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The landslide defeat of Le Pen today is historically a big thing for France as Le Pen as it is perhaps the most decisive defeat of that peculiarly French form of the far right has suffered since World War 2. The electorate, presented with the movement’s most presentable package ever, utterly rejected it. Doesn’t mean it is going away. It never has gone away. Yet it was only actually in power once, during the Vichy years, 1940-44. Nowhere was the Nazi conquest easier than in France, where perhaps a third of the populace were pre-disposed to a fascist government already and where the Nazi occupiers found no shortage of talented civil servants to operate the French government and bureaucracy for them. The French took care of collecting victims of the Holocaust for the Germans, the French collected and shipped their own citizens off to work in German factories, the French even had their own Gestapo. It was as if there had been a fascist infrastructure sitting there in France awaiting a fascist takeover. Whether that takeover came from inside or outside (i.e., from Germany) was no matter to the French right. When France’s greatest living military hero, Philippe Petain, who’d saved the French Army from mutiny and collapse in 1917 and eventually led them in victory through Berlin a year later, agreed to lead France under Nazi domination it just signalled how profoundly fascist the nation had become. Perhaps half the county felt it their patriotic duty to follow Petain. Perhaps more. A little know factoid from the war is that most of the French soldiers rescued at Dunkirk as the Blitzkrieg closed in demanded to be returned after the French surrender to France to finish their service in the Vichy army. That Vichy was a fascist puppet state did not bother them. France was now allied with Nazi Germany and Germany was at war with England. Serving in the Free French forces under De Gaulle was seen by many and perhaps most French soldiers in 1940 as being unpatriotic. That changed as Nazi repression grew worse and Nazi demands for French manpower increased and as Nazi armies were defeated on battlefields. But in 1940 it was obvious that fascism had dug deep roots in the French national psyche. No other state the Nazis conquered rolled over as did France. No other subject people collaborated so. Reading the histories of those days is surreal. France had been enemies to the death with Germany in World War One. They died in unbelievable numbers defending France. Not now. The spirit of fascism had transformed the land in the years between the wars. Not everyone was a fascist, of course, but enough were to make it very uncomfortable for those who were not.
Apparently that spirit remains. It just wasn’t quite sure how widespread it is. We now know. About a third of the French electorate has fascist tendencies. Some of that third are powerfully fascist, some just ornery nationalist. Which is about what it was in the 1930’s. Things haven’t fundamentally changed at all. Perhaps the left’s retribution after liberation in 1944 had not been ferocious enough. Perhaps they should have hanged Petain, and shot tens of thousands more. Perhaps they should have thrown a million collaborators in re-education camps. Perhaps there should have been a purge worthy of the darkest days of the French Revolution. But they were a democracy. And democracies don’t do that sort of thing. Besides, that is what Vichy had been doing. They were the ones killing and torturing and exacting brutal revenge on political enemies for four long years. No one wanted to go through that again.
Which might be what doomed Le Pen’s party to defeat. No one wanted to go through life under a far right government again. The French right had power only once, from 1940-44, and only because an anti-democratic foreign regime forced itself upon it. Without Nazi Germany there never would have been a fascist government in France. And now in lieu of Hitler it was Putin trying to put the French hard right in charge. A lot of bad memories came rushing back, you could see it in the French press. A lot of talk about Vichy, and Petain, and how the French Right had once sold out the French people for the sake of its brutal ideology. And then all the talk of an aggressive foreign dictator–Putin–interfering in French domestic politics, again, just like the 1930’s, when German Nazis and French fascists were very close. Not that Le Pen and her platform were anything even close to Naziism, but it sure smelled funny. And familiar. Like those odd smells that suddenly bring back the past in powerful deja vu. It was all too much, and today the French voters kicked the French right to the curb. The threat is over for now.
Not that the French far right’s struggle is over. It is never over. In France the next Revolution is always just around the bend (there have been five Republics since the Revolution, and perhaps twice that many regime changes). You can dream big dreams in France, because politically just about anything seems within the realm of possibility. Le Pen’s party will retreat and reform, as there is always fertile ground in France for this fierce Francophile nationalism (remember how it once conquered Europe), and at the same time elements of the far right might well grow more radical, getting violent and militant and perhaps even paramilitary. None of this is new. It was a powerful far right/fascist coalition that did so much to weaken the French Third Republic as Nazi Germany grew into a mortal threat in the 1930’s. Of course back then the French Far Left, with some elements following orders from Stalin, was the right’s foil, and Left and Right battled in the streets even as both undermined the center. During the Vichy regime those street battles took on a much more vicious nature as the left formed the core of the French Resistance (the Maquis) and the right became the parts of the Gestapo’s police state (the Milice). Now that French hard Left and even its softer Left is pretty much spent (for now, anyway) as a political force, only anti-semitic fascism remains as a mass movement, deeply rooted radical ideology in France. That is what made Le Pen’s campaign so unsettling, that unlike Trump she did not come out of nowhere but was the leader of a generations old political party that represented at least a century and a half of French ideological history. German fascism had shallower roots in 1933, yet swept the country after a couple electoral victories. Were we seeing a repeat of that success in France?
Nope. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, more or less, came though.
There’s a meme making the rounds about how the Dutch lynched and ate their prime minister back in 1672 which is, alas, true. It also resulted in what has to be the creepiest Flemish Golden Age painting ever, “The Corpses of the DeWitt Brothers” by, it’s assumed, Jan De Baen, who had painted both DeWitts in life. You can see where steaks had been sliced from the shoulders and thighs, and how they’d been gutted and disemboweled in the process of getting at the liver. For some reason the liver is almost universally the gourmand’s organ of choice for humiliation by eating, whether by warring tribes in the New Guinea mountains or in the streets of Amsterdam in the Age of Rembrandt or by elite Japanese officers selectively devouring their prisoners in the Second World War. Devouring the heart ripped from a living man’s rib cage was certainly more dramatic but much less gastronomic. But that is probably a newer tradition, indeed one meaningless without the concept of a soul, which is what you are eating when you eat a man’s heart. A man’s soul, his spirit, his immortality. But eating a man’s liver requires only knowledge of what’s edible, indeed delectable, inside freshly killed prey. There is nothing so dehumanizing as reducing a human to a collection of food stuffs. It originated not as an act of humiliation but ordinary hunting. We once ate each other regularly. In times of stress we still might, though we did so more in ages past. It’s a tradition so universal that it might go back hundreds of thousands of years. It might even have a niche deep in our human DNA. Civilization’s aversion to cannibalism has been slowly built up over thousands of years and reinforced with layers of religion and law and tradition and mores. Otherwise we might be eating people the way we eat cattle. Perhaps our overwhelming success as social animals has something to do with the fact that we stopped hunting each other for food. We still hunt and kill other humans, but almost never for meat. Civilization does not work if we eat people regularly. There is not one civilization that did so. Not even when human sacrifice reached vast proportions, like among the Aztec during their holier months, was eating parts of people more than a priestly ritual.
We have such an enforced aversion to cannibalism that we do not even eat our dead, but rather let all those perfectly good steaks and sweetmeats rot away. It makes no sense, protein wise. Some very hungry people will think it makes no sense during times of intense famine when cannibalism crops up, though when discovered the cannibals typically are dispatched summarily, like rabid dogs. Undetected surviving cannibals do not continue eating human flesh once the famine is over. Or usually they don’t. History is full of disturbing exceptions. Perhaps the desire to eat human meat lies deep within us. And there does seem to be a latent desire to eat a person’s liver. It is good for the digestion, a Japanese general explained after eating a freshly slaughtered American pilot’s liver in 1945. It was fresh (the garrison’s surgeon did the cutting), cooked to perfection and served on a bed of rice with vegetables and a fine sake. Apparently there is something special, indeed healthy, about eating a humiliated man’s liver. The transcripts of the war crimes trial–the general’s digestion may have improved, but he hanged for it later–reveal nothing behind his notion that eating a man’s liver was good for the digestion. A bit of folk wisdom, perhaps. Maybe some ancient magic.
In the case of Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelius (both anti-monarchist republicans and supporters of religious tolerance), the two were cold bloodedly murdered one midsummer night by monarchist militia men and their bodies left to the reactionary Calvinist mob in the square. The scene quickly degenerated into an orgiastic mob, but one very orderly and Dutch. The bodies were not ripped to pieces, a not uncommon fate of Byzantine emperors and Roman martyrs (a tradition that nearly caught up with Benito Mussolini in 1945, who was spared the ultimate indignity when soldiers came upon the scene and kept his battered corpse intact ). Rather they were quickly hung up on a nearby gibbet in order to slice them up to get at their livers. From the painting it appears that professionals were called in, the local Calvinist butcher perhaps. It’s not clear how the livers were partaken. Served up fresh and raw and passed among the crowd who took a chomp before passing it along? Or divided into delicate slices and distributed for home cooking? History does not tell. No one else died, though, nothing was burned, and by nightfall the streets were empty and the corpses of the brothers hung, naked and mutilated and ghostly white by the light of the moon. It must have been an irresistible scene to a painter, though you can tell, by the clumsier details–the cat, or those hands a little too large on the man holding the torch–that he hurried to get the image down on canvas, like this was no place for an artist, not with the smell of the mob’s work still fresh in the air, sweet, like rotting meat.
Johan De Witt was an accomplished mathematician, by the way. But there was an anti-intellectual mood in Holland that year, and being a mathematician probably only helped to doom him.
(November 21, 2015)
In the sturm and drang over the Syrian refugees, I keep seeing Timothy McVeigh come up which is not surprising being that he was such a scary dangerous mass murdering terrorist creep and an All American white boy at that. However, Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian. I’ve seen this meme I don’t know how many times these past couple days, but bad news for us secular humanists….Timothy McVeigh was an atheist. An ardent one, at that. Science, he proclaimed, was his religion. He’d been raised a good Catholic kid, but as an adult he was a committed atheist. It happens. Being a committed atheist myself (and raised Catholic at that) I am not completely surprised, as we’ve had our share of mass murderers, including two of the big three (Stalin and Mao–Hitler was a believer of some kind of religion, apparently.) As the end drew nigh McVeigh hedged his epistemological bets somewhat and described himself as agnostic, and finally, just to be safe, he had Last Rites with his last meal. But as a working terrorist he was absolutely not a Christian. Now there is a lot of wordy delusional nonsense by micro-offended atheists trying to show McVeigh wasn’t an atheist (or that any bad guys ever were atheists, being that we are intellectually incapable of being anything but pure as the driven snow), but that is a load of philosophical crap. McVeigh was an atheist. And I can only imagine just how offended he’d be if he knew he would one day become the poster child for white Christian domestic terrorists. After all, it took a rationalist, if psychopathically ideological mind to devise such an extraordinarily powerful bomb from items you could find in a barn (well, several barns). Obviously Tim paid attention in science class. And it really was some bomb. 168 dead (and hundreds more wounded) is quite an achievement in the annals of terrorism. In fact despite the endless litany of car and truck bombs that have numbed us almost to the point of not caring (there were several in the past couple days, in fact), Timothy McVeigh’s Ryder truck full of fertilizer ranks as eighth deadliest motor vehicle bomb ever. That’s right, of all the car and truck bombs ever–many of which involve several vehicles and drivers who blew up with them–McVeigh’s remains one of the very worst ever. Indeed, it ties for thirtieth (with the Chechens) in the deadliest terrorist attacks of all time. Which is quite an achievement, you have to admit. Of course Osama’s 9/11 is still the most horrific act of terrorism ever, by far, thus giving Republican politicians their initial excuse to wallow in nativist religious bigotry and paranoia. Not that paranoia itself is entirely a bad thing in an age of terrorism, and certainly we on the left have our own cherished paranoias. But it was Timothy McVeigh, the All American Atheist, who committed the second worst terrorist act in American history. Indeed, one that even beats out most jihadis, even the recently martyred crew in Paris. Which shows that despite of the memes, and in spite of the incessant ghastly attacks by fanatical jihadists (the vast majority of them upon Muslims, actually) you don’t need to be religious to be a truly inventive dangerous person. You don’t need to be a Muslim, you don’t need God or gods at all. You don’t even need ideology. All you need is your thinking cap. Which is why there should be a government registry of atheists. Has Ben Carson proposed this yet? I know I’d sign up.
Not sure if any of you have ever looked at Dabiq, the ISIS online magazine. It is gorgeous, as beautiful a lay out as you will see. It’s very impressive. And it is scary nuts. Fanatical stuff. Murderous. Anyway, this is how ISIS gets its message across to lone wolf terrorists as well as its remote terrorist cells like those in Paris. There is really no need to have any contact with ISIS in any way, all you need to is keep reading Dabiq. That is the beauty of the ISIS business model, that they can create mass murderers like the killer in Orlando without having to spend a moment on the guy. Dabiq is like a jihadi correspondence course. Unless you have actually thumbed through its digital pages, you can’t quite see its power. It is an impressive looking journal. It gives a sense of seriousness and truth to the ISIS ideology that those hand held Al Qaeda videos never could. You have to already be in a jihadist mindset to believe those Al Qaeda videos. But you could be some messed up self hating racist fuckup with a mean streak in Florida and become an ISIS jihadi after reading an issue of Dabiq. Much like Mein Kampf did with Germans in its time, Dabiq can take believing if not especially religious Moslems and turn them into cold blooded spree killers. That happens very rarely (at its most ISIS has had maybe thirty thousand members out of a billion Moslems worldwide, while at its peak the Nazi party had eight million members out of maybe eighty million German Aryans worldwide*), but unlike Al Qaeda, which seeks to create a global Caliphate (by the year 2020, they are behind schedule), the goals of ISIS require much less to achieve much more.
ISIS is an Islamic organization, yes, but it is millenarian, a millenarian cult. All of this, all the war and slaughter, is part of the coming end of days. There was a terrific and surreal article in The Atlantic last year, What ISIS Really Wants, subtitled “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.” Apparently few read it which is a damn shame because the article points out with ample quotes how ISIS has stated its goals and belief system and ideology in every single issue of Dabiq…there is absolutely nothing secret about ISIS. Surprisingly, the death of Christians is not important in itself. We are killed only as a means of sparking the rest of Christianity (aka Rum, as they call us, as in the Roman Empire) to go into all out war against ISIS which will lead to an enormous battle on the Plain of Dabiq (a battlefield ISIS made pains to seize, actually). ISIS will lose that battle, it is written. Eventually the last battle will be fought at Rum itself (actually Istanbul, which at the time of the original prophecies was Constantinople and capital of the Roman Empire, hence Rum). That ISIS will win, just barely, and at last the Day of Judgment will be at hand. And that is pretty much it in a nutshell. That is what ISIS is trying to do. That is what this whole mess is all about. Trying to bring about the Day of Judgment and resulting Paradise. You can read all about it in Dabiq.
In the zero sum world of Facebook, where everything is either all right or all wrong, the crazy armed militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is all wrong. It’s treason, it’s an act of war, it’s something that deserves to be bombed by the air force (sorry birds), or attacked by the army (sorry again, birds). Any surviving occupiers deserve immediate arrest and long term prison sentences. Some want them hanged. Progressives can be just as ugly as Tea Partiers when they get riled up.
And while I am not in support of the Militia occupiers at all, the very first thing I thought of when I heard about it was the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. It too was over grievances about land rights. A radicalized offshoot of the American Indian Movement calling themselves Indians of All Tribes (IOAT) got the idea to seize Alcatraz Island. It began with fourteen activists but as there was barely any attempt to stop them soon there were over 400 people, including children, on the island. John Trudell made daily radio broadcasts. This went on for nearly two years. Property was damaged, the place abused. Several buildings were burned down. The electricity and telephone service to the island was eventually cut. The occupiers began to leave. The final dozen or so were driven off by a large force of federal police that landed on June 11, 1971. There was no real opposition. I believe only one person died during the occupation, a young girl who tumbled to her death off a cliff in the fog. Very sad.
Strident demands by angry conservatives that the island be bombed or shelled or assaulted by US Marines with shoot to kill orders were ignored. The occupation had ended peaceably, with minimal force used. There were no arrests. Damage to the island’s facilities by the occupiers came was in the millions of dollars. The graffiti is still visible.
Though perhaps largely forgotten, the occupation is considered a landmark event in New Left politics, and certainly one of the key steps in the growth of the American Indian Movement. It is part of the Progressive folklore, and as much a part of the Civil Rights era as the March on Selma. And while it achieved virtually none of its stated goals, President Nixon did stop the long running Indian Termination Policy, which had been an existential threat to Indian sovereignty. The federal government no longer terminates tribal recognition by decree. In fact, the current nation within a nation status that American Indian tribes have, with their own laws (and casinos….) can be traced back in many ways to the occupation of Alcatraz Island. The Indians raising hell on Alcatraz Island had a profound impact on the survival of the First Nations as independent tribes in the United States.
You may differ on the justifications with the forces of anarchy stomping around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge looking (to us) like heavily armed fools, but when you decry occupation itself as a violent act of treason and demand Obama send in the air force to bomb the hell out of the place, you have far more in common with the hard right of the 1960’s than the New Left. The occupation in Oregon is pretty much a mirror image of the occupation of Alcatraz. But Facebook doesn’t do mirrors well.
Back in 1952 it was obvious that after twenty years the Democrats would at last lose the White House. The public wanted a change, and there were no Democratic candidates with the stature (“presidential timber” was the phrase of the time) of any of the Republicans like Thomas Dewey or Robert Taft, or Dwight Eisenhower or Douglas MacArthur. Dewey and Taft were arch-enemies. Dewey was an internationalist and Taft was more an isolationist. He wanted us out of Europe. As things went, Taft began edge past Dewey in the standings. As nominations were still primarily backroom arrangements–primaries were just beginning–such standings were difficult to glean, but the press and politicos seemed to think that things were leaning in Taft’s direction. There was a draft-Eisenhower movement in the works–he was, after all, the big American hero of WW2, the architect of victory–but he would rather not be president. He’d done his bit and wanted to retire. But he was worried about Taft’s isolationist tendencies…Ike was worried that it was basically handing over Europe to Stalin. Stalin gave him the creeps. So he told Taft that if Taft stated that he would continue the current American policies in Europe–NATO, the Marshall Plan, etc.–that he, Eisenhower, would make a Shermanesque declaration of his lack of presidential ambitions (“I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”) Taft refused. Ike jumped in. It looked neck and neck heading into the convention. So Taft decided to jump the gun on normal procedure and announced his choice of running mate before the convention. He chose Douglas MacArthur. Continue reading
Geert Wilders, the headline said, the Donald Trump of the Netherlands who wants to lead his country of the European Union and shut the borders to Muslims. You see this a lot lately, countries have their own Donald Trumps. Yet Geert Wilders has been a player on the Dutch political stage for years, and the Netherlands has a political history that most European nations share but the United States doesn’t. We’ve had the KKK. But the KKK, even at its most vast in the 1920’s, was never a political movement in the sense of wanting to take over the reins of government. There has never been a hard right fascist movement in the US that amounted to more than a few hundred to a few thousand scattered weirdos in jack boots. But there is scarcely a nation in Europe that did not in the 1930’s have a militant movement of hardened fascists whose goal, whether through elections (as in Germany) or military coup (as in Spain) or revolution (as in Italy), was the fascist control and re-engineering of society. Most of them became willing participants in the Nazi regime once the Germans conquered or assimilated their countries. Other fascist movements–as in England and Switzerland–never got the chance before their leaders were imprisoned or interned by their government for the duration of the war. And still others–Spain, mainly, but also the fascist elements in Portugal–eschewed the Germans almost completely and survived fascism’s collapse in 1945. (However, Spain sent fifty thousand volunteers, the Blue Division, to the Russian front where nearly all fought to the death, paragons of the fascist warrior ideal, if about as un-Aryan as a European could be). The Dutch had a home grown nazi/fascist/national socialist movement before the war, a movement that was both well developed and well known by the late thirties, so well known, in fact, that Dutch nazis were the evil conspirators in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent.
But things were moving so fast and on such a scale that all their dreams of a Dutch fascist empire seemed like schoolboy fantasies. Holland was too small. It hadn’t fought a war since the Battle of Waterloo. Twentieth century history was vast and sweeping and full of revolution and war and transformation. What was Holland but shopkeepers and chocolate and memories of greatness gone by? So man did those Dutch national socialists get excited when Hitler invaded Holland without warning in the spring of 1940. Yes, the Luftwaffe leveled Rotterdam, just to show that the Luftwaffe could level Rotterdam. But look at the upside. Now at last Dutch fascists could have their Greater Dutch Empire, including Belgium, the Belgian Congo, the Dutch East Indies, South Africa (they assumed Hitler would take it from the defeated English and give it to back the Dutch) and a few places in the western hemisphere even–Suriname, Curacao, Aruba and a smattering of other islands acquired in the sugar and slaves days. Even the Frisian Islands. It would be a global empire, with domains on four continents and hundreds of millions of subjects. No one would laugh at the Dutch then, with their wooden shoes and tulips and Bergen Op Zoom. They would be the rulers of a mighty fascist empire. Not even Germany, which in the mid thirties was still just a rump state of what had been Imperial Germany–had anything even remotely possible (it seemed at the time) on the scale of such a Dutch fascist empire. And who would lead this realm? Who was the mighty leader of which there were problems only he could fix?
It was to be Anton Mussert, the leader and co-founder of the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (National Socialist Movement) of Holland since 1931. Virtually every country in Europe had their little führer to be, Mussert was the Dutch version. But it was a fleeting fantasy. By 1939 it was obvious that Hitler’s Germany was no longer a rump state of anything, and Dutch fascists, if they wanted to avoid being a boil on Germany’s Nazi ass, better join with the Third Reich. The Nazi invasion was their deliverance, their moment, the end of history and beginning of the new era. Hitler, as he did with the local Nazis everywhere he conquered, put Mussert in charge and expected him to serve his new masters. He did, too. He was quite helpful when it came to rounding up Holland’s hundred thousand Jews, and even more helpful when the Nazis began plucking Dutch men off the streets to work in German war industries. He must have been annoying, though, as the Germans eventually stopped bothering with him, and by the time the Nazis were deliberately starving the Dutch in 1944 no one paid attention to Mussert at all. He said virtually nothing as his people starved–the Nazis kept him well fed–and one can only imagine the dread filling him as he watched the Allies advance. It all ended so fast. In 1940 Germany was the crest of the future of mankind, the Dutch included. By 1945 Nazi Germany was a leveled wasteland, destroyed, and the Nazis themselves on the run. The restored government Dutch government hanged or shot Mussert after the war, an afterthought, a footnote at best. They gave him a two day trial. I have no idea what he said in his own defense. I was just following orders wouldn’t have worked. Pride utterly gone, he begged the queen for clemency. She refused. He was executed by firing squad in 1946, in the same plaza where hundreds if Dutch had been executed (who knows how many by his direct order) during the war for violating some Nazi or another. If he had any last words, I couldn’t find them.
I have no idea if Anton Mussert is a hero to his new spawn. He certainly doesn’t look like a hero. He’s a balding, pudgy nebbish–pardon the Yiddish–in a silly uniform. Then again, people who look like complete schmucks can get elected president. It’s all a matter of perception. Perhaps people who think Geert Wilders is the most charismatic thing since Gouda cheese would be knocked off their feet by a shot of Anton Mussert giving the straight armed salute. I have no idea. It is very difficult to get into the mindset of these atavistic Nazi nostalgists.
Many of the new Dutch fascists (and however one says Alt-Right in Dutch) certainly do lionize the few ten thousand Dutch who joined the Waffen SS to wear groovy black uniforms with skulls and crossbones and swastikas to fight hard against Bolshevism and Jewry and commit inexplicable war crimes. Some of the surviving Dutch SS members were hanged or shot later too. Probably not enough, but some. Most of them were killed on the Russian front. Things were never easy at home either those five long years, 1940-45. I read somewhere that the Netherlands had more dead and killed residents per capita than any other country in Western Europe. War, Holocaust, famine and bombing took their toll. Denmark, which skated though the Nazi occupation relatively unscathed, even after saving almost every one of its Jewish residents from the Holocaust. Holland was not. Holland was trashed, starved, bombed, and fought over. Thousands of its citizens were slaves in the German foreign workers program. Yet certainly the Danes never came up with a quisling like Mussert. His being on a first name basis with Hitler did The Netherlands no good at all. He made a lot of those dead Dutch possible. That was brought up in his trial. I wish we knew what he uttered in is own defense.
Meanwhile for the duration of the war in the Pacific (1942 to 1945) in the vast Dutch colonial domain known as the East Indies, the tens of thousands of Dutch captured/interned by the Japanese died at a prodigious rate in Japanese camps. And millions of subject Indonesians were killed or worked or starved to death (about four million is the usual figure). The Asian Holocaust that took place within the Japanese Empire from 1937-45 was nearly as brutal as anything the Third Reich came up with, and sometimes more so, and only China saw more violence, murder and brutality under Japanese fascist occupation than did the Dutch East Indies. (The Philippines came in a close third). Afterward, the Indonesians learned that no matter how much they hated the Japanese, the Japanese had at least shown that Asians can defeat Europeans. Japanese arms had beat the Russians in 1905. Then even more stunningly, Japanese armies, navies and air forces in 1941 and 1942 routed the Americans in the Philippines, the English at Singapore, the French in Indochina (they just walked in and took the place, and the French let them) and most importantly from the Indonesian nationalist point of view, they easily routed the Dutch the length and breadth of the Dutch East Indies. So the Indonesians rose up and booted out the Netherlands colonial administration and the tens of thousands of Dutch soldiers sent to put down the rebellion. Japanese prisoners even pitched in (as they did in Indochina as well). Somehow the whole story has slipped from the public historical consciousness, but it was one of the great anti-colonial revolutions, and the Battle of Surabaya, even though the Dutch army (and navy and air force) won it tactically, it is one of the most decisive battles since World War Two, leading to the end of a great colonial empire. An army raised by small, brown skinned, colonial subjects, armed with as many modern weapons as they could get their hands on, nearly beat a modern European army. It did not go unnoticed throughout Asia. Indeed, perhaps the Indonesian Revolution will prove a key moment in world history, though we don’t know it yet.
Yet it is certainly a key moment of colonial liberation that is impossible to imagine without the context of the rise of fascism–a German fascism corrupting and conquering the Netherlands, and Japanese fascism seizing the East Indies. Holland as a colonial power was mortally wounded by the Japanese, as was Britain’s hold on India after the abject humiliation of their loss of Singapore. Fascism, though it failed, inflicted wounds on European colonial powers that bled their colonial empire to death within a few years. The Netherlands, Great Britain, France and Belgium were booted from Asia inside of a decade, and Africa wiithin two. (Only Portugal, protected from the storm of Nazi revolution and total war by the neutrality of Spain, found its overseas empire unfazed.) That was the power of fascism, the lasting result of its nihilism and destruction. From 1931 to 1945 it was an existential threat to the world on a scale not seen since the Mongol invasions. It lost, totally, completely, nearly annihilated. But it left little fascist seeds scattered about, blown by the winds, and they seem to be germinating at last. Like Geert Wilders, for instance, the 21 century Anton Mussert, sans jackboots.
When you come down to it, weighing the good (shiny uniforms, getting to hang with Hitler) against the bad (murder, starvation, genocide, loss of empire and dignity), Dutch fascism turned out to be a complete disaster and abject humiliation for the Dutch people and Dutch state. And now a reborn Dutch fascism, a kinder, gentler fascism, seems to be returning, following the distinctly non-German playbook that Anton Mussert and his pals were so effective with for a while in the 1930’s. There is that musty haven’t-we-been-here-before feel in the sights and sounds and ideology of Geert Wilders. Nostalgia. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.