Today Nazism is poison. But one of history’s little secrets is Adolf Hitler and his political movement had a significant following in this country. The truth is in the days before Pearl Harbor, the country was deeply divided, torn by the trauma of the Great Depression and the beginning of another major war in Europe. The prevailing mood was isolationism. Donald Trump wasn’t the originator of “America First” (http://time.com/4273812/america-first-donald-trump-history/).
Of course, the Pearl Harbor attack changed all that, so this chapter in history has basically been forgotten. Today we recognize the threat that Fascism and its allies posed, and we instead we celebrate on our very large role in defeating it. And after World War II, it was easy for pro-Fascists to morph into anti-Communists. Plus the winners usually write history.
So why bring this up now? There are some disturbing contemporary parallels. If there had been an Internet in the 1930s, it’s a sure bet the Nazis would’ve used it to publicize their world vision and influence national politics, probably not unlike the Russians are doing today. The Foreign Agents Registration Act that ensnared Paul Manafort was originally written with Nazis in mind.
This subject came to my attention through the article “More Americans Supported Hitler Than You May Think. Here’s Why One Expert Thinks That History Isn’t Better Known” by Lily Rothman ( http://time.com/5414055/american-nazi-sympathy-book/? ). The article is based on a new book, Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States by Bradley W. Hart ( https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250148957 ). Hart has uncovered some uncomfortable truths, like the use of propaganda by Nazi agents in the United States. In one incident, a German agent and a sympathetic congressional aide were able to use the Congressional free mailing privilege to send official-looking propaganda.
And today it’s easier than ever to swing public opinion.