Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Morality in a Totalitarian State: A Personal Revisionist History

Opinions, in my opinion, unlike principles, are not sacred possessions to be protected, locked away and defended from all intruders. Rather, they are, or should be, living and evolving attitudes, constantly subjected to rigorous revision and adjustment — or, when necessary, quickly abandoned for some more plausible or cogent truth.-- Wrestling With Mohammed - 12/9/07

'-- or, when necessary, quickly abandoned for some more plausible or cogent truth.'

The Third Reich. Hitler's Germany. World War Two and the good German volk. Mein Kampf. How many books have I read on this immense subject? How many documentaries have I watched? Too many to remember but enough to form an opinion. In thinking back over all these books, over all these years, perhaps one of the most influential books I have read on this subject -- after Mein Kampf -- was Daniel Goldhagen's blockbuster bestseller "Hitler's Willing Executioners". His research was so thorough, his arguments so compelling, that they proved irresistible. He had statistically proven, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the 'good German people' were not only cognizant of the prosecution of the Holocaust, but had either directly or indirectly participated in its ghastly mission.
The Germans voted Hitler into power and sanctioned his every move enthusiastically. They continued in their loyal support for Der Fuhrer from the heady victories of 1940 to the horrid devastation of 1945. The idea that the German people had somehow been held hostage, that Germany had in effect been hijacked by some small fanatical gang of Nazis, was therefore ludicrous and self-serving. In short, the German people got what they had asked for in WWII. Despite our own post-war government wanting to quickly change the subject, more interested in building up a strong ally in Western Germany to offset the Communist takeover of the East than in pointing fingers -- despite all of their efforts, it was, in my opinion, the German people and not just the Nazis, who were deeply complicit in their own fate. This was perfectly obvious.

I have just come away from watching "Hitler's Germany: The People's Community 1933-1939", from the award-winning television classic "The World at War". I was riveted to the screen. I was especially moved by the personal interviews of Germans who lived under the Third Reich, people who had survived, who had made whatever accommodations were necessary. Their stories were compelling. They were straight-forward, apparently completely sincere. Could I have been wrong all these years? Was it possible that an entire nation could be held captive? Was it really possible that they just didn't know what Hitler had planned for them, and that by the time they did know, it was too late?

The German people were propagandized daily, in every conceivable form. But did the average German really live in fear? Could they really not protest? I had come to accept the theory that 'people get what they deserve' in a government. Especially if they voted that government into power, and continually ratified that power. It made sense. They loved Hitler and they loved his bloodless conquests of 1938-1940. They loved him until the bombs started falling on Berlin. Many love him still.

How easy it's been to sit here comfortably in my living room and pass judgement on a whole people, a whole generation. And how arrogant. Never having experienced all the small daily terrors of tyranny, I felt assured in the wisdom of my opinions. Assured of the veracity of the many articles I had written on this subject. The German people were guilty as hell.

But now?

Just a few days ago I wrote about longing for a strong leader. A brave, manly patriot who could save this imperilled nation from the disastrous grip of the Left. Perhaps these thoughts recurred to me while watching that powerful documentary. Perhaps my previous strongly-held opinions were shaken. Perhaps all these years I had got it wrong. Not wrong about the horrors of Nazism or the inconceivable tragedy of the Holocaust. But wrong nonetheless. Wrong in that favorite maxim -- that people get the government they deserve.

What I learned.

I believe that I seriously underestimated the trauma of the post WWI chaos in Germany. The Great Depression. The roaming street gangs and the violent and deadly clashes between political rivals. Chaos and anarchy. Getting worse every day. Perhaps it's just that I'm getting older, but today I seem to have a deeper appreciation of how desperately people would want peace and order restored. It's understandable. It's human.

'...longing for a strong leader. A brave, manly patriot who could save this imperilled nation from the disastrous grip the Left.' Isn't that what I/we are longing for? Someone to follow? Someone to finally confront and defeat these leftists who are bound and determined to ruin this great country of ours? Am I suggesting that America would welcome a Hitler, or a dictator of any stripe? No. We've already flirted with Fascism during our own Great Depression but the Union survived. Besides, we have guns and we're too damn independent.
What I am suggesting is this.

The Third Reich was a near-perfect example of a totalitarian state. Something which I think Americans have great difficulty imagining. Can we imagine a nation under the iron rule of one party? Every facet of the media tightly controlled by Goebbles' nearly impregnable propaganda juggernaut. No Internet. All newspapers tightly controlled, all radio -- to be caught listening to a foreign broadcast could mean a trip to the concentration camp -- all movies, all schools. (Aren't we dealing with some embryonic form of this oppressive propaganda right here in America today? Only this time the controllers are on the left). The infamous Gestapo, though proportionately small in number, enjoyed a vast network of spies and informers -- only to be matched by Stalin's murderous USSR.

This moving documentary told the story of a German woman who had a deep interest in spirituality, who felt that she could at times predict the future. On the day that an unsuccessful attempt was made on Hitler's life, in Munich, she commented to her ten year old daughter, 'I knew that was going to happen.' Proud of her mommy, the little girl couldn't wait to tell her friends at school. One her classmate's fathers was in the Nazi Party. That day the Gestapo came to the mother's house. Fortunately, this particular victim was spared. But what of those who were not? What kind of fear was this? How much more real could it get?

So how has my watching this classic documentary changed my opinion of WWII Germany and the Germans? I think it's humbled me a bit. I'm a little less sure of myself. How would I have managed my life under the iron grip of the Third Reich? Would I have been a brave member of some courageous but ultimately impotent Resistance? Or would I have played the game like everybody else? Would I find my right arm uncontrollably raised in that familiar 'Sieg Heil'!?

Still, the German people voted Hitler into power. And when Hitler finally pushed the allies into war it wasn't just the Nazis who had to be defeated: it was Germany. But considering the deadly milieu in which they lived during the Third Reich, is it fair that so many Germans had to die for the Cause?

No, of course it's not fair. It is what it is.

Finally, how is all of this history relevant to our current crises, our current threats from this ever-growing Islamic jihad?

We must, I believe, carry two thoughts in our hearts simultaneously. First and foremost the realization that Islam is indeed evil, as evil as Nazism, maybe more so, and it must be either conquered or destroyed. Not just 'radical Islam" or 'fanatical Islam', but the very core of this universal menace. Secondly, we must understand that 'All is fair in love and war'. Is it fair to destroy an enemy who is determined to destroy you? Absolutely. Is it fair that the soldiers or terrorists whom we destroy are often products of a system over which they have no control? If a child is propagandized from birth, whether it be in Germany's Hitler Youth or in a Pakistani madras, is it fair that he should pay the price for those deadly ideologies?

No, it isn't fair. It is what it is.

So how has this film changed me, changed my opinion? I think I'm a little broader now perhaps. A little more empathetic for the people of Germany, the volk who, fairly or not, ultimately paid the price for the system that they had became a part of. I hope I am a little less judgmental after today, a little more careful.

That skinny ten year old boy in the Pakistani madras, incessantly bowing up and down, like some sinister robotic toy, endlessly reciting the Arab Mein Kampf, learning all he needs to know, who his enemies are, enemies he will most likely never meet, except perhaps in violence and in blood. He is the enemy. He is the victim. Simultaneously. And he must be conquered or destroyed. There's no other way. It's either us or them. And the sooner we understand this the better.

But is it fair? Of course not. It is what it is. - rg


  1. One author described human life in a state of nature as "nasty, brutish and short". If memory serves, it was Thomas Hobbs in Leviathon.

    Fair? Sorry, the concept is an artificial construct having no fixed valid meaning.

    We cook and eat the ova of hens, never allowing them to develop, hatch, eat and grow. Is that fair?

    We dump containers of water in which mosquito larvae swim, dooming them to suffocate and dessicate in the air because we know that they will grow up to torment us, it is their nature and ours; nothing fair about it.

    The Krauts made their bed and had to lie in it. The minority who objected had to keep silent, otherwise they would have been intimidated and beaten, at best; at worst sent to the death camps.

    We did not victimize them nor did we violate the standard of "fair"; their fellow Krauts did.

    Yes, the lads in Paki Madrassas are victims, many of whom will victimize others. No, it ain't fair, and no, their lot in life is beyond remedy. We have no effective course of action that can save them or right the wrong done to them.

    The real unfairness, the prime wrong occurred when the Arabs invaded and conquered India centuries ago. "Convert or die." Victimized either way, and those who converted victimized their heirs to the Nth generation.

    The unfair act is theirs, not ours when we defend ourselves and our way of life.

    We seek not a hero on a white horse, under a white hat. We seek an honest, principled statesman, with clear, valid principles, clearly enunciated, correctly applied.

    Not tyranny, not regimentation, but honest, courageous constitutional leadership, a latter day Harry Truman.

  2. The German people could have stopped Hitler. They had no will to do so. They feared the consequences of their actions if they failed.

    They weren't victims but willingly participants. Eager to go along with Hitler and his cronies as long as the times were good, the victories plenty, and food was plentiful.

    Even when the war turned for them, they did not desert Hitler. It was a love affair with the man. A cult.

    What we look for in a leader dear Roger is not a strong leader, but a leader of strength. One who is not naive and weak to the world (such as we now have).

    There is a difference between wanting a strong leader and a memorizing, public speaker. A big difference.

  3. To Ben and Findalis. With all due respect, you seem to have missed some of the major points of this essay -- particularly the first part. I believe that I was very clear about the inescabable culpability of the German people in WWII.I believe I was quite clear on what type of leader we were not looking for. I also believe that I was clear on who our present enemies are and what we have to do about them. I never intimated that we were being unfair, but rather that warfare itself, by its very nature, is unfair. You appear to be in that same spot that I was in yesterday -- adament in your convictions, certain of your judgment, either unable or unwilling to recognize or accept the moral quandry presented by people living under a totalitarian regime.

    In trying to come to grips with this moral dillema, I asked myself how I would have conducted my life under the iron fist of the Third Reich. And this question gave me pause. In all honesty I'm not certain of the answer. And this hint of uncertainty led me to question the valididy of my previous uncompromising condemnation of the entire German people.

    Does this mean that I'm ignoring that pervasive inherent anti-semitism in the German psyche? Does this mean that I absolve them of their undeniable and historical militarism? Or even their culpability in the Holocaust? Of course not -- even Julius Ceaser complained about Germans' militarism and love of warfare. Perhaps you are more certain of how you would have behaved living under the Third Reich than I am.
    Finally, I think perhaps you have mistaken my depiction of the enemy and the victim as being one and the same as somehow watering down my patriotic fervor. It doesn't. It hasn't. I believe that this concept, this duality of enemy and victim, athough apparently mutually exclusive, is nonetheless valid. I also believe, as I clearly stated, that Islam itself is the mortal enemy of the civilized world and must be either conquered or destroyed -- as the Third Reich was destroyed.

    And I believe that to accomplish this goal, many enemy lives are going to have to be sacrificed, and that some of these enemies will indeed be victims of their own regimes -- think Iran.

    Finally, if that incisive documentary caused me to question some of my long held opinions, to take a second look at my previous uncompromising condemnation of the entire German people, then I feel good about that. I am still growing.

  4. I commented earlier, but I guess it didn't get through. I'll try again.

    Having spent my military time in the 60s just outside of Nuremberg, I know the city well. At that time, I thought I saw traits in the Germans that I could relate to the Nazi mentality.

    In the late 60s, prodded by university students who demanded to know what their parents had done, W Germany began to confront the Nazi era and the country has since admitted the crimes and educated their children about the past. When I go back today, I see a different Germany, and I am able to discuss the Nazi era with Germans openly. I feel that Germany has become a very decent nation and they deserve credit for confronting the past, much like we have confronted our past with slavery and segregation. There are other nations that to this day have not fully confronted their own guilt in the crimes of WW2.

  5. A very thoughtful post Roger.

    People are quick to judge because they are often slow to appreciate the causes. I, like you, have studied the Germany of the inter war years and often find myself correcting others who have tended to miss certain facts. For instance, it is not widely known that there were at least 42 attempts on Hitlers life, which proves to me, that not all Germans were persuaded to tow the line!

    And in that vein, not all Muslims are prepared to suffer under Militant Islam. But, it is the brainwashing of the young Muslim that produces our common foe who are recruited from the madrassa or the mosque. While it is 'progressive' to argue, that the three main religions have a commonality which binds them, nothing could be further from the truth, as Islam is not a 'religion' in the true sense of the word.

    Like German National Socialism, Islam has to be defeated and then neutered to the point where it can no longer become militarized!

    And as you have pointed out, all is fair in love and war!

  6. A good point you have there Roger. We each need to grow a bit each day.

    What I was trying to suggest is the mentality of the German people of that era. They were raised to never question authority, to obey orders, and fed a set of lies that caused mass destruction of their nation. Funny, but the left is doing the same thing here.

    One must never question the President, never question the Congress (except the Republicans in it), and obey all the orders from the elites.

    What we need is a leader who rises above politics and cares more about this nation than his or her office.

    Until one comes along, I will pray for the salvation of this land.

  7. Roger, I understand what you are saying. I've lived in Germany and visited there many times. I agree with Gary that things are different there now. Having said that, I'm not sure the German people knew the extent of Hitler's plans. They believed in protecting their own race, but I don't think they knew "the plan." When people began disappearing, it changed everything. As stories flew about the people hauled out of their homes in the middle of the night and herded off (and not just Jews), it seemed almost incomprehensible.

    I understand this, and I think had I lived through it, I would hope I would have been a part of one of the undergrounds. One could not just "speak out." You would be dead, but you could work in the underground, and I hope I would have done so.

    There were so, so many brave people who quietly and courageously risked everything. Then there were those who knew they should and didn't because they didn't have the guts to do so. They've had to live with this. What do you tell your children, because as Gary said, the children asked.

    And it wasn't just Germany, it was Italy and France too. The quiet heroes who risked everything.

    You would have been one of those because, if you couldn't get out, that was the only way to combat the evil.

    While others fought and died for us, aren't we fortunate that we have never had to live among such disaster on our soil? We must keep our antennae up because things aren't looking too good right now.

  8. Maggie -- Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  9. As always, Roger, powerful thoughts.
    Thank you.