Rick Steves travelogue on fascism is essential watching | Guest View

By Susan Pedersen | Sep 06, 2019
Susan Pedersen

I recently had the pleasure of watching Rick Steves' travelogue on “The Story of Fascism in Europe” on PBS. As most Edmonds citizens know, Steves is Edmonds’ very own travel writer, author, activist, television personality, and travel tour guide.

Like all of Steves' travelogues, “The Story of Fascism in Europe” was carefully documented and was entertaining, informative, and educational.

In the travelogue, Steves highlights historians’ conclusions for the rise of fascism. Germany, Italy, and Spain's democracies had weak economies. Jobless, angry, and discouraged citizens were easily manipulated by the charismatic leaders, who pontificated from the impressive, grand structures they built: the autobahn, Congress Hall, the Berchtesgarten Alps retreat, Palace of Italian Civilization, Olympic Stadium, and statues of emperors.

The charismatic leaders – Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, who claimed to be geniuses – used emotionally charged words to hype up their base, praising their nations’ citizens as proud, strong, and disciplined.

These leaders created the playbook that fascist governments have followed since 1933: simple language, making false promises and false solutions to fix complex problems; promising a return to the good old days; a total disdain for anything new; defining the enemy as anyone different, anyone plotting against the leader, or anyone criticizing the leader.

Finally, the charismatic leaders demanded that the people unite as one group, one force, with total loyalty to the leaders’ wills; no individual beliefs were allowed.

The leaders took total control of the media: movies, radio, films, posters, and postcards, politicizing their big rallies, military parades, and large audiences. Labor unions were abolished.

Industries and corporations were privatized. Infrastructure was built. The military was enlarged with the ultimate plan to conquer adjoining nations. Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” to indoctrinate the people.

Following the war, in which millions of people were killed, research discovered that a large portion of the population did not know that the government had built concentration camps and were killing the Jewish people, political dissenters, homosexuals, and others.

How could they not know?

Several reasons were given. Many people believed the abundant propaganda; many did not bother to educate themselves or search for the truth; many ignored what was happening around them; many were only focused on their comfortable and busy lives; many were purposely kept in the dark; and many just grew tired of the daily political surprises, each a little worse than the last political surprise.

Steves' concludes his travelogue by pointing out that travel educates people to celebrate diversity and to have empathy for 96% of humanity. Each person who wants to keep a stable democracy is responsible for educating themselves through travel and unbiased media.

Living in fear and isolation weakens a democratic government, and the end result is a fascist government. So dear Edmonds citizens, or any person who reads this, I beseech you to watch Steves' travelogue, take time to travel, and continue to educate yourselves.

Susan Pedersen lives in Edmonds.

 

 

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