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President Franklin Delano Obama Addresses the Threat of 1930s Violent Extremism

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Imagine Obama as an American president in 1939.

“The United States has made significant gains in our struggle against violent extremism in Europe. We are watching carefully aggressions in Czechoslovakia, Austria, and in Eastern Europe. My diplomatic team has made it very clear that aggression against neighbors is inappropriate and unacceptable. We live in the 20th century, where the 19th century practice of changing borders by the use of force has no place in the present era.

"Let me be perfectly clear: Mr. Hitler is playing to a domestic audience. He adopts a sort of macho shtick, as a cut-up in the back of the class who appeals to disaffected countrymen. Our task is to demonstrate to Mr. Hitler that his current behavior is not really in his own interest, and brings neither security nor profit to Germany.

"As for acts of violence in Germany itself, we must express our worry to the German government over apparent extremism, but at the same time we must not overreact. As far as these sporadic attacks on random civilians, as, for example, during the recent Kristallnacht violence, we must keep things in perspective, when, for example, some terrorists randomly targeted some folks in a store. My job is sort of like a big-city mayor, to monitor these terrorist acts that are said to be done in the name of the German people. Let us not overreact and begin to listen to radio commentators who whip us up into a frenzy as if we were on the verge of war. We must not overestimate the SS, a sort of jayvee organization that remains a manageable problem.

"Here let me just say that we must never fall into the trap of blaming the German people abroad, but especially our German community here at home. National Socialism by no means has anything to do with socialism. These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy, and all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like the SS somehow represent socialism because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative. It is true that America and Germany have a complicated history, but there is no clash of civilizations. The notion that the America would be at war with Germany is an ugly lie.

"So make no mistake about it: National Socialism has nothing to do with Germany or the German people but is rather a violent extremist organization that has perverted the culture of Germany. It is an extremist ideology that thrives on the joblessness of Germany and can be best opposed by the international community going to the root of German unemployment and economic hard times. Let us not confuse Nazism with legitimate expressions of German nationalism. Stiff-arm saluting and jack boots are legitimate tenets of Germanism, and the German Brotherhood, for example, is a largely peaceful organization.

"So we Americans must not get on our own high horse. We, too, have bullied our neighbors and invaded them. We, too, have struggled with racism and anti-Semitism, slavery and Jim Crow. And our own culture has at times treated American citizens in the same callous way as the National Socialist do Germans. Before we castigate the Nazis, let us remember the Inquisition and the Crusades.

"In the face of Nazi challenge, we must stand united internationally and here at home -- opposing workplace violence and man-caused disasters. We know that overseas contingency operations alone cannot solve the problem of Nazi aggression. Nor can we simply take out SS troopers who kill innocent civilians. We also have to confront the violent extremists -- the propagandists working for Dr. Goebbels and Herr Himmler, recruiters and enablers -- who may not directly engage in man-caused disasters themselves, but who radicalize, recruit and incite others to do so. One of the chief missions of our new aeronautics board will be to reach out to Germans to make them feel proud of German achievement. I want to remind Americans that Germans fostered the Renaissance, and helped create sophisticated navigation, mathematics, and medicine. This week, we will take an important step forward, as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism. We hope that the efforts of those like Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Daladier and others will focus on empowering local communities, especially in Britain and France.

"Groups like the SS offer a twisted interpretation of German culture that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the world’s German-speaking communities. The world must continue to lift up the voices of moderate German pastors and scholars who teach the true peaceful nature of German culture. We can echo the testimonies of former SS operatives and storm troopers who know how these terrorists betray Germany. We can help German entrepreneurs and youths work with the private sector to develop media tools to counter extremist Nazi narratives on radio and in newspapers.

"We know from experience that the best way to protect all people, especially young people, from falling into the grip of violent extremists like the SS and the National Socialists is the support of their family, friends, teachers and faith leaders throughout Germany and Western Europe in general.

"More broadly, groups like those headed by Herr Hitler and the National Socialists exploit the anger that festers when people in Germany feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today's youth something better. Here I would remind ourselves of our past behavior in waging wars near the homeland of Germany. I opposed the Great War, and further opposed the Versailles Treaty that disturbed the region and stirred up violent passions and extremism.

"Governments like those in Europe that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter such violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity. It does no good to talk of wars against Germany or Italy, or to demonize particular political movements as if they are monolithic or in any way represent the feeling of the majority of Germans and Italians.

"Finally -- with Nazism and fascism peddling the lie that the United States is at war with Germany and Italy -- all of us have a role to play by upholding the pluralistic values that define us as Americans. This week we'll be joined by people of many faiths, including German and Italian Americans who make extraordinary contributions to our country every day. It's a reminder that America is successful because we welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds. Germany has always been a part of America, always a part of the American story. The future will not belong to those who slander German culture. I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Germany.

"That pluralism has at times been threatened by hateful ideologies and individuals from various nations. We've seen tragic killings directed at particular groups in our country, among them German Americans.

"We do not yet know why at times Germans have been attacked here in the United States.  But we know that many German Americans across our country are worried and afraid. Americans of all faiths and backgrounds must continue to stand united with the German community in mourning and insist that no one should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.

"Our campaign to prevent people around the world from being radicalized to violence is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds. With this week's summit here at Washington, we'll show once more that -- unlike terrorists who only offer misery and death -- it is our free societies and diverse communities that offer the true path to opportunity, justice and dignity.”