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When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, his meteoric rise from a political rabble rouser to “Fuhrer" (leader) was facilitated, in large part, because of his oratorical gifts that captivated the German masses still reeling from their losses after the First World War.

Adolf Hitler, flanked by Reich’s Marshal Herman Goering to the left of this photo, and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to the right…

While Hitler's ability to freely profess lies about Judaism, in general, and the role of Jews in toppling the German Empire during World War I, he understood that to implement his vision of shaping Germany into a national socialist state under his unquestioned authority, that he would need to suppress any and all forms of dissent to his political and social viewpoints. 

In May of 1933, less than four months after becoming Chancellor, Hitler dispatched his loyal propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, to begin a campaign that encouraged college students and concerned citizens to burn books deemed offensive to the Third Reich. 

Now, anyone who had read Hitler's discursive "Mein Kampf" prior to 1933 likely was not surprised that works by Jewish intellectuals like physicist Albert Einstein, neurologist Sigmund Freud, and protestant anti-Fascist playwright Bertholdt Brecht, were first among the pyres that sent flames flashing through the night skies in Berlin and other German cities.

But the bonfires also included All Quiet on the Western Front, the classic novel by Erich Remarque that gives a harrowing view of life in the trenches for German soldiers during the last days of World War I. In a small twist of irony, I find it interesting that the latest film adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, a Netflix movie that I watched at rapt attention last weekend, just won four Oscar Awards during the same month that in Florida and the majority of her sister states across the South, legislative bodies, MAGA governors, and local school boards are banning books and seeking to limit any intellectual challenges to their views of America. 

As a history lover, I am very careful to avoid trite comparisons of current events to horrific moments in history like the Holocaust or American slavery. But in this instance, the words and deeds of totalitarians past, like Nazi Min. Joseph Goebbels, are none dissimilar from would be totalitarians present, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Consider Min. Goebbels, circa May 1933:

Jewish intellectualism is dead...National socialism has hewn the way. The German folk soul can again express itself; the old goes up in flames, the new shall be fashioned from the flame in our hearts...”

Consider Gov. Ron DeSantis circa January 2023

It is important to note that by 1933, the German people—desperate from over a decade of economic punishment from the victorious Allies of World War I and reeling from the Great Depression that collapsed markets worldwide in 1929—surrendered their common sense and basic decency to Hitler's Nazi regime because they believed that he would restore Germany's greatness. We now know that while a period of German prosperity did ensue under Hitler prior to World War II due to his breaking the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I by re-arming his nation's military and focusing on automobile (Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW) manufacturing, his military strategic blunders (namely, invading the Soviet Union) soon left him and his propaganda minister Goebbels dead by suicide—and the entire nation in ruins and split under Soviet and American occupation for nearly 50 years.

Soviet Red Army soldiers inspecting and posing in front of the Reichstag, home to the German Parliament, circa May of 1945…

But today, in 2023, does it make any logical sense for American citizens in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and other heavily Republican enclaves to surrender common sense and decency by allowing Republican leaders to ban books and forbid the exchange of competing ideas, ideals, and ideologies?

No, it absolutely does not!

Further, the framers of the U.S. Constitution drafted the very First Amendment to that document in 1787 to focus on free speech, freedom of religious expression, and the right to seek redress of grievances, but modern MAGA Republicans are actively pushing to subvert speech, establish Christian dogma as superior to secular law, and in Florida, are pushing to punish bloggers while preventing protesters from having unfettered access to the Capitol Complex all because Gov. Ron DeSantis says so?!? 

Since its inception, one of the hallmarks of the American Republic has been protest, be it in peaceful forms such as the Civil and Women's Rights Movements, or in more violent forms such as Nat Turner's slave rebellion or the Civil War.

As an advocate for peaceful dissent first and foremost, it is my sincere hope that my readers realize that attacks on books and the academy are always the opening battles of any cultural wars, and that the same must be resisted by teachers who will teach the truth, bloggers and columnists who will write the truth, and students that will read the books that have been banned—all with no fear of what the temporary powers that be may seek to do as punishment. 

Lest we forget...

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Chuck Hobbs is a freelance journalist who won the 2010 Florida Bar Media Award and has been twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

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