Yes, Grandad Shot Fascists, However...
In our continuous efforts to expand the reach of the ABP, I’m sure you as well as I have come across this saying, which isn’t so much a reasoned argument but a vulgar display of jingoism. “Grandad didn’t vote for fascists he shot them!” There’s nothing in this statement which confronts fascist ideas or tells you why they’re bad for the country. Similar to other arguments against fascism they display emotion and sentiment; when knowledge or reasoned argument is lacking the last refuge of a debater is demagoguery. Given the poor state of education in this country and the unwillingness of individuals to pick up a book unless instructed to by a teacher of professor fascist ideals contained in the works of Gentile, Rocco and others go unnoticed. In fact, if a poll were taken regarding recognition of Giovanni Gentile 99% of respondents would respond in the negative. Fascism’s most significant theorist goes unrecognized by the philosophy’s most adamant opponents without the irony being recognized. More amazing is the lack of knowledge considering America’s founders and the inability of most individuals to read the Federalist Papers, probably the most important piece of literature during the early years of the Republic and the cornerstone of American liberal democracy. It’s difficult when confronted with anger and hostility when trying to express yourself through political opinions, but let not this get in your way. Politics has in this country has been perverted into an extension of the marketplace, where fidelity to ideas resembles fidelity to material goods and the lack of meaning in everyday lives is compensated for by a constructed faith in an ideal which lacks content and substance. “Grandad didn’t vote for fascists he shot them!” is just such an ideal, meaningless yet effective in sustaining the illusion of faith in a dead system. The last thing we should ever do is to give in and try to appease this argument; doing so would serve to buttress the idea that Grandad did kill fascists and to take away a part of us by taking away our ability and willingness to express the fascism that comes from within.
A trip into American history brings us into contact with many wars; in fact, for most of this country’s history, we’ve been at war with somebody. However, WWII is treated as an anomaly, even though the reasons for the war varied only slightly from the other conflicts. Whether it’s for balance of power reasons, economic or imperial expansion wars have not been engaged in to delegitimize a particular set of beliefs. Only the Second World War has that distinction. Let us now look at three of conflicts which serve to show the point I’m trying to make.
The Revolution, this country’s first war, began as an attempt to implement the ideals of liberal democracy in the face of an intransigent home administration in Great Britain. The argument for “no taxation without representation” implied that because sovereignty is inherent within the people any governmental actions done without the consent of the people or their representatives is unjust and not legitimate. However, the home government in Britain responded with progressively more coercive measures to assert their authority, the original argument concerning representation expanded upon to justify complete independence from Britain. The demonization of King George III, which was minor before 1776, expanded greatly during the war as a means to galvanize public support. When the war eventually ended, for the most part so did the demonization. One of the two major political parties to spring up during the first years of the Republic, the Federalists, looked to Britain and their system of government and laws as a model for America. Throughout the 19th century, immigration from the British Isles was encouraged and culturally we considered ourselves cousins. Monarchy as a system of government wasn’t derided, a justification for democracy never developed based upon American soldiers killing Monarchists during the War.
WWI was another conflict against a foreign power with a very different form of government and philosophy than American democracy. At the start of the war, there was no question as to whether America should intervene; public opinion was almost unanimous in its desire to stay out of the conflict. However, due to some skillful maneuvering by the Wilson Administration, the idea that the Germans were an existential threat to the existence of democracy placed upon a gullible American public soon caused a tidal wave of patriotism in support of going to war. What followed was typical demonization of “Krauts, Huns,” and all the means at the government’s disposal were used to create a justification. However, much like the end of the Revolution, the hatred that poured out to America’s enemy was soon forgotten. Despite all the propaganda to the contrary, the war was not fought to kill Germans or to change a particular way of life. Wilson’s original apprehension that without America’s help the Germans would overrun Western Europe and pose a threat to world order was the sole reason for going to war. Only the complete collapse of the German Army in 1918 necessitated further intervention by the Allies and caused the disastrous treaty of Versailles.
Admittedly, the Wars with Korea and Vietnam did take on an ideological aspect, but not exclusive to other causes. Behind balance of power, considerations is always an ideological consideration. The very existence of a negated ideology in power poses a threat. Everything that has a life and a will has a desire to immortalize itself, as with human beings, so with ideas. A country like Israel upsetting the balance of power is much different from a Communist Vietnam and Korea doing the same, at least in the minds of American policymakers. However, this fear still manifests itself in a defense of a regional balance of power. Both the Korean and Vietnam wars were not waged to exterminate Communism in East Asia; they were waged to expel Communism in the targeted countries of South Korea, and South Vietnam. I.e. to maintain an existing balance of power. If one of them should have collapsed like the Germans in 1918 then, yes every opportunity would be taken advantage of to shift that balance by occupying the enemy’s territory. This happened in Korea until the Chinese invaded when except for protests by Douglas Macarthur the option of extending the War into China was never taken seriously. What’s important to remember is that even existing in a background of strict anti-communism these wars were not used as justification for rejecting Socialist programs. When was the last time you heard somebody object to Bernie Sanders based upon his father or grandfather having killed communists in Vietnam or Korea? The deaths were just as real as what took place in WWII. The lack of any consistency when applying the “Grandad didn’t vote for fascists he shot them!” saying should be enough to invalidate it out of hand.
However, let us look at WWII. It fits many of the parameters of the previous wars we just covered. There was ideological opposition between the U.S. and the Axis powers which caused concern over Germany’s expansion into Austria and Czechoslovakia. Even at this point, the idea of going to war to reassert the balance of power was rejected by Roosevelt and most of the American people. If it weren’t for the Japanese bombardment of Pearl Harbor its possible American entry into the war may never have happened. What had previously been done in WWI and other foreign wars was only performed when backed into a corner. Besides, there are some doubts as to whether the Roosevelt Administration would have had the backing of the American people for a European War had not Germany and Italy declared war first. When Galasso Ciano, Mussolini’s Foreign Secretary informed the American Ambassador of Italy’s declaration of War the Ambassador reacted in astonishment. There was no American plan to go to war with Fascist Italy, even after Pearl Harbor, much less exterminate Fascism.
Reinforcing the American indifference toward Mussolini and his regime was how the war was conducted. For the Americans North Africa and the Italian Peninsula were afterthoughts. The first priority for American military officials was to relieve the pressure on the Russians on the Eastern Front. The invasion of Northern France was supported by figures such as George Marshall in contrast to an invasion of North Africa. However, British officials thought differently, Churchill with a passion that could only be described as personal animus was intent on eliminating Mussolini and Fascism from the Peninsula. It was due to Churchill’s influence that some of the worst decisions of the war were made and resulted in many unnecessary deaths. The Tunisia campaign along with the subsequent invasion of the Peninsula were quagmires. In fact, the invasion of Italy itself was not completed until the very end of the War. After North Africa instead of an invasion of Sardinia, which could have been used as a jumping-off point into Southern France or Northern Italy, creating a scenario where the Allies could have established bases of operations from which to launch further attacks against German forces. But due to Churchill’s desire to see Mussolini destroyed, Sicily, and then Southern Italy was invaded. Allied forces were then resigned to fighting through a mountainous bottleneck which was not necessary.
If the quote about Grandad has any validity at all, it has validity for the British. British diplomacy and intransigence helped to push Mussolini into Hitler’s orbit. The racially tinged anti-Italian propaganda during the War and the subsequent denigration of Italian soldiers in post-war historical works was more a British product than a collective Allied creation. Much of the fighting in North Africa was between Italian and British forces. American involvement didn’t begin until the Tunisia Campaign, which at its conclusion Italian forces were complemented by the American counterparts as being superior, the Germans. By the time of the invasion of the peninsula, the Italian Armed forces were spent and most opposition was from German forces occupying Italy.
By all objective measurements, the argument that Americans embracing fascism is unpatriotic fails to hold its weight. Americans have gone to war against a variety of regimes and ideals throughout this country’s history. The war waged against fascist Italy was waged with less enthusiasm and vigor than any of our previous encounters, being at most a side issue throughout the War. Only through its membership in the Axis and relationship to Nazi Germany does fascist Italy receive condemnation as an accessory of evil. Before the war, Mussolini and the Corporate State were held in high esteem by many Americans, including many within the Roosevelt Administration. If we are to condemn fascism to the grave then fascism should be held to the same standard as previous wartime enemies of America, and to deserve that condemnation the crimes that it’s guilty of should have to exceed those of America’s other enemies. Again, objectively it’s not guilty of this. The only way to make this a reality is to tie National Socialism, with Fascism, portraying them as being slightly different manifestations of the same phenomenon, and therefore sharing in the guilt of the Second World War. No follower or member of the ABP should embrace this point of view. To do so would be to undermine everything we’ve worked for and embrace its negation; the subsumption of fascism into a meaningless category made up of ill-defined hatreds and phobias supported by both our opponents on the Left and the Right.