Friday, February 5, 2021

History Lessons

Lately, it seems one cannot mention “Nazis” without being banned or accused of being a Nazi. Nearly as bad is the response of those who laugh and claim that any mention of Nazis belies a misunderstanding of present reality: “That was a unique moment in time – that can never happen again.”

This should be expected from dimwitted, reactionary, and context-free minds.

A group of angry, dim witted, reactionary, and context-free minds

Slightly wiser people are interested in avoiding the errors of the past by learning from them. This requires the study of history. This study is not the mere collecting of antiquities as decorative trivia (the domain of the “history buff”).

The study of history is a continuous examination of the unvarnished record of past events, many of which can only be appreciated after significant study, exposure to many viewpoints, and confrontation with evidence and logic that may or may not align to presuppositions and conclusions.

In other words – it’s work. 

With that preface, it’s instructive today for Americans to consider pre-war Germany (1930-1936).

Who was in the crowds at Hitler's rallies?
There is still a lively debate over the role of the “ordinary German” in the rise to power of the National Socialists.

How did the “madman” Hitler rise from corporal to gang leader to supreme dictator over Europe’s most technically, economically, and culturally advanced nation? Didn’t “decent Germans” outnumber the brown shirts (Hitler’s personal thug mob)? Couldn’t the institutional church, the universities, private industry, and the elite and the intelligentsia see where events were heading under the thrall of Nazis?

After all, Hitler was very clear about his intentions in his book, Mein Kampf.

The conclusion by most objective historians is that everyone had concerns but was willing to accept Hitler’s movement in exchange for security, stability, national pride, and restoration of vaguely defined “morality” ( Nazi support of “German values” resulted in a superficial reduction in crime, brothels, clubs, and the sex trade. It helped that they merely took over management of these operations).

Hitler and the Nazis delivered a sense of stability, a crackdown on a few notorious cabarets, and a steady stream of race-based theatrics. Foreign capital flooded in, no longer concerned about hyperinflation and economic instability.

Government spending increased on various public works, providing jobs that reduced the privations many Germans had felt since the last war and the global economic depression. Jobs also provided a much-needed psychological boost of usefulness in people raised with the virtue of industriousness while also giving workers a sense of contribution to the greater good.

The “scientific” categorization of people by “race” defined who was and was not “German.” Scientific and popular literature, art, and song portrayed Jews and Slavs as “not German” which soon morphed into "pests" and "sub-humans."

It did not take long for the machinery of tyranny to become operational. The ancient template of oppression was accelerated by mass media and the eagerness to erase the shame of defeat, the poverty of the depression, and the insecurities of rambunctious democracy.

The Nazis reinforced centralized control by fixating the public on enemies while quietly destroying any organization, structure, group, or individual that challenged them in any way. The definition of “enemy” shifted from those overtly opposed to the Nazis to those who failed to demonstrate sufficient enthusiasm for Naziism.

All this happened in less than four years (1930-1933). By 1934, Hitler had assumed his role as a dictator by controlling the executive and the legislature in Germany. This move was fast-tracked after the "crisis" of a fire at the Reichstag” which was used as “evidence” of a “Bolshevik plot” to seize control of Germany.

 German Parliament (Reichstag) Aflame, 1933

By 1934, Hitler began systematically rooting out any opposition. As Nazi hardliners, sycophants, deputies, and bureaucrats multiplied, so did the reach and depth of the Nazi grasp on every aspect of life. Secret police and secret trials ensured no one would publicly confront injustice. The few who bravely spoke out soon disappeared or were marginalized, cast as traitors, communists, or simply Not German.

So, what about the majority of “ordinary Germans”? Why didn’t they stand up and confront the Nazis? How could they let the Nazis commit such crimes?

It’s rather simple: You either became a Nazi, or you made sure they never noticed you.

Either way, the Nazis had free rein, no matter what the “ordinary Germans” thought. But in the end, every German suffered -- even the "ordinary" Germans who opposed the regime but were unwilling to express that opposition.

Recommended Reading: WW2 Overviews
  • The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War by Andrew Roberts
  • The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won by Victor Davis Hanson
Recommended Reading: Morality of War
  • Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror by Michael Burleigh
  • Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II by Michael Burleigh
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt
Recommended Reading: “Ordinary” Germans
  • Defeat in the West by Milton Shulman
  • Strange Defeat by Marc Bloch
Recommended Reading: Naziism
  • Gestapo: The Story Behind Hitler's Machine of Terror by Lucas Saul
  • The Scourge of the Swastika: A History of Nazi War Crimes During World War II by Lord Russell of Liverpool
  • Perpetrators: The World of the Holocaust Killers by Guenter Lewy
  • In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures behind the Holocaust by Bullets by Patrick Desbois
  • War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust (Critical Issues in World and International History) by Doris L. Bergen
Recommended Reading: Progression of Tyranny
  • The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution by Timothy Tackett
  • Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke

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Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! I appreciate your comments and will review and post if appropriate.

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