In a Martin Luther King Day speech Hilary Clinton said the Republicans are running Congress like a plantation, referring to the slave plantations in the American South. Republicans claimed foul, even though Newt Gingrich said almost exactly the same thing in 1994, when the Democrats controlled the House.
Some people question whether comparing current political troubles to the suffering under slavery trivializes the horrors of that era. Comparing one’s political opponents to Nazis has fallen into disfavor, with most politicians taking the position the Holocaust was so horrible that nothing could compare to it. But what about comparisons between Nazi Germany and the American South of plantation slavery?
The Nazi and the Southern slaveholder societies had much in common. They both identified what they called an inferior race and used the government to establish and defend a system of race based oppression, slave labor and inhumane treatment. Both ended up fighting a War against forces who wanted to end the perverted systems of oppression but who had for too long tolerated it, and both oppressors were soundly defeated.
But there are at least a couple significant differences between Nazi Germany and the slaveholding South. The first difference is one of duration. Nazi Germany lasted for less than 25 years, but slavery in America existed for almost 250 (including over 150 years in the North).
The second difference is one of fundamental nature. While the Nazis wanted to exterminate the Jews,American slaveholders wanted to see their slave numbers increase. Jews were in Germany for centuries before Nazism was fabricated and they had prospered in spite of prejudice. The Nazis resented the Jews and first wanted to emasculate and enslave them and finally to destroy them, with six million being slaughtered before the Nazis were defeated.
A handful of free Negroes were in America before slavery was sanctioned, but in order to develop the system of exploitation, millions were kidnaped from Africa. Slaves were the most valuable items of personal property an American slaveholder could “own”, so slave women were encouraged to have children, with the “encouragement” often being in the form of sexual exploitation by white slave masters and overseers . Four million slaves were freed by the defeat of the Confederacy.
Nazism in Germany and slave holding in America are held in similar disdain now. Nobody in their right mind would advocate a return of those systems (though Trent Lott edged in that direction in his remarks honoring Strom Thurmond). But only descendants of the people who were oppressed seem to care about preserving the lessons of those times of oppression (the predominantly black audience for the Clinton speech was very receptive to her plantation reference). Descendants of the oppressors always want to leave those times behind and play down the idea there were any lessons for them to learn ( many American Southerners think the only lesson of the War that took the second most American lives in history is that the Northerners were immoral aggressors).
Imagine if Nazism had lasted longer and Jewish slave labor had become a viable economic enterprise. Nazis probably would have emulated the American slave holders and substituted propagation for extermination. Germany would now be a nation with a significant population of people who had both Nazis and Jews for ancestors. Which ancestors would they be expected to admire most? The obvious answer should be kept in mind when we see African Americans, the source of whose bi-racial heritage white Americans too often ignore, embracing their black roots.
Here is the official statement of Senator Clinton commemorating the King holiday.