I was a strange little girl. The moment I heard about WW II, (I was quite young, since my grandfather served) I would stage mock battles of the Battle of the Bulge with stuffed animals and make dioramas punishing Hitler. It is a satisfying war, because there are clear villains.
But really, it only gets more complex when you get older. You know that certain beliefs are evil, but it was harder to know that Germany was, in great part, a country held hostage by power–hungry mad men. These hungry men were also very good at seduction. It was the state-level equivalent of marrying a charming sociopath who turns out to be a serial killer. The sad irony was that the Wehrmacht were very good at providing what they promised– but at a terrible cost. If one is desperate, and guided by circumstance rather than principle, one can overlook those sorts of horrors. At least, until one has dispensed with the trivialities of eating. Though a very sophisticated country, it was very desperate country thanks to the ‘concessions’ of WWI.
I learned more about WW II than anywhere else in a mental institution. There I met a boy who believed that Hitler was the greatest man who ever lived. What might surprise people was that he was not a racist, or even an avowed member of some organization based on racial superiority. He did not even think that white people (or, let’s face it anglo saxons–or nordic races: there are plenty of us who are ‘white’ that a self-respecting Nazi would spit on.) were necessarily superior. He thought that particular part of Hitler’s “grand vision” needed some refining. He always said that making Jews the enemy was brilliant– but only because they had all the money one needed to jump-start the German economy. And jump-starting a whole society is more important than a small, isolated and self-serving group of wealthy businessmen, right? So, why not?
If this logic doesn’t chill your blood… I don’t know what to tell you. See a doctor– or a priest.
Nope. He really wasn’t a racist. What he was, was a well-read pragmatist who had no moral qualms about eugenics. Basically, his argument was that Hitler was closer to any other leader in history to delivering to his people what they wanted– whatever the cost. And, until his mind started deteriorating from syphilis, he was brilliant at it. He turned the function and admiration of the State into a well honed state religion. There was a time, when living in Nazi Germany could be a pleasant thing. Especially if you had been starving, out of work, and paying great bundles of cash– if you had it– for a loaf of bread.
The Jews didn’t see it coming, because the Renaissance took place even before heads started to roll. They were used to ugly looks and bad words in their direction, and there was nothing on the visible platform that bothered them. Keep in mind, what Sarah said also applies, but I think there were a complex of factors that are worthy of examination.
Also, because there weren’t instantaneous communications, it was easy to hide– for a while at least– that some people just didn’t make it home. Sure there was propaganda, but everyone told themselves that it was only the extremists rattling their sabers, needing someone to blame for what happened. This charade was drawn out by saying that these undesirables were being shipped out of the country. Most Germans– and most Jews believed this. So they went willingly onto the cattle cars, figuring that it was an efficient way to avoid the problem. Except… it was a lie.
It will shed much light to recognize that this boy was also a BIG fan of Machiavelli. Indeed that is his whole modus operandi for loving Hitler. Because he was the most prominent, most faithful follower of this criminal mastermind, who wrote the book for leadership by criminal masterminds. If there was ever a justification for book burning, his how-to manual for being an awesome, well loved, yet brutal and totally dishonest autocrat is one of them. You will note next to no similarities between this and reading Wealth of Nations. Just saying.
However, if you want a truly evil villain and are running low on inspiration, it’s a great read for seeing evil in action “for the greater good”–his. Or hers, even. There are all sorts of great gems here about decision making. So now that we now know what truly ostentatious evil looks like, lets go for something a bit more subtle.
Who was the real bad-guy in WW I ? Those in Europe would probably say royalty as a concept. My husband would say Woodrow Wilson. I would point out that he didn’t start WW I. He would say, “Yeah, well he ended it by setting up WW II.” Ol’ Cold Willy’s actions do inspire one to declare lifelong fealty to Franz Josef of Austria. Or who knows, maybe I read too much Zmirak to be quite sane. I’m not actually a monarchist– yet. I still believe that a Republic can work. But we must return to something closer to what our Founding Fathers intended.
Because, in case you haven’t read “Extraordinarily Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, an unruly democracy will, if left unchecked, becomes indistinguishable from tyranny in the worst sense. I argue we are mighty close to that, if he haven’t fallen off that cliff already. That’s what happened in France during/after the Revolution. The unruly Founding Americans managed to avoid this because they were already well versed in statecraft and also had seen the worst mob rule had to offer. Many of them were on good terms with France, and had seen the ugly result while struggling with these questions. They lived on the border between civilization and chaos– chaos being defined by the fact that they were 13 tiny colonies clinging to the edge of a vast frontier messily divided up among hostile foreign powers.
The Founders were dealing with realities. The French were inflicting ideas on reality, convinced the grand design would just work. Also, the Founders, by and large, wanted to create a place where one could just go back to farming. In reality they were conserving a life they already knew from the incursion of an outside other. That, being “the madness of King George”. The French, while they chopped off the heads of the old empire, still dreamed of replacing it with their own new utopia. This is an undiscovered country, even more so than the future– because you can generally count on the sun to rise in the morning with an ordinary future. But utopia is ultimately a stranger, an alien thing where anything seems possible. Our naive culture thinks this is a good thing. Let me put it this way. Thomas More gave us that term. It means “no place”, and much greater suffering results when people forget those small, ugly facts. It is arguable that he was killed for it.
Nazi Germany was merely the reanimated corpse of the Weimar Republic. It fed off the life and treasure of it’s own people, and it’s entire economic structure required expansion, the pilfering of other nations and empire to keep the goods coming. Going back to the insane assylem for a minute. Because the poor boy was insane and not especially good at economic logic, he did not recognize that the greatest disease of his hero was not his misplaced hatred or even his ravening insanity. It was using a destructive, unsustainable financial system to save a starving people. By bribing some of them and killing off others. This is the ultimate zero sum game.
You may be screaming at me that of course the death camps were the worst feature. Certainly they are the worst outward sign. We have confused the most terrible symptom for the disease. But I tell you what made Nazism so terrible was that it required death camps. The endless stream of cash required to keep the National Socialist engine running was the lifeblood of every productive human being within reach.
Hating Jews was just an excuse to get the public sanction to remove them from view so they could be taken a part and squeezed for every drop of monetary value they had. Whatever taxes a given population would willingly give couldn’t be enough for the level of redistribution they used to buy the loyalty of his constituents. Sounds disturbingly familiar, doesn’t it?
That is how top heavy the economic situation was, and it was mostly a vacuum of any economic value inside the country– save it’s people, and whatever wealth they may have. Once those become the state’s responsibility, every one of those becomes another mouth to feed. In Germany’s case, the total absence of any kind of monetary value was due to the crippling sanctions demanded from them by the rest of Europe– notably the French, the English, and the United States.
These demands came out of WWI. Europe had lost her innocence, a whole generation of good men and energetic women, and her great hope in an optimistic future. The full brunt of the horrors of industrialization were made painfully evident, and sucked out the soul of the whole continent. For this catastrophic loss, they made Germany pay. They merely demanded all of her output for themselves. Woodrow Wilson especially pushed for the punishment of Germany– but then he wanted everyone to suffer. But at least it gave him some ammunition to use back home.
One could argue that our shuffling Democracy is still suffering the consequences of his rule. Europe certainly has, for WW II nationalized Germany’s great despair. Europe stared too long and saw too much in that abyss. Thus she give up all hope for humanity- or God. Though I argue that she was set up for this devastating blow by having talked herself out of hope and God by the time WW I rattled to it’s universal defeat. All that was necessary was to verify the most cynical conclusions derived from the previous war.
But these two wars helped define modern life in ways the brainiacs of the Enlightenment could never hope to understand. Because while some were indifferent to the God of Hosts, and referred him to stay remote and unknown, they also knew that an absence of such would lead to great horrors. The modern nihilist says, “we already have horrors. What’s a few more? What does it matter?” It did not seem to occur to them that the specter of the primacy of words (with variable meaning) could ever return to primacy in the mind of mankind, after her thorough inculcation of Right Reason.
Perhaps someone needs to send Europe the memo. While we did kill God (so Nietzsche did get something right) , but God did not die. We just casually decided He didn’t exist.