Studying Liberation Theology in Brazil: Realizing Hitler Won WWII (Personal Reflections XVI)

Nazis Won

Last week I wrote about Paulo Freire and the friendship Peggy and I formed with him in Brazil in 1984. Paulo had a huge influence on Liberation Theology which I first met during my graduate studies in Rome (1967-’72). There I had written my doctoral dissertation on Jurgen Moltmann, the great Reformed theologian who was the doyen of the Theology of Hope. As a member of a missionary society (Society of St. Columban) I tried to connect Moltmann’s concept of “mission” with the same category in the Second Vatican Council’s  Ad Gentes.

While finishing my work on that topic (at the Academia Alfonsiana – with Bernard Haring on my committee), I heard Gustavo Gutierrez speak. At the time, Gustavo was the leading voice in the theology of liberation, which emerged to prominence following the 1968 Medeillin Conference of Latin American Bishops in Colombia. Immediately I could see the connections between the two.

I got the opportunity to explore those connections while Peggy was working on her own dissertation with Freire. I enrolled in a seminar at the Santa Maria de Asuncao seminary in San Paulo. It had me sitting at the feet of a series of liberation theologians I had by that time been reading for years. Prominent among them was Enrique Dussel; so was Chilean scripture scholar, Pablo Richard who (because of the U.S.-supported Pinochet coup) was living in exile in Costa Rica. Dussel was an Argentinian philosopher of liberation. His home had been bombed by the Argentine military during its infamous “dirty war” supported by the United States. So he was then living in exile in Mexico.

He was a dynamic lecturer, but I found him puzzling. He used terms and made references that were new to me. For instance, instead of referring to World Wars I and II, he spoke of the First and Second Inter-capitalist Wars. I had never heard that before. But the phrases caused me to do some research. And sure enough: those wars were between capitalist powers who were struggling for supremacy and to achieve a position in the world very like the one enjoyed by the United States today.

How had I missed that, I wondered? The answer, of course, was that I had learned my history in the United States which conceals such obvious facts. I did more research and eventually wrote a long essay that I published in Spanish in Pasos, the journal of the Ecumenical Research Institute in Costa Rica – a liberation theology think tank. The essay was called “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

Here it is summarized in the “Easy Essay” form coined by Peter Maurin, the founder (with Dorothy Day) of the Catholic Worker newspaper:

Following Germany’s defeat

in “the First Inter-Capitalist War,”

the system was in trouble in das Vaterland.

It also foundered world-wide

after the Crash of ‘29.

So Joseph Stalin

convoked a Congress of Victory

to celebrate the death of capitalism

and the End of History —

in 1934.

Both Hitler and F.D.R.

tried to revive the corpse.

They enacted similar measures:

government funds to stimulate private sector production,

astronomically increased defense spending,

nationalization of some enterprises,

while carefully keeping most in the hands of private individuals.

To prevent workers from embracing communism,

both enacted social programs otherwise distasteful to the Ruling Class,

but necessary to preserve their system:

legalized unions, minimum wage, shortened work days, safety regulation, social                     security . . .

Roosevelt called it a “New Deal;”

Hitler’s term was “National Socialism.”

Roosevelt used worker discontent

with their jobs and bosses

to get elected four times.

Meanwhile, Hitler successfully directed worker rage

away from the Krupps and Bayers

and towards the usual scapegoats:

Jews, communists, gays, blacks, foreigners and Gypsies.

He admired the American extermination of “Indians”

and used that model of starvation and internment

to guide his own program for eliminating undesirables

by hunger and concentrated slaughter.

Hitler strictly controlled national unions,

thus relieving the worries of the German elite.

In all of this,

he received the support of mainline churches.

Pius XII even praised der Führer  as

“an indispensable bulwark against the Russians.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the German “Confessing Church”

resisted Hitler’s program

of social Darwinism, patriotism and persecution of the undeserving.

Confessing faithful were critical of “religion”

which combined anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriotism and xenophobia

with selected elements of Christianity.

They insisted on allegiance

to Jesus alone

who stood in judgment over soil, fatherland, flag and blood.

They even urged Christian patriots

to pray for their country’s defeat in war.

Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler

and explored the promise of

Christianity without “religion.”

Hitler initially enjoyed great popularity

with the powerful

outside of Germany,

in Europe and America.

He did!

Then as baseball magnate and used car saleswoman, Marge Schott, put it,

“He went too far.”

His crime, however, was not gassing Jews,

but trying to subordinate his betters in the club

of white, European, capitalist patriarchs.

He thus evoked their ire

and the “Second Inter-Capitalist War.”

Following the carnage,

the industrialists in other countries

embraced Hitlerism without Hitler.

They made sure that communists, socialists and other “partisans”

who bravely resisted German occupation

did not come to political power,

but that those who had cooperated with Nazis did.

Today, the entrepreneurial classes

still support Nazis, whenever necessary.

The “Hitlers” they championed have aliases

like D’Aubisson (El Salvador), Diem (Vietnam), Duvalier (Haiti), Franco (Spain),

Fujimori (Peru), Mobutu (Zaire), Montt (Guatemala), Noriega (Panama), Peron                         (Argentina), Pinochet (Chile), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Somoza                     (Nicaragua), Strossner (Paraguay), Suharto (Indonesia). . . .

The list is endless.

The global elite deflect worker hostility

away from themselves

towards communists, blacks, gays, immigrants and Muslims,

towards poor women who stay at home

and middle class women who leave home to work.

Today, Christians embrace social Darwinism

while vehemently rejecting evolution.

Standing on a ground of being

underpinning the world’s most prominent culture

of religious fundamentalism,

they long for Hoover,

and coalesce

with the right.

In all of this

is forgotten the Jesus of the New Testament

who was born a homeless person

to an unwed,

teenage mother,

was an immigrant in Egypt for a while,

came from the working poor,

was accused of being a drunkard,

a friend of sex workers,

irreligious,

possessed by demons

and condemned by the state

a victim of torture

and of capital punishment.

Does this make anyone wonder about Marge Schott,

the difference between Hitler’s system

and our own,

and also about “religion”

and how to be free of it,

about false Christs . . . .

And who won that war anyway?

(Next week: more about our experience in Brazil)