Urban Survival: The Second Problem Of National Emergencies

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Pablo Edronkin

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Any emergency of a nationwide scale generates a terrible situation for the people touched by it and this frequently evolves into true survival situations in which people begins to feel keen on choosing leaders that are perceived to be strong even at the expense of their own rights. This generates a second problem, often worse than the original one.

Adolf Hitler attained power in Germany thanks to an election; he was naturally a well-known figure in the country well before that moment but for a number of years was seen just as an eccentric figure, by many. His words began to make an impression of people as the effects of the defeat of WWI began to make a mark, due to the arbitrary measures of the victors and especially, after the financial debacle of 1929. His image of a strong man then allowed for his political progress.

His economic measures were at the beginning favourable; that, coupled with propaganda, the suppression of dissidents that were sent to concentration camps long before the "final solution" was conceived and the creation of a scapegoat for all the evils of the nation - the Jewish people - made him even more powerful. People loved to see a strong leader, or just feared not to. Many were convinced nazis and those who were not were too afraid to speak out.

Them the strongman took Germany into a war that caused tens of millions of deaths and destroyed the country. Not only that, he brought historical shame upon Germany for the holocaust and in his final days, in his bunker, he became a parody of himself as hundreds of thousands of people died in the streets of Berlin.

This happened because the German people fell prey to its own fears; they felt that they needed someone strong to take them out of the misery of defeat and the injustices of the very unwise Versailles Treaty. But that was an intellectual mistake of major proportions: A nation capable of producing a Bach or a Beethoven really doesn't need strongmen to overcome disgrace. Nations can lie and survive without "illuminati".

In more recent times we have seen that other nations fall into the same mistake to varied degrees: Venezuela, for example, has a strongman in the name of Hugo Chavez, a person that also likes to find scapegoats, albeit in the form of corporations and companies from which he seizes assets much like Hitler did in the case of German Jews before he decided to actually commit genocide on them. Leaders that are dishonest and evil with their own always act in such ways; it is only a matter of degree what happens next. Some are able to take matters further than others. Hitler and Stalin were among those that managed to do the most damage, but in every dictator there is an actual little Adolf lurking in the shadows of the mind. There is no such thing as a good dictator.

There are only a few cases in which the transition between the government of a strongman - a dictator more or less subdued in thin veils of democracy - and a truly democratic and elected one. Generally speaking, such changes take place after a very long stay of the dictator in power, when he dies or quits due to illness or incapacity, or after violent and often bloody revolutions. Lost wars also may cause the fall of dictators and dictatorships.

In such a scenario, there are several survival hypotheses that need to be addressed:

The danger for those fingered as scapegoats: The first thing that a person or institution found I such a situation should consider is that hem, she or it will be a victim of an increased legal, social and fiscal pressure. Authoritarian leaders that pick scapegoats tend to start making life more difficult to those opposed to them or seen as a threat - Pogroms are an example. In this way and thanks to stretched interpretations of rules and regulations they can squeeze money and cause exhaustion without any need to worry about accusations of arbitrary or persecutory behaviour. Then, they will start seizing assets and arresting people for ever-increasing periods of time on the grounds of assorted accusations (see "The Bet of Meir ben Barukh von Rothenburg Against Himself"). Most of the times, such leaders will feel contended with this because they will acquire power and assets thorough intimidation, but things could go further if political power actors decide to actually exterminate dissidents and those seen as scapegoats. Other times, while the government may not want to go as far, mobs of followers could take matters into their own hands and cause actual massacres. In such cases, dissidents have tow options really: Either move away from the country or go underground to form a resistance movement. Staying put, waiting for the storm to pass usually ends with someone visiting their homes unexpectedly at night.

The wars caused by autocratic or dictatorial leaders: A citizen of a country leaded by a dictator or authoritarian person may well find him or herself in the middle of an undesired or very absurd war created at the corridors of powers. Forced recruitment into the armed forces for extended periods of time and endless battles in hostile environments is one of the forms this danger takes. It is very difficult to avoid such recruitment and doing so usually carries harsh punishment not only for the deserter but relatives and friends as well. Sometimes even neighbours and inhabitants of the same village or town are summarily and arbitrarily shot or tortured in order to make an example of the conduct of a "traitor" just not ready to die for the cause of big brother. If this happens and unless the enemy is yet another - even more cruel - tyrant, the best possible scenario becomes ironically the defeat of the survivor's country: Had Adolf Hitler succeeded in WWII things would have worsened by far, even for enthusiastic Germans. However, for Soviet citizens fighting for Stalin there was no real alternative in surrendering to German troops because the Nazis simply wanted to exterminate as many people from eastern countries as possible. The future holds nothing promising for recruits: In armies managed by authoritarian leaders equipment tends to be bad, treatment is terrible, torture is often used for disciplinary reasons and the life of soldiers is worth very little. During the war between Iraq and Iran, those sent to the front, to places like Susangerd, could well expect to die there without ever return back home for a weekend. Letters to relatives are almost always censored and even military commanders are precluded from access to vital information for political reasons alone: Many Japanese Generals and Admirals were not aware of the full extent of the Midway defeat after the end of WWII.

Economic survival: The case of Pinochet in Chile is perhaps the only exception to a rule common to all dictatorships; in almost all cases the economy is badly managed and things end up in disaster after a couple of years. Planned economies have never worked so far and the essence of a dictatorial government goes against the free will that economic actors tend to exercise. This is the main reason behind the failure of the economy in dictatorial regimes. In the case of Mugabe's Zimbabwe there have been no wars to speak of, but the state of the economy is so calamitous that the effects on the people have been so far as devastating as those of a true, heavy-duty armed conflict.

Revolts and revolutions: These usually happen more frequently than though in dictatorial regimes; censorship precludes the world from knowing what happens inside such countries but once the economy has rotten away, anger, fear and the lack of a future force people into protests and mutinies. However, unless these revolts acquire really the scale of a revolution, they may be suppressed by government agents, and since they signal the leader that he may not continue to live on as a demagogue, a strongman chosen by the people to solve problems, he would likely conclude that fear is the only realistic alternative to stay in power. This means that after suffocating a rebellion, instead of implementing reforms and trying to make things easier for everyone, such leaders will be tempted to go on mass arrests, persecution and even the assassination of dissidents; in the long run, such measures have proven to be extremely negative for society at large (See The Mother of All Mistakes). Thus, if a mutiny is being organised under such circumstances, its sponsors should make sure that it spreads as rapidly as possible until it acquires an extension and force impossible to suffocate; getting the support of some military units is very desirable to acquire firepower and some degree of moral support among those that would otherwise support the dictator. Revolts should not be made to protest, but to actually topple the government in these cases.

As a conclusion of all this we can say that choosing a strongman to solve the problems of a nation is probably a medicine worse than the infection itself that produces more damages than solutions.

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