Posts Tagged ‘Adolf Hitler’

No, Trump is Not a Fascist

July 28, 2018

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. He is not attempting to establish a Fascist dictatorship in America. There is not a rising tide of Fascism in the United States. No mainstream politician of either political party is anything like Hitler or any other dictator. I shouldn’t have to write these obvious and common sense statements but the lunatic notion that we on on the verge of a Trump Fascist dictatorship has migrated beyond the fever swamps of the unhinged left and is becoming the consensus opinion in the Democratic Party.

One might suppose that the fact that the people who are calling Donald Trump a fascist are not currently in a concentration camp awaiting execution might be sufficient evidence to disprove the idea that Trump is any kind of a dictator and perhaps only the most delusional leftist believes that the dictatorship os already established. Instead, there are numerous articles in left wing sites like Slate or Huffington Post detailing all the ways in which this or that policy of Trump’s is what a Fascist would do and is a sign that we are far down the road to dictatorship, even if we haven’t quite reached the destination yet.

I have no interest in trying to refute these kinds of articles. Any democratically elected leader could be made to seem a potential dictator my making superficial comparisons in policies. Any government, whether democratic or not, has the same sort of problems to resolve, often with similar solutions and even the most despotic government has to maintain basic infrastructure. Nazi Germany was a world leader in legislation to protect the environment and discourage cruelty to animals. Does that mean that an American politician who supports such legislation is a Nazi? Of course not.

It might be more useful to compare the first year and a half of Adolf Hitler’s regime with the Trump administration to see whether or not Trump is indeed taking down the road to Fascism.

  • January 30, 1933-Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor.
  • February 28-Hitler given emergency powers after the Reichstag fire.
  • March 22-First concentration camp opened in Dachau.
  • March 24-Enabling act passed giving all legislative power to the Chancellor.
  • April 7-German civil service purged of Jews and Communists. Central government takes control of states ending German federalism.
  • April 26-Gestapo created in the state of Prussia
  • May 2-Trade unions banned.
  • July 14-All political parties except for the National Socialists banned. Germany becomes a one party state.
  • November 30-Gestapo given authority throughout Germany.
  • June 30-July 2 1934-Night of the Long Knives. Enemies of Hitler both within the Nazi Party and outside murdered. Hitler gains uncontested power in Germany
  • August 2-President Hindenburg dies. Office of President combined with Chancellor making Hitler head of state as well as the head of government.

As you can see, Hitler began the process of gaining absolute power in Germany almost as soon as he was made Chancellor. WIthin a year of his appointment, Hitler already had the powers of a dictator, banning opposition parties and imprisoning critics of his regime. By the time Hitler was in power for eighteen or nineteen months, he was the Führer, the absolute master of Germany.

Meanwhile, in the year and a half that Donald Trump has been president, he has done none of these things, not one. Trump has not been given emergency powers. He has not opened concentration camps for dissidents nor has he gained control of the media. The Democratic Party has not been banned and none of the “Never Trump” Republicans has been murdered. If Donald Trump aspires to be a dictator, he is taking an awful long time to go about it.

Does it matter that millions of Americans are convinced that we are on the verge of a Fascist dictatorship? I think it does matter quite a lot. In order for democracy to work the loser of an election must concede power to the winner. The faction out of power may oppose the policies of the faction in power, acting as the loyal opposition, but they ought not to question the legitimacy of the government itself. The faction in power must not use its political power to punish the losers. There has to be a certain level of trust between all the participants in the process that the opposition are not the enemy but fellow patriots who happen to have different ideas and priorities. There also has to be a certain willingness of various factions both in and out of power to compromise with one another or to participate in the give and take of democratic politics. If you believe the the other people are Nazis or Fascists or whatever, then you don’t compromise with them, you fight them. If the party in power are Fascists bent on creating a dictatorship, you do not act as the loyal opposition, but as the Resistance. If the party out of power are Nazis waiting for the chance to seize power, you do not treat them as the loyal opposition but as traitors potentially guilty of sedition. Either way, the normal rules no longer apply and the enemy has to be fought by any means necessary, including violence.

If we keep going on the path we have been, it won’t be long before large numbers of people will believe that violence is an acceptable means to effect political change. If political unrest and violence become the norm, we really will end up with the dictatorship Trump’s critics claim to fear. People crave security and public order, even over liberty and if constitutional government cannot provide the security they need, they will turn to a strongman who can. Remember, people turned to Hitler and Mussolini because they seemed to be the only people in Germany and Italy who had their act together.

Maybe part of the reason that so many people want to believe that Trump is a dictator is because they feel it is somehow exciting to be part of the Resistance fighting for liberty against the Evil Empire. This is definitely one of those cases where people should be careful what they wish for. Believe me, you do not want to live in a country that is tearing itself apart. You do not want to live in a country in which a dictator seems like the best option available. There are many places in the world in which dictatorship and civil strife are real threats. Let’s not let America become one of them.

 

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The Rise of Adolf Hitler

June 8, 2016

In my last post, I described how this internet meme was particularly ignorant because Donald Trump is not anything like Adolf Hitler and the social and political circumstances of Weimar Germany is nothing like contemporary America.

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It is also ignorant because the creator seems to know next to nothing about the rise of Adolf Hitler. The conventional idea about the rise of Hitler is that he was swept into office by a tidal wave of popular enthusiasm. That is certainly the story told by Nazi propagandists who were eager to cast Hitler as the embodiment of the Aryan racial will. The truth is somewhat different. Hitler gained power in Germany by taking advantage of certain features of the Weimar constitution which made it possible for someone like him to seize power and of the foolishness and timidity of his opponents who consistently underestimated him.

For most of the 1920’s the Nazis were very much a fringe party in German politics. Although a great many Germans essentially agreed with Hitler’s ideas about Jews, Aryans, the Versailles Treaty, and other matters, the Nazis seemed to be too lawless, violent, and, well, extreme, to appeal to the German middle class, especially after the hyper-inflation of the early Weimar years had ended and Germany shared in the general prosperity of the roaring 20’s. The Nazis were lucky to get 3% of the vote, when they were allowed to run at all. The Nazi Party was actually banned in many parts of Germany after the Beer Hall Putsch and because of the violent antics of the SA Stormtroopers.

This changed after the stock market crash of October, 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. Germany was as hard hit by the Depression as every other industrialized country and as the German people became increasingly desperate, they were more willing to listen to people thought extreme only a year before. In addition, the increasing strength of the German Communist Party among the working class frightened many members of the middle class, who feared that a Communist victory would lead to a Soviet style dictatorship. Many Germans came to believe, perhaps rightly, that Hitler was the lesser evil.

In the September, 1930 Reichstag election the Nazis won 18.25% of the vote, going from 12 to 107 of the 577 seats, making them the second largest party in the Reichstag. The third largest party was the German Communist Party which had won 77 seats. Germany was in the peculiar position of having two of the largest political parties in its parliament dedicated to overthrowing the government and unwilling to join any coalition or participate in the cabinet. Both the Nazis and the Communists tried their best to disrupt the functioning of the government both in the Reichstag and in battles in the streets. Curiously, this policy of disruption helped rather than hurt the Nazis. With the quasi-military discipline of the SA and their well organized rallies, the Nazis were able to give the impression that they were the only people who had their act together in a nation that was falling apart.

The incumbent Chancellor, Heinrich Bruning, had the support of President Hindenburg and was able to put together a coalition composed of his Catholic Center Party and some other conservative parties. Bruning did not have a majority, however, and it became increasingly necessary for the president to use his emergency powers to permit the government to continue to function.

Hindenburg’s seven year term was set to end in 1932. Hindenburg was 84 years old and did not really want to serve a second term as president. He only decided to run for reelection because he feared that Hitler, who he detested, might be able to defeat any other candidate. The first round of the presidential election was held on March 13, and Hindenburg won, but with only 49.6% of the vote, necessitating a second round which was held on April 10. This time, Hindenburg won with 53% of the vote. Hitler was second with 36.8%.

Bruning’s government fell on May 30 and Hindenburg appointed Franz von Papen to be Chancellor. Papen had almost no support in the Reichstag, even from his own Catholic Center Party which regarded him as a traitor, but he did have the full support of President Hindenburg and using Article 48, was able to rule as a virtual dictator. Papen lifted Bruning’s ban on the SS and SA and indicated that he was willing to work with Hitler and the Nazis. This appeasement worked about as well for Papen as it later would at Munich, Hitler would not cooperate or join in any coalition unless he were named Chancellor. New elections were called for July 31.

In the July 31, 1932 election, the Nazis got 37.27% of the popular vote, the most the Nazis would ever get in a fair and free election. This was enough to get them 230 seats in the Reichstag, out of the total 608, making the Nazis the largest single party. The Communists were third with 89 seats, so the majority of the members of the Reichstag now belonged to parties dedicated to overthrowing the Weimar Republic. This made forming any coalition impossible and Papen continued to govern with the use of presidential decrees. Papen was not popular either in the Reichstag or with the German public and in September 1932, he was obliged to have Hindenburg dissolve the Reichstag and call for new elections on November 6.

The Nazis lost seats in this election. They got only 33.09% of the popular vote and dropped to 196 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis were still the largest party, but it seemed as though they were beginning to lose momentum to the Communists who now held 100 seats. The party treasury was depleted and it is possible that if another election had been called within the next few months, the Nazis would have lacked the resources to maintain their position. However, the Nazis were to be saved by good fortune and the weakness of their opposition.

Papen resigned as Chancellor and was replaced by his defense minister, Kurt von Schleicher on December 3. Schleicher proved to be incapable of governing and resigned on January 23. Meanwhile, Papen had approached Hitler, proposing to convince President Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor in return for Papen being Vice-Chancellor. Hitler agreed and Papen was eventually able to persuade a reluctant Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor on January 30, 1933.It might seem to unwise for Papen to allow a dangerous demagogue like Hitler to have any position of power and Papen may be justly condemned for enabling Hitler’s rise to power, but Papen believed that Hitler would be in a weak position as Chancellor. The Nazis did not have a majority in the Reichstag and only held only three posts in the eleven member cabinet, the Chancellorship and two relatively unimportant posts. Hitler did not possess, as Papen did, the confidence of President Hindenburg. Hitler would be a figurehead, useful for rallying the masses behind the government’s policies, but contained, while Vice-Chancellor Papen would be the real power, or so he thought.

Hitler had no intention of being contained. What Papen and others did not understand was that Hitler did not wish to become Chancellor only to work within the system. He planned to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Hitler’s experience in the Beerhall Putsch had taught him that it was useless to fight a revolution against the power of a modern state. Instead, Hitler planned to use the German state to make his revolution.

The Reichstag had been dissolved when Hindenburg had appointed Hitler Chancellor so new elections were called for March 5, 1933. These latest elections were held in the wake of the Reichstag fire on February 27. Although the Nazis probably didn’t start the fire, as many suspected, the Nazis quickly made use of the arrest of a deranged Dutch Communist to instigate a national panic of an imminent Communist revolution. The next day, President Hindenburg issued the Decree for the Protection of the People and State, granting Hitler emergency powers to deal with the supposed insurrection. Hitler did not ban the Communist Party and any other opposition to the Nazis but they were harassed and their leaders arrested. The Nazis and their allies were backed by the full power of the state by the next election and the Nazis got 43.91% of the popular vote giving them 288 out of 647 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis still did not have a majority, even though they were in control of the electoral process and had used the Brownshirts to provoke violence on the streets and at opposing parties’ meetings. The Nazis formed a coalition with the German National People’s Party and with the support of the Catholic Center Party was able to pass the Enabling Act, giving all legislative power to the Chancellor on March 24, 1933.

Hitler quickly established a totalitarian dictatorship over Germany, outlawing all political parties except for the Nazis and imprisoning anyone who dared to oppose the new order. By the next elections in November 1933, the Nazis won in a landslide 92.11% of the vote gaining all 661 seats in the Reichstag. Considering that the Nazis were the only party permitted to run and it was hinted that voting against the Nazis, or refusing to vote at all might have unpleasant repercussions, the surprising thing is that 7.89% of the German voters actually submitted blank ballots in protest.

The 86-year President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934 and Hitler arranged to abolish the office of President and assume its power in his own person as Führer and Reich Chancellor. The Weimar Republic was over and the Third Reich had begun.

Trump is not Hitler, We are not Weimar

June 6, 2016

I am normally a strong advocate for freedom of speech and naturally I oppose the censorship of any type of speech no matter how offensive it may be. I would like to make one exception to this rule. I think that anyone who compares any American politician to Adolf Hitler, or any other totalitarian dictator should be punished, perhaps with a flogging. There are no figures in American politics that are even remotely like Hitler and such a comparison is not only ridiculous but an insult to those people who really have suffered, or are presently suffering under the rule of a dictator.

According to some, Donald Trump is the latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler.

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This is simply ignorant. The political system and social conditions of Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920’s and 30’s were very different from the circumstances in twenty-first century America. While the creators of the Weimar Republic intended to form a liberal, democratic republic, there were certain aspects of the German constitution which made it easier for a potential dictator like Hitler to seize power than is the case in the United States. Also, Hitler did not gain power in Germany in quite the way that is popularly believed. Hitler did not become the Führer by being swept into power by a vast popular movement. Rather, Hitler was made Chancellor as a result of a backroom deal with politicians who thought they could use him.

The government of the German Weimar Republic was a multi-party parliamentary system. The German parliament was bicameral with the lower house, the Reichstag, having considerably more power than the upper house, the Reichsrat. The Reichsrat represented the various federal states of Germany and was largely advisory. The members of the Reichstag were elected by universal suffrage, using the principle of proportional representation. Voters voted for national party lists of candidates and each party received the number of seats in the Reichstag proportional to its share of the national vote. This system encouraged the formation of small, splinter parties since a party could appeal to a small segment of the population and still get seats in the Reichstag.  Because of the large number of parties, each seeming to want to turn Germany in a different direction, it proved to be difficult to form lasting coalitions with the result that the Reichstag became ineffective, particularly after the Great Depression began.

The leader of the Reichstag and head of the cabinet was the Chancellor. He was the head of government and the one responsible for getting legislation passed. The head of state was the President, who had considerable power of his own. He was the head of the armed forces and could dissolve the Reichstag, leading to new elections within sixty days. Under Article 48 of the constitution, the president had the power to rule by decree in an emergency. Article 48 was one of the tools Hitler used to seize absolute power in Germany though the last president of the Republic, the aging war hero Paul von Hindenburg also used Article 48 extensively as the Reichstag proved increasingly unable to act. In a sense then, Hitler did not create a dictatorship in Germany so much as step into a dictatorship already made.

 

The political and social circumstances of the late Weimar Republic and the twenty-first century United States couldn’t be more different. Elections in the United States use the single member, first past the post system. Each Congressional district elects one Representative, with whoever gets a plurality of the vote gaining the seat. Every state elects two Senators, but no state elects both its Senators in the same election and again whoever gets the most votes wins. The presidency is a little more complicated because of the electoral college, but the same principle applies. This system tends to empower a majority at the expense of the minority since the candidate with 50.1% of the vote wins and the 49.9% who voted for the other candidate may feel disenfranchised. This system also has the effect of encouraging large, broad-based political parties and coalitions since a political party needs to appeal to a majority at least in some regions in order to get any seats in Congress. This first past the post system makes it very difficult for any third party to gain power since, unlike a proportional system, they cannot get any power unless they outright win an election. This makes it very unlikely that a fringe party like the Nazis could get anywhere in American politics. A would-be Hitler would have to run as a Democrat or Republican, and he would have to persuade the majority of American voters to elect him, something the Nazis never managed to do in Germany.

Even if a Hitler managed to become president, it doesn’t seem likely that he would make himself into a dictator. The constitution contains no provisions for a president to assume emergency, dictatorial powers and I think that a president who made an overt attempt to declare himself Führer would meet with a lot more opposition than Hitler had. Remember that a great many Germans detested the Weimar constitution as something imposed upon them by the “November Criminals” who surrendered Germany at the end of World War I. A large number of Germans, perhaps a majority, felt that the Weimar government was somehow illegitimate, and Hitler wasn’t the only one calling for its overthrow. I do not think that a candidate who openly proposed scrapping the American constitution in favor of a socialist dictatorship would have much support. Certainly none of the current presidential candidates are calling for the government to be overthrown. Bernie Sanders may call himself a socialist, but he is quick to add that he is a democratic socialist who wants to expand the welfare state, not a revolutionary who is going to impose a Hugo Chavez style dictatorship. Donald Trump may have only the vaguest of notions about the constitutional separation of powers, but he isn’t saying he wants to be the Führer.

Hitler came to power in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic climate of the past century. We are not currently even in a recession. It may be true that America’s recovery from the last recession has been rather lackluster but the economy is nowhere near as bad as it was then. There are people who have been displaced by the processes of globalization and advancing technology, but their plight is not even close to the suffering of the Great Depression. The United States has not recently lost a war in which a generation had been decimated and we have not had a humiliating treaty with crippling reparations imposed upon his. America in 2016 is simply not an environment in which a Hitler is likely to thrive, nor is Donald Trump anything at all like Hitler in ideology, politics, or mannerisms. As I said before, this internet meme is simply ignorant.

 

Mein Kampf in Germany

January 3, 2016

Hitler’s best-selling book Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, will soon be published in Germany for the first time since the end of World War II. After Hitler’s death at the end of that war, his estate, including the German copyright to Mein Kampf, was taken over by the Bavarian government and it, along with the federal government of Germany has not permitted the publication of Mein Kampf in Germany. It is not actually illegal to own a copy of Hitler’s book, but the German government has tried its best to limit its availability.

As German copyright law permits a book to pass into the public domain seventy years after the death of the author, Mein Kampf will soon be available for publication once more and some scholars are taking advantage of this development by releasing a new, annotated version to the German public.

For 70 years since the Nazi defeat in World War II, copyright law has been used in Germany to prohibit the publication of “Mein Kampf” — the notorious anti-Semitic tome in which Adolf Hitler set out his ideology.

That will change next month when a new edition with critical commentary, the product of several years’ work by a publicly funded institute, hits the shelves.

While historians say it could help fill a gap in Germans’ knowledge of the era, Jewish groups are wary and German authorities are making it clear that they still won’t tolerate any new “Mein Kampf” without annotations.

Under German law, a copyright expires at the end of the year 70 years after an author’s death — in this case, Hitler’s April 30, 1945, suicide in a Berlin bunker as the Soviet army closed in. That means Bavaria’s state finance ministry, which holds the copyright, can no longer use it to prevent the work’s publication beyond Dec. 31.

The book has been published in several other countries; in the U.S., for example, Bavaria never controlled the copyright.

In Germany, many argue that holding back “Mein Kampf” merely created mystique around the book. The idea of at least a partial version with critical commentary for the German market dates back as far as the late 1960s. The Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History, which is behind the new version, sought and was denied permission to produce the book in the mid-1990s when it published a volume of Hitler’s speeches.

Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” — or “My Struggle” — after he was jailed following the failed 1923 coup attempt known as the Beer Hall Putsch. Millions of copies were printed after the Nazis took power in 1933.

The rambling tome set out Hitler’s ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-communist ideology for his National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi party, airing the idea of a war of conquest in eastern Europe.

“The book should not be underestimated as a historical source and also as a key to understanding the history of National Socialism,” the director of the Munich institute, Andreas Wirsching, said ahead of the new edition’s mid-January publication.

“Among serious historians in Germany, you won’t find one who is against a commented edition and hasn’t been calling for one for years,” said Sven Felix Kellerhoff, a journalist with the daily Die Welt and a historian who has written about “Mein Kampf” himself. “That goes from conservatives to the left.”

Jewish opinion varies. The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, says that knowledge of “Mein Kampf” is important in explaining Nazism and the Holocaust — so “we do not object to a critical edition, contrasting Hitler’s racial theories with scientific findings, to be at the disposal of research and teaching.”

One of his predecessors is more critical. Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor who heads Munich’s Jewish community, says she trusts the expertise of the institute’s researchers but doubts that the new edition will achieve its aim of “demystifying and taking apart ‘Mein Kampf.'”

It is likely to awaken interest “not in the commentary, but the original — and that remains highly dangerous,” Knobloch said. “It could still have an impact because both of the core ideas are timeless: ultranationalism and racism.”

 

This shouldn’t really be controversial. Mein Kampf did play a role in recent German history and I don’t think there is any real harm in publishing an annotated edition of the book. In general, I think that trying to ban a book or a movie only draws attention to the material the censor is trying to ban. Human nature being what it is, that which is forbidden automatically becomes more attractive. Since private ownership of Mein Kampf was never illegal and since Germans could find copies online for the last two decades, making a fuss over Hitler’s book seems counterproductive.

Anyway, I doubt if this new and annotated version of Mein Kampf, will lead to a revival of Nazism in Germany. I don’t imagine that many of the Germans who originally joined the Nazi party were convinced by reading Mein Kampf. Hitler wasn’t a particularly original political theorist, though he did prove to be a genius in propaganda and mass psychology, and most of the ideas presented in Mein Kampf were similar to views held by many educated Germans. Hitler himself did not take Mein Kampf all that seriously. Writing the book was largely a means to get needed income while he was in prison. The rise of Hitler was due more to his charisma and the economic and social conditions of Weimar Germany. For many Germans, it seemed as if the more mainstream political parties did not care about their welfare and were eager to sell Germany out to its enemies. If the German authorities are concerned about the rise of extreme nationalist movements in Germany, they might want to study the lessons of Hitler’s rise to power and take care not to make the same sort of mistakes the Weimar authorities did with Hitler.

  • Switzerland Asserts its National Identity in Right-Wing Election Victory (safehaven.com) We are going to see more of this in the next few years. If the mainstream French, German or British political parties cannot convince their people that they care about France, Germany, or Britain than foreign refugees or the increasingly unpopular and unworkable European Union, the people will turn to the extremists.

Hitler’s Illness

October 26, 2015

Not long ago, I wrote about how Vladimir Lenin‘s poor health and untimely death after a series of strokes drastically effected the course of Soviet, and world, history. This time I want to write a little on how Adolf Hitler’s state of health influence the decisions he made just before and during World War II and whether his judgement was affected by  illness. Hitler clearly was not in very good health towards the end of World War II and it seems likely that even if the Germans had won the war, Hitler would not have lived to enjoy his Third Reich for very long. The precise nature of any illness that Hitler suffered from is unclear since he is not available for a medical examination and his body was not autopsied. There has been much speculation about Hitler’s health in the decades since his death, with theories that Hitler was afflicted with syphilis, suffered from the ministrations of his personal physician; a quack named Theodor Morell, or simply was consumed with the crushing stress of leading a losing war. The most likely theory to explain Hitler’s symptoms is that Hitler suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, as related in this article from the Daily Mail that I read recently.

Parkinson’s disease may have played a crucial role in Adolf Hitler’s defeat, according to a controversial new study.

The research claims the neurological disease influenced some of the dictator’s biggest decisions, making him reckless and ultimately losing World War II.

But it also goes a step further to say that Hitler’s horrific and inhumane murders were also influenced by his disease, exaggerating his ‘volatile temperament’.

The study was led by Raghav Gupta and a team at the University of Pittsburgh and recently published in the journal World Neurosurgery.

‘The possibility of Hitler suffering from Parkinson’s has long been the subject of debate,’ writes Gupta.

‘Video evidence depicts that Hitler exhibited progressive motor function deterioration from 1933 to 1945.’

By the end of his life, Hitler had a pronounced tremor in his hands, particularly his left hand, which has caused a number of scientists to question whether he had the disease.

Parkinson’s can also cause a slow gait, bent posture and a dull stare, along with cognitive disorders such as a lack of imagination and a general apathy.

The researchers suggest that Hitler’s condition may have led him to attack Russia prematurely in 1941, according to a report in Discover.

A previous study claimed that Hitler’s decision to invade Russia, before defeating Britain on the western front, was a direct result of his failing health.

The study points to other bad decisions of Hitler’s such the failure to defend Normandy in 1944, alongside keeping his forces in Stalingrad in 1942.

They say this was the result of the dictator’s ‘volatile temperament’ which may have been aggravated by his Parkinson’s.

The study also goes on to suggest that Hitler’s lack of remorse and sympathy can be associated with his Parkinson’s.

Assuming that Hitler did indeed suffer from Parkinson’s disease, how did it affect his judgement and the outcome of the war?

Did he have Parkinson's Disease?

Did he have Parkinson’s Disease?

 Hitler always was something of a gambler and a risk taker, preferring to improvise rather than making elaborate plans. This willingness to risk everything on a single throw of the dice, as it were, helped Hitler immeasurably during his rise to power in Germany and in the early years of his rule, especially since he could also be patient when it was necessary. Up until around 1937 Hitler was largely successful in obtaining his goals both inside Germany and in Germany’s relations with its neighbors. Germany seemed to have largely recovered from the Great Depression and regained its place as one of the leading nations of Germany. Had Hitler stopped then, he would possibly be regarded as a great statesman.  After 1937, Hitler seemed to become more impatient and reckless.

Consider the timeline leading up to the Second World War. In March 1938, Germany invaded and annexed Austria. Almost immediately, Hitler began pressing for the session of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia on the grounds that the majority of the population were ethnic Germans and therefore the region rightly belonged to Germany. After the Munich agreement in September 1938, the Germans occupied and annexed the Sudetenland. Then in March 1939 Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Then Hitler demanded that Poland cede the city of Danzig to Germany and when Poland refused, he ordered the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, beginning World War II. Now, each step of Hitler’s path to the war was in itself reasonable and could perhaps be justified in terms of Germany’s national interest. No one in Europe really wanted a war, even Hitler. If he had allowed more time to elapse between his conquests, it is likely that he would have continued to lull France and Great Britain into inactivity. As it was, one move after another in quick succession thoroughly alarmed both Britain and France. They might have gone to war in any case after the invasion of Poland, but if Hitler had waited perhaps longer between conquests, Germany might have been more prepared for the war. As it was, the war really started too early for Germany. The Germans had been rearming almost since the Nazis had gained power but it would have been better if Hitler could have put it off until around 1942 or 1943, especially since Mussolini had advised Hitler that Italy could not be ready for war until at least 1945. Why the hurry?

By the end of 1940, Hitler had defeated France and was the master of continental Europe with only Britain still opposing him. Then on June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. This was not an entirely unreasonable course of action for Germany. Hitler had good reason to suspect that Stalin was biding his time waiting for the capitalist powers to exhaust themselves in war before swooping in to bring the revolution to Europe. Moreover, Stalin’s purges had badly weakened the Red Army and Hitler could reasonably consider that it would be better to invade before Russia recovered its strength. Still, why the hurry when Hitler was still at war with Great Britain and it was increasingly obvious that it was only a matter of time before the United States intervened? Surely Hitler could have waited another year. By that time the morale of the British people would likely to have decreased to the point that they would have been extremely receptive to some peace proposal. The Germans had also wasted valuable time in the spring and early summer of 1941 assisting Italy after its disastrous invasion of Yugoslavia. Why couldn’t Hitler have waited until the spring of 1942 to begin his invasion of Russia, giving the Germans plenty of time to conquer as much territory as possible before the cruel Russian winter began.

I suppose the answer is that Hitler knew by 1938 that he was not especially well and that he perhaps did not have much time left. It may be that the best thing Hitler could have done for the Third Reich would have been to retire from the day to day running of the country and appoint a successor. The problem is that Fuehrers really can’t retire, and Hitler was not willing to be known to history as the predecessor to the man who created the thousand year Reich. He did not want to play the role of Phillip the Macedonian to another man’s Alexander the Great.

It is a little strange that Hitler’s increasingly obvious lapses in judgment towards the end of the war did not lead to some sort of coup. There were attempts to assassinate the Fuhrer, most notably the plot by Army officers led by Claus von Stauffenberg, but no attempts to seize power by the members of Hitler’s inner circle who had direct knowledge of his increasing inability to lead the Third Reich. They schemed among themselves for Hitler’s favor right up to the end, but none of them ever seem to have seriously considered replacing him. Perhaps they realized that they were not strong personalities in themselves and their fates were inextricably tied to Hitler’s.

Whatever the precise nature of Hitler’s illness, I think we can all be grateful that Hitler did suffer from ill health that made him more impatient and reckless. A healthier Hitler might have been a more rational Hitler better able to lead his nation in war and peace and perhaps more likely to succeed in his goals. It maybe that Hitler’s illness is the major reason Nazi Germany is not the leading world power to this day.

More on Himmler

April 27, 2015

I have finished reading the book about the Heinrich Himmler and I find that I have a few more thoughts to add to my previous post about the Nazi leader. First, I wanted to get a better idea about what Himmler and his fellow Nazis looked like so I looked at some videos on YouTube. It is really surprising and a little depressing to see that many pro-Nazi comments are left on these videos. I realize that internet commenters are not generally among the most discerning of people but somehow I didn’t expect that the Nazis had so many fans. I have to admit that they were masters of crowd psychology. The sight of rows of people in smart uniforms marching in step to the music of the Horst Wessel Song is strangely compelling. I could understand wanting to march alongside them, if I didn’t know about the corruption and the brutality at the heart of the Nazi regime.

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Second, the hold that Adolf Hitler had over the minds of his inner circle was truly astonishing. Even in the final days of the Nazi regime, the Nazi leaders were intriguing and fighting  among themselves for Hitler’s favor, as if it really mattered who was closest to the Fuehrer when the Russians were on the outskirts of Berlin. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic made more sense. It never seemed to occur to any of Hitler’s associates that as Germany was beginning to lose the war, it might be a good idea to remove Hitler from power. The attempt to assassinate and overthrow Hitler’s government in June of 1944 was perpetrated by Wehrmacht generals and others opposed to Hitler. Heinrich Himmler knew that the war was lost by the winter of 1943 to 1944. He was also aware that Hitler was very ill, both physically and mentally and was no longer really able to lead Germany. Some of Himmler’s associates including his personal masseur, Felix Kersten, suggested that Himmler try to get Hitler to retire from the active management of the Reich. Himmler would not hear of it. He did open up clandestine peace negotiations with the Allies with the help of Kersten, but Himmler knew that Hitler would not approve of the negotiations and he only pursued them halfheartedly. With the backing of the SS, Himmler was probably the only man in Germany who could have orchestrated a successful coup against Hitler and he knew that that was the only way to save Germany from defeat, yet he could not do it.

I think the reason for this loyalty that Hitler’s subordinates exhibited is that none of them were really strong in themselves. None of them, with the possible exception of Herman Goering could ever have risen to a position of power or prominence without Hitler and without Hitler, they were nothing. I imagine that Hitler preferred to have mediocrities working for him as they were less of a threat, though perhaps talented people weren’t drawn to Hitler in the early days of the Nazi movement. Hitler also liked to set his lieutenants against each other by giving them overlapping spheres of responsibility and discouraging them from working together. It would be interesting to contrast Hitler’s approach to leadership to Abraham Lincoln and his team of rivals.

Third, I have been thinking about what I said about Himmler in the earlier post. I stated that Himmler was able to order the destruction of millions of lives because he really thought he was doing the right thing. I do not believe that I was wrong, but I am not sure that is all that can be said on the subject. I believe that on some level Heinrich Himmler knew perfectly well that he was doing wrong. Why else would he continually emphasize the need for secrecy with the Final Solution? He certainly believed that the good ends he was working for, a Europe rid of Jews, justified the evil means used. I think that if Heinrich Himmler, or for that matter Adolf Hitler, had retained the Roman Catholic faith of his youth, he might have retained the Christian belief that some actions are intrinsically evil regardless of context or justification, He might have understood that even if the Jews really did present some dire threat to Germany, that would not justify the massacre of an entire population. But Himmler abandoned Christianity for occultism and neo-paganism and even those Nazis who were nominal Christians tended to follow a nazified Christianity purged of its Jewish elements and any moral teachings that might be opposed to the Fuehrer’s will.

We have in each of us an instinct, a compass which points towards the right, just as a magnetic compass points towards the magnetic North Pole. If a compass is placed near an object with a strong magnetic field, it will point towards the magnet rather than North. Similarly if we reject the authority of the One who is the source of all that is good and substitute our own inclinations or some ideology, our moral compass will point in the wrong direction. As the Apostle Paul might have put it, they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. In the case of the Nazis, they exchanged the idea of absolute right and wrong for the idea the highest good was whatever was best for the Reich and the Aryan Race. The rise of the Nazis wouldn’t have been possible if it had not been for the progressive de-Christianization of the intellectual classes in Europe and particularly in Germany that had occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Because many intelligent and well educated people in Europe could no longer wholly embrace Christian doctrine and Christian morals and because human beings must have something to believe in, they substituted ideologies such as racism or Communism to replace the old religion. The results of this following after false idols still haunt the world.

Heinrich Himmler

April 17, 2015

Lately,  I  have been reading a biography of Nazi SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and I am finding that reading about this man is a strange, somewhat unsettling experience. Himmler was a strange sort of man, even by the standards of the Nazi leadership who were generally an eccentric lot.  He was a mystic, a crank, and a fanatic on racial matters. He hated Christianity and tried to introduce a sort of Nordic neo-paganism in the SS. He was also the one individual who was most responsible for enacting Hitler’s Final Solution against the Jews and so oversaw the greatest crimes in history, yet he was not really an evil man by nature. This seems paradoxical yet it really isn’t. There were a great many men among the leaders of the Nazi Party who were corrupt, venial, cruel, or power mad. Himmler wasn’t one of them. He was not cruel by nature, though he could steel himself to appalling acts of cruelty in order to be tough. He did not seek to enrich himself through his leadership of the SS nor did he seem all that interested in pursuing power for its own sake. He didn’t even relish bloodshed, nor was he especially eager to kill millions of people.  How was it that he was responsible for the deaths of millions in the most cruel ways imaginable?

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The answer is simply that Heinrich Himmler was most concerned with doing what he believed was his duty to preserve the German people or volk. He sincerely believed the racist theories he propounded, that the Germans were the highest race and that the Jews were a threat to the Germans and the Slavs were an inferior race fit only for slave labor. He believed that it was necessary to exterminate millions of people for the greater good of the Aryan race. Such atrocities might be distasteful, yet they had to be done. Himmler was, in fact, greatly concerned that the acts of genocide his SS men were committing might coarsen and brutalize them and he warned them that they must do their duty despite any misgivings, but they must remain decent men. He envisaged his SS as a noble order of knights charged with an unpleasant, but utterly necessary duty. It was this impulse to serve his country, a virtue good in itself, that caused Himmler to commit his acts of greatest evil.

This illustrates a truism that the greatest crimes in history are not committed by bad or indecent people, but by decent people with indecent ideas in their heads, though I might hesitate to call Himmler decent. Still, he didn’t see himself as a a bad man.  Something similar might be said about his master, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was also not a decent person. Hitler really did believe the Jews to be a threat to Germany. If you discovered that a group of people were systematically undermining America, causing us to lose wars and controlling the American economy with the intention to enrich themselves and enslave every American, wouldn’t you think it necessary to exterminate such a dastardly group of people. At the very least, you might want them out of the country. Hitler’s desire to exterminate the Jews had a basic motive to save his people that might be considered good in itself.

If Hitler had only been interested in acquiring power, he would have done a good deal less damage to Germany and the world. He would still have been a vicious tyrant, but he wouldn’t have killed six millions Jews. He might have gone to war to expand German influence in Europe, but he would not have sought to enslave the Poles and the Russians. It was where Hitler sincerely believe that he was going good that he did his greatest evil. Perhaps something similar could be said about the other monsters who have destroyed the lives of millions in the countries they ruled. Joseph Stalin was a cruel, paranoid tyrant, but because he sincerely believed in Marxism he killed millions of Russian and Ukrainian peasants to force them into collective farms. Much the same might be said of rulers like Mao or Pol Pot.

Evil has no power in itself. It is always parasitic on good. It is not possible to commit great acts of evil unless one has the ability to commit great acts of good. Hitler had talents in oratory and practical politics that he could have used to become Germany’s greatest statesman. Himmler’s flair for bureaucratic organization could have uplift the lives of millions instead of destroying them. Lucifer was the greatest archangel until he became Satan. Evil is always more effective when it comes disguised as good. People will do terrible things in the name of their god or country or the general welfare that they wouldn’t even consider doing for selfish reasons. Perhaps this is the lesson that we must not forget. The trouble with the Nazis wasn’t that they were bad people, even though many were very bad indeed, but that even good people with bad ideas can become very, very bad.

There was a depressing number of neo-Nazi/anti-Semitic articles that turned up here. It is so easy to forget.

Bertrand Russel Invites Hitler to Dinner

March 11, 2014

In this article in the Times of Israel,  I read what seems to be another example of moral idiocy regarding Hitler in a letter by British philosopher Bertrand Russell which was recently acquired by the Museum of Tolerance, a part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In this 1937 letter, he suggests that if the Germans invade England, the English should invite their leaders to dinner with the Prime Minister rather than fight them.

Not everyone may be familiar with the life and thoughts of Bertrand Russell, so before going any further, I had better say a few words about him. Bertrand Russell was, as I said, a British philosopher and mathematician who lived from 1872-1970. He was born into an aristocratic British family, but both his parents, who died when he was young, were radicals and atheists. Raised by his paternal grandparents and educated at home by tutors, Russel had a lonely childhood and adolescence, but developed a keen interest in mathematics.  He studied and later taught at Cambridge where he also was interested in logic, philosophy and social criticism. At various times, Russell described himself as a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist. He was not very consistent in holding any of these social and political views, however, and might be better described as a gadfly. He led demonstrations against World War I when it was not popular to do so, but he was never imprisoned for his activities, as he hoped. As his letter might suggest, he was no more eager for Britain to fight against Hitler.

The Museum of Tolerance has acquired a 1937 letter written by Bertrand Russell in which the Nobel Prize-winning philosopher says if the Nazi army invades his native England the British should invite Adolf Hitler to dinner rather than fight.

The museum, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, announced Wednesday that it paid $4,000 for the letter at an auction in England last month.

“If the Germans succeed in sending an invading army to England we should do best to treat them as visitors, give them quarters and invite the commander and chief to dine with the prime minister,” Russell wrote to British critic Godfrey Carter. “Such behavior would completely baffle them.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founder, says Bertrand’s letter will be placed in the museum alongside one that Hitler wrote in 1919 outlining the anti-Semitic views that would lead to the Holocaust and killing of 6 million Jews.

The museum’s mission is to educate people about the Holocaust and challenge them to oppose discrimination in all forms. The Russell letter is important, Hier said, because it warns future generations that even a distinguished scholar can be wrong in allowing evil to go unchallenged.

“The fact of the matter is he had all the credentials. He probably was Britain’s greatest philosopher and won the Nobel Prize for literature after all,” Hier said. “But he didn’t understand a basic concept: that the idea that you allow evil to flourish under these conditions, that if we act nice to Hitler, serve him the best wine, that Hitler will come around to see things our way is just preposterous.”

Russell, one of the 20th century’s leading pacifists, eventually changed his views on Hitler.

In the letter, written during the time Hitler was stripping German Jews of their rights, sending political prisoners to the brutal Dachau concentration camp and building a huge military machine, Russell said he saw no value in engaging the country in war.

“We may win or we may lose,” he wrote. “If we lose obviously no good has been done. If we win we shall inevitably during the struggle acquire their bad qualities and the world at the end will be no better off than if we had lost.”

Such behavior certainly would baffle any invader. Most of the German soldiers would be relieved not to have Englishmen shooting at them. They might even be inclined to be relatively kind to a subject people who didn’t fight back. The sadists, there are some in every army, would take the lack of resistance as sign that they could commit atrocities without fear of retribution. Hitler and the Nazis would have regarded British nonresistance with contempt regarding it as a sign of racial inferiority. No matter how the occupiers behaved, however, Britain would still be occupied. The British would still have to cooperate hunting down their Jews and the resources of the United Kingdom would still be used to further Hitler’s ambitions.

To be fair to Bertrand Russell, he did change his mind about a war with Hitler, as the article suggested. It was also to his credit that he never supported the Bolsheviks in Russia, as so many of his fellow intellectuals did. In fact, after World War II, Russell even proposed that the United States launch a preemptive nuclear war against the Soviet Union, while we still had a monopoly on the atomic bomb. Of course, this proposal showed him to be as clueless about the real world around him as did his idea of inviting Hitler to dinner.

Also, to be fair, in 1937, when the letter was written, it may not have been clear to everyone that Hitler was a monster. He was a dictator who ruled by force and terror and he persecuted the Jews. Hitler was also genuinely popular with the German people, and he seemed to be doing Germany a lot of good. Hitler’s regime was not nearly as oppressive as Stalin’s. Hitler did settle scores and purge the Nazi party upon obtaining power, but his Night of the Long Knives was a mere trickle of blood compared to the oceans of blood in Stalin’s Great Purges. As for the Jews, the campaign of extermination did not really begin until 1941. The Jews had been stripped of German citizenship and were slowly being excluded from German public life, but until Kristallnacht in 1938, it could be argued that the Nazi treatment of the Jews was not much different from the American treatment of African-Americans, especially in the segregated south.

But no, this will not work.The average person in Britain, France, or America could not be expected to know very much about Hitler and his regime in 1937. They had their own problems trying to survive the Depression. Bertrand Russell ought to have known better. As a man who was not shy about giving his advice on nearly every subject and who was Britain’s preeminent public intellectual, he certainly should have been better informed. It is not as if Hitler really tried to conceal his ultimate intentions.

It seems to be very odd that there is some sort of inverse relationship between the amount of a certain type of intelligence some people possess and the lack of judgement those same, otherwise intelligent, people have regarding basic human nature. I wonder why it didn’t occur to Russell that if Hitler had some grievance against Britain that justified, in his mind, a war and invasion, he would hardly be swayed by dinner and drinks into giving up and going back to Germany. But, perhaps mathematics and logic are easier to understand than people.

 

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Hitler Was Not Evil?

February 26, 2014

One of the related articles that was suggested for my previous post was an article titled Hitler Was Not Evil by an anonymous writer. I chose not to include that article in the list of related articles but I think it might be worthwhile to go over it. The writer is not a Nazi, as you might expect, nor did the article make the argument  that Hitler’s actions were, in fact, virtuous. Anonymous’s problem is deeper than that. He does not believe there is such a thing as evil.

Unlike most of the rest of the world, I do not see Adolf Hitler as the “personification of evil” or the most “evil” person that has ever existed.

Hitler was simply a politician like one of the many politicians today. And just like almost all politicians today, his actions were defined by a core belief, greed, ego and a certain love for the country he ruled.

The more sensitive readers would react now with “whoa! whoa! Hitler and love?! Hitler is EVIL! EVIL!”

Evil does not exist, but is a concept of the human intellect. What do we define as evil? We tend to associate unjust things with evil, or things we do not agree with. Essentially, what we feel or think is evil is simply what we do not agree with.

“Who cares about a technical definition? What Hitler did was EVIL! ”

Aiming to wipe out the Jews, that must be evil, right?

No.

As I just said, no one does anything without a reason. And like I just said, any man’s actions are trigger by his own ego, greed, and his core belief.

Hitler believed that the Jews were harming Germany. Hitler believed that the Treaty of Versailles was unjust. Hitler believed that Austria and the Third Reich should become united.

These all came from his belief.

“His beliefs are EVIL!”

No.

Like I just said, we define something as evil when this something does not agree with our moral standards.

Americans defined Communism as evil during the Cold War because they did not agree with it. Everybody being equal and controlled by the State did not agree with the “freedoms” of America. And because it did not agree with these Freedoms, Communism was defined as “bad” and “evil”.

Now in retrospect, can it really be defined as evil? No.

Of course I am not saying that what Hitler did was right. Of course not. I am saying that Hitler was not evil, but simply a man who did what he believed was right for the German people at that time. Of course, just like any politician today, his actions were also motivated by greed, ego and more greed. But it is important to make the distinction that Hitler was not an exception. He was simply a statesman who didn’t get away with it.

For example, Mao Ze Dong got away with it. Stalin (kind of) got away with it. The leaders of Meiji Japan got away with it.

And as a history major allow me to assure you, when comparing what the Japanese Imperial Army did in the 1930s and 1940s in South East Asia, the gas chambers of Auschwitz can be considered merciful.

“But Hitler brought misery to all of Europe! He is Evil!”

This might be what the more persistent readers will be saying/thinking.

Perhaps why the perception of Hitler being evil is so deeply rooted in so many peoples’ minds is that after WWII, the Allies needed to have a focus. The Meiji leaders of Meiji Japan perhaps are not remembered as completely evil because after WWII, the Western powers sought peace in Asia and Japan was a great trading partner. This left Hitler and Mussolini.

And naturally, Hitler got the Spotlight of Evil in history textbooks.

Yet, Hitler is not an exception even by today’s standards.

America’s War on Terror may be justified by the core belief of 9/11 and that the American Way is right without question. It is ironic that it seems that very few people have ever thought about why there is this hate to begin with.

This is moral idiocy and historical ignorance. America’s War on Terror is usually justified by the fact that Islamic terrorist flew planes into the sides of buildings. I would not say that the American Way is right without question, but a society that values freedom of expression and equality is superior to one that values religious persecution and aggression against the infidel. A government that guarantees basic human rights is superior to one that suppresses all freedoms. Our Way is superior to Islam. It is superior to Communism.

While the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army have not gotten the attention that they should have, perhaps because the victims were Asians, there were war crimes trials in Japan after World War II and several offenders were hanged. By the way, the Meiji period refers to the reign of the Emperor Meiji who reigned from 1868-1912, in which Japan moved from feudalism into a modern society. The leaders of Japan during the war were not the Meiji.

It is true that Mao and Stalin got away with their tyranny, while Hitler did not. So what? If I were to commit the perfect crime and never got caught, it would still be a crime. The fact that Mao and Stalin died peacefully and escaped punishment in this world, does not mean their actions were right, nor does it mean that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were statesmen or typical politicians. They were not.

Anonymous claims to believe that good and evil are simply human constructs and that what we regard as good or evil is simply a matter of personal preference. I wonder if he really believes this. If I were to go to his home and start taking his possessions, would he simply allow me, or would be try to stop me? What if I explained that his objection to my actions is simply because it is against his particular moral standards, but not mine, so that what I am doing isn’t wrong? I think he would go ahead and call the police.

I don’t thing anyone, or at least very few, really believe that there is no such thing as a standard of good and evil. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, people in a quarrel invariably appeal to some higher standard of justice when making their case. Even the worst criminals often try to justify their actions. The bank robber robbed banks because they cheat the poor. The rapist’s victim deserved it because of the way she dressed. The conqueror invades and despoils a country to bring the light of civilization, or the true faith to the hapless natives, or to avenge past wrongs. Even the sociopath, who lacks a conscience, is quick to recognize when an injustice is done to him. The fact that people often try to justify bad actions with pleasant reasoning does not mean that there is no standard of good or evil. I think this fact actually strengthens the case for such a standard.

It is true that people do not always agree on what is good or evil. This doesn’t mean that that good and evil do not really exist, only that people that people can be mistaken. Slavery is almost universally regarded as immoral in the modern world, yet no one objected to slavery in ancient times. This does not mean that the question of slavery is simply a matter of social convention. The ancients also believed that the Sun went around the Earth. We have learned that they were mistaken about the relative positions of the Earth and the Sun. In like manner, we have learned that they were mistaken about the acceptance of slavery. Anonymous concludes:

So, do not brainlessly brand Hitler as pure evil. If you strictly judge, he was simply a man who did what he believed was right, along with greed and ego as motivators (just like any person today). Nothing more, nothing less.

Hitler was not pure evil. Like any human being, he was a mixture of good and evil. His actions were unquestionably evil. He may well have believed that he was doing the right thing. Most people do. That doesn’t change that he was mistaken. We need not adopt a stance of idiot moral relativism.

According to Bullock, Hitler was an opportunis...

Yes, he was evil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Don’t Kill Hitler

February 24, 2014

A couple of days ago, I read an interesting article in The Guardian titled “Time Travelers: Please Don’t Kill Hitler” by Dean Burnett. In this article, Mr. Burnett makes the argument that terrible as Adolf Hitler was, it would be a mistake for someone from the future to go back in time and kill him.

If you find yourself suddenly gaining access to a time machine, what’s the first thing you’d do? If you said “kill Adolf Hitler”, then congratulations; you’re a science-fiction character. Actually, the whole “access to a time machine” thing suggested that already, but the desire to kill Hitler clinches it. Any time-travelling sci-fi character (at least ones created by Western society) seems to want to kill Hitler, so much so that there’s a trope about how it’s impossible.

That attempting to kill Hitler has become such a common sci-fi plot device speaks volumes. What about Stalin? He was arguably worse, killing 20 million of his own people to fuel his ideology. But no, Stalin went about his business unmolested by time travellers, all of whom are busy targeting Hitler.

It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want to prevent the holocaust? It’s probably the worst thing in history. And I only say “probably” because I don’t know all of history, and the human capacity to be awful should not be underestimated. But as noble as it seems, killing the Fuhrer via time travel is a terrible idea, for real-world reasons, not just those in fiction. So should you get hold of a time machine and make plans to kill Hitler, here are some reasons why you shouldn’t.

He gives some very good arguments for not killing Hitler and the whole article is worth reading. Personally, I do not think that Hitler was the greatest villain in history. Don’t get me wrong. He was an evil person and the Holocaust was one of the greatest atrocities in human history, but Stalin and Mao killed far more people than Hitler and their regimes were far more cruel. I would not want to live under any dictatorship but I would prefer to live in Nazi Germany over Communist Russia or China. Pol Pot has the record for most people killed in proportion to the population of the the country he ruled. Under his rule the Khmer Rouge may have killed as much as a third of Cambodia’s population. Hitler was eventually defeated. Communism fell in the Soviet Union and has been much modified in China. In North Korea and Cuba, the people have suffered under unreformed Communist tyranny for over fifty years, longer than anywhere else. Castro and the Kim dynasty may not have the death toll of a Hitler or Stalin but the misery they have inflicted on their people must be as great over time.

One argument that Burnett makes is that Hitler was uniquely responsible for the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. This was hardly the case.

Stephen Fry dealt with this superbly in his book Making History. Without spoilers, the problem is that many assume Hitler was the sole cause of the second world war and all the associated horrors. Sadly, this is a gross oversimplification. Germany in the 1930s wasn’t a utopia of basket-weaving peace lovers who were suddenly and severely corrupted by Hitler’s charismatic moustache. The political tensions and strife were all there, results of a previous world war and a great depression; Hitler was just able to capitalise on this. But if he hadn’t, say because he had been eliminated by an errant time traveller, then there’s nothing to say that nobody else would.

The truth is that Hitler invented very little of the ideology of the Nazi Party. Most of the ideas he preached; the Aryan master race, the evil of the Jews, the necessity of struggle to improve the race, etc, were held by many Germans who considered themselves enlightened and progressive. The minds of most educated Germans, (and others throughout the West)  were filled with ideas from Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and others in a sort of mixture that included ideas about inferior and superior races and violence as a method of either improving the race through struggle, or overturning a corrupt order to bring about a new world. In other words, Hitler was far from being the only person who supported ideas that we now associate with the Nazis, nor did he really have much trouble convincing millions of Germans he was right. If Hitler had been killed in childhood by a time traveler, it is likely some one else, with the same sort of ideas would have come to power.

According to Bullock, Hitler was an opportunis...

The Nazis weren’t the only ones who wanted to overthrow the Weimar Republic. The Communists were the Nazi’s greatest rivals in politics. Without a Hitler, perhaps the Communists would have come to power in the 1930s. That might have been far worse Germany and the world. Hitler was briefly allied with Stalin from 1939 until 1941 when he double crossed Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. This was Hitler’s greatest mistake and it caused him to lose the war. If Germany were controlled by Communist leader who remained allied with Stalin, perhaps even a puppet of Stalin, the resulting Russo-German alliance might have been unbeatable, at least until the invention of the atomic bomb. World War II could have been a whole lot worse and perhaps the good guys, (or at least us) may not have won against a more competent Führer. Something to think about if you ever manage to acquire a time machine.

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