September 03, 2004

At Least He Didn't "Remember" Liberating Death Camps...

Timothy Noah is fed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger and his claims to have seen "communism with my own eyes." Cheer up, Tim. As far as Republican lies go, these are very small beer indeed:

Whopper: Arnold Schwarzenegger - What were Soviet tanks doing in Austria's British-occupied sector? By Timothy Noah : When I was a boy, the Soviets occupied part of Austria. I saw their tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes. I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector. Growing up, we were told, "Don't look the soldiers in the eye. Look straight ahead." It was a common belief that Soviet soldiers could take a man out of his own car and ship him off to the Soviet Union as slave labor.

My family didn't have a car -- but one day we were in my uncle's car. It was near dark as we came to a Soviet checkpoint. I was a little boy, I wasn't an action hero back then, and I remember how scared I was that the soldiers would pull my father or my uncle out of the car, and I'd never see him again. My family and so many others lived in fear of the Soviet boot. Today, the world no longer fears the Soviet Union and it is because of the United States of America!

As a kid I saw the socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left. I love Austria and I love the Austrian people - but I always knew America was the place for me.

--Arnold Schwarzenegger, Aug. 31, 2004.

"It's a fact -- as a child he could not have seen a Soviet tank in Styria," the southeastern province where Schwarzenegger was born and raised, historian Stefan Karner told the Vienna newspaper Kurier.

Schwarzenegger, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born on July 30, 1947, when Styria and the neighboring province of Carinthia belonged to the British zone. At the time, postwar Austria was occupied by the four wartime allies, which also included the United States, the Soviet Union and France.

The Soviets already had left Styria in July 1945, less than three months after the end of the war, Karner noted.

--Roland Prinz, Associated Press, "Historians Criticize Schwarzenegger For Austrian History Gaffes," Sept. 3, 2004.

Discussion. The AP story quotes Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson saying, "Never in there did the governor reference that the tanks were where he grew up. It was a reference to visiting Soviet-occupied Austria." But he sure as hell implied having lived on an everyday basis with both the risk and the reality of encountering Soviet goons. Phrases like "Growing up, we were told" and "I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector" strongly suggest that Soviet soldiers were milling around Thal, the village where Young Arnold lived, or nearby Graz, the closest urban center. Which was impossible, because both were inside the British zone. If, as Thompson says, Schwarzenegger was referring to a specific trip he took from Austria's British zone to its Soviet zone—he would have been at most eight years old, since the Soviets left Austria for good by September 1955—why can't we hear the details? Schwarzenegger has told the Soviet tank story before (in his inaugural address and, earlier, in remarks to the California Republican convention), and every time he's left vague the particular circumstances that brought him into contact with the Soviet military. As Schwarzenegger has noted many times, his family was poor. A trip from Thal, in Austria's south, to the Soviet sector, in the north, would have left a deep impression.

That the Schwarzenegger family would have wanted to take such a trip seems doubtful in the extreme. Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times, in an earlier examination of this claim, noted the obstacle of "British and Soviet antipathy during the occupation." The very fearsomeness of the Soviets would have made any sensible Austrian reluctant to enter their jurisdiction. Remember, too, that Schwarzenegger's father had volunteered to be a brown shirt in Hitler's Sturmabteilung, an item on his resume that might have given the Soviets a legitimate reason to detain him.

I can't let pass Schwarzenegger's smarmy implication that postwar socialism, to whatever extent it was practiced in Austria, was the legacy of Soviet occupation. There was and remains a big difference between European-style socialism and communism. The former boasts a long and proud tradition of anticommunism. That would have been especially true in Austria, where every chancellor between 1945 and 1970 was a conservative. The characteristic vice of Austrian conservatism isn't softness on communism. It's softness on Nazism.

Posted by DeLong at September 3, 2004 05:12 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Amazing how Arnold can remember tanks that weren't there 50 years ago but can't remember Enron executives that there 2 years ago.

Posted by: Alan at September 3, 2004 05:31 PM

They do lie about every single thing, don't they? Maybe that's part of the problem some conservatives have with Kerry. They simple cannot imagine a public figure telling the truth about his past.

And maybe, Arnuld should take a trip to modern Austria and check how rich a "socialist" country it is. And, at least in the context of Western Europe, it's quite funny to read Austria described as a leftist country... When are we going to start reading stories about communist Switzerland? Wait, isn't the cross on their flag red?

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns at September 3, 2004 06:09 PM

P.S. oops, my last sentence should read something like and isn't their cross of their flag standing on a red background...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns at September 3, 2004 06:15 PM

Err, while Arnold is likely mistaken as to his idea of Austria's less than capitalist political system, this idea that its preposterous that he saw tanks or lived in fear of the Soviets when he was a small child hardly seems to have been proved.

Posted by: Ugh at September 3, 2004 06:20 PM

“ ... why can't we hear the details?”

The details are not important because the whole story is not important. Is it important that Hillary Clinton claimed she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary when at the time of her birth he was an obscure Australian beekeeper? No. Politicians tell these sometimes exaggerated, sometimes embellished stories all the time. It’s better to ask what are Arnold’s qualifications to be governor of the biggest state (other than he’s not Gray Davis), or what are his real accomplishments so far as governor?

“There was and remains a big difference between European-style socialism and communism. The former boasts a long and proud tradition of anticommunism.”

That’s mostly but not completely true. The “long and proud” part is somewhat overreaching. Italy had Europe’s largest Communist party. France had Europe’s most Stalinist Communist party (I think the French Communist party get about 20% of the vote). But in the main, I agree, at the national level Western Europe was staunchly anti-Soviet at least after WWII. On the other hand, European-style socialism was at least timid when it came to resisting Hitler (this includes Austria). Sweden for example remained neutral, sold war material to Hitler, and allowed a German division access through their territory to attack Norway (the Swedes don’t like this brought up). European socialism was certainly not as anticommunist as the US. So in the main Arnold’s (perhaps exaggerated) pep talk does draw a valid distinction between the US and the European socialists.

Posted by: A. Zarkov at September 3, 2004 06:29 PM

This is nice, I suppose, but why not comment on Gov. Schwarzenegger's transformation from outsider non-politician to very inside Wilson/Davis style operator as Governor? At least on some big issues like CA budget crisis, prison reform, prison guard negotations, Native American gambling casinos, political contributions, he is very Wilson/Davis.

He certainly has the ability and influence to make breakthrough's (eg, workman's comp insurance) but has chosen not to on these).

I think that there is meat there, and more or relevance to empty GOP showmanship.

I agree with most of Zarkov's comment, but do not understand why Zarkov holds European social democrats responsible for high communist party votes in the past. Did the social democrats like a rival party getting a large percentage of the votes?

Posted by: jml at September 3, 2004 06:47 PM

And Schwarzenegger is the maximum gubernator now, so he will never be Arnold, or Aahhnold, again for me. Especially now that I have learned to spell his last name. Or will we start talking about George and Dick, and John and John, Al and Don now?

Posted by: jml at September 3, 2004 06:53 PM

"I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector."

No surprise given that Der Governator's dad was a Nazi.

Posted by: ogmb at September 3, 2004 07:08 PM

The province (or state?) of Carinthia is where Haider's from, I believe he was the governor and is or was the head of Austria's right wing/anti-immigrant party. I believe it was his Nazi comments that got Austria more or less disciplined by the EU. So that's part of the Gropenator's heritage. Austria, unlike Germany, has never accepted responsibility for its behavior (which included voting for Anschluss with Germany), although it has paid out reparations and pays pensions to Jews formerly from Austria. I'll never understand why some people in the US seem to go for actors as politicians--unless they're so used to TV that they expect similar stuff in real life too.

Posted by: azurite at September 3, 2004 07:17 PM

Furthermore, his memory of the Humphrey-Nixon debate is equally false. RMN & HHH never debated.

Isn't it about time that someone point out the difficulties this generation of Republicans has with verifiable reality? When Bush spoke about science education last night I just about fell out of my chair.

Posted by: Social democrat at September 3, 2004 07:29 PM

"On the other hand, European-style socialism was at least timid when it came to resisting Hitler (this includes Austria)."

More bullcrap from Zarkov. The Austrian Christian Socialist Party which contorlled Austrian politics from the 1920's on was Socialist only in name. It was heavily Catholic and Industrialist oriented with a strong nationalist bend, closely allied with Mussolini's Fascists. Nevertheless it resisted Hitler's attempts to annex Austria (chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated for it) and only through internal manipulations Hitler was able to break the resistance and achieve the Anschluss after Dollfuss's successor Schuschnigg was forced to resign.

Posted by: ogmb at September 3, 2004 07:30 PM

Ooops, thanks ogmb, I missed that part somehow. Zarkov's charge there is also very doubtful, at least for real social democratic parties. If some of them seemed timid, it was because they were running for their lives from the Nazis.

Posted by: jm at September 3, 2004 08:07 PM

> When Bush spoke about science education last
> night I just about fell out of my chair.


"We will place a new focus on math and science."


I suspect that in the first draft of the speech, the second-to-last word in the sentence was "creation".

Posted by: marquer at September 3, 2004 08:11 PM

Does Schwarzenegger have a conscience? No, he doesn't--he's just a sociopath, and a very bright one at that. Nothing interferes with his grasp of opportunities, and he never gets stuck in a losing situation. Does this make him a political leader? No, it makes him a political opportunist--a role in which he succeeds very nicely indeed. But to understand that success, we also have to understand that the major political forces in California don't want a leader. When did California ever want, or have, a leader? If so, what is his name, what did he lead, and how did he do it (we're talking, of course, about the public sphere--Leland Stanford doesn't count)? If you tell me "Hiram Johnson," then you're making my very own point. True, we may be looking for something that was never possible in the first place, since California's such an incoherent political entity (unlike, for example, Utah). But this is worth recognizing! It means that whenever the United States turns to a Californian for political "leadership," it's looking for something other than a leader. I propose to call it an "enabler".

Posted by: alabama at September 3, 2004 08:28 PM

I'm afraid people who call Western European (in the sense of Western-style societies) administrations "socialist" don't know what they are talking about. The first or second name constituents of the respective ruling parties are just that, names.

The Third-Reich German Nazi party, spelled out NSDAP, was the "National-Socialist German Workers' Party". "Nazi" is a late 19th/early 20th century German abbreviation of "National Socialist", apparently as a derivation of "Sozi" (socialist).

Posted by: cm at September 3, 2004 08:40 PM

In a revealing piece about Hollwood done by the L.A. Times a couple of years ago entitled "Inhale Lie. Exhale Lie" it was pointed out that in Hollywood lying is the currency of art. The bigger the better.
In other words illusion,the sine qua non, of Hollywood was preserved by distortion, exaggeration and hyperbole especially when negotiations were involved.
With the Governator nothing has changed from his Hollywood days. The 'art' has only been honed.
When Governor 'Brawn' replaced Governor 'Bland' the public expected positive change.
As with many things be carefull what you wish for.

Posted by: NM Puff at September 3, 2004 08:48 PM

Regarding Arnold's twilight experience, the city of Vienna, which is to the north or northeast of Styria, was formally occupied by all 4 powers, so it is conceivable that Soviet troups could be seen in its surroundings.

Still, he was not necessarily lying, and maybe just exaggerating -- he may have been under the combined impression of having seen tanks and being told about the Soviet presence or seeing it on TV, perhaps in combination with a "lively imagination". I mean this seriously. Such things (retroactive modifications and combinations of memories) happen.

Anyway, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. But whether it has happened or not, apparently it has made a big impression on him.

Posted by: cm at September 3, 2004 08:55 PM

"But whether it has happened or not, apparently it has made a big impression on him."

Well, that would explain a lot. Note that GWB's leadership has made a big impression on him, too.

Posted by: rea at September 3, 2004 09:08 PM

Crikey. I hate Arnie's oily political guts, but the quote I read was a stretch only at the end, where he equated the Socialists with the Soviets.

My father grew up outside the Soviet zone in Austria, too. He's four or so years older than Arnie. Occupation was a fact of his childhood, and seeing Russian soldiers or tanks didn't take much of a journey.

Folks here seem to forget that Austria fits comfortably inside California, and that the border of the Soviet zone was probably pretty close.

Posted by: wcw at September 3, 2004 10:04 PM

As a kid I saw the socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left.

Uh, if the Soviets were so bad how come Austria became the socialist country *** after the Soviets left ***. Or was it some kind of Freudian trip?

Posted by: a at September 3, 2004 10:11 PM

" I was a little boy, I wasn't an action hero back then, and I remember how scared I was that the soldiers would pull my father or my uncle out of the car, and I'd never see him again."

I think this is rather carefully phrased for an innocent misrecollection. Notice he doesn't say there was any actual likelihood of losing his father, only that as a child he feared this. Well, children often fear monsters under their beds as well, but adults do not often try to enhance their credibility by bringing those old fears up. Likewise, the implication that Austria is or was socialist in the communist sense is clearly there, but not directly stated. These mistatements are too careful to be innocent.

Posted by: Martin Bento at September 4, 2004 01:28 AM

Geeze, I saw Soviet tanks roll in and crush a European people, quite literally, with my own eyes, and I'm both younger than Ahnold and was a resident of NYC at the time. So it's not entirely implausible that an Austrian born in 1947 would have recollections of them too.

"children often fear monsters under their beds as well, but adults do not often try to enhance their credibility by bringing those old fears up"

The Soviets were a bit more real than a child's "monster under the bed" to anyone near them, I can attest, -- sure as heck to anyone near them in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"Uh, if the Soviets were so bad how come ..."

I don't think the argument "the Soviets really weren't so bad, so he's just another lying Repub" is going to turn a whole lot of votes in this election.


Posted by: Jim Glass at September 4, 2004 08:31 AM

> this idea that its preposterous that he saw tanks or lived in fear of the Soviets when he was a small child hardly seems to have been proved.

It's well established that he could not have seen Soviet tanks in the part of Austria where he was living. Do a google news on austrian tanks to see what Austrians think of this claim.

His spokesperson now claims that he meant he saw tanks when visiting the Soviet sector as a child. Who knows? But other Austrians of his age group and location do not seem to share his recollection. Was his upbringing so different?

Whether he lived in fear of the Soviets is another matter. I suppose he did. But they would have had to invade to affect his life, whereas he gave the impression that they officially had some power in his government.

Posted by: Paul Callahan at September 4, 2004 09:25 AM

Never, ever would Schwarzenegger have left Austria for reasons of political repression or intimidation. He's is an ambitious and gifted opportunist, and if Austria had presented opportunities to meet his appetites and capacities in a timely way, he would have remained in Austria without fear--whatever the poltical complexion of the place happened to be. Efforts to parse his "recollections" as "truth-claims", pro or con, merely into the man's ongoing game, which is to take our eyes off the specific traits of his nature (not, in a view, a hateful nature, by the way).

Posted by: alabama at September 4, 2004 10:20 AM

I guess that seals it. Jim Glass saw the tanks himself with his vey own eyes. Literally.
Jim, work with us now, do you think Arnold was painting an accurate picture of his childhood or was he playing a particular role for particular purposes?
We are counting on you to think this one through.

Posted by: calmo at September 4, 2004 10:31 AM

Thinking things through doesn't seem to be a strong point of the usual suspects here. Nor reading:

"Furthermore, his memory of the Humphrey-Nixon debate is equally false. RMN & HHH never debated."

Arnold didn't say anything about DEBATES, he saw SPEECHES by each candidate. Though that friend must have been some translator if he could make Richard Nixon a "small government" man.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan at September 4, 2004 01:27 PM

"It's well established that he could not have seen Soviet tanks in the part of Austria where he was living....

"His spokesperson now claims that he meant he saw tanks when visiting the Soviet sector as a child. Who knows?"
~~~~~

Anybody who heard what he said or bothered to look it up knows.

To wit:

"I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector ... It was near dark as we came to a Soviet checkpoint."

Did all you geniuses really take it that he had "to cross into the Soviet sector" from the inside, where he was already living?

If so, I guess he really fooled you with that one, eh? ;-)

Posted by: Jim Glass at September 4, 2004 04:48 PM

"The Soviets were a bit more real than a child's "monster under the bed" to anyone near them, I can attest, -- sure as heck to anyone near them in the late 1940s and early 1950s."

Certainly, but Arnold's claim is considerably more specific than that. He feared the Soviets would arbitrarily kidnap his father or uncle. Was this likely? In most of the Cold War, no. The Soviets would do this to their own citizens, but not to visiting citizens of Western-alligned countries or zones - why create the international incident? Perhaps post-war Austria was an exception, but I'd like to see evidence of that. My point, though, is that Arnold as a child well could have feared this regardless of whether it had any basis.

Posted by: Martin Bento at September 4, 2004 06:45 PM

I don't care that much whether Schwarzenegger was stretching a little about seeing the tanks. The slur on social democrats bugged me more.

It was also bizarre that Schwarzenegger called Humphrey a crypto socialist, and then have kind words for Truman. On domestic economic policy, and social welfare Truman was just as, or more, liberal than Humphrey. In domestic policy, if Humphrey was a crypto socialist, then Truman was a commie. And Nixon was, by todays standards, also a crypto socialist.

Truman almost got a universal health insurance program passed.

I remember an old Latvian man in my home town when I was a kid. He was a very prominent young social democrat leader in the 1930s. Ended up on wanted lists of both Communists and Nazis. He spoke better German than Russian, so he went to Germany with forged documents and spent several years on the run. Then he had to run some more when the Soviets ran through the part of Germany he was in at the end of the war. So he ended up in the US as a refugee. He was still a social democrat, and politically active, and liberal back in the 70s but would be considered a radical liberal commie today by the Republicans. (maybe he was a fifth column type of guy, uh-oh). But did he have stories!

It angers me to hear people casually lumping people like that in with communists or Nazis. Or are social insurance programs that evil?

Posted by: jml at September 4, 2004 08:01 PM

The corollary or analog to our Cult of Celebrity is the freedom to fabricate their own past and their own identity, and get a free pass from the media. So we see it among all the Republicans, who come and go, and speak of Michelangelo.

Have we heard from Kristol or Wolfowitz lately?

They're grooming Arnold for 2008, when we have 350,000 US troops on the ground in the Middle East, Iran is a smoking crater, civilian planes are being blown out of the sky on almost weekly basis, and price of oil is over $100 a barrel.

Go Team, Fight! Win! Yeah, Rahh!

Or ... we could replace all our lightbulbs with Phillips low-watt florescents, and use Sunbeam cube heaters under our tables and desks with the furnace set at 55, build windfarms across the country using tax credits, and in so doing, cut US energy consumption back to the point where natural gas at least will return to $3 TCF.

"End Terrorism ... Ride the Bus!"

Posted by: Neville Bierce at September 4, 2004 11:12 PM

If, instead of learning US history, every high school student spent a single semester in mock Congressional law making, which would be simple enough to do these days and cost nothing, then every kid graduating into their voting rights would understand exactly how US laws are made, bills are passed, riders are lumped up on them, corruption piled upon corruption, venality upon venality, until those at the top seem more like chimeras and charades than defacto politicians.

How the heck did the Terminator become governor! Didn't AS use the SwiftBoat tactic on Davis? Do you suppose these Republicrats actually *learn*?

Posted by: Aaron jorgenson at September 4, 2004 11:19 PM

Posted by Jim Glass: Geeze, I saw Soviet tanks roll in and crush a European people, quite literally, with my own eyes, and I'm both younger than Ahnold and was a resident of NYC at the time.

And just what European people might that be? Not German, by any chance?

Posted by: a at September 5, 2004 12:02 AM

Posted by Jim Glass: I don't think the argument "the Soviets really weren't so bad, so he's just another lying Repub" is going to turn a whole lot of votes in this election.

The point was that if you talk to adults you do not say "It was a common belief that Soviet soldiers could take a man out of his own car and ship him off to the Soviet Union as slave labor" and "As a kid I saw the socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left." in the same speech and hope they swallow it. But than "I wasn't an action hero back then".

Posted by: a at September 5, 2004 12:11 AM

Martin writes "Certainly, but Arnold's claim is considerably more specific than that."
Don't bother to look up the actual claim as it is immaterial to my point. Arnold has acting experience and in my view is noticeably more gifted than George. He not only handles the script much better but he is capable of a level of improvising where the President sticks carefully to each individual note.
That level of improvising though is scrutinized by more demanding critics than the film critics he is accustomed to.
Given his 'girlie men' talk, only a body-builder would be surprised by this sudden interest in his colorful past.
The specificity of Arnold's claim(s) is important only to those that think the rags-to-riches theme is a flag worth waving.
The phrase "I wasn't an action hero back then" tells us that Arnold may be taking his acting too seriously, no?

Posted by: calmo at September 5, 2004 09:47 AM

Arnold said:

“When I was a boy, the Soviets occupied part of Austria. I saw their tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes. I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector.”

There is nothing in that statement that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that he lived in the Soviet sector of occupied Austria. It’s meaning is plain on its face: he felt fear as a child whenever he visited the Soviet sector. There is nothing in this sentence to indicate he lived in the Soviet sector. Moreover as a child he might have feared an attack by the Soviets.

However we have a more complicated matter when he says:

“As a kid I saw the socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left.”

There was a general election in 1945 and the conservative “People’s Party” (OVP) got 50% of the vote in the National Council, while the Socialists (now called the Social Democratic Party, SPO) won 45% and the Communists won 5%. This three-party coalition ruled Austria until Arnold’s birth in 1947 when the Communists left the government. During these two years, the coalition embarked on an extensive program of nationalization in the mineral extraction industry and electricity sector by means of two nationalization acts.

OVP led the governing coalition with the Socialists until 1966, about two years before Arnold left for the US. Yet evidently the OVP was unable to reverse the nationalization because Austria had a greater proportion of public ownership than other free market European countries. Let’s compare and contrast the figures for public share of employment:

Austria 14.2% (20% for trade and industry)
France 13.3%
Germany 7.8%
Italy 25% (but not all sectors recorded)
UK 6.0%.

(Figures circa 1985)

See references in http://www.sigov.si/zmar/conference/97-99/nowotny.pdf

So Arnold’s recollection seems quite reasonable unless you believe that OVP reversed the nationalization after he was born and then the SPO renationalized after he left.

Public ownership of business is nothing new to Austria. For example in economic crisis in 1929, the government nationalized many businesses, especially banks. There is also public ownership by local authorities. So even during the rein of OVP at the national level local authorities could have controlled many businesses. In any case, Austria was certainly more “socialistic” than the US while Arnold was growing up. And by “socialistic,” I mean nationalization of basic industries, a high degree regulation of business and commerce, and outright ownership of some business at both the local and national level.

Posted by: A. Zarkov at September 5, 2004 01:11 PM