A stunningly inaccurate letter recently suggested that the Hitler and Mussolini regimes were leftists, somehow lumping them together with Russia and China. That claim shows a shocking indifference to historical facts. If Hitler and Mussolini had been any further to the right we would have lost sight of them over the horizon. Such a claim is roughly equivalent to saying that Reagan was a socialist and Ted Kennedy the founder of the tea party movement.
It is also untrue that Hitler was “legally elected.” He never got more than 36 percent of the vote. Because of Nazi-inspired public chaos he was reluctantly appointed chancellor. Twenty-nine days later the Reichstag burned and democratic government was extinguished.
Accurate history is important. In the 20th century, Lenin, Stalin and Mao were extreme leftists. Hitler, Mussolini and Franco in Spain, their mortal enemies, were extreme rightists. Millions died across the globe in the 20th century defeating these dictatorships. We learn from all of them that whenever extremists gain power, whether from the left, right, militarists or religion, the results are both predictable and horrifying. Free speech and democratic rights are eliminated. Intimidation, demonization of opponents and inflamed fears and prejudices are routinely employed. Pervasive violence becomes the norm.
As citizens, we have a grave responsibility to learn from history and to continually resist the rise of new extremism, wherever it arises. We alone are responsible for keeping the flame of democracy alive and burning brightly.