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Monday, September 26, 2005
First they come for the passive-aggressives
I see this quote, from Pastor Niemöller, rather a lot.
In my view, the quote does a decent job of illustrating two facets of totalitarian practice. First, it details how such a movement eliminates opposition: its leaders identify organised groups who form an ideological threat to the regime, and then its storm troopers "come for" them. Second, it asserts that when the movement succeeds at clearing out its opponents, it has a freer hand at "coming for" pretty much anyone else it wants to "come for". Niemöller meant the Nazis and was attempting to warn off the Cold War faction of the US at the time; of course similar purges have proceeded under Castro, Pinochet, and Khomeini; and also (less successfully) in pre-Falklands Argentina.
In the process, Niemöller had made two assumptions: that the active party in his quote is a Rightist movement; and that the groups this movement "comes for" are static entities upon whom the innocent narrator might call for justice. Including even Communists, amazingly.
In point of fact, one must remember that the groups the Rightist movement "comes for" (Jews aside) are just as likely to "come for" the innocent as is the movement itself. At the time the Nazis were on the rise - 1923 and again in the earliest 1930s - the Communists were in cahoots with Russia. If the so-called "Soviet Union" had received half an excuse, they could be counted on to invade eastern Europe to Berlin and beyond - as they actually did from 1945-1989. And the Commies did a piss-poor job of facing up to the Nazis in the late 1930s, if I recall my history correctly.
Needless to say, if in 1917 the Russian Provisional Government had "come for" the Communists, or if the German government had "come for" the Nazis for that matter, much of the above would have been averted.
My attitude toward Niemöller's fatuousity follows:
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