

“My fear is that the tea party gets a charismatic leader… Because all they’re selling is fear and anger. And that’s all Hitler sold. ‘I’m angry and I’m frightened and you should hate that guy over there.’ And that’s what they’re doing.” 

Our Nazi-comparison-based political discourse and the importance of charisma are two of my favorite topics. So, with that in mind, I have to say first of all that Reiner is very wrong to make this comparison. The Tea Party is many things, all of which I believe to be wrong, but I really don’t think they want to commit genocide. The Nazi comparisons are uncalled for and foolish, in my opinion.

Now, as to the possibility of the Tea Party getting a charismatic leader: they already have at least one, possibly two. For a long time, I’ve thought that Sarah Palin is charismatic. And, more recently, it seems like Glenn Beck has emerged as their leader; and if you can think of some reason for that other than charisma, you’ve got me beat.

Michael C. Moynihan has an excellent piece that addresses one of the ongoing fallacies of the “everyone but us is a Nazi” school of debating. I was on the point of writing something similar in response to that Ebert article; but Mr. Moynihan has done better than I could have.

Incidentally, regular readers of this blog must be getting the impression that I hate Roger Ebert or something. I don’t. I actually enjoy reading his film criticism, and agree with him more often than not. I just take exception to some of his statements regarding Art and Politics.