Fascism!: The US Army Publishes a Pamphlet in 1945 Explaining How to Spot Fascism at Home and Abroad

Fas­cism is a word that’s been used a great deal these last few years,” says the arti­cle pic­tured above (scanned in full here at the Inter­net Archive). “We come across it in our news­pa­pers, we hear it in our news­reels, it comes up in our bull ses­sions.” Oth­er than the part about news­reels (today’s equiv­a­lent being our social-media feeds, or per­haps the videos put before our eyes by the algo­rithm), these sen­tences could well have been pub­lished today. Some see the fas­cist takeover of mod­ern-day democ­ra­cies as prac­ti­cal­ly immi­nent, while oth­ers argue that the con­cept itself has no mean­ing in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. But 78 years ago, when this issue of Army Talk came off the press, fas­cism was very much a going — and fear­some — con­cern.

“Begin­ning in 1943, the War Depart­ment pub­lished a series of pam­phlets for U.S. Army per­son­nel in the Euro­pean the­ater of World War II,” writes his­to­ri­an Heather Cox Richard­son. The mis­sion of Army Talks, in the pub­li­ca­tion’s own words, was to help its read­ers “become bet­ter-informed men and women and there­fore bet­ter sol­diers.”

Each issue includ­ed a top­ic for dis­cus­sion, and on March 25, 1945, that top­ic was fas­cism — or, as the head­line puts it, “FASCISM!” Under that ide­ol­o­gy, defined as “gov­ern­ment by the few and for the few,” a small group of polit­i­cal actors achieves “seizure and con­trol of the eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, social, and cul­tur­al life of the state.” Such rul­ing class­es “per­mit no civ­il lib­er­ties, no equal­i­ty before the law. They make their own rules and change them when they choose. If you don’t like it, it’s ‘T.S.’ ”

Fas­cists come to pow­er, the text explains, in times of hard­ship, dur­ing which they promise “every­thing to every­one”: land to the farm­ers, jobs to the work­ers, cus­tomers and prof­its to the small busi­ness­men, elim­i­na­tion of small busi­ness­men to the indus­tri­al­ists, and so on. When this regime “under which every­thing not pro­hib­it­ed is com­pul­so­ry” inevitably fails to deliv­er a per­fect soci­ety, things turn vio­lent, both in the coun­try’s inter­nal strug­gles and in its con­flicts with oth­er pow­ers. To many Amer­i­cans at the time of World War II, this might seem like a whol­ly for­eign dis­or­der, liable to afflict only such dis­tant lands as Italy, Japan, and Ger­many. But a notion­al Amer­i­can fas­cism would look and feel famil­iar, work­ing “under the guise of ‘super-patri­o­tism’ and ‘super-Amer­i­can­ism.’ Fas­cist lead­ers are nei­ther stu­pid nor naïve. They know that they must hand out a line that ‘sells.’ ”

That some­one’s always try­ing to sell you some­thing in pol­i­tics — and even more so in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics — is as true in 2023 as it was in 1945. Though who­ev­er assumed back then that “it could­n’t hap­pen here” pre­sum­ably fig­ured that the Unit­ed States was too wealthy a soci­ety for fas­cist temp­ta­tions to gain a foothold. But even the most favor­able eco­nom­ic for­tunes can reverse, and “lots of things can hap­pen inside of peo­ple when they are unem­ployed or hun­gry. They become fright­ened, angry, des­per­ate, con­fused. Many, in their mis­ery, seek to find some­body to blame. They look for a scape­goat as a way out. Fas­cism is always ready to pro­vide one.” And not only fas­cism: polit­i­cal oppor­tunists of every stripe know full well the pow­er to be drawn from “the inse­cure and unem­ployed” look­ing for some­one on who “to pin the blame for their mis­for­tune” — and how easy it is to do so when no one else has a more appeal­ing vision of the future to offer.

You can see a scan of the orig­i­nal doc­u­ment here, and read the text here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism: Rick Steves’ Doc­u­men­tary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Wal­ter Ben­jamin Explains How Fas­cism Uses Mass Media to Turn Pol­i­tics Into Spec­ta­cle (1935)

Sin­clair Lewis’ Chill­ing Play, It Can’t Hap­pen Here: A Read-Through by the Berke­ley Reper­to­ry The­atre

Hunter S. Thomp­son Gets in a Gun­fight with His Neigh­bor & Dis­pens­es Polit­i­cal Wis­dom: “In a Democ­ra­cy, You Have to Be a Play­er”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (5)
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  • Jack Mizrachi says:

    Army Talks last para­graph states “Fas­cism is gov­ern­ment by a few for a few”, many feel this to be true today in Amer­i­ca, with the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion. Proof of this abounds every day with the lack of inves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tions of lead­ing Democ­rats. No need to men­tion who.
    Hate is pro­mot­ed by the media in our Nation. Again if I need to list … well.
    Once more a hand­ful of despots are threat­en­ing World War. Yes, just a hand­ful.
    I would think that those serv­ing these despots, would real­ize their nefar­i­ous poli­cies and actions and do away with their lead­ers. In his­to­ry it was always 1 who could gath­er many to sup­port the insane, ruth­less actions and to what avail, to lose in the end, muster much death, suf­fer­ing and destruc­tion. Why ? What for ?
    These days we’re faced again with a hand­ful of despots with very destruc­tive agen­das, the end of human­i­ty. I’m not being over dra­mat­ic as you well know, but i’m con­cerned because WE don’t have the lead­ers nec­es­sary to thwart this evil.
    Biden ? A mean­ing­less Sen­a­tor, used by oth­ers when gar­ner­ing votes, or in need of a fil­i­buster, not a leader. I see no one on the hori­zon to lead our Nation in rthese dif­fi­cult times. I hope I’m wrong.

  • Bonnie says:

    Jack…unfortunately, you are spot on.

  • KYLE says:


  • Jonathan says:

    Basi­cal­ly sums Amer­i­ca in 2023. Any­one been arrest­ed yet in con­junc­tion with the Burn Loot Mur­der riots of 2020? I did­n’t think so.

  • TitoZaniboni says:

    more fake news from the ultra-right. there were over 14,000 arrests made dur­ing the 2020 riots. quit ped­dling non­sense.

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