The Nazis and American Gun Culture

Before I go on and give May and her wretched ‘No’ confidence vote a metaphorical pummeling, I thought I’d take a break from the Tories and Brexit and blog about the very strong similarity between the military training the Nazis put at the heart of the Hitler Youth and modern American gun culture.

I found this piece, ‘4. Training the Youth to Become Soldiers’ in the Chapter ‘Youth to Become Soldiers of Labour’ Brady’s The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937). I’ve blogged extensively about this book over the past few weeks, putting up passages from it, because although it was published 81 years ago, it still remains acutely relevant to the authoritarian structure of modern capitalism, and the links between Conservative ideology and that of the Nazis themselves.

In this passage, Brady discusses how the Hitler Youth began training boys with ordinary competitive sports before moving on to overtly military training. Brady writes

Under the banner of “Sword and Plough for Freedom and Honour,” Hitler’s own personal journal, the Nationalsozialistische Monatshefte, sounds the tocsin of duty for the young: “The National Socialist people’s youth affirms battle, and submits to the carrying of arms as the obvious foundations of all people’s labour. They hope for the day in which the weapons will be placed in their hands which are associated with the full consciousness of manhood.”

The National Youth Administration has prepared a manual, Hitler Youth in Service, for guidance of instructors and leaders throughout all divisions of the Hitler Youth. The first half of the book is taken up with physical exercises, games, and calisthenics. These are outlined in great detail, illustrated with charts and drawings, and full instructions for proper performance, including standard performance for different age groupings. The second half of the book is devoted entirely to military activities.

Transition from the first to the second half is provided by conclusion of sports activities in competition. The German word is Wettkampt. Kampf means struggle, fight6, battle, combat. All sport ends up in Wettkampt; the military training division begins with the first instruments of Kampf, or guns and shooting. The bodily development and discipline of ordinary sport is, thus, the necessary background for the more strenuous demands of warlike activity. “Shooting sport,” the manual asserts, “demands the greatest concentration and control of all physical and spiritual powers.”

Such shooting promotes virtues commendable to the Nazis. “It develops inner and outer calm and cold-bloodedness (Kaltblutigkeit), awakes and promotes decision and self-confidence in the shooters. Through the necessary arrangement and subordination at the shooting stand, shooting sport promotes discipline and the spirit of comradeship.” Arms supplied to promote amongst the Hitler Youth “joy in shooting service” consist of air rifles for boys under sixteen and small caliber rifles for boys over sixteen years of age. Manual instruction is given in assembly and cleaning of all rifle parts, arranging sights and finding range, and various postures and techniques of firing. (pp. 177-8).

Now I’m not attacking here competitive sport, though I was always bad at it at school. Nor am I attacking the various cadet services of the armed forces. I’ve worked with people, who were members of them, and while they enjoyed military training, they were very far from the insane militarists that I want to criticize. The same with most of the people I’ve met, who joined the TA. I’m also not criticizing the sports shooters, who go clay pigeon shooting or blaze away at targets.

But the right-wing American gun culture seems to me to be very different. It is aggressively nationalistic, and doesn’t just protect gun ownership. It actively promotes the possession and use of high caliber weapons that should only be in the possession of serving members of the armed forces and kept in a secure armoury. The head of the NRA, Dwayne Lapierre, has appeared several times promoting the ownership of these powerful and highly dangerous weapons, especially for young people. The NRA also produced an unintentionally hilarious add a year or so ago, in which various blue collar Americans warned the ‘ayatollahs’ that they had better beware armed working class folks like themselves if they tried any terrorist attacks on American soil. Well, the Islamic regime in Tehran hates America, and demonstrations in Iran have frequently chanted ‘Margh bar Amrika’ – ‘Death to America’ and verbally attacked the country as ‘Shaitan-e bozorg’ – ‘the Great Satan’. But most of the Islamic terrorism in the world now seems to come from radical Sunni groups, like al-Qaeda and ISIS, which heartily despise the Shi’a and Iran as heretics, who they want to exterminate.

One of the great myths going round ultraconservative, pro-gun right is that the Nazis triumphed in Germany because the population had been disarmed. The German anti-Nazi vlogger, Three Arrows, has demolished that argument in one of his videos. He stated that, yes, Germany had banned gun ownership, but this was by the democratic Weimar coalition government after the radical left revolution of 1919. By contrast, the Nazis were enthusiastically pro-gun, and passed legislation promoting gun ownership amongst the German population. But only, of course, if they were ‘Aryan’. Jews were forbidden to own them. Even so, I think another blogger put up the stats showing that Jews right the way across Germany did try to put up armed resistance to the Nazis in heroic but ultimately futile acts of resistance. All of them failed, including the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, because small groups of civilians, no matter how determined, stood no chance of winning against the overwhelming power of the armed forces. If the American government also became a monstrous Fascist tyranny like Nazi Germany, its civilian gun owners would similarly stand absolutely no chance of defending themselves.

I’ve also found a very interesting documentary, which I will have to put up sometime from one of the American left-wing news shows, which went into the history of gun ownership in America. Gun ownership has been a fervent part of American culture since the first colonies passed legislation demanding that men possess guns. However, the NRA when it began was a largely benign society of shooting enthusiasts. When the American government first began introducing legislation to outlaw certain types of firearm, the NRA was perfectly willing to comply and cooperate. It was only later, in the 1960s and ’70s, when the Association had been heavily infiltrated by extreme right-wing groups like the John Birch Society, that it became so extreme in its demands for the almost unqualified right of ordinary Americans to own extremely dangerous military combat guns. And just as the Nazis demanded that Aryan Germans should own guns, so the BNP here in Britain at the election a few years ago also put in their manifesto that they wanted every British home also to have a gun ready for the race’s defence.

The passage from Brady’s book does, however, show the very strong similarity between the ideology of gun ownership in the Third Reich and contemporary America. And it’s no accident that so many on the racist right in America actively promote and defend gun ownership and the type of paramilitary activity that is illegal in Europe. As we’ve seen from the recent shootings in America, ordinary private citizens have no business owning military firearms. These have been used by racist maniacs to kill innocent people. And the people promoting these firearms themselves have views dangerously close to the Nazis.

The racist right in the gun lobby won’t defend America from a Fascist regime. They would actively collaborate and defend it.

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