Almost everybody is too young to remember, but in World War II, we were in a death struggle with fascist regimes across both oceans. In the first couple of years, we didn’t know if we would survive as a free people, or fall under the fascist’s boot. If Hitler had listened to his generals, we could be speaking Deutsch in the East, Espanol in the Southwest and Nipponese west of the Rockies.
I use the word fascism to describe a totalitarian government, headed by a dictatorship, exercising total control of every aspect of society. It features control of media, the banning of opposition parties, belligerent foreign policies, persecution of minorities and the deployment of secret police to terrorize, imprison, torture, rape and murder anyone who would oppose or even criticize the regime. On the beach in Punta Del Este, Uruguay, were boulders painted in dripping blood red with “otro estudiante torturado Y asesinado” (another student tortured and assassinated).
Democracies are fragile and tend to degenerate into autocracies. Especially in times of stress. It seems that about a third of most countries are hard-core fascists, simmering just beneath the surface, hoping for the strongman to emerge and lead them in a purge of their enemies, who are almost everybody who doesn’t fit their narrow image of a patriot.
As a boy during World War II, I never imagined I would see white supremacists, the Aryan nation and neo-Nazis marching with torches, wearing facsimiles of the fearsome swastika, chanting anti-Jewish slogans.
I’ve lived and worked in several dictatorships in Latin America and elsewhere, in the service of our country. I’ve been detained by the police in Paraguay, Interpol in the Azores, vigilantes in Uruguay and was caught in the middle of a nice little coup in Montevideo. All of them wanted to hurt the imperialist Yankee. My red passport provided some protection, but the cop in Asuncion wasn’t impressed. He told me that I would be “crying in 15 minutes,” until I invoked the name of a colonel who was my contact. He let me go with a murderous look that made me shudder. Dictatorships are nasty places, and you don’t ever want to live in one.
I see our republic teetering on the precipice. It’s clear to me that this president would eagerly assume dictatorial powers were he not restrained by his own staff. Dictators don’t need a majority behind them. They only need a minority of followers willing to use violence to oppress the more peaceful majority. The people wake up one fine morning and find their democracy gone, but it’s too late to do anything about it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it can never happen to us.
Our founders have warned us that, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Democracies don’t sustain themselves. They are under constant threat from fascist groups and we have to be on constant alert. We must actively oppose the minority who yearn for a strong-man to give them simple answers. Your prudent vote, is your protection.
A word to the wise: Be careful what you wish for. The strongman you adore has no loyalty to anyone. Fascist dictators are noted for their bloody purges of the very people who supported them in their rise to power. I hear a fire bell ringing in the night. Do you hear it too?