Hitler and the Germans
EDITORIAL, 22 Nov 2010
Berlin: The exhibition with that name is on and very much worth visiting. The fact that it exists is laudable in itself, and people come, many, standing in line. There is much expertise behind this effort to explore why Hitler attracted the support he got, including with a coalition party winning an election as free and fair as they come early March 1933, right after what is referred to as the Machtergreifung, grabbing the power and actually was a Machtübergabe, giving the power–to Hitler. And his NSDAP, the national socialist German labor party, Na from National and zi from Sozialist add up to Nazi. Imagine now that they actually stood for both.
Germany was wedged between the socialist-communist-bolshevik giant in the East and the capitalist-imperialist-conservative powers in the West. As so many have pointed out, like the German historian Nolte, if Europe has some kind of unity there is enormous potential for a civil war. The battlefield might be, and in fact did become, Germany. What were the options, just using simple logic? Siding with one against the other? They were rejected by the West, sided for a short period with the East, did both-and, attacked the West, then the East–obviously megalomaniac, autistic. But they also did another both-and: social revolution from the East and the social democratic West, and colonialism from the West and the tsarist-bolshevik East, the first victim being Poland. The game, if that is what it was, did not succeed. And Hitler was up against the game played by Churchill as Tory policy: let bolshevism and nazism fight each other to the bitter end; meaning that Germany needed iron ore from Sweden via Norway, meaning that Germany had to occupy Narvik and all of Norway.
I mention such things, some controversial, some not, out of sympathy for the historians trying to put together an exhibition with that ambitious title. Their approach reminds us of Cold War logic: if somebody criticized one superpower the statement had to be balanced with a critique of the other. Truth came as siamese, inseparable twins. So also the exhibition: anything socialist attractive to Germans had to be balanced with something disgustingly nationalist taken from the preparation and enactment of war. The visitor gets two exhibitions for the price of one; actually unasked for.
Back to 1918. Germany beaten, humiliated, sanctioned and exposed to Soviet-inspired communist local revolts. Strange that somebody makes use of that raw material? The exhibition finds Hitler’s personality less important than the support; well, be careful, it takes some talent to combine all that. Hitler felt the humiliation as his own, not only capitulation but the sanctions and the treaty on top of that. The formula was obvious: get out of the military humiliation by becoming strong, of the economic humiliation by growing, becoming rich, of the political humiliation by being your own decision-maker. He managed all that, only to fall into Churchill’s trap.
But there was more to it. To Hitler the First World War was fought and lost by German aristocrats, sacrificing their people. His hatred of them was genuine and it was reciprocated by von Stauffenberg 20 July 1944, “one more von” Hitler said. The exhibition is not good at Stauffenberg’s motives–to preserve nobility–but very good at giving the communist effort at tyrannocide equal space. And it fails completely at discussing the nazi role in making positions high up available to “not good” families, social mobility.
This is important because of the myth the Allies gave Germany democracy. There is much on multi-party elections and the tradition earlier in the century. But democracy is also social mobility, dignity to the common people, dialogue, human rights. Nazism negated some, not all of them, having a yin-yang, na-zi, character. German historians would have benefitted from a more daoist approach. They highlight the madness of Der Führer hat immer Recht, the Führer is always right. How about Washington hat immer Recht? Democracy?
The exhibition fails to show allied bombing as a source of German support of the nazis. The destruction went beyond anything the German Red Cross could handle, so the Party became a source of comfort, see Der Brand. Is the rule that no causal chain passing through Allied misdeeds are permissible as reasons why so many Germans supported Hitler?
Take bombing again. Yes, 14 November 1940 German planes bombed Coventry, allied bombing of German cities till the very end is seen as revenge. But Sven Lindqvist’s brilliant A History of Bombing, The New Press, 2001 points to J. M. Spaight, the Secretary of the British Air Ministry at the time, praising Churchill’s “splendid decision” May 11 1940 to bomb German railway stations, in Bombing Vindicated.
Not so, says F. P. J. Veale in Advance to Barbarism: the purpose was to incite German reprisals, keeping alive the English will to fight. Sacrificing London and other cities, and, international law that had cost 250 years of work.
Maybe the Germans knew this, having been the victims of the first attacks? And maybe some support derived from that?
We need an overarching exhibition of the whole madness. On all sides. And we need it soon. To learn. Right now.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 22 Nov 2010.
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