Hitler, Bush and Historical Accuracy

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“An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation. We must take steps to insure our domestic security and protect our Homeland.”

This quote, according to hundreds of pages on the web, is by Adolf Hitler from a 1933 (or 1932 or 1922 on some pages) announcement of the creation of the Gestapo. These pages all have two things in common:

  1. They all compare Bush to Hitler
  2. They never cite their source

As a geeky historian, I find the second more troubling than the first. In fact, the creation of the Gestapo (note the presence of uncited quotes in this article), which began piecemeal around Germany, culminated in the so-called Reichstag Fire Decree, which among other things

placed severe limitations on personal freedom, the right of free expression, the freedom of the press, and the freedom of assembly; it permitted the authorities to spy on people’s private communications through the post, telegraph, and telephone; it allowed the police to conduct search and seizure operations in private homes; andit enabled the police to arrest people and put them in protective custody without charging them with a specific offense[1]

It is, indeed, hard to avoid seeing the parallels with our government’s behavior since September 11. We have allowed our government to eavesdrop on phone conversations. We have permitted our elected officials to pass laws permitting the government to demand our purchasing records from bookstores (illegal search and seizure), which was largely solved by the bookstores refusing to make the information available, but the parallel is significant. We have also arrested people without charging them with a specific offense and we have allowed them to be tortured even if not guilty of a specific offense, because they might spill the beans about other threats to public security. So it is not amiss to compare the Gestapo to measures by the Bush administration. Obviously, one should not belabor the comparison: Bush is no Hitler. Bad as he is, Bush is nevertheless closer to Roosevelt than he is to Hitler. However, the utility of the comparison is not to paint Bush as a modern Hitler, which is ridiculous, but to point out how willing his is as a president and we are as a people to go down the same road that the Germans went down in return for a little security. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so it behooves us to make sure that the first step is in the direction of freedom, not totalitarianism. It is most certainly useful to see how dictators have taken control in the past so we can guard against it in the present, and in that light, Bush should make us afraid.

But what about the quote? It isn’t so far from the text of the special law of 26 April 1933 for the creation of the Secret State Police Office (Gestapa) that said it was necessary to create such a police force “In order to assure the effective struggle against all the efforts directed against the existence and security of the state.”[2] That gets at the essence of the quote, but it comes up short of being a parallel with the supposed Bush quote.

It may well be that the quote that is all over the net is accurate, but I would like to see one citation. Just one. At this point, most people object to my historian geekiness and say that the special law is “close enough” to the version on the net. But when we let the accuracy of our facts slide, we are also taking one step in the wrong direction. That journey of 1000 miles also ends in totalitarianism. The most important bulwarks we have against tyrants is that we do not let them control history. Stalin tried by airbrushing cosmonauts in and out of photos. The Roman Inquisition tried it by burning books. Open discourse based on verifiable facts is the bane of tyrants. Ultimately, it is more important than force of arms, because if you can twist history so that the people believe the Big Lie, you have no need of arms, but when the illusion of the Big Lie is broken on a broad enough scale, no amount of arms can restore the illusion.

When we parrot quotes that are parroted on the web by authors who are parroting others who can never cite their actual source, we go down that slope where we leave the realm of facts and enter the realm of myth, and the realm of myth is the favorite homeland of tyrants and demagogues everywhere. The land of myth is the one where we have a virtual paradise on earth if we could just get rid of the Jews. The land of myth is the one where Chinese peasants under Mao were living in a workers’ paradise and, as Jung Chang talks about in her wonderful memoir Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China, ended with Chinese children saving their pennies to send to the poor starving children in capitalist countries. The realm of fact is the one where at that very time, Mao was letting over one hundred million peasants starve to death in the name of an ideology. That’s why it matters whether your facts are checked or accepted on faith, whether your history is accurate and documented, or just “close enough”.

Sources

1. Eric A. Johnson, Nazi Terror : The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans, p. 87. This is more or less a paraphrase of the decree itself, the text of which and translation is on the Wikipedia.
2.Robert Gellately, The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945 (Clarendon Paperbacks), p. 29

35 Responses to “Hitler, Bush and Historical Accuracy”

  1. Excellent point. As much as I would love to slap this quote alongside some Bush blurb, I cannot in good conscience do so without some decent citation….which I have yet to find. As the 9-11 conspiracy crowd have proven, once you slap some official-sounding quote without any citation on the web, it will forever be dusted off and uncovered and touted as ‘evidence’ long after it’s been thoroughly refuted. And that makes people look like true amateurs.
    Keep up the diligent geekiness.

  2. Thanks Derwood. It’s nice to know that my uptight, geeky diligence is appreciated by someone! I do find it troubling when people toss around labels like Nazi or Fascist or Communist (as one fan called me) and get fast and loose with citations and facts. As Machiavelli said, “It is better for the prince to lie to the people than confront them with unpopular truths.” Or did he? Anyone can make up a quote!

  3. I found your site while researching the same “geeky” questions that you are raising about the Bush/Hitler “quote” bouncing around the web. There are enough verifiable creepy Bush quotes that his detractors should not need to twist history to make him look bad. Credibility requires meticulous accuracy.

  4. Thanks Nancy.

    If I were not so verbose, that’s what I would have said.

    Nothing is served by making stuff up, reiterating undocumented allegations, or repeated unsourced citations. When you do that, it raises questions about credibility in general and it becomes easier to discredit an entire, otherwise well-documented argument because one aspect gets disproven or can’t be proven.

    I know it’s not the world we live in with Rush and Ann and all, but I do think that there is a burden on people who love civil liberties to be tight with the facts even when it does not suit their purposes. Once we accept that we can make stuff up in an attempt to further our agenda, we have in essence abanonded any agenda that I could support, no matter how idealistic its purported aims.

    PS, Nancy put a spam catcher address in the email field. I guess I should put this somewhere more obvious but

    1. You are not required to enter an email address. I have other means of catching spammers that work sort of okay. If you’re worried, just don’t fill that field in.
    2. I never have and never will use an email address from the comments for anything other than a personal note of thanks or followup. You will not get spammed (short of someone hacking me anyway).

     

  5. Shane YoNaLaSi

    I can’t believe no one has thanked you yet. I was also annoyed by the fact that the websites did not cite their sources. THANK YOU!!!

  6. Thanks Shane! Considering that this site gets almost no traffic, I’m just happy to see people stopping by to comment.

  7. Thank you Ranter for an eloquent piece of clear thinking.
    I’m not sure about the veracity of the Bush/Hitler quotes but ‘Zeitgeist – The Movie’ is certainly promulgating them as fact. I am right now in the process of watching it on Youtube and when the quotes came up it stopped me in my tracks. I’m astounded really.
    And like you and your previous visitors I have to find out the facts. I know something is not right as there are no sources given for either quote. Hitlers quote is cited as being from – “When announcing the Gestapo to the people”. No date no place. While the Bush version is given no context at all.

    My search so far has taken me to your good site and to a piece by Jackson Thoreau on Opednews dot com in which he states that in his ‘…17th press conference’ President Bush speaking on the Budget says:

    “We will submit a budget that fits the times. It will provide every tool and resource to the military, will protect the homeland, and meet other priorities of the government.”

    The quote is from the conference of December 20, 2004 and a full transcript is available on the Whitehouse site as well rm audio versions on various other sites, which is the closest I can get so far.
    ‘Protect the homeland’. Sinister but no mention of evil etc.
    My quest continues though.
    It’s very disappointing really. These guys from Zeitgeist are purporting to expose propaganda and give a better insight into our common history. A worthy cause. But for me now I’ll have to check everything they say and then it doesn’t warrant the effort. When will they learn that the method is the message. You cannot expose lies with more lies

  8. Thanks John. Your comments (which I rec’d on my birthday no less) got me to go and correct a few poorly written passages.

    As yet, though, I still don’t know the original source of the quotation, whether made up or accurate.

    If anyone does find out where this came from originally, regardless of whether it was simply made up in 200x or comes from 1930s Germany, I would love to have this answered.

  9. Mr. Bill

    I guess I’m not the only one. I found your site while looking for an accurate source of the “Hitler” quote and any similar quotes by George W. How easy it is to fall into the trap. Something agrees with your think and next thing you know you are spouting it as fact, thus joining the ranks of the enemy.

    I’m doing research for a book about Vietnam and why we were there, incorporating quotes I’ve found. Many are un-sourced and no matter how applicable to my story I just can’t be a hypocrite. Keep up the good work.

  10. Interesting how so many of the comments here are left by people after watching Zeitgeist, and who are trying to verify the Hitler/Bush quote. That is how I found this site as well. It is good to know that not everybody believes everything they hear. Remember never believe anything without facts to backup the claim.

  11. zitopia

    Remember, just because you believe something to be true, does not make it so.

  12. Wow!!! I was also watching Zeitgeist when I felt the obligation to look up the quote and try to contrast it. I have to say it’s not the only thing I’ve had to look up from the video, since I think there are a few other exagerations.

    Going back to your post, you make a great point, it’s really annoying when you find qoutes and “facts” with no reference at all. It’s even worse when people just believe it, and don’t question it for a second.

    It’s good to know there are still people like yourself and your readers who aren’t completely blinded by the almighty internet.

    Good work!!!

  13. Thanks Sam!

    It’s something that has always bugged me. One of the first arguments I got in on the internet concerned a quote from Martin Luther. The other guy said I was wrong because he had proof – The Oxford Book of Quotations, citing Luther’s speech before the Imperial Diet.

    Sadly for him, my source was the original German proceedings of the Imperial Diet and an extended discussion on the quote from a biography of Luther. That pretty much settled that.

    My latest, with much less political import than the Hitler/Bush thing is the “I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.” That’s attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to Oscar Wilde to Pliny the Younger. The only one I can actually find is from Pascal

    “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.”

    Blaise Pascal, Les provinciales, ou, Les lettres écrites par Louis de Montalte à un provinciale de ses amis et aux RR. PP. Jésuites Lettre 16 (1656), pp. 297-326 in the Garnier edition, Paris, 1965.

    Yeah, okay. I’m kind of anal about this stuff. I guess it’s not by accident I became a historian.

  14. ismhmr

    “The German people are not a warlike nation. It is a soldierly one, which means it does not want a war, but does not fear it. It loves peace but also loves its honor and freedom”

    “What we have to fight for is the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the creator”

    “In actual fact the pacifistic-humane idea is perfectly all right perhaps when the highest type of man has previously conquered and subjected the world to an extent that makes him the sole ruler of this earth… Therefore, first struggle and then perhaps pacifism.”

    I’d say its close enough. These ones can be cited.

  15. ismhmr,

    Fine. Those are all good quotes. But you must have entirely missed the point of this article. The point is, these are random quotes with no citation.

    You could have just made them up right now. Unless you cite your sources, quotations are worthless.

    If those quotes “can be cited” than please cite them.

    To be useful, a quote must be traceable to the original source. Anything else hurts the cause. Look at how much amunition the shennangians related to climate change data have given to the climate change deniers.

    It is important first and foremost to be transparent and verifiable.

  16. How about the additional evidence that puts Prescott Bush in with the Nazi’s? It’s a proven fact that he provided funding to them through his banking practices. The quote is just a piece used to back up these Neo-Con/Neo-Nazi principles. Not saying the Bush’s are anti-semitist, but doesn’t the eveidence provided give creedence to the whole to go war/stay at war for money ideology?

  17. I have to agree with you “TheRanter”, it is too easy to make “quote” that sounds close but then is used to twist or distort the facts and history to what the “quoter” wants. For just general discussion, it’s fine if your not ‘100% accurate’ as long as you don’t insist “that is exactly what they said” and then dissect into pieces to cherry pick your proof.

    ‘He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.’ – Thomas Paine

  18. Hey Padre! Thanks for the comment. Great quote form Thomas Paine. That is so perfect. I love it.

    @John — remember the point of this article: allegations, quotations and “facts” need citation, otherwise they are just rumor mongering and serve no purpose. Also, frankly, it’s completely irrelevant to either the specific question (did Hitler actually speak the quote as given?) or the larger question (is George W. Bush a Nazi). I once met a man whose mother was friends with Ghandi and whose father was a Nazi. He took to his mother’s side and worked for peace all his life and was a conscientious objector during the French war with Algeria. It means nothing to me that his father was a Nazi except that his decision is all the more admirable.

    And if anyone wants to know about Prescott Bush, the seizure of his assets under the Trading with the Enemy Act, and the sixty years of civil action against the Bush family by survivors of slave labor, check out the Guardian article on the subject
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/25/usa.secondworldwar

  19. Scootle

    We have a citation…

    [Scootle orginally gave a link to a book that attributes this vaguely to an address to the German nation on 28 February 1933 as a hypothesis for further investigation. I misunderstood and thought he was another spammer trying to sell his book in my comments and deleted the link. Sorry Scootle. In any case, the important piece there is the date, since the book itself offered no meaningful citation and I did at least preserve the date, though as I mention above it’s only one of a few dates I’ve seen put forth. Apologies for deleting the link]

  20. [NOTE: I thought Scootle was citing his own book and trying to sell it here. I jumped to that conclusion b/c I’ve had a lot of people use the comments to try to sell something. Given his/her followup explanation, I’ve edited this comment to make more sense in that context and apologize to Scootle for jumping to that conclusion rather than saying thanks for the contribution. So Scootle – thanks!]

    Sadly, this book like the others I have found has only a vague reference to a “speech to the German nation, 28 February 1933”. This is essentially the same “citation” I’ve seen many times, though commonly the date varies. Furthermore, your quote is in English, so it is obviously not from a primary source.

    A true citation would cite the source where the historian found the information. Did the author see an actual film in German or a recording of an actual radio broadcast in German of this speech that he/she accessed at some archive? If so, give the archive call number so that others can verify the source. This is how history is done. If not, did he or she find a source from the period that does quote this, in German and that is contemporaneous with the event (that is, a news report from March 1, 1933)? Then the author must give the publication name, date, publishing information and page number.

    No, he or she don’t have that either? Then at the very least I would like to see the author cite the secondary source referenced, giving author, title, publisher info, date, and page reference. This would already not be considered quality history, but it is sometimes done. However in the case of a commonly cited quote of Montaigne, I tracked this down to a misquote in a book by Philippe Ariès, then repeated by Lawrence Stone and then by many others, so we prefer primary sources, but a secondary source, if well-documented, can be used in informal circumstances, though it can’t be considered authoritative.

    Since this speech mentioned in that book you cite would have occurred the day after the Reichstag fire, such a speech may well have been made, but what is the source? What is the original? How does the author know it isn’t a bastard translation of the Reichstag Fire decree from that same date? If it is not, where can I find the full text of the speech, in German, from a contemporaneous source, or a serious historian who has seen a recording of the original and excerpted bits.

    I’ve seen this date mentioned (and others), but as yet have not been able to find mention of any speech given by Hitler on that day. There was Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat (the Reichspresident’s order for the protection of the people and the state), but the Reichspresident was Hindenberg, not Hitler, and though an oppressive order, it does not contain the language constantly mentioned in these articles comparing Hitler to Bush. That same say, Hindenberg (and signed by Hitler) issued a Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten gegen Verrat am Deutschen Volke und hochverräterische Umtriebe (Reichspresident’s order against the betrayal of the German people), but again I don’t find anything about “evil” (Böse) threatening the “homeland” (Heimat, probably?). A few days later Göring did give a speech titled “Kampf gegen Chaos” (Struggle against Chaos), but the language of the quote is not in that speech either.

    So the quest continues… and until then, I will assume this quote is bogus

  21. Scootle

    Wow, you completely misunderstood the point of me posting that. That wasn’t my book. I, like you, am simply someone pissed off with unsourced quotes.

    I once bought a biography on Albert Einstein just to see if I could find sources for any of the quotes that are attributed to him on the internet. The few quotes I found in the biography had citations like “Letter to ___, 1901” or whatever. So then I found a book of raw material with those letters in, which I cross referenced to verify some of those quotes.

    Now, thanks to Google Books, I can do that to an extent for free on the internet. Which is what I was trying to do with that Hitler quote. That book I posted was literally the only one I could find that actually gave some form citation with a date, so I thought it was worth posting here to point people in a direction.

  22. Well, I owe you a major apology then! I completely misunderstood. No excuse for jumping to conclusions except to say that what you don’t see is the large number of comments I get from people who are simply trying to use the comments to sell stuff. I delete those right away, so others don’t have to see them and I guess it conditions me to see things that aren’t there.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Please forgive me.

    In my normal work as a historian, I do excatly as you mention – you find a snippet with a poor citation and you start using Google Books which is just amazing and see if you can find the original. I also have access to some full-text databases through my university that are subscription only. I don’t know the ones for 20th century Germany so I haven’t really looked there.

    The problem is that every citation I’ve found is like the one that you give, but I’ve seen at least four different dates and the context varies. It’s either the day after the Reichstag fire, or the day the Gestapo was formed or whatever, but using my usual methods, I’ve never been able to find anything of the sort.

    Anyway, so I should have thanked you for your comment, and now I do. And I feel a bit embarrassed by the misunderstanding so again, please accept my apologies.

  23. very good, thank you! The documentary Zeitgeist also quotes this in a comparison to Hitler.
    I believe it was originally a case of generic/synonyms translation. What’s another way of saying State… kind of situation.
    It’s interesting to note that FDR mentioned homeland 3 times in fireside chats but only in regards to other countries.

  24. So, is the quote right or wrong? You talk far too much. Yet my answer has yet to be answered.

  25. I talk too much? Well, who was it that forced you to read this?

    Is the quote right or wrong? Well, if you’re still asking that, then you read too little and you have not understood this article.

  26. Hi!

    First of all thanks for the effort so far.
    I stumbled upon this discussion as many other did at researching the quotes. Although the discussion is quite old^^

    On my quest I found this source regarding Hitler.
    The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pg. 871-872

    Unfortunately I couldn’t check it on google books because of limitations of use.
    Because German is my native language I would also like to find a German quote + Source. If anyone has anything in that direction I would appreciate it very much.

    Thanks again

  27. “Our nation has been put on notice: We are not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans. Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level. So tonight I announce the creation of a cabinet-level position reporting directly to me–the Office of Homeland Security.” ~ George Bush
    Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p. 25 , Sep 1, 2009

    It’s not exact but the subject matter is exactly the same. I got this quote and the citation from OnTheIssues.org on this page: http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/George_W__Bush_Homeland_Security.htm

  28. The issue is not what Bush said – that’s well documented. The issue is that nobody has a source for the Hitler quote, which seems to have been invented more or less out of thin air as a scare tactic. As a historian, I resent that, even if I agree with the aims of the people who invented the quote.

  29. Ranter,

    Thank you for being a historian. I was trying to find the citation for both quotes, as no one would give an exact date and/or speech for Bush and then would give a general “when announcing the Gestapo” for Hitler. There is no facts regarding what a person said and/or wrote without citation in my eyes. I appreciate your links that allow a reader to try research on their own because for all I know (and I am sure it is not true) you could be creating citations. And unlike Neal- I believe you answered the question beautifully. Perhaps the issue isn’t reading but reading comprehension. :)

  30. I also stumbled onto this page after a friend sent me some footage from Zeitgeist. I actually busted out laughing when I heard the quote comparison between Bush and Hitler. Even if Hitler would have said something near in meaning, it would have been in German. That means Bush would have had to repeat an English translation of something Hitler said. Just silly.

  31. Zeiteigist. It was fun listening to it. It’s nothing serious.

  32. I agree with you to an extent, particularly because this is an older article, and I was wondering if your opinion has changed due to more recent law changes and the acceptance of the NDAA which was signed by Obama not Bush dec 31st 2011. Are we not headed towards a closed society?

  33. as for the bush family linked to the nazi party; Prescott Bush was one of seven directors of Union Banking Corp., a New York investment bank owned by a bank controlled by the Thyssen family, according to recently declassified National Archives documents reviewed by The Associated Press. this is why i pinned them as nazis. hatred is taught not learned

  34. this is from the new hampshire gazette;
    The documents also show that Bush and his colleagues, according to reports from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and FBI, tried to conceal their financial alliance with German industrialist Fritz Thyssen, a steel and coal baron who, beginning in the mid-1920s, personally funded Adolf Hitler’s rise to power by the subversion of democratic principle and German law.

    Furthermore, the declassified records demonstrate that Bush and his associates, who included E. Roland Harriman, younger brother of American icon W. Averell Harriman, and George Herbert Walker, President Bush’s maternal great-grandfather, continued their dealings with the German industrial baron for nearly eight months after the U.S. entered the war.

    No Story?

    For six decades these historical facts have gone unreported by the mainstream U.S. media. The essential facts have appeared on the Internet and in relatively obscure books, but were dismissed by the media and Bush family as undocumented diatribes. This story has also escaped the attention of “official” Bush biographers, Presidential historians and publishers of U.S. history books covering World War II and its aftermath.

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