What Kristallnacht and modern-day Iran have in common

The Iranian regime has fostered a culture of violence, hate and terrorism and participated in murders of thousands of innocent individuals

November 17, 2013 22:47
3 minute read.
A sticker simulating broken glass on a shop window in Berlin to mark 'Kristallnacht' anniversary

Kristallnacht stickers in Germany 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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November marks the 34th anniversary of the 1979 US embassy siege in Iran, and the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom in Nazi Germany.

At first glance, these events don’t seem to be connected.

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But upon closer inspection, there are disturbing similarities between the two, and they paint a troubling picture for the prospects of peace with Iran.

For the past 34 years, Iranians have marched into the streets and chanted “Death to America” to celebrate the embassy siege. This year, some Iranian leaders argued against holding these public demonstrations, fearing they would damage Tehran’s efforts to seek relief from US sanctions over its nuclear program. The demonstrations proceeded anyway; in fact, attendance hit record levels this year.

Some analysts argued that we shouldn’t put much stock into the increased turnout. After all, it was just regime hardliners sending a warning shot to the perceived “moderates.” They argued that any opposition to “Death to America” protests inside Iran was a significant and positive step. But that misses the big picture.

What is significant is that for 34 years, it has been acceptable for Iranians to go into the streets and call for “death” to other countries and peoples; in fact, it is not only accepted, but encouraged by the government.

Can anyone imagine Americans going into the streets, en masse, and calling for death to an entire people – regardless of the grievances it harbored against them? Can anyone imagine any decent, moral people doing so? The Iranian regime has fostered a culture of violence, hate and terrorism. The regime has participated in countless murders of thousands of innocent individuals (both in Iran and abroad in countries such as Syria, Bulgaria, Iraq, Afghanistan and countless others).

It provides weapons and money to terrorist groups that are committed to engaging in genocide and ethnic cleansing, as well as to mass murderers like Syrian President Bashar Assad. And Iran has called for genocide itself, with the Supreme Leader and other officials calling for Israel’s destruction.

That’s where Nazi Germany comes in. Iran’s “Death to America” chants are very similar to mass demonstrations held in Germany prior to Kristallnacht in 1938.

These demonstrations occurred on a weekly, if not daily basis, in many different forms, all over the country.

My grandmother grew up in Mannheim, Germany.

She fled to safely right before the start of World War II – right after her father was abducted and taken to a Nazi concentration camp during Kristallnacht. As a child growing up in Nazi Germany, my grandmother spent many sleepless nights hiding under the covers as Hitler Youth brigades marched through the streets chanting, “The Jewish blood will drip from the German knife.”

Kristallnacht and the Nazi horrors that followed did not spring forth from the blue. They were the obvious extensions of the culture of violence, terror and destruction fostered by the Nazi regime.

The same kind of mentality we seen in “Death to America” demonstrations and many other acts inside Iran.

The Holocaust wasn’t an accident. It was the natural progression of the culture of death fostered by National Socialism, and it all began with people going into the streets and calling for “death” to others.

In Nazi Germany, and countless other places, we’ve seen that what starts as chants for death and murder often leads to the real thing. At the very least, it shows a culture completely indifferent to human life, and a people missing a moral compass.

Many difficult and challenging questions remain about Iran’s nuclear weapons program: how can we stop Tehran from enriching uranium, how can we hold Iran’s leaders to their pledges, how can we trust them? But the most troubling question of all is how we can deal with a regime and a people that celebrate death and destruction, and that want American and Israeli blood to drip from the Iranian knife.

The author previously worked in the Bush White House and the US Senate.

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