Nazis, Drones, and Immigration

As part of my Master’s degree in Music at Catholic University, I am taking a course, “The Music of the Holocaust Era.” In addition to studying specific works that came out of the Holocaust (both by Jewish and non-Jewish composers), we are discussing the environment that musicians were faced with under the Nazi regime. Part of this discussion has been the entire mindset of the Nazi party’s efforts to eradicate the Jewish population (as well as a number of other “other” groups).

What it boils down to, at least from my perspective, was an arbitrary distinction between Jews and non-Jews. Jews were declared inherently different from true Germans, out to bring about the economic and political ruin of the entire country. Even though families had intermarried, Jews had fought in wars on behalf of Germany, were successful musicians who had contributed to the vast cultural depths, they had to be expelled from the country and eventually from existence. That is the irrational logic of the Holocaust. It was implemented under the guise of patriotism and propaganda and enforced with violent repression.

droneIn our day, in the United States, there is currently a controversy over the US Drone policy. The US has been killing so-called enemies at will and with little accountability or oversight for years using these remote controlled planes. While their use has been opposed by many, the recent outcry has been due to the now-public memo which lays out the “legal” justification for killing pretty much anyone perceived to be a threat, including U.S. citizens. It’s the “U.S. citizens” part that is now causing the stir.

But what the lunacy of Nazism teaches us is the absurdity of these nationalist distinctions, “American,” “German,” “Pakistani.” People should rightfully be concerned and outraged at the killing policies of this administration, but not any more so because they now include US citizens, but simply because these policies kill humans. In fact, we shouldn’t be surprised at all that the government would kill its own citizens because other, arbitrary, divisions are actually more important. Muslim? Ties to “radical” groups? Family member who is in prison? In US history, it was at one time American Indians, then African Americans.

We don’t have to look far to see how these distinctions apply other other groups in the US especially when you look at immigration stance and policy. We are told, by both liberals and conservatives, that we have to fear the influx of Latin American people coming to the country. We can’t grant them citizenship, even if they fought in the military, go to college, support the economy, excel in the arts and culture…sound familiar?

I’m not suggesting that the US government is the same as the Nazi regime, but merely highlighting that the xenophobic philosophy that led to the Holocaust and the underlying philosophy behind US “homeland security” are not that different.

Over and over, stories from Germans who lived during the Holocaust have claimed that there was nothing that could be done. People who spoke up were killed. Musicians who protested saw their careers end or were sent to the camps. But antisemitism didn’t appear out of nowhere in 1933. Perhaps in some sense, by the time Hitler came to power and made policy what was already accepted sentiment, it was too late. Christians and other people of good will waited too long and so they were left with the option to become martyrs or to become complicit. That is a choice that we should all pray we never leave ourselves with.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller



  1. spaceloom · February 11, 2013

    ooph! Hard-hitting but timely.

    You may have seen Hedges’ latest (don’t totally buy his argument, but…):

    I find it difficult to talk to people about the similarities without having to bob-and-weave to avoid being punched int he face. Ah! Nationalism!

    This essay will definitely be with me in my meditations tonight.

  2. Alex · February 19, 2013

    Thanks for your post Brian. I want to push back a little. I think that the issue is complicated. Anwar al-Aulaqi was a member of Al-Qeada and an American citizen. If I join and support a group that is actively in conflict with the US then I would expect to be a target for US assassination. That seems to follow without any need for xenophobia. I also feel that if the US is to have a military then I’d rather them use targeted force instead of starting intractable wars. That being said I am no fan of patriotism or killing.

  3. brianjgorman · February 19, 2013

    Hey Alex,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I purposely didn’t dwell too much on the various debates regarding drones–if differences between nations are arbitrary, then the US has every right to kill Americans as non-Americans without due process. What I was trying to highlight is the irony of Americans getting outraged over the use of drones to kill Americans, but not so much outrage over the use of drones (or anything) to kill people.

    It seems that if war is going to exist, targeted killings through drones in theory a bit better, as you suggest. But it also makes war much easier, and much easier to do without at least consent from the governed. It becomes more covert. And as much as I object to war and don’t find much comfort in “just war” theory, covert war is a whole layer that spooks me. I think that drones and the like (which is surely the next wave of war making) will make it easier to hide the killing going on, and therefore not require at least the pretense of justification.

    Re: xenophobia, when the US adds the KKK to it’s list of terrorist organizations, then maybe I’ll believe that xenophobia isn’t at least part of the motivation behind targeted assassinations. I was also trying to suggest that once such things begin, the strict requirements in order to carry out such an assassination (which really aren’t that strict if you read the memo), can be relaxed or exceptions made.

    Thanks for your comments!


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