Morality in a Totalitarian State: A Personal Revisionist History

Opinions, in my opinion, unlike principles, are not sacred possessions to be protected, locked away and defended from all intruders. Rather, they are, or should be, living and evolving attitudes, constantly subjected to rigorous revision and adjustment — or, when necessary, quickly abandoned for some more plausible or cogent truth.– Wrestling With Mohammed – 12/9/0

‘– or, when necessary, quickly abandoned for some more plausible or cogent truth.’

The Third Reich. Hitler’s Germany. World War Two and the good German volk. Mein Kampf. How many books have I read on this immense subject? How many documentaries have I watched? Too many to remember but enough to form an opinion. In thinking back over all these books, over all these years, perhaps one of the most influential books I have ever read on this subject — after Mein Kampf — was Daniel Goldhagen’s blockbuster bestseller “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”. His research was so thorough, his arguments so compelling, that they proved irresistible. He had statistically proven, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the ‘good German people’ were not only cognizant of the prosecution of the Holocaust, but had either directly or indirectly participated in its ghastly mission.

The Germans voted Hitler into power and sanctioned his every move enthusiastically. They continued in their loyal support for Der Fuhrer from the heady victories of 1940 to the horrid devastation of 1945. The idea that the German people had somehow been held hostage, that Germany had in effect been hijacked by some small fanatical gang of Nazis, was therefore ludicrous and self-serving. In short, the German people got what they had asked for in WWII. Despite our own post-war government wanting to quickly change the subject, more interested in building up a strong ally in Western Germany to offset the Communist takeover of the East than in pointing fingers — despite all of their efforts, it was, in my opinion, the German people and not just the Nazis, who were deeply complicit in their own fate. This was perfectly obvious.

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

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

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

But now?

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

What I learned.

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

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

What I am suggesting is this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, it isn’t fair. It is what it is.

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

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

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