In June 1931, a troop of uniformed supporters of Adolf Hitler, a political leader who believed Jews were an inferior species and that the Germans were destined to rule the world, marched into the Kreuzberg district of Berlin and began shooting their guns at local communists.
The hours-long firefight left one dead and eleven in police custody. It was just one incident of political violence, which was endemic in the late Weimar Republic. Shootings, stabbings, and other fatal injuries were common on the streets of Berlin in those days.
This weekend, a supporter of Donald Trump, a political leader who believes in enforcing immigration laws, has a Jewish daughter and son-in-law, and was an early supporter of gay marriage, gave a leftist a wedgie.
The Communists shot by Nazis in 1931 were likely members of the working class, made unemployed by the Depression, with conscription-era military training, utterly prepared to give their lives for the Revolution. The leftist given a wedgie at Berkeley was likely a college student on a six-figure student loan, possibly subsidized by mum and dad.
These two examples, Berkeley 2017 and Berlin 1931, aren’t just slightly different, they’re entirely different. Not a single detail is in any way comparable. Don’t believe the hype, then, when people say America is the new Weimar Germany. It is nowhere close.
The historical conditions for civil strife on a comparable level simply aren’t there. Even before the rise of National Socialism, right-wing “Freikorps” militia – largely made up of decommissioned World War One veterans – were engaging in brutal street battles with the left. Some Freikorps regiments even travelled to Eastern Europe were they massacred hundreds of communists. The only thing massacred in Berkeley was the left’s dignity.
Right-wing militia in Germany also had more urgent motivations. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the threat of Bolshevism sweeping through Europe was very real. In 2017, the closest comparable threat is Bernie Sanders – and he lost the Democratic primary to Clinton. The Red Peril, today, seems rather distant.
But perhaps the 1920s and 30s are too far back? Let’s try the 1970 and 80s instead.
Between 1970 and 1987, the leftist terrorist group Weather Underground engaged in a string of bombings, murders, and shootouts with the police across America. In June 1970, the Weathermen bombed the headquarters of the NYPD. A year later, they bombed the U.S capitol.
In 1977 in West Germany, the communist Red Army Faction and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine engaged in the “German Autumn,” a wave of murders, attempted kidnappings, and the hijacking of a passenger aircraft. The attorney-general of West Germany, the head of Dresdner Bank, and numerous police officers were killed by leftist radicals during this period.
In 1984 in England, a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded in the Brighton Grand Hotel, narrowly missing then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who was staying at the hotel for that year’s Conservative Party conference. Five were killed, including a sitting Conservative Member of Parliament. With the support of leftists, the IRA and its offshoots would continue to stage terrorist attacks in England for over a decade, killing many more, including Lord Mountbatten, a member of the Royal Family.
This again, puts talk of a new Civil War in America in perspective.
This does not excuse the outbreaks of violence that have taken place, of course. The fact that political violence in the west used to be worse is small comfort to the girl who was pepper-sprayed at a MILO event, or the numerous people beaten up over the weekend, or, indeed, the unfortunate recipient of the wedgie pictured above.
Recent outbreaks of violence, from the inauguration-day riots in Washington D.C, to the numerous riots and scuffles in California, also expose the partisanship eating away at American democracy. When a right-winger punched a left-wing woman during the violence surrounding this weekend’s free speech event in Berkeley, it was greeted with a storm of outrage from left-wingers and celebrities on social media.
— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) April 16, 2017
I hope I run into Nathan. https://t.co/bPfSObqiGl
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) April 16, 2017
Particular attention was given to the fact that it had been a man punching a woman. But when a masked man pepper-sprayed a woman at a MILO event after beating her over the head with signposts, there was silence from the left. There was also scant condemnation when a female Trump supporter was cornered against a wall and pelted with eggs during the campaign. Chivalry, like a growing number of principles meant to be applied universally, are today applied only to your own political team.
The violence taking place on America’s streets is also a worrying indictment of the police. Particularly in California, police seem content to sit back and let leftists and right-wingers wear themselves out. This, of course, leads people to believe that they have to fend for themselves, which will cause more people to turn out with sticks and baseball bats at future events. This in turn makes it harder for the police to contain them, which feeds their reluctance to engage. It’s a dangerous cycle.
Radicals of the left and right who hope this cycle will lead to a new civil war will be disappointed, however. The historical conditions simply aren’t there.
Consider the countries that have descended into civil war – or close to civil war – in recent years: Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria.
These countries all have one thing in common: universal male conscription. Like Weimar Germany, they found themselves with the problem of large numbers of unemployed, military-trained men wandering the streets of cities with nothing to do. Western countries simply do not have the same problem. That’s why even the left-wing terrorists of the 70s and 80s failed to trigger anything close to a revolution.
Eventually, the bad PR will cause the police to take action, or they will be pressured to do so by the state. Donald Trump has already threatened to withdraw funding from UC Berkeley for failing to protect visiting speakers from violent leftists. The President is aware of what’s happening, and doesn’t like it.
It is worth noting that right-wingers have only recently started fighting back. Trump campaign events and MILO tour events were marked by largely peaceful Trump supporters being attacked by violent, black-masked “anti-fascists.” If police and campus security had done a better job of protecting them, the violence may not have escalated.
Once the state decides to take action, the violence will end. There are just under 80,000 police officers in the state of California, and 23,387 National Guardsmen. It would not take much for either of those groups to prevent a few hundred people from beating each other up with sticks and pepper spray.
While the scenes of violence on America’s streets are unquestionably ugly, they are also a reminder of how much things have improved. As recently as the 1970s, westerners – not Islamists – were planting bombs, hijacking aircraft, and assassinating politicians on a regular basis. Now we’re giving each other wedgies and throwing firecrackers. Strange though it may seem, things are getting better.