Saturday, 31 May 2003

Nazi Germany's War on Terrorism

Hitler used the 1933 burning of the Reichstag (Parliament) building by a deranged Dutchman to declare a “war on terrorism,” establish his legitimacy as a leader (even though he hadn’t won a majority in the previous election).

“You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history,” he proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded by national media. “This fire,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion, “is the beginning.” He used the occasion – “a sign from God,” he called it – to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to the Middle East and found motivation for their “evil” deeds in their religion.

Two weeks later, the first prison for terrorists was built in Oranianberg, holding the first suspected allies of the infamous terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the nation’s flag was everywhere, even printed in newspapers suitable for display.

Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation’s now-popular leader had pushed through legislation, in the name of combating terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it, that suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and habeas corpus. Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones; suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people’s homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism.

To get his patriotic “Decree on the Protection of People and State” passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil libertarians, he agreed to put a 4-year sunset provision on it: if the national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack on the Reichstag building was over by then, the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people, and the police agencies would be re-restrained.

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