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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  • 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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