While we honor our veterans today, let's also spare a thought for the virtues of an armed citizenry. Seventy-two years ago (November 9–10, 1938) the anti-Jewish attacks known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, took place throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria.
What made Kristallnacht possible? For one thing, a sustained effort by the Nazi government to disarm all Jews in the period leading up to the attacks. The facts are laid out in this fascinating article by Stephen Halbrook in the St. Thomas Law Review (ht/Volokh ). A brief snippet:
Over a period of several weeks in October and November 1938, the Nazi government disarmed the German Jewish population. The process was carried out both by following a combination of legal forms enacted by the Weimar Republic and by sheer lawless violence. The Nazi hierarchy could now more comfortably deal with the Jewish question without fear of armed resistance by the victims.
It may be tempting to argue that the possession of firearms by the German Jews would have made no difference, either in the 1938 pogrom or later in the Holocaust, when the majority were deported and then eradicated in death camps. Yet this fatalistic view ignores that the Nazis themselves viewed armed Jews as sufficiently dangerous to their policies to place great emphasis on the need to disarm all Jews. In 1938, it was by no means certain that Jewish armed resistance movements could not develop, and even less certain that individual Jews would not use arms to resist arrest, deportation, or attacks by the Nazis.
Stalin and Pol Pot, incidentally, also moved to disarm their citizens before their reigns of terror. For those who invoke the rallying cry of "Never Again," -- and count me in -- it's useful to consider the role of an armed citizenry in resisting oppression.