Last month, USA Today published this horrifying opinion piece by Brandon Judd. In it, Judd described asylum seekers as “would-be invaders” who “scoff at the notion” that our laws apply to them. He warned of “total lawlessness” and claimed that those who fled gang-ridden countries and reported credible fear for their lives were being “coached” by American lawyers to say these words. He connected immigrants with drugs and violent crime and claimed that liberals are pro-immigration only because they believed immigrants would provide a continuous stream of liberal voters.
This made me curious. Would USA Today have published an opinion piece by a Nazi in the 1930s?
While casting about for American newspaper coverage of Germany during the 1930s, I found this:
Some American editors and reporters perceived Nazi actions against Jews not so much as attacks on Jews per se, but rather as resentment over some aspects of the Jews’ own (alleged) behavior.
The New York Herald Tribune’s Berlin correspondent, John Elliott, claimed the Nazis were targeting Jews not because of their “race,” but because they were political opponents of the Hitler regime. According to Elliott, even Albert Einstein was “detested by the Nazis more for his pacifism than for his Jewish blood.”
The editors of The Columbus Dispatch believed the Nazis were reacting to the “large Jewish element in the financial, commercial, professional, and official life of present-day Germany.” A Christian Science Monitor editorial declared that it was the Jews’ own “commercial clannishness” which “gets them into trouble.”
A leading Protestant periodical, The Christian Century, proclaimed in an April 26 editorial: “May we ask if Hitler’s attitude may be somewhat governed by the fact that too many Jews, at least in Germany, are radical, too many are communists? May that have any bearing on the situation? There must be some reason other than race or creed—just what is that reason?”
Note that these are articles sympathetic to the Nazis, rather than articles written by Nazis themselves. This moment, today, feels different. Judd isn’t someone someone outside trying to justify the president’s rhetoric toward Central American migrants by positing that there must be something actually wrong with these people. Instead, Judd is one of those on the inside doing the dehumanizing.
Perhaps we could look at the issue another way. What did American newspapers have to say about Jews who sought to flee Hitler’s regime by immigrating to the Untied States during the 1930s?
Representative Jacob Thorkelson, a Montana Republican, said Jewish migrants are part of an “invisible government” tied to the “communistic Jew” and to “Jewish international financiers.”
Senator Robert Reynolds, a North Carolina Democrat, said Jews are “systematically building a Jewish empire in this country.”
“Let Europe take care of its own people,” he said. “We cannot care for our own, to say nothing of importing more to care for.”
Reynolds told Life magazine he merely wanted “our own fine boys and lovely girls to have all the jobs in this wonderful country,” according to TheIntercept.com.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself warned that Jewish refugees might be Nazi spies, coerced to do the Reich’s bidding with threats against relatives back home. …Similar warnings against Nazis disguised as refugees appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest and American Magazine, according to Reason.com.
The above column was written during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s applicable today, too, subbing gang lords for terrorists or Nazi spies. But I think most Americans assume that everyone in the U.S. knew the Holocaust was evil and opposed it, because, well—we were the good guys. But that’s not how it worked. It’s not how it worked at all.
It’s like the mythologizing of Martin Luther King Jr.: Just as we’ve reached a point where everyone believes they would have opposed segregation and Jim Crow laws in the 1960s, even so we’ve reached a point where everyone believes they would have opposed the Holocaust. We think these things were black and white, and in a very real sense they were—but most Americans did not recognize them.
Most white Americans opposed the civil rights movement and regarded MLKJ as a troublemaker. Most white Americans were against accepting more Jewish refugees, even as the horrors occurring in Germany became clear. We recognize these things as obviously evil now, but people didn’t then.
Creating fairy tales about transparent evils everyone agreed on (they didn’t) allows Americans to brush off actual evils today because not everyone sees them for the evils they are—true evils, the claim seems to be, were never complicated. If things look complicated today, there must be more to the story.
And so USA Today prints opinion pieces by the equivalent of modern day Nazis.
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