Posts Tagged ‘Nazism’

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.

13177569_1134422309984155_7054149082475957997_n

 

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.

Advertisements

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.

13177569_1134422309984155_7054149082475957997_n

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.

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.

himm9
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?

himm9

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.

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Patterns of Force

December 18, 2012

Patterns of Force is the name of the infamous Star Trek episode in which the crew of the Enterprise encounter a planet ruled by Nazis. The story is that that the Enterprise has been assigned to search for the missing historian John Gill. He was last known to be studying the culture of the planet Ekos. They discover that Ekos has a more advanced technology than expected and is ruled by a Nazi party with exactly the same insignia and ideology as the Nazis who ruled Germany. Further investigation by Kirk and Spock reveal that John Gill is the Fuhrer. They learn that Gill has become a figurehead and real power rests with his deputy Melakon who is planning a genocidal war against the neighboring planet Zeon. They managed to confront Gill, who has been drugged and McCoy is able to revived him enough to answer questions. When Kirk demands to know why Gill introduced Nazism to the Ekotians, Gill replies that their culture was primitive and divided. By organizing them according to National Socialist principles, without the ethnic hatred, he hoped to unify the planet and help them to advance. He picked the Nazis because they were the most efficient state in Earth’s history.

604033_1306112146667_407_300

Spock agrees saying, “That tiny country, divided, beaten, bankrupt, rose in a few years to stand only one step from global domination.”

Gill and Spock were wrong, however, and Spock was being, dare I say it, illogical. In fact, Nazi Germany was not a particularly efficient state. The government was shot through with corruption at the highest levels. The Nazis purged the German civil service shortly after they took power, making party loyalty and racial purity more important than experience and qualifications. This had predictable results. The Nazis were also supporters of the concept of a centrally planned economy, remember Nazi is short for National Socialist. This also had predictable results. During World War II, Germany did not turn to a full war economy until 1943 and the free-market, capitalist wartime Unites States was more regimented and more efficient and productive. Hitler’s rule was an administrative nightmare since he didn’t leave clearly defined areas of jurisdiction, or lines of authority among his top lieutenants, thinking that as long as they were fighting each other, they weren’t conspiring to overthrow him.

Along with the corruption and general inefficiency of Nazi rule, there were policies that were simply irrational. Consider the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a crime against humanity, but it was also illogical. The men and materials used to round up millions of Jews and other undesirables, ship them to concentration camps, and exterminate them could have been better used fighting the war. The victims could have been used for slave labor and killed after Germany won the war. The enormous diversion of resources, while the Nazi regime was fighting for its life was irrational to the point of insanity. The Holocaust is the worst example of misplaced priorities, but hardly the only one. In the last two years of the war, Goebbels wanted to make the greatest movie of all time, Kolberg. The production of this film, the most expensive in German history, was actually given a higher priority than supplying the Wehrmacht with needed supplies and ammunition. Thousands of German soldiers were pulled from the front to work as extras. Hardy the most efficient state in Earth’s history.

There seems to be a persistent delusion that authoritarian states with centrally planned economies are some how more efficient than free countries. Mussolini made the trains run on time. (He didn’t.) The Communists in the Soviet Union were the future and their planners would create unparalleled economic growth that would bury the West. (It didn’t work out like that.) And on and on. It doesn’t even have to be a brutal dictatorship to excite this sort of ill founded admiration. Germany and Japan have a much closer relationship between private industry and government than is the norm in the United States. At various times both these nations were held up as examples they we should follow. The close cooperation was held to result in a better more efficient economy, better suited for long range planning than the often adversarial relationship found in the US with private competing companies that were more apt to plan only as far as the next quarter. The fact that such close relationships opened the door to crony capitalism and tended to give established companies an enormous advantage over upstarts seemed to be ignored.

The latest target of this kind of idiocy is not democratic at all but semi-Communist China. Somehow the idea has developed that a country ruled by a government that can rule by decree without the give and take of any democratic process is better run than a free nation. Thomas Friedman has become notorious for his admiration of China’s system.

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

More recently we have had a statement by Jeffrey Immelt on how China is better run.

Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric and Chairman of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness was interviewed by Charlie Rose on Bloomberg Television Monday evening.  When asked about China, Immelt praised the Chinese and their centrally planned economy:

CHARLIE ROSE: China is changing. It may be being stabilized as we speak. What does that mean for China and what does it mean for the United States? Should it change expectations?

JEFF IMMELT: It is good for China. To a certain extent, Charlie, 11 percent is unsustainable. You end up getting too much stimulus or a misallocation of resources. They are much better off working on a more consumer-based economy, less dependent on exports. The one thing that actually works, state run communism a bit– may not be your cup of tea, but their government works.

No it doesn’t. No, China is not overtaking us, any more than the Germans, Japanese, or Russians were. No, China is not being run by a reasonably enlightened group of people. According to Freedom House, China rates a 6.5 out of 7 with 7 being least free. The Chinese government continues to censor the media and Internet and while restrictions on personal  expression are looser than in the past, China is far from being a haven of free speech., The government is very corrupt. While China has enjoyed phenomenal economic growth in the last two decades, the benefits of that growth have not been well distributed. Something like 30% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Property rights are non-existent in China where the government owns all of the land and decides how it is to be used. Health and safety regulations for Chinese industry are either non-existent or unenforced.

Despite the central planning, or really because of it, resources tend to be misallocated. The most notorious example of this are the mysterious ghost towns of China, cities built for no apparent reason out in the middle of nowhere. I am sure there are many more examples.

I don’t imagine that any of these facts will change the minds of the authoritarian admirers. The reason such people admire authoritarianism is less because of any facts or examples of superior efficiency but because they like to imagine themselves as the elites telling everyone else what to do. In the end it is not about efficiency. It is about power.

Russian Nazis

November 5, 2011

I saw this story in the Daily Mail.

Thousands of far-right Nazi-saluting nationalists marched in Moscow today in a ‘Take Back Russia’ protest at Muslim migrants.

Resentment is growing over the migrants from Russia’s Caucasus and the money the Kremlin sends to those troubled regions.

Chanting ‘Russia for Russians’ and ‘Migrants today, occupiers tomorrow,’ about 5,000 demonstrators, mostly young men, marched through a working-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital.

I wonder how these fools could not realize that Hitler and the Nazis regarded the Russians as Slavic untermenschen fit only for slave labor and eventual extermination. I guess that we are not the only country with young people ignorant of history.

Mein Kampf

July 19, 2011

Walter Russel Mead commemorates the publication date of Hitler’s masterpiece with this essay on the continuing problem of anti-Semitism. Although Hitler made it unfashionable to openly hate Jews, at least outside the Moslem world, there are still plenty of supposedly enlightened people who hold the nation of Israel to a standard they would never think to hold any other country too, except perhaps America. But they are not anti-Semites, just anti-Zionist.

Mead says it better than I ever could. The only reason I bring it up is to mention that I have tried to read Mein Kampf, once or twice. I swear it really is unreadable. I don’t know if the English translation does the German justice. If so, I wonder if any Nazis ever got around to reading it all the way through.

If you want to try, Amazon.com does have it. Why spend money though? You can download it for free from all sorts of places since the Hitler family gave up the copyright after World War II.

Yes, the Hitler family is still around. I read an article about them a long time ago. One branch of the family emigrated to England before World War I and a cousin of Hitler’s even fought on the British side. They’ve changed their names, though.

The Dalai Lama

June 19, 2011

I’ve never been much of an admirer of the Dalai Lama. This is not because he is the leader of a major sect of Tibetan Buddhism, but because I have always wondered what kind of ruler of Tibet he would have been if he were not in exile. Although I cannot condone the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, I don’t imagine that the theocracy of the Dalai Lamas was exactly a paradise either. Tibet was a backward,  feudal country. I doubt very much of the Dalai Lama would have been a force for democracy or reform.

It would seem that his holiness is an admirer of Marxism. It might seem strange that he would have anything good to say about the ideology of the country that drove him into exile but he seems to feel that Marxism has moral ethics while capitalism is only about profits.

I will quote some of the comments of Mark Stuertz from whom I got this story.

So how can the Dalai Lama possibly square his pleas for nonviolence toward “all sentient beings” with Marxism? His answer: Marxism has moral ethics, as opposed to capitalism, which is all about profits.

Let’s chew on that for a moment. Virtually every socio-political movement has some noble ambition — some set of ethics — that can be teased from its viscera. The Nazi Party platform, for example, contains calls for equal rights, profit-sharing, national health care, pensions, education access, employment opportunities, and the rights of citizens to select political leaders and make laws.

By implication, isn’t the Dalai Lama saying these are sufficient grounds to legitimize, exonerate — even embrace — Nazism? And if not, why not?

It’s one thing to promote cooperation and egalitarianism. It’s quite another to publicly endorse a specific ideology that espouses such goals but consistently delivers a dramatically different outcome. According to The Black Book of Communism, Marxist regimes over the 20th century systematically slaughtered between 85 and 100 million people. Millions more were terrorized, tortured, and enslaved. And these atrocities were not breaches of practical Marxist orthodoxy — they were critical elements of Marxist statecraft. Terror tactics and atrocities, The Black Book’s authors point out, are found in every regime claiming to be Marxist in origin.

The Marxist-Communist record is “the most colossal case of political carnage in history.” It represents the triumph of inhumanity over compassion on an unprecedented scale. How can this Nobel Peace Prize winner embrace a political ideology in theory without any consideration of its effects in practice? Is this mindful?

Buddhism, perhaps more than any of the other major religions, places special emphasis on compassion. It is incumbent upon the Buddhist to strive for mindfulness and compassion in all circumstances. Essential to this striving is the cultivation of an awareness of how ego aggressively disrupts mindfulness and compassion while denying the impermanence of existence. These aggressive disruptions cause suffering.

There is perhaps no other realm that engorges, fattens, and unleashes the aggressiveness of ego and its handmaiden, suffering, quite like the political realm. Yet the Dalai Lama doesn’t seem to consider this. He makes no mention of Marxism’s glaring internal contradictions. He glosses over how it fails to consider humanity as it is: beset with the confusion and ignorance of ego. He disregards the critical component Marxism requires to function successfully: a mythical human, one free of self-interest.

That’s why, for all of its seductive allure — its appeal to ego — Marxism has proved impossible to peacefully implement.

He has more to say and his article is worth reading. I will just add that it is the big ideas, Marxism, socialism, Fascism, etc that have caused so much suffering in the world. That is, the idea that all of society must conform to an ideology that will, of course, make everything perfect for everyone, if only everyone does as they are told. Capitalism may indeed be all about profits, and greed, and so on, but it is also about leaving people alone to make their own lives as they see fit. What people like the Dalai Lama will never see is that that is the morally superior system.


%d bloggers like this: