Stabbed In The Back: The Birth of a Legend
July 15, 2006 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modern American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.
Stabbed in the Back !
posted by y2karl (36 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
this won't end well..
posted by WetherMan at 7:45 AM on July 15, 2006

Oh, it might end well. Dare to dream.

Regardless, I found the article a pretty compelling read when it went to print. It's as much historical review as accusation, anyway, which is handy for clueless twenty-somethings like moi.
posted by cortex at 7:50 AM on July 15, 2006

Hitler himself would claim that while recuperating behind the lines from a leg wound, he found Jewish “slackers” dominating the war-production bureaucracy and that “the Jew robbed the whole nation and pressed it beneath his domination.”

I hate it when that happens.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:51 AM on July 15, 2006

They didn't start this war just to create problems for their opponents, although they seized the opportunity. On the other hand, euthanization (Schaivo), gay marriage are prime examples created just for dividing the democrats, and will surely come back in a year.
posted by uni verse at 8:07 AM on July 15, 2006

Sometimes the German language expresses an idea better than any other: Dolchstosslegende.

That sustained a generation of right wing anger and denial at being defeated in World War I, and propelled Germany into a repeat of the same war 20 years later. Where will our Dolchstosslegende propel us?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

Hey, the war on christmas was real, dude. Organizations like a tiny school board in texas are a threat to America.

On a more serious note, the author of this article may be extrapolating things beyond the point of evidence. It may seem that things are the way he describes, but there are many theories that can explain what's going on. This may only be a side-effect. It is certainly a compelling rubric for understanding what's happening, though.
posted by delmoi at 8:36 AM on July 15, 2006


Good read, though. Was worried about the obvious Godwin possibility, but that didn't happen (for me, anyway.)
posted by Cyrano at 8:36 AM on July 15, 2006

posted by IronLizard at 8:44 AM on July 15, 2006

Heh, ok on re-reading I think I might be catching on here. The author, sufficiently expansive to include both Jesus and Hitler no less in his article, suggests I think:

The Christianity-addled country of America is going to start looking for reasons why things didn't go so well in Iraq and after Katrina, two major embarassments, world-standing-wise.

The author thinks America will conclude the only explanation is God's anger, as provoked by Roe V Wade and gay marriage, and so those things will be er, discouraged or something but this explanation will not be directly sale-able to sufficient numbers of voters.

So instead the big idea will be: Someone is Stabbing America in the Back. That someone will be identified by some student of Adolf Hitler and subsequently persecuted as a way of making everyone else feel better about themselves. In other words the rightist strategy will change temporarily from beating up external enemies such as Saddam to doing the same with some internal enemy.

Reality: America did a sub-optimal job of selecting it's leadership recently resulting ultimately in the two aforementioned embarassments.

Sorry Harpers, I know you're in the business of selling magazines (one wonders what references to either Jesus or Hitler do for circulation, let alone both!) I think the last one is the more simple and boring and therefore most likely explanation for all this and the resolution will be equally simple, the Democrats will be elected next time as is reasonably likely to happen anyway after two successive Republican terms. They'll proceed to clean much of this up and will in part be able to, simply because they'll be new people and face may be saved all round including internationally.

So right or left, whether students of Hitler or students of Jesus, the current leadership is simply proving operationally incompetent and will be replaced in the next couple years anyway with no fancy-schmancy multisyllabic German words needed to explain.
posted by scheptech at 9:25 AM on July 15, 2006

One hopes.
posted by aiq at 9:34 AM on July 15, 2006

I don't think there's any need to extrapolate beyond evidence at hand, scheptech. We need not imagine a US that is equivalent to interbellum Germany, or the same consequences. The right wing is openly attempting to pin the blame for Iraq on the media -- that's part explanation for the ludicrous theatrical campaign against the NYT. The more they know what an awful mistake it was, the more viciously they attack.

The real question is whether the media will go along with the rhetorical trickery yet again. The recent deconstruction of Coulter by Donny frickin' Deutsch was fascinating, and a possible signal that won't be so easy this time. That is to say, the cold reality is forcing some people to see through the artifice. Enough? We'll see in November, perhaps.
posted by dhartung at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2006

Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate [fill in the blank].

This is the policy of the left, as much as the right. It's deployment by the right is well documented in this article. But this could as easily describe the left's reaction to 9-11, Katrina... or for that matter, the inner-city riots of the 1960s, the failure of welfare, the crime explosion of the 70s and 80s. Both sides are trying to game us. Here's an instructive exercise: Get yourself on the mailing lists of both left wing and right wing not-for-profits. When the mail starts pouring in, you'll come to understand much about American politics -- and be less quick to take sides, i think.
posted by Faze at 10:00 AM on July 15, 2006

so scheptech, what tune is it, precisely, that you whistle when you walk past graveyards?
posted by shmegegge at 10:00 AM on July 15, 2006

Ah, the choir's gotten some new lyrics? Excellent! I was getting tired of the Bush Lied, People Died thing. It was too much like the Lite beer commercials.

This is still good to read if only to better call them on it.
posted by fenriq at 10:06 AM on July 15, 2006

Let me tell you something, folks; if we are hit again, if we are hit again, we need to hold these people in our country who are undermining our efforts responsible. It ain’t going to be the FBI’s fault next time. It isn’t going to be the CIA’s fault next time. It isn’t going to be some bureaucracy’s fault next time. It’s going to be the fault of politicians, left-wing groups and the like who have names and identities and spend their every waking moment trying to obstruct our ability to secure intelligence information for our own national security.

Rush Limbaugh
June 14, 2005

It's already happening, boys and girls. The only real question is, to what extent does the public at large buy it?
posted by kgasmart at 10:29 AM on July 15, 2006

The problem with trying to fit American policy and history into any arbitrary bag is that it's damned difficult to find either bags or shoehorns big enough. In the case of this article, the author at least tries to avoid that tactical error by picking Wagner's massive Ring cycle as his shoehorn, and the whole last half of 20th century American politics as his bag. A bit over-arching for an 8,000 word magazine article, and probably too tight a fit for an 800 page book.

One counter to this author's thesis is not to criticize his selection of Jungian archetypes and complexes in the American psyche, but to suggest that he missed important ones in this analysis. From this latter view, the American right hasn't succeeded so much on the basis of its ability to dig Reds from under our beds and suggest our failures are due to shadowy fifth columns (as Baker suggests), as it has in suggesting that it's still OK for us as a nation to think as simplistically as a cowboy, and to act as if we were the iconic figures in movie Westerns, complete with terse, plain talk couched in ultimatums, and a direct, quick progression from cursory talk to shooting action.

The cowboy mentality is uniquely American, and politically powerful because it runs deeply in both our national and individual psyches. Since before even our great westward migration, and the rise of the synthesized image of the American cowboy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we've been a country that vastly preferred action to talk, and perhaps the laconic American cowboy image best encapsulated this sense at both the personal and national level. It is particularly American that our cowboys did not go West merely with the bolas of their Argentine gaucho brothers, or the ropes and horsecraft of the Mexican vaqueros they sometimes rode with, but with the best products of Mssrs. Colt and Winchester, and a murderous will to use firearms to dominate our West. But Baker ignores all that, and suggests that Americans, who are notably not opera lovers, have somehow been hoodwinked by a right wing cribbing its plots from Viennese operas. More than a bit of stretch, I think.

More likely, we're being taken down by inversions of the cowboy myth as suggested by Coppola in Apocalypse Now Redux, as reflected by the right, in the deepening abdication of the political process by the left. The later version of the film, Apocalypse Now Redux, with the additional scenes of the French Indonesian family holding out on their plantation, is richly evocative of this, and adds a lot of layers of complexity and parallel to the inversion of the classic cowboy myth. If Donald Rumsfeld had his way today, and he could find a Colonel Kurtz, he'd make him General Kurtz in a heartbeat, and head of the Joint Chiefs. Captain Williard would never have gotten his mission, and would still be sweating in a hotel room in Saigon, if not in Gitmo.

Reason has become our enemy, and we trust, as all real cowboys eventually must, only to ourselves and our guns.

Decent Saturday morning read though, and as usual from y2karl, another thought provoking FPP.
posted by paulsc at 10:36 AM on July 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

Couldn't be a whole hell of a lot, considering the left hasn't even managed to obstruct it's own bowels for years now.
posted by IronLizard at 10:36 AM on July 15, 2006

I think the last one is the more simple and boring and therefore most likely explanation for all this and the resolution will be equally simple, the Democrats will be elected next time as is reasonably likely to happen anyway after two successive Republican terms. They'll proceed to clean much of this up and will in part be able to, simply because they'll be new people and face may be saved all round including internationally.

I sure hope this is what will happen. However, the 51% that voted for the present administration, the save-the-brain-dead-girl, bomb-the-goddamned-cameljockeys, Team America crowd is not going anywhere. Do you really expect them to just admit they were wrong? Hell, where I live, people still seriously think the South shall rise again.
posted by c13 at 10:36 AM on July 15, 2006

From my dim memories of studying the politics of the US, this pendulum action has been the norm since the outset. The question is: Has the damn thing finally come loose from it's moorings this time?
posted by IronLizard at 10:41 AM on July 15, 2006

c13: Way to paint everyone who voted for Bush as a knuckle dragging troglodyte. Yes, you live in a country were a plurality-plus-one-percent all uniformly agreed with the Schiavo case and want to see people say the Pledge of allegiance to the Ten Commandments.

Wait, you say that a huge majority of people were against the Schiavo grandstanding? How can that be!? And who is it again who has the raging persecution complex?

until you realize that the American electorate is way more complex than you're giving them credit for, and until you stop assuming everyone who voted for Bush in 2004 is a bullet-point-spouting clone for the Heritage institute, then you're going to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
posted by absalom at 11:13 AM on July 15, 2006

The drums of elimination
posted by homunculus at 12:05 PM on July 15, 2006

American electorate is complex? Really? I'm sure glad you've pointed that out.
Yes, there are different conservative groups and currents. Not all conservatives tried to "save" Terry. Not all of them think that Ten Commandments is the basis of our Constitution. Not all of them have "We're coming, motherfuckers" or "Support our troops" stickers on their cars. And not all of them get that funny tingling feeling between their legs when they watch aircraft gun camera footage. But the majority of people in any the groops that do ARE conservatives. And you know it as well as I do. So I don't really understand the point of your post. Are you saying that, if Democrats win this next round, these people will change their opinions? When we have no choice but to withdraw the forces from Iraq, leaving a god damned crater of a country behind, are you saying they will NOT try to blame the liberal hippie peacenik pinkos for the failure, and will instead blame the inept administration? And that will be the majority of conservatives, at least the ones that vote?
posted by c13 at 12:08 PM on July 15, 2006

My only point, C, or at least my main one, was that your statement "However, the 51% that voted for the present administration, the save-the-brain-dead-girl, bomb-the-goddamned-cameljockeys, Team America crowd is not going anywhere" seemed to me to filing 51% of America into the Wingnut Conservative archetype, just because they voted one way in 2004, which is just patently ridiculous. My apologies if I misinterpreted your statement.
posted by absalom at 12:20 PM on July 15, 2006

Well, absalom, they've seen what happened during the first four years. Apparently it was not enough. I don't know where normal, sane conservatives went. Do you? I honestly hope to be shown wrong this coming elections, but something tell me that's not going to happen.
posted by c13 at 12:44 PM on July 15, 2006

People sometimes vote against things as much as they vote for. Not all Mr Bush's votes came from people voting for Mr Bush let alone any of those other things.

The next one is the Dem's to lose, they'd have to really continue to screw it up to fail to be elected. How could they screw it up?
1 - run Hillary, running Hillary would get the Republicans back in the game, it would give them a chance they don't have now, or so it appears at the moment
2 - identify with same-sex marriage
3 - come out strongly in favor leaving Roe V the way it is
4 - call for an illegal immgration amnesty or more job outsourcing

Before firing up the flame-throwers, note I'm just saying what is, not necessarily what I personally think should be. For example, maybe having Hillary for pres would present a whole new face to the world, give America an opportunity to redefine herself internationally.
posted by scheptech at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2006

2 - identify with same-sex marriage
3 - come out strongly in favor leaving Roe V the way it is

On #2 - ixnay. Democrats need to be in favor of all men are created equal, with certain inalienable rights, period. That needs to be the non-negotiable position, and if it means not seizing the White House in 2008, great. The country is coming around to that position, and the Democrats kill themselves in the long run by trying to show the world that they, too, can hate teh gay.

On #3 - the problem, scheptech, is that those who want Roe eviscerated are not going to be happy, nor will they stop with, a little tweaking. They want it all and they are damned determined to get it all, and Democrats are fools to either not recognize that or to not have gameplanned for it extensively.

But as an institution, Democrats largely are fools, so I'm sure they think that by showing how "moderate" they are on this issue, too, they can get the wolves on the right to tone down the bloodlust.

You do not fight that bloodlust in any way by saying gee, maybe we'll come over to your side of the fence but not totally and try to forge some centrist coalition. What you do is stand up for your ideals, and tell the wolves to f*ck off. And if they don't like it - bring it on, motherf*cker.

It may be paranoid to see the trends that David Neiwert has identified and tracked as being as dangerous as they seem. But I'll be damned if I'm taken by surprise if they turn out to be just that.

If the war in Iraq has been lost, it has been lost squarely and entirely because it was based almost completely on false assumptions, on an arrogant recklessness that led us directly into the quicksand. I'll be goddamned if I sit around and let the bastards who led us there claim that the only problem is that we didn't march faster or sing with more gusto.
posted by kgasmart at 1:14 PM on July 15, 2006

Same sex marriage!? Thats what we should be worried about? We're failing in Iraq and Afganistan, we've pissed away billions of dollars, we've borrowed more in the last six years than in all the years this country existed, combined. We've gone from the "beacon of freedom" to number one cause of concern for world stability. Our citizens are traveling to third world countries to obtain required medical care, because they cannot afford to do it here. We've lost a major port city to flood. Oil is about to reach $80 a barrel (before anyone says its not as bad as the 70's, no, it now is just about as bad). US government spying on US citizens. The list goes on..
But the number two concern for us is whether guys who like to do each other in the butt are allowed to visit each-other in the hospital or live together like everybody else. Or that damned mexicans are coming over here and pickng our lettice, shoveling tons of shit at the chicken farms or digging ditches. Taking up all those covetable jobs that every american would be glad to have.
THIS is the audience that Democrats should pamper to. Knuckle dragging troglodytes? Why, surely not!
posted by c13 at 1:14 PM on July 15, 2006

Impressive reinterpretation of history. But it glosses over the fact that calling attention to a problem is not the cause of the problem.

For example, by all accounts, Roosevelt was in terrible physical condition heading into Yalta. Not his fault, and it was something he had to do. But this put him at a severe disadvantage, between rabidly anti-communist Churchill and the ultimate dictator, Stalin, who was known for trying to lead every aspect of his empire by memo.

And on the American side was Alger Hiss, who even the Russians now admit, was undermining the US side, pipelining every detail ASAP to Russia. This was the situation, unaffected by how it was politically used later in the US.

Other situations contributing to fifth columnist concerns were the House un-American affairs committee, which while operating in a parallel manner to the Senate hearings, were legitimate, and did uncover large numbers of enemy agents in both the State Department and the Pentagon. I can see legitimate political capitalization on such a scandal.

Even events outside of the US, such as the Philby affair in Britain, which resulted in the deaths of many US agents, contributed to reasonable concerns that fifth columnists were hard at work undermining the US.

So, as the article says, every state must have its enemies. But I suggest that every state does have its enemies, both foreign and domestic. That they might be used as a political football in no way diminishes their hostile intent.

Timothy McVeigh justifies our being on the lookout for more Timothy McVeighs.
posted by kablam at 5:26 PM on July 15, 2006

Timothy McVeigh was an Iraqi?
posted by bardic at 7:31 PM on July 15, 2006

Well said, kgasmart. And C13, as much as I'd like the unspoken but core issues you mentioned to be addressed, they are not as useful to politicians as the emotional (and seemingly small) ones, which they can slice up teh enemy votes with.
posted by uni verse at 9:52 AM on July 16, 2006

Damn! that writer, while perceptive, is one long-winded blowhard
posted by Twang at 5:04 AM on July 17, 2006

"Let me tell you something, folks; if we are hit again, if we are hit again, we need to hold these people in our country who are undermining our efforts responsible." ... Lintbomb

It's amazing. These guys are looking so hard to find what's bringing them down, and it just never occurs to them that they are their own ... and everyone else's ... worst enemy.

"Let me tell you something folks. We don't have two left feet. One of you does." Long pause, like when Hardy poked Laurel with a fork. "OW!"
posted by Twang at 5:09 AM on July 17, 2006

We are all familiar on a personal level with this sort of indiscriminate lashing-out and projection complex. Someone is destroying themselves and their family by refusing to let go of their absolute conviction in whatever it is that motivates their behavior.

What is new (to me) is to see this dynamic on a trans-personal level, where participants can reinforce each other and any participant taken out of the game by the consequences of their actions (or by changing their mind) is quickly replaced.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:18 AM on July 17, 2006

« Older In the Party of God--Hezbollah   |   Dark Side of Oz Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments