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A few words from the Editor November 2005

September marked the end of another decade-paced observation of World War II. While the 60th anniversary of the global conflict against fascism did not generate the same sort of hoopla as the 50th anniversary, World War II-related books, films and television programs have proliferated the past five years.

Most of what’s produced is at best forgettable. There have been exceptions, like HBO’s Band of Brothers, which respected the sacrifices people made in the fight against fascism without reveling in the conflict’s senseless violence or official stupidity. But most of the anniversary dreck offers little more than a high school analysis of fascism — an aberrent detour from history’s progressive advance that was corrected through the power of the western democracies.

Such distinctions are not academic. They go to the heart of fascism and give evidence of whether fascism’s poisonous roots continue to creep forward.
Nazi Germany, after all, wasn’t born in 1933, 1922 or even 1919. Elements of national socialism could be found in Imperial Germany. The kaisers were not averse to restricting Jews’ liberties from time to time. They also imposed authoritarian measures on Leftists, laying the groundwork for the more draconian steps adopted by Hitler’s gang. And as Eric A. Johnson persuasively argues in Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews and Ordinary Germans, such measures were not carried out by an encompassing government apparatus of terror. They relied on cooperation. Why hire Gestapo agents to watch someone when the local cop and friendly neighbor will do so? This, of course, is not what you will see or hear on the History Channel, Fox News or The Learning Channel, places where tidier, less controversial explanations are preferred.

Why is any of this important? Because the sanitizing of history in this way, leaves us ill-prepared to recognize and resist fascism’s encroachment into our community.

As many of us keep our eyes on the antics of George Bush, fascism continues to creep into our lives. In October, for example, the Portland City Council moved forward a new wave of encroachments on our right to move freely about our city.

The 9 p.m. curfew in the South Park Blocks is intended to make shoppers and businesses feel more safe — even though crime has been declining in that area for several years (and let’s not even go into the question of who is shopping at 9 p.m.).

The second piece was the renewal of exclusion zones in the city. Large swaths of downtown and close-in East Portland are under special control by the police. They are empowered here to exclude people thought to be committing crimes without that pesky judicial review getting in the way. Fortunately, community pressure convinced the mayor to tap more community input and seek out evidence the zones work. We have a 90-day reprieve.

Put the exclusion zone and the curfew together and there’s a serious challenge to everyone’s right to space in which to exist. This is not about a judge imposing conditions on convicted criminals found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is about police using much lower standards — unchecked — to drive people out of certain areas of our city.

Link with that the changes in the police bureau over the past decade. The line between civilian police and paramilitary has become very blurred in our city. Our bureau owns armored personnel carriers and a wide range of military-style weapons. Even the officers’ uniforms have changed, more closely resembling the Wermacht than the local cop on the beat.

These, to me, are clear signs of fascism creeping into our community in very concrete ways. Which is not to say that Mayor Potter or the commissioners are a pack of jack-booted Nazis. To do so would be to miss the point. The real danger is in the willingness of women and men of good intention to let these encroachments occur because the barrage of information and pressure they receive from some quarters convinces them they are doing the right thing for the public.

While some wait for George Bush to set his own Reichstag fire, we are being caught in the coils of the fascist



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Last Updated: January 8, 2006