THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, William L. Shirer

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, William L. Shirer

In a memoir, A Native’s Return, W. L. Shirer tells about selling The Rise and Fall to a studio and the meeting the studio chief in 1960. Shirer was an East Coast guy, and he took along two East Coast friends: John Houseman and George Roy Hill, then a Broadway director.

The chief greeted them and while leading the way into his office, says to Shirer: “For three nights my wife and I have read your book [The Rise and Fall].”

Shirer looks at Houseman who says, “That’s absolute bullshit.”

Nobody can read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in three days, let alone three nights. It is an invaluable book by a writer/journalist writing about people he saw in action twenty years before. In this writing he got to tell a more complete story. Most of it centers in foreign policy and diplomatic efforts, incidences Shirer was able to observe and report at the time. The text presents well, spelled out or implied, about this blunder of that one. Shirer hits the German-Soviet Union August 1939 Pact, partitioning Poland and designating spheres of influence, hard. He notes correctly that Stalin’s agreement started the War: Hitler likely would not have invaded Poland with no agreement if the Soviet Union had not committed itself and Hitler were not certain.

It was an enormous mistake for the Soviets, a nation of chess players. Two little-known Soviet accommodations to German war successes included shipping supplies from Murmansk to Norway in 1940 and shipping rubber across Russia to Germany. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941), the Soviets were confused, perplexed and overwhelmed – the Soviets had done almost everything the Germans wanted. But the German Army was professional and proficient. Millions of Soviet citizens were killed; complete Soviet armies were destroyed; and three million prisoners of war were captured (few lived to see the War’s end).

This complicity is observed, and a balance is noted. The Soviets complained that they had to face the German Army alone in Europe in 1942-1943. Early on the Germans did not make the mistake they made when invading Russia. Shirer notes the D-Day invasion force and its provisioning was a huge effort before June 1944. He notes the completely inadequate German preparations to invade Britain in 1940 and gives the assessment that the British would have chewed up any Germany army put ashore in Britain. Perhaps Stalin wanted the British and Americans to be as reckless with their men as the Germans and Russians were with their own.

Equally poor was the ability of the French and British to foresee foreign policy and diplomatic mistake after mistake. At one point Shirer says Charles Lindbergh was “startlingly naiveté.” Lindbergh was a moronic dupe. Yet at one place Neville Chamberlain (British Prime Minister) was “well meaning,” but Shirer hardens against the mustached P.M. Having read Shirer’s description of Munich (French/British surrender of Czechoslovakia September 1938), it is easy to conclude the only thing Chamberlain failed to bring to Britain after the negotiations was a toothbrush mustache. As PM Chamberlain interfered with Churchill’s plans to defend Norway. In short the best service Chamberlain performed for Great Britain was to die in November 1940.

Shirer notes what the German’s learned: Had the Czechs fought the Germans in 1938 Germany may have finally won but it would be greatly weakened the German army and left it incapable of pursuing further war.

Throughout the history Shirer noted the assassination attempts to kill Hitler. This is a matter of course, but the attempts are not equal and should not be treated that way. The assassination plot before the Munich agreement was very credible. Shirer’s book is an early history and is not as complete as Joachim Fest’s (and others) book on the same subject.

!I have read much about World War Two. Reading The Rise and Fall, I realized the war was fought in stages: I. Rhineland occupation, 1936; Austria Anschluss, March 1938; Czechoslovakia, 1938. Those lands and their industrial and economic bases were captured with no or little destruction. II. Poland, September 1939; Scandinavia, May 1940; Netherlands, Belgium, May 1940; France, June 1940. Those lands sustained more damage, but the industrial and economic base would be restored. III. Britain, Soviet Union, Balkans, Africa – the Germans were invading lands that were destroyed or desolate and the population was targeted. Little benefit came to Germany by having its armies run 1,500 miles across eastern Europe.

Equally maniacal and idiotic were Nazi racial policies. I have not read it but surmised if the Germans were not so obsessed with killing people and more devoted to overcoming their opponents’ military abilities, Germany had a chance to win the war. Shirer somewhat discusses this point especially with the invasion of the Soviet Union(June 1941). But the Germans were incapable of treating any occupied peoples (Danes and Dutch included) as anything other than second-class human beings.

Omissions occur in an 1140 page book like this. The text concentrates on The Rise of the Third Reich. The telling of The Fall, one-quarter of the book (December 1941 to May 1945), concentrates on the military and Nazi leadership.

By in large absent from the book is Third Reich Domestic Germany, and much Sociology of the German People – there is no humor, comedy or black humor.

Military campaigns especially those adversely affecting Germany are raced through e.g. the air war against Germany is told statistically (except the German people wanted to lynch captured American and British fliers). That air war kept 70 percent of the Luftwaffe at home defending the fatherland; the Soviet army benefitted from the lack of air support.

The German people knew they were losing the war – lines on a map got closer, but more likely they witnessed bombed out cities, factories, facilities and homes. “The White Rose” protests (February 1943) seemingly came from nowhere because the German people are portrayed as monolithic.

There are evaluations by German generals justly criticizing Eisenhower’s hands-off participation of the Sicilian and Italian campaigns.(1943, 1944)

A theme in the book is suggested by the facts, but I did not sense it was cogently advanced. It is obvious that the Nazis tried to construct a very robotic society founded on terror and murder. Most of the terror and murder are set out, but other forms and uses of coercion to conform and to comply are omitted. Any society urges compliance from its population and uses overt and subtle means to insure order and stability. The idea of happiness might arise from these efforts: If everyone is content doing the same thing, everyone should be happy. I don’t know if anything like this postulation popped up in Nazi Germany. I suspect it had to – the rulers’ definition of happiness for each individual – is present in any totalitarian society. Shirer does not get around to tell his readers about it.

When The Rise and Fall was published (and perhaps today), the Germans grossly objected to it as anti- German and anti-Germany. The book is fair; those German critics and defenders are wrong. Those German critics and defenders exalt in German culture. It is true that the Germans excelled in music and advanced that art much. I note though that Mendelssohn was considered Jewish, and by the late ninetieth century the Germans were not the best composers. (Mahler was Jewish.) The other arts? Painting: Albrecht Durer, the best German painter but who since 1530? Sculpture – Nada. Literature: Goethe, but who else throughout the nineteenth century – persons who weren’t Jewish, or considered non-Aryan, disreputable and degenerate like Thomas Mann? Education: The Germans had to best universities until the brains left, and the Americans got the pickings. Film: Thank you for sending Billy Wilder and many other great talents.

If the Germans base their superiority on uncontaminated, cultural and intellectual attainments, Shirer tells the Nazis destroyed that superiority immediately. Shirer suggested but fails to analyze how a people so supposedly artistic sensitive and appreciative of fine arts and achievements, can be politically dense, stupid and inept. An idea was recognized that the Germans swooned about the arts and intellectual accomplishments; so long as that production was possible, Germany was superior. After the Second War Bertolt Brecht conceived the axiom (paraphrased): Maybe the Germans will now stop thinking about trees. (quoted in Hitler, Joachim Fest.)

Shirer gives no cause and effect, but there is a suggested answer. German philosophy. While many European countries experimented and implemented enlightenment policies and improvements, making strides to remove themselves from the strictures surviving from medieval society, the Germans looked at the enlightenment and ran the other way: Shirer writes an essay(Chapter 4) about the creeps of German philosophy – Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche and Marx. Divorced from any human exposure and experience these men advanced concepts of people, their thinking and society that decades later resulted in National Socialism, Hitler and the horrors perpetuated. As part of their intellectual superiority the Germans got caught up in ideas completely remote – intense philosophical stories, pretentiously profound, devoid of faith and disassociated from any human thinking and behavior. That an an excellent definition of a Nazi.

If German critics and defenders complain about The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, they should start with this pillar of William L. Shirer’s book.

 

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ENVISIONING AN ENGLISH EMPIRE

Editors: Robert Appelbaum, John Wood Sweet

This is not a Valentines Day post. 

What were the English thinking when they commenced exploration and colonization of the New World, @ 1575-1630?

The 12 well-referenced essays in this book present a fresh perspective on many issues. Some issues are resolved. For instance, reports from the early Jamestown settlement (1608) complained of hunger and starvation. English and Native American ideas of eating differed. The English were becoming civilized – meals at set times during the day. The Native Virginians ate what nature served. When food was plentiful, they feasted and gorged; when food was scarce they went hungry but didn’t complain. Englishmen did not like the hunger spells endured by the native Virginians. The English figured they were starving; many got sick and died.

There are essays on landholding and titles; investigations into specific sources which mislead students today; a description of John Smith’s 1612 map of Virginia as thought it were a literary production; English relations with the Turks and Moroccans; Grace O’Malley, Irish female entrepreneur and pirate, and her meeting with Elizabeth; and many references to Elizabethan and Jacobian literature, drama and poetry…when they refer to issues involving colonization – political, sociological and economic. 

This book is heavy lumber. The essays are well-written and packed. I could not read it fast; I could not read much of it during a day. But the challenge of reading was enjoyable. I can read law, (land titles) which I went through quickest – I don’t need to know much more of that stuff. But there are many essays to stir the imagination in a subject matter foreign to many readers.

COMMENT

Upon finishing the writing of my previous post on To the Lighthouse, I looked for relief on TV – The Movie Channel. It was “A Virgin Spring” by Ingmar Bergman, and it was similar to the Woolf book. I eventually saw the spring but no many virgins. 

Nothing much happens. A daughter is murdered at a place some distance from the homestead, a rustic place in the forest with few men and many women. The group marches through the forest, carrying no weapons, through streams, over hills, to the place of the murder where they find the daughter dead. There are the usual shots: faces of the marchers, older woman struggling to ford a stream, a raven or a crow [not the whole bird] in a tree. A woman is grieved at the sight of the corpse. There are a few lines of inconsequential dialogue. The group prays.

There is little characterization, many shots of a young Max Von Sydow, black and white photography, and an enormous pretense toward profundity. With the prayer, the movie ended, reflecting my sentiments completely. I was relieved I would never have to see more of this movie.

SHIPWRECK

The the Lighthouse            Virginia Woolf

A current fad among those promoting the conventional wisdom is to embrace Virginia Woolf as an excellent, significant writer. Trying to read this novel and stopping, I know anyone with intelligence and reading comprehension knows it is a shame they let Virginia die a natural death.

The writing in To the Lighthouse is very undisciplined. Voices of the author and Mrs. Ramsey mix; the characters are not well presented. The novel is in need of severe editing. Virginia needs to learn English punctuation and grammar and avoiding using parentheses.

I finished the first chapter of To the Lighthouse. I had bought the paperback for a buck. I got to the end and saw that Chapter 2 was six (6) lines long. Chapter 3 hard at the writing was longer. To learn whether the novel involved alternating long/short chapters, I went through Chapter 3 and discovered another discontented reader. The corner of the first page of Chapter 4 had been turned down, to serve as a bookmark. From the condition of the remaining pages and the binding, the reader who owned the book before me had stopped reading at the end of Chapter 3.

Chapter 1 is impossible. Mrs. Ramsey says to her son: “Yes, of course, if it is fine tomorrow.” The kid wants to go outside and play.

Rather than stick to the weather, the author prefers whether and evaluates the boy’s reaction:

“Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn of the wheel of sensation has the power to crystalize and transfix the movement upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsey, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, endowed the pictures of a refrigerator as his mother spoke with heavenly bliss.”

This is a hell of a sentence, but other than letting her son go outside tomorrow, Mrs. Ramsey said nothing. She did not speak – there are no quotation marks, a sure sign. I don’t know where the “heavenly bliss” came from, but I know no one said anything approaching that description. Inside the writing of the sentence are disjointed, unconnected clauses and phrases tossed together to extend its length but detracting from its meaning and impact. In fact incomprehensibility seems to be the purpose of the sentence: The longer it is the more meaningless it becomes, and the more profound critics of FOV (Friends of Virginia) can claim it to be. Thereby a novel of such sentences is a work of genius. HOWEVER, beneath all the words from the sentence are two thoughts: The boy is excited and delighted; he can go outside tomorrow. And, Mrs. Ramsey is mentally ill.

Mr. Ramsey speaks next: “It won’t be fine [tomorrow].” Summarizing from there to the end of that paragraph: Mrs. Ramsey wants to kill Mrs. Ramsey. He is forcefully opinionated. He has crossed her, albeit about tomorrow’s weather. But what he said was true. The children detest him after Mrs. Ramsey’s input.

The next paragraph Mrs. Ramsey sticks to her guns: “But it may be fine – I expect it will be fine.” This paragraph next dwells partially on “…how would you like to be shut up for a whole month at a time, and possibly more in stormy weather, upon a rock the size of a tennis lawn? she would ask, and to have no letters or newspapers, and to see nobody, if you were married…”etc., etc., etecera! 

I note this paragraph uses no quotation marks, as well a few periods. Perhaps the author needed a typewriter in good repair, one that had the keys controlling periods and quotation marks in good working order.

From a blurb on the back of the book, I gather this story takes place during the summer. A month or longer in the house – NONSENSE! Most of this wandering paragraph is immaterial, irrelevant and incompetent; it is filled with invented fears and other mysteries haunting Mrs. Ramsey. BEFORE SUBMITTING, EDIT THE DAMN STORY, VIRGINIA!

A house guest pipes up in the next paragraph, reporting the wind is “due west.” Mrs. Ramsey is egregiously upset about this observation, but either she [or the author] denigrate him: Tansley is “an atheist.”

Finally the atheist clarifies the point a few paragraphs later: “There will be no landings at the Lighthouse tomorrow.” This is a grave insult to Mrs. Ramsey. In one of her [or the author’s] paragraphs, it says, atheist “was such a miserable person…He couldn’t play cricket…” Obviously, this house guest is completely unstable and totally unreliable.

Mrs. Ramsey rejoins the God-gainsayer: “Nonsense.” Not only does Mrs. Ramsey want to kill her husband because he disagrees with her about tomorrow’s weather, but she can’t tell which way the wind is blowing. “Indeed,” [the author or Mrs. Ramsey]

“she had the whole of the other sex sex under her protection; for reasons she could not explain, for their chivalry and valor, for the act that they negotiated treaties, ruled India, controlled finance; finally for an attitude toward herself which no woman could fail to feel or find agreeable, something trustful, childlike, reverential; which an old woman would take from a young man without loss of dignity, and woe betide the girl – pray Heaven it was none of her daughters! – who did not feel the worth of it, and all that it implied, to the marrow of her bones.”

In the paragraphs that follow Mrs. Ramsey and the author restate their opinions of life in the house, the Bank of England and the Indian Empire. Admittedly, Mrs. Ramsey states that she cares for her daughter, but whether the weather be fine or foul, the son can play outside, come hell or high water. Mrs. Ramsey’s attitude toward her son appears to be: (1) Tomorrow, you can play on the freeway. (2) What about traffic? Tomorrow you can play on the freeway if there is no traffic. (3) There is always traffic. Tomorrow you can play on the freeway if there is northbound traffic in the southbound lanes.

I know from the blurb on the back of the book proclaims, “Mrs. Ramsey is beautiful, dominate and generous. Her power is gentle but irresistible.” I don’t see these qualities except as they are firmly imbedded in Mrs. Ramsey’s own mind but not in her speech, her behaviors, her thoughts or her attitudes.

I admit I cannot play cricket, and I see no lure in those matches. To the Lighthouse may be a distinctly British book about a peculiar woman, a very eccentric woman, am extremely odd woman. But To the Lighthouse carried the connotation that the lights are out and a shipwreck is inevitable.

In the end I believe I wrote a better description of the first few pages of To the Lighthouse than Virginia wrote in the first place.

 

WRITING TRIALS ARE OVER

Think of the social and psychological pressures over the last two months hitting a writer.

Thanksgiving: A sleeper event. Usually this is the last time most Americans visit grandma’s house [or house of a relative living in a distant place] – over the hill, through the vale, along the Interstates, aboard an airline with the whole family: Kids, dog, goldfish. And Americans usually make the effort, something they will never recover from: Too much food, cholesterol, and fat. Loads a disagreeable conversation and too much familiarity. Too little sleep, relaxation and escape from the terrors of normal life.

Americans do Thanksgiving because it leaves the year end holidays, a true family event without the many annoying relatives. For a writer there are three dreadful, situational questions: What are you writing now? For the unpublished writer: When are you getting published? For the published writer: I saw your book [at the library], [in a bookstore] or [borrowed it]. I read a few pages and didn’t like it. I put it down. [Inference is: Why don’t you give it to me?]

Americans like to tell themselves about Thanksgiving, It’s only one day a year.

Religious Holidays in December. If each religion stuck to one day and kept it itself, everything would be fine. But, SHARE. We all live in the same world. The writer has less control over his life. Some persons like myself send Christmas [Season’s Greetings] cards and get a 20 percent return, which is pretty good these days. Older people get better returns, but my parents are considering paring the number of cards sent by 50 percent.

The mixing of the holidays means a relentless round of open houses, dinners, spiked punches, egg nog, cookies of all shapes and tastes, and other odd looking offerings which are undistinguishable except they are sweet. [How about fruit cake soaked for five months in 190 proof rum? That’s aging for the glutton.] There are also gifts guests and invitees bring. The appropriate response to these December “gifts” [including the liquor] should be a Congressional Act: The last Saturday of the year shall be known as NGSD – National Garage Sales Day.

There is a movement afoot to put Christ back into Christmas. Those proponents have one great obstacle. They believe Christmas has become too commercial, too festive and too irreverent. I mostly agree, hence I’m writing this post. BUT can anyone propose cutting back on Christmas giving and festivities: The American economy would grind to a halt. Certain proposed measures would discourage Americans from giving and spending. It is an unAmerican movement to broadly propose such a path.

New Years Day: This was once a period when unhappy people would cash out – drink and drive recklessly and kill themselves. Whereupon state legislatures realized that big money was to be made in drunk driving most of them raised fines and penalties. And law enforcement has commendably improved tactics to prevent many drunk drivers from killing themselves and hurting or killing others.

Americans use this day to make Resolutions – gone by Day’s end. Look back and rid themselves of memories. Face the unknown bravely. The flaw – Americans party with like-thinking friends, acquaintances and strangers. The reflection comes from a mirror of the past  – the restart of the football season after Christmas. Betting and pools. I’ve seen surveys about the drop in business productivity because employees are research and choosing terms, watching, arguing and moping about poor performances. It is egregiously perplexing when someone’s mother-in-law concerned about the grandkids, the family and who volunteers at the local library wins the loot. Everyone can speculate how she picked her teams. I tried to pay no attention to the games, except to observe that Stanford sucked in the Rose Bowl.

January. This was once a month when lives crashed. Nothing has happening. The January blues. People could reflect, meditate, take an inventory, and move on.

    Martin Luther King. Celebrations are no longer on his birthday, January 15, but whenever it will create a three day weekend. The day has become part of the January celebration rather than supporting the historical January tradition. President Obama started out well by defining the day as one of service – a message less apparent this year. Because the day is on a weekend now, it has become intertwined and lost along the Professional Football playoffs. No local parade will save it.

   Professional Football. This sport has overtaken January as its own. Note this occupation is in the middle of the Professional Basketball Season.

   Entertainment. There was once only the Oscars [Academy Award] ceremony in the late winter. It is passé and meaningless. Now January has become award-event month. Every week is a ceremony offering somebody, something: music, special effects, acting. Not only do movie ads tell how many Academy Award nominations have been received, but also they give a litany of previous awards – Golden Globes, Director’s Guild, Writer’s Guild, Janitor’s Guild [top trophy goes to best use of used condom].

   State of the Union. It was too long. If President Obama has wanted anyone to remember the speech and what he said, he would have spoken for 15 minutes rather than 65 minutes. Even that is too long to get noticed. Better yet the President could have put it to music and given us a rap song in 3 minutes. Best yet, the President could have devised an aphorism, no longer than 20 words, something everyone would want to carve onto stone. 

Super Bowl. This is the true end of social and psychological confrontations disturbing writers. It’s the big game which will go on much too long. Americans will attend parties, overeat, over drink, talk about golf, and look forward to a time for rest and relaxation.

I will watch none of the game because (1) it is only a football game. I only need to know the result, not how someone won. (2) There are too many ads. (3) This it not a football game which should last only 2 1/2 hours. That game has its own pulse. The teams can get into a rhythm. One can go into a slump. (4) The whole spectacle is too commercial, apart from the ads. (5) There are too many ads disrupting the game.I don’t want to watch babies selling diapers or a stock brokerage firm. (6) Also, let’s watch men beat one another up. Perhaps a player will die; they’ll drive him off the field in a golf-cart [Hence the natural golf-football crossover.] A few players will get injured. Too many will suffer permanent physical injuries which will increase Workers Compensation costs. An unknown number will suffer head injuries aggravating previous injuries and leaving them unable to live productive lives after their playing days. (7) I’ve decided against watching gladiator sports only a month after the religious holidays. Why watch the carnage? 

I know I shall be culturally deprived. I will miss the Super Bowl Ads. I could record the whole show and run through, watching the ads. But I’ll leave advertising where it is [last year’s ads were mediocre]. I hope to do something useful for myself or for others.

February: The end of the season.

I know the Winter Olympics are coming up. They seem a let down after the rip-roaring action of the previous two months.

I know that Valentines Day is coming up. Love, hearts and dripping sentiments seem a let down after the rip-roaring actions of the last two months.