September 20, 2002

The Man in the High Castle

Things have gone beyond all but the most bizarre science fiction. Kurt Vonnegut is no longer out there. A Miami Herald report has The White House "express[ing] outrage" (note that the story is framed from the point of view of the White House) at a comment by German justice minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin that suggested that Bush's "diverting attention from his domestic problems ... [is] a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used."

This is bizarre in so many ways it comes rushing at you with disorienting intensity.

The irony. The odd fact that a major German government official is quoted in the American media comparing Bush to Hitler is a telling sign of how much the world has changed. And for the White House to even address itself to such a comment means it is taken seriously by many people, obviously by the Bush administration itself.

And then to have Ari Fleischer, Bush's Jewish Goebbels, answer with haughty indignation is a fascinating twist.

The minister's statement in itself is not terribly extreme. She said it is a classic tactic to wage war to divert attention from domestic problems, and so it is. And it has been used by many heads of state, before and after Hitler. That Bush is using war to divert attention from domestic problems would be agreed upon by a wide variety of people. Even Republican strategists have openly said Bush wants to try to focus the elections on his performance as a war leader in order to take the debate away from the domestic issues on which the Democrats have an advantage. But the very mention of Hitler's name in context with the foreign policy of the Bush administration is seen as an outrage.

Americans are still holding on to the naive faith that "it can't happen here." (Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel with that title in the 1930s about a fascist takeover of the U.S. Not nearly as far-fetched as it once seemed.)

Fleischer framed his objection in terms of the political relationship between the two countries, rather than actually taking issue with the content of the statement itself. Fleischer's statement is not essentially, "The statement is untrue." It is rather, "How dare she say such a thing!"

In past times such a statement about an American president would not even be considered worthy of addressing. Interesting that now when a presidential press secretary actually makes an official gesture of indignation, it happens to be a time when the statement cannot be laughed off, when it actually rings true.

Philip K. Dick wrote a novel called The Man in the High Castle that is framed in an alternate reality, as if the axis powers had won World War II and set up the United States with a German sector in the east and a Japanese sector in the west. Philip K. Dick wrote in science fiction magazines and was known as a science fiction writer, but appreciation for him as a literary artist has grown as his visions of the future have increasingly proved prophetic.

Dick's writing in the '50s and '60s was so far ahead of its time it has only in recent times become the subject of many films, such as Bladerunner, Total Recall and The Minority Report. His previsioning of cybernetic technology, global corporate fascism and the identity crises of 21st century humanity were uncanny in their accuracy. His novel Simulacra touched on some of the same themes. The book jacket says, "Set in the middle of the twenty-first century, The Simulacra is the story of an America where the whole government is a fraud and the President is an android..."

One wonders if the White House will have as good luck silencing voices of opposition in Germany as it has here.

-- By David Cogswell

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