In 1934, Hitler used a story of a fake plot to purge the leftists from the Nazi Party (and, along the way, to bump off some conservatives who had helped him to the chancellorship but were no longer useful).
(1934 was a bad year for revolutionary leftists elsewhere as well.)
This week, Turkey's medium-strongman Erdogan used the story of a (possibly confected) plot to purge his country of the remnants of its revolutionary liberalism.
Western diplomats said on Monday that Turkey’s response to the coup attempt suggested that the government had prepared lists of those they believed to be linked to Mr. Gulen’s followers, before the unrest.A senior Turkish official said that members of the Gulen movement in the military had been under investigation for some time, and that the group had acted out of a sense of emergency when they realized that they might face prosecution.“There was a list of people who were suspected of conspiring to stage a coup,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, in line with government protocol. “And they did attempt a coup even though many people, including myself, treated the claims as a conspiracy theory at the time.”
Some quarters have proposed that Erdogan staged the coup himself, which would explain why the army -- which knows how to stage coups even if it isn't any good at other army-type stuff -- seemed so feeble and confused. Perhaps but it is as easy to think that some wannabes went off half-cocked and Erdogan just seized an opportunity he had prepared for.
He is, after all, one of the most skilled politicians of the century.
So far, at least, no one seems to have been murdered in the sweep-up, which differentiates it from the Nazi Night of the Long Knives. It could be as effective, nonetheless.
The comparisons to the Rohm or Kirov purges cannot be pushed too far. For one thing, the liberalism of the Turkish army is sharply constrained. The liberalism of Ataturk never gained traction in Turkey, one of the most rightwing societies in history.
After his death, what remained was a militant secularism among the soldiers who recognized that they could never match western (that is, Greek or Russian) armies if bound by the antimodern chains is Islam. (The Ottoman soldiers had recognized this as early as the mid-18th century, which is when they contrived to set up Turkey's first printing press, which for generations printed nothing but military manuals; if the sense of the society had its way, Turkey still would not have any printed books.)
In every other respect, the army was hard to distinguish from rightwing armies on which Uncle Sam has lavished shiploads of modern weapons -- Brazil, South Vietnam, Indonesia etc.
For fear of communism, the United States never challenged the Turks to liberalize. Now it refuses to demand liberal reforms because it wants 1) to maintain Turkey as a member of NATO; and 2) has managed to wheedle some small concessions toward supporting US policies nearby.
What Washington does not realize is that rightwing dictatorship under Erdogan will never allow Turkey to be used for NATO's purposes.
In the so-called Turkish democracy