The Nazi Parallel

Noam Chomsky & Edward Herman

Excerpted from The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, 1979

The two statements quoted above bring out some central features of modern Latin America. A close study of recent trends-including the specific totalitarian ideology of the generals, the system of ideological manipulation and terror, the diaspora, and the defensive response of the churches (and their harassment by the military juntas)-reveals startling similarities with patterns of thought and behavior under European fascism, especially under Nazism. Fascist ideology has flowed into Latin American directly and indirectly. Large numbers of Nazi refugees came to Latin America during and after World War II, and important ingredients of fascist ideology have been indirectly routed into that area through the U.S. military and intelligence establishment. Whatever the source, however, it has met a need of the local and foreign elites that dominate the area, and has been modified to meet their special requirements.

The ideology designated the "National Security Doctrine" (NSD) now prevails among the military elites that rule at least eight Latin American states-Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. The doctrine has three main elements: (1) that the state is absolute and the individual is nothing; (2) that every state is involved in permanent warfare, its present form being Communism versus the Free World; and (3) that control over "subversion" is possible only through domination by the natural leadership in the struggle against subversion, namely the armed forces. The first two elements of the NSD closely parallel Nazi ideology, which laid great stress on the organic Volkstaat and the deadly combat in process between the forces of good and evil (Bolshevism, Jewry). Geopolitics is also a favorite source of ideological nourishment to the Latin military elite, as it was for the Nazis. Nazi doctrine did not give primacy to the armed forces, although they were assigned an important place, but the Leader and the Party played an elite role. The special place of the’ armed forces in the NSD reflects in part the self-interested rationalization of the privileged and dominant military elite; it also represents the choice of vehicle by the colossus of the north, which has long invested in the military establishment as potentially "a major force for constructive social change in the American republics" (Nelson Rockefeller).

An important ingredient of Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism, is absent from the NSD, although it has found a home with the military of certain countries (specifically, Argentina, where there has been a long anti-Semitic tradition). But the NSD also lacks any element of egalitarianism or notion of human community, both present in grotesquely perverted form in Nazi ideology, so that the Latin American version has been well adapted to justifying and institutionalizing extreme inequality and domination by a small elite. The NSD is not a doctrine with ugly potential consequences for specific minorities; it is one that fits the need for disregard and spoliation of the majority. The special place of army and police merely assures that the military elite will share in the spoliation along with the traditional elite group. It is, therefore, an appropriate doctrine for what we have been calling "subfascism."

Since the generals sponsoring the National Security Doctrine have been nurtured by and dependent on the U.S. military intelligence establishment, and look to the United States as the heartland of anti-Communism and Freedom, it is little wonder that the economic doctrinal counterpart to the NSD is quite congenial to the interests of multinational business. The military juntas have adopted a "free enterprise-blind growth" model on the alleged geopolitical rationale that growth means power, disregarding the fact that dependent growth means foreign power. Since profits equal investment equal growth equal power, it works out that state support for large interests-domestic and foreign- and neglect of the masses, is sound policy. We saw earlier that in the economics of client fascism, that is, National Security Economics, the welfare of the masses is no longer a system objective-the masses become a cost of goods sold, something to be minimized-so that although the military juntas sometimes speak of long run benefits trickling down to the lower orders, this is really an after-thought and is not to be taken too seriously.

Furthermore, since the world is one of good and evil, with "no room for comfortable neutralism" (Pinochet, echoing a familiar refrain of his U.S. mentor), and since free enterprise-growth profits-USA are good, anybody challenging these concepts or their consequences is ipso facto a Communist-subversive-enemy. This is a logical deduction from NSD principles, and it is also clearly just what General Maxwell Taylor had in mind in telling the students of the police academy of the lessons of Vietnam and the need for anticipatory counter-subversion. It also means that any resistance to business power and privilege in the interests of equity, or on the basis of an alternative view of desirable social ends or means, is a National Security and police problem. This applies to such organizations as peasant leagues, unions, student organizations or community or political groupings that might afford protection to the weak or threaten to become a political counterforce to elite domination. From the standpoint of the multinationals and latifundists, this is superb doctrine; reform is equated with subversion, the work force is kept in disarray by state power, and nothing stands in the way of organizing economic life in MNC-latifundist interests that can not be taken care of by a few well-placed bribes. As Nelson Rockefeller has said, in dealing with Latin American countries, for whom democracy "is a very subtle and difficult problem," we must be prepared to sacrifice some of our philosophical principles in the interest of helping meet the basic needs of the people of the hemisphere."

In Nazi Germany too, as in other totalitarian societies, a primary aim of the controlling leadership was the destruction of any organizational threat that might challenge the attainment of "state" ends; and unions, students and professional organizations, and community groups and political parties were infiltrated, harassed, destroyed, or brought under state control. The most powerful bases of organized resistance in Nazi Germany were the churches, which provided the "most active, most effective, and most consistent" opposition to Nazi terror. The churches were so deeply rooted in their communities that it was difficult to attack them openly, although the Nazis tried from the beginning to undermine and destroy church authority. The churches were not only the first large organizations left intact that began to resist Hitlerism as organizations, "they also remained unique in this respect throughout the period from 1933 to 1945, although their resistance remained limited to certain issues and methods. Throughout World War II one important segment of the Protestant Church (the Confessing Church) refused to pray for military victory, and by the war’s end many hundreds of clergymen had died in concentration camps.

The analogy here with Latin American experience is striking, although it has been diligently avoided in the mass media of the United States. The National Security States, like Hitler, have used informers and force to destroy or bring under state control all protective organizations of the working class, peasants, rural workers and sub-proletariat: a church group’s description of Paraguay, where "the government’s objective is to suppress any person or organization that strives to help those living in miserable poverty, that is to say 80/ho of the population, is widely applicable in the NSD world. This repression is not undertaken out of sadistic impulses. Rather, as the church throughout the empire now recognizes, "this whole universe of atomized workers, powerless and obliged to humiliate themselves," are kept in that condition for sound economic reasons, given the ends sought and the model of economic development employed by the military juntas.

From the inception of this process, and especially since the Brazilian coup of 1964, the churches have been pressed into opposition to subfascism, just as under Nazism, as the last institutional refuge of the population against state terror and state-protected and state-sponsored exploitation. Initially, again in close analogy with Nazi experience, the coming into power of the National Security State was greeted by the church in a country like Brazil with mixed feelings, and some positive expectations on the part of the more conservative church leaders. But subfascist processes steadily drove the church into a position of increasingly unified hostility, despite efforts by the military junta to alternatively threaten and attempt to bribe the church leaders into quiescence, if not support. Church opposition has been bothersome to the Brazilian junta, in part because the church remains a competing institutional power still providing a base of opposition and some protective cover for the pack animals (the 80% plus). Furthermore, the church and religion are part of the ceremonial apparatus of the Christian-West-Free World, and however little the generals may regard Christian principles, the symbols should be available for manipulation of the lower orders. But they have not been readily available, and the conflict between the churches and military juntas has escalated in Brazil and throughout the empire.

The reasons for the scope and strength of church resistance in Latin America and elsewhere include certain features of the churches themselves, such as the post-Vatican II internal discussions and subsequent democratization, and the institutional shift in church constituency and support. With the middle and upper classes-the traditional basis of support and personnel- gradually abandoning the church after World War II, the constituency of the church has gradually shifted to the 80% plus that is voiceless, powerless and outside the orbit of interest under subfascism. As the church has reached into the communities of the poor it has been obliged to see and feel the problems of this exploited mass, and the result has been a further democratization of the church, expressions of remorse at its elite supportive role in the past, and a new concern for meeting the needs of all people now: "The Holy Spirit is no longer a privilege of the hierarchy or of the religious; the Spirit does not only teach piety and obedience in the teaching of the church. The Spirit shows itself in the new martyrs, in the daring of the communities and their ministers, in the testimony given to the world by the humble and poor people."

It is important to recognize that the dominant elements of the Catholic Church of Latin America were, and in important respects still are, quite conservative. It has been pushed into relatively unified and vigorous opposition against its desires and traditions, in large part by brutalities and injustice of a scale and severity that gave it no alternative. The quality of the New Brazil that has evoked this church response can be illustrated by its treatment of abandoned children, vast numbers of whom wander and forage in the cities. These children are regarded strictly as a police problem. Nothing is done for them, but they are periodically rounded up, put into police trucks, and transported to other Brazilian states, with a warning to stay away. If something positive is done for them, this is regarded as a menace. Lernoux reports that "in a recent typical case, a young teenager was arrested in Vitoria for trying to organize the city’s abandoned children into a work cooperative. After he was beaten and tortured, the boy was sodomized in the local jail."

The treatment of the mass of rural poor has been on the same humanistic plane. The military regime has encouraged and subsidized the shift to export crops such as soybeans and cattle, without the slightest concern, provision, or consideration for the (non-existent) opportunities for the millions of dispossessed:

"Their lands, houses and crops are wiped out by the savage growth of latifundia and big agribusiness. Their living and working conditions are becoming more difficult. In a tragic contradiction, in which the government economic favors multiply herds of cattle and enlarge plantations, the small laborer sees his family’s food supply diminishing. "

Volkswagen, Tio Tinto Zinc, Swift Meat Packing, and others have been receiving tax write-offs to develop cattle ranches, while the indigenous people are written off in the process by their government. Italy’s Liquigas was allowed to buy six million acres of land in the heart of the territory of the Xavantas Indians, with 60 Indians killed in the eviction process.

The state functions to prevent by force any defense of the rural majority and to allow the powerful to violate the already feeble law with impunity. A great many clergy have been brutalized for making the most elemental defenses of maltreated individuals. Although under Brazil’s legal code peasants who have worked the land for 10 years or more are entitled to ownership rights, those rights are widely ignored and in any conflict are usually resolved by the force of the strong. In one contested case a land development company "simply bulldozed the village of Santa Teresinha off the map. When Father Francisco Jentel protested against the destruction of a health clinic built by the peasants, he was jailed and later sentenced to ten years in prison for ‘incising the people to revolt’."

The Catholic Church has not been able to swallow passively the intensified post-1964 day-by-day spoliation of the Indians and peasantry. Bishop Dom Pedro Casadaliga has kept up a steady flow of denunciations of the policies of force, fraud and subsidization of rural dispossession by the military regime. He has exasperated the ranchers and military of Sao Felix by organizing peasant cooperatives, schools and health units and urging the peasants to "unite and know your legal rights." The Bishop points out that there is only one private doctor in the prefecture of Sao Felix, which covers 150,000 square kilometers, but the military regime still discourages church medical assistance efforts: "There used to be a nun nurse who worked in the hospital [the Santa Izabel Indian Hospital]. However, she was expelled and prohibited from taking care of Indians or posseiros. We opened a mobile health unit in Sao Felix which was closed by the Secretary of Health of Mato Grosso. Of the four mobile units of the region three are closed and the other is open only sporadically when a doctor of the army or air force is passing through." Efforts to organize the peasantry, even for limited self-help activities, have been viewed with the deepest suspicion by the leaders of subfascism, and this form of subversion has led to the arrest, harassment and exile of numerous clergy in Brazil and elsewhere in the empire.

Bishop Casadaliga was the first of many Brazilian bishops to be subject to military interrogation. Many have suffered more severely. Dom Adriano Hipolito, the Bishop of Nova Iguazu, who has often denounced the Brazilian Anti-Communist Alliance (AAB) as a "bunch of thugs directed and protected by the police" was kidnapped by the AAB, beaten, stripped, painted red, and left Iying on a deserted road. And in October, 1976, Father Joao Brunier, who had gone to the police station with Bishop Casadaliga to protest the torture of two peasant women, was simply shot dead by a policeman (who was eventually "apprehended" and then "escaped"). Hundreds of priests and higher officials of the Latin American churches have been tortured, murdered or driven into exile. Six aides of Archbishop Camara have been murdered, and he is quite aware that only his international reputation has so far saved him from a similar fate.

The Latin American churches have been unified and radicalized by subfascist terror and exploitation. They have learned by bitter experience the roots and consequences of these processes. The Church in Brazil now points out frequently and with great clarity and courage that the National Security Doctrine is a cover for totalitarian violence against ordinary people and is a means of class warfare. It is interesting to see the church preaching with passion for the rights of the individual against a state created and supported by the heartland of "freedom"-"On the level of purpose, the State exists for persons. The person, as a subject of natural inalienable rights, is the origin, center and end of society…It is in this right that the power of authority of the state is based. All force practiced beyond and outside of this right is violence." The church has also become more clear-eyed and explicit on the class bias and massive inhumanity of the development model of growth, and on the role of the U.S. and its military and economic interests in bringing into existence and sustaining the subfascist state. On the benefits of the Brazilian "miracle," one church document notes that

"Five percent (5 million out of 100 million) do attain something. But those who really have the advantage are the ones who are financing our "growth," those from abroad, the foreigners. If a bank will not extend credit without a guarantee of profit, much less will the foreigners finance our development and dispense with their profits. Our external debt amounts to about $10 billion."

External interests not only sustain oppression by their support of the military governments; they are more directly in the picture as developers, expropriators and strike-breakers. Bishop Casadaliga claims that in Sao Felix where latifundias are frequently owned by MNCs, the foreign entities have fought his mild efforts more aggressively than the locals: "Of the attacks I have suffered the majority have been ordered by the administrators and technocrats of the multinational latifundios." The Open Letter quoted at the beginning of this section is more passionate still in describing the sorrowful reality that has "demolished the image of ‘the great democracy of the North’," including "the scandalous intervention of the United States in the installation and maintenance of military regimes" throughout Latin America; "the shameful Panamanian enclave with its military training centers" in which the murderers receive their higher education from U.S. instructors in techniques of "systematic persecution" and "scientifically perfected torture"; the activities of "the CIA and other agencies of penetration and espionage"; "the sometimes subtle and other times brazen domination and colonization practices" which have gradually eliminated the possibilities of independent economic development; and the "silent genocide, killing with hunger, with malnutrition, with tuberculosis the children of working families without resources."

The church-state struggle has become general in varying degrees throughout the expanding subfascist component of the empire. In Latin America, only in the few countries that retain a democratic order has an open conflict failed to emerge. In the now dominant terror states, including South Korea and the Philippines, the clergy is under attack and is fighting back with the non-violent weapons at its disposal. It cannot be over stressed that while the church increasingly calls for major social changes, the vast bulk of its efforts have been directed toward the protection of the most elemental human rights-to vote, to have the laws enforced without favor, to be free from physical abuse, and to be able to organize, assemble, and petition for betterment. Most sinister for the leaders of subfascism is any sponsorship of organizational or self-help efforts that might give the underclasses not only a sense of personal dignity but also some notion that they have rights and might exercise some small modicum of power.

The hostility of the National Security States to church support for the majority has reached the level of cooperative efforts at intimidation. In the summer of 1976 a major church meeting in Ecuador was interrupted when "40 barbarians armed with machine guns, revolvers, and tear gas bombs burst in on us. None of us was allowed to touch any of our personal belongings, not even to put on a pair of socks. We were pushed at gun point into a waiting bus-80 of us crammed into a space meant for 50. We had no idea what was happening, and it was useless to ask those gangsters for an explanation." The group, which included 15 foreign bishops and two foreign archbishops, was imprisoned overnight, and the foreign contingent was expelled the next day on the ground that it had been a "subversive meeting" (on subfascist principles, no doubt correct). One factor explaining the incident may have been the hostility to the host, Bishop Leonidas Proano, who had long been in conflict with the local ranchers over his defense of the ownership rights of the Indians. Church sources claim that a more potent factor was the increasingly close relations between Ecuador and the other subfascist states, particularly Brazil and Chile. At the time of the meeting 10 Chilean secret police were in Ecuador helping set up an intelligence and "security" network. The Chilean secret police arranged for a rock-throwing reception for the three Chilean bishops at the Santiago airport upon their return from Ecuador, and the Chilean press used the incident to demonstrate the Communist-subversive qualities of the bishops. The Chilean bishops concluded from their investigation of the episode that it had been a response to the pressures of "friendly governments" which had been applied to Ecuador.

The conflict between the church and the state intensifies as subfascist abuse becomes a more integral component of the reigning system, the church responds, and the National Security State brooks no opposition: "If we don’t subscribe to ‘their Church,’ we are subversive. But how can we accept a mentality that endorses torture and murder, that is so totally unchristian?" And a Paraguayan priest says that "the bishops are arriving at a point where they must choose between their people and the military…It isn’t a political choice between right and left but a humanitarian one. In Paraguay, for example, conservative and liberal bishops are united in their opposition to Alfredo Stroessner’s regime. Even the military vicar signed the last pastoral letter denouncing government repression." But the churches resist without the huge resources of the state, without access to the government controlled media, and without the power of physical coercion. On the international plane the churches also face the most formidable obstacle of all-namely, United States sponsorship and support for the National Security State. Thus economic and military aid flows to the military juntas and the United States protects them diplomatically, economically and militarily-militarily, of course, mainly against their own populations via counterinsurgency and police aid. The United States has actively cooperated in overthrowing reformers or radicals in democratic systems (Brazil, Chile), but it has never quite been able to throw its weight towards democracy and away from subfascist gangsters even when the gangsters have stood alone with their U.S.-trained militias and weapons against a unified population, as we witness in Nicaragua at the time of writing.

Because the National Security State is U.S.-sponsored and supported and meets U.S. criteria on the fundamentals, there is another important international consequence: the mass media in the United States play down and essentially suppress the evidence of the enormous inhumanities and institutionalized violence of these U.S. satellites. The trial of a single Soviet dissident, Anatol Shcharansky, received more newspaper space in 1978 than the several thousand official murders in Latin America during the same year, not to speak of the vast number of lesser events such as tortures and massive dispossession. Information on Latin American horrors is readily available from church and other sources eager to tell the ghastly story, but-to put the matter baldly-the sponsors of class warfare under subfascism are hardly eager to focus attention on its victims. Just as in the case of warfare in Vietnam, both killing and ruthless exploitation at a distance are best done by proxy or through impersonal machinery, with eyes averted. The Free World establishment wisely chooses to focus on movements of the "gross national product" of Brazil, without too much attention to who gets what and how. The Free World media also concentrate on "terror," defined as we have seen so as to exclude official violence by definition; and the media allow the world of subfascism to be viewed largely through the eyes of the torturers and U.S. officials and businessmen. U.S. power and interest have put a communications lid on the fate of the great majority of the population of Latin America under U.S.-sponsored subfascism. Thus the churches fight a lonely battle as the last institutional protection of the mass of the population, with the primary enemy an absentee ownership interest supported by a super-power. In Latin America it is widely recognized that the origin and preservation of the National Security State rests on U.S. support. It is the ultimate Orwellism that this same superpower is thought in the West to be fighting a noble battle for "human rights."