DIARIES OF VICTOR KLEMPERER

The Lesser Evil, 1945-1959

The secondary title supposedly refers to the comparison of Nazism to Communism. The author’s well-known, excellent World War Two diaries set in Dresden where he was living are compelling and dramatic. Therein, Klemperer is less an academic and less intellectual and more human and communicative.

This single volume of his last 14 years of life seem academic with pretense to intellectualism. He is a professor but not set to one location. The writing is onerous and much less clear; he seems confused and conflicted as a diarist. Why did the Chicken cross the road? Should I also cross the road? Will the chicken be there if I cross the road after it does? is If the chicken becomes road kill should I consume the remainder?

Much was goofed up in Germany after World War Two. The Americans Army fed itself well. It organized much in its sector using non-Nazi Germans and German Jews. But Klemperer has few good impressions to report about the Soviets, except they are not Nazis.

I read until I got to one repeated point: Social pressures to join this organization or another group to support the establishment seemed like high school. Klemperer reacts and joins, if he can go 10 or 20 miles, to meetings. Be part of the influential class, the in-group and popular and be comfortable. Early on he isn’t at ease; his diet is monotonous; it’s hard to visit friends, if they can be found; there is no work for him, although he is recognized as an authority in his field.

I did not need to read another 500 pages of this East German Storm and Trag, not well-expressed and always relying on some remote big-wig’s good will who might drive Klemperer to an event one evening yet by the next week be arrested to put into prison.

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MEIN KAMPF – RACE

Adolph is devoted to ancient rituals, science and theology. Anthropology declares there are distinctions among nationalities. Although they all look the same, Pole supposedly are Slavs; Germans are Teutons, although their stock came from the Ukraine and central Asia. Note the Germans tribe opposing the Romans during the Classical era moved: the Lombards to Italy, the Franks to France, the Visigoths to Spain. According to Adolph those persons are not German and not even Teutonic. The English became a mix of peoples: Britons, Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen.

In Mein Kampf Adolph tells readers only Germans are Germans: “…it is a scaredy conceivable fallacy of thought to believe that a Negro or a Chinese … will turn into a German because he learns German and is willing to speak the German language in the future and perhaps even give his one vote to a German political party. That any such Germanization is in reality a de-Germanization never become clear to our bourgeois national world. For if today, by forcing a universal language on them, obvious differences between different peoples are bridge over and finally effaced, this means the beginning for a bastardization, and hence in our case not a Germanization but a destruction of the German element.” (Page 388, 389; see also, 438-39)

It came to pass that Don Trump trumpeted this favorite passage from Mein Kampf: Persons of Mexican parents were not American, although born in Indiana. All Americans reject Adolph’s view of Neanderthal anthropology. Americans can ask themselves, how have the mongrel populations done in mano-e-mano showdowns against the PURE? Just after Pearl Harbor, Americans believed Americans of Japanese descent were not American. We put most of the West Coast population into concentration camps. How did the Japanese-Americans react? They joined the Army and went to war.

How did the mongrels speaking English, fully accustomed to American life and following American ways do against the race of supermen, racial superior, he-men pure and inbred? No contest: The Japanese-Americans kicked German butts into the fatherland and beyond. The U.S. Army 442 is the most heavily decorated division in army history. The Japanese-Americans affirmed citizenship for themselves and their families 73 years ago, and for other sons from countries and their families contributing to our war efforts.

And Don Trump? He should come into the Twenty-First Century rather than hold and defend social norms and ideals prevalent in American between World War One and Two.

MEIN KAMPF – AVERAGE JOHANN

Adolph did not think much of his followers: Scum recurs in the text; weakling is another word. Adolph wants his followers to be disciples, not of a brotherhood where consent, love and goodness are controlling behaviors. He demands his followers be intolerant, violent and brutal especially to everyone who disagrees with them or who does not look like them.

...the masses are slow moving and they always require a certain time before they are ready, even to notice a thing, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated a thousand times will be masses finally remember them.(page 185)
On top of this there is the fact that the mass of people as such is lazy; … they remain inertly the spirit of their old habits (page 470)
At night…they will succumb more easily to the dominating force of a stronger will.
…mysterious twilight in Catholic churches, the burning of lamps, incense,
goal of oratory is “illiterate common people.”(page 475)

I cannot think why any human being or a group of human beings would follow, except Adolph is correct. Human beings are group animals. We live together in families, clans, neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, regions, states and nations. Most people like to feel part of something, trusting on friendship alone, believing in a similar set of ideas that once made sense but are not completely reasoned, hoping unity of community action will bring about changes. People sometimes invest together.
Adolph may believe that all human beings need leading, but he is wrong. He could lead no more than one-third of the German nation to vote for him, yet he became dictator. How that happened is a failure of the German people and its government. They viewed politics as a combination of physical and psychological forces in which they did not want to participate. The Nazis themselves were boisterous as a tactic to confine, eliminate speech and communication and drown the opposition. Nazi opponents who allowed the Nazis to act thusly (yet fund them) forsook rights to communicate opinions, the nature of their expression and demonstrate their presence on Earth. Perhaps it was easier to go to the opera or symphony that night than to stand against Adolph..
Adolph dusted away all gratitude to party adherents as he ascended in the hierarchy. He considered many competing, compelling leaders enemies during the 1920s and early 1930s. They were not the common people; few of them died of old age in their beds. Adolph compelled all Germans to accept Nazi politics after April 1934. He killed a bunch of Nazis during the night of the long knives in June 1934.
Mein Kampf and the Nazi approach to the individual loses the human element. The low-down German is the hero someone who can be idolized. But look closer and those low-down Germans (scum, weaklings, illiterate common people) do not exist. They are ignored. No one in power who wants to deal with such low beings, lowlifes.

Instead, the low-down German is always mentioned and is never identified. He becomes a marketing force on which the Party can concentrate. Yet none of the party policies will benefit the low-down German, except to make his life worse. He is forgotten; he is a loser.
Adolph took power in 1933, and five years later took steps toward War. 1939 Berlin was unlike 1914 Berlin, despite the Nazi hype. In 1914 there was dancing in the streets when War was announced. 1939 Berliners merely went about their business without demonstrating approval.
1945 was a crushing blow to all Germans. Low-down Germans had much company, where the Nazis intended all citizens to be.

The lesson from Adolph and his outcome is elections are like marriages. You may have to live with decisions of another person the remainder of your life. Before trusting anyone with a vote and consenting to policies, study, learn, know, realize and if possible like the individual receiving the vote. Citizens should look at actions and words, not yesterday’s speeches, but last month’s, six months ago, a year back. In Adolph’s case how will he help the average low-down German? Heft, consider and judge everything, and decide. Nothing in Adolph’s record suggested Adolph gave a hoot about any single low-down German.

MEIN KAMPF – Propaganda

In a presentable way Adolph relays two areas of this book providing excellent detail and precise analysis of the issues. Propaganda is one issue. The text says it best:

The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses’ attention to certain facts, processes, necessities, etc., whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.(page. 179)
The whole art consists of doing this so skillfully that everyone will be convinced that the fact is real, the process necessary, the necessity correct, etc. But since propaganda is not and cannot be the necessity itself, since its foundation, like the poster, consists in attracting the attention of the crowd, endnote in education those who are already educated or who are striving after education and knowledge, its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and only a very limited degree at the so-called intellect.
All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be…
The more modest its intellectual ballast, the more exclusively it takes into consideration the emotions of the masses, the more effective it will be…
The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses.
The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on those in slogans (page 180)
until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. (page 181)
[T]he most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless on fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.(page 184)
…the masses are slow moving and they always require a certain time before they are ready, even to notice a thing, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated a thousand times will be masses finally remember them.
When there is a change, it must not alter the content of what the propaganda is driving at, but in the end must always say the same thing. …the slogan itself…(page 185)

Once the propaganda serves its purpose and a following and organization may ensue, propaganda continues as the primary means to communicate between the leadership and the little people. Adolph gives many paragraphs describing propaganda and its purposes (p. 580-596), but it is speculation. Adolph does not know how effective propaganda is. This book was written in 1924, four years before the Nazis had any sort of electoral success as a minority party. They never became a majority party by an election.
Adolph violates one of this primary rules here. He drifts into theory, mind-bending speculation about what might happen. The actual events in Germany from 1925-1933 differ widely from the theorems Adolph offers. At best he describes measures that may lead to a successful advertising campaign.

ONE MAN’S MEAT IS NOBODY’S WRITING

ONE MAN’S MEAT, E.B. White

If the author sounds familiar, he authored Elements of Style. At a library sale I found this paperback book and put it into my dollar bag. Hence, the cost was perfect, $.03, plus inside the cover was a bonus, a note from girlfriend to boyfriend: “Dear Dayton [wonder if he races cars] – I enjoyed this very much this summer. White has a way with words! Merry Christmas! Love, Sally”

The book had been read once; there were pages turned down. I wonder if Sally did anything cheesy like give Dayton the copy she had read over the summer. She uses entirely too many exclamation points. If so, I don’t think he read it. I wonder if Sally and Dayton ever married. Probably not. The book was given after 1978. They would be in the late fifties now, and this book would be a keepsake. Divorced? Probably not. Dayton or Sally probably would have removed the note. It’s easy; it’s in there with scotch tape. Dayton had the book, never read it and this year gave it to the library.

Most of the book is properly written, but it is not well written. There is no sense the writer knows how to dramatize a point, an event or a description. He is a poor journalist. Of 304 pages about 30 are engaging and a few are excellent. The remainder is dull, a lot of the writing is about seed crops and animal husbandry (the animals have no names). Examples: 

1) “Removal” is about moving. White’s line should be, “I didn’t like the old mirror. Each time I looked at it, I appeared tired.” INSTEAD, White described his toils trying to rid himself of the mirror and ended the paragraphs with: “A few minutes later, after a quick trip back to the house, I slipped the mirror guiltily in a doorway, a bastard child with not even a note asking the finder to treat it kindly. I took a last look in it and I thought I looked tired.”

2) “Progress and Change,” an article about the El Sixth Street train removed circa 1938. White describes veterans and visitors’ reactions to the train coming into a station. EB mentions the suddenness of the training stopping, and the visitors always being unsettled. But EB does not write it: EB’s spotlight is on the New York City residents who feels superior because he does not wince, but he does not give enough facts to allow the reader to understand why wincing is not necessary.

3) White had very bad hay fever, throughout his life. He went to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 while suffering a bout of hay fever. He wrote, “When you can’t breathe through your nose, Tomorrow seems strangely like the day before yesterday.” Tomorrow is the theme of the fair, but “seems strangely” is a seemingly strange verb and adverb combo. White should complete the simile with a direct verb – “is”, “smells”, or since he’s a mouth breather that day, “tastes.” 

I’ve read most of George Orwell’s essays; they are impossible to remove from my memory. I will say EB White’s writing about totalitarianism is wrong and childish. He reveals he is absolutely ignorant, and poorly read and out of step with thinking and knowledge. Before his death in 1935 Will Rogers told America about Hitler, We’re going to have to watch this guy. ON THE OTHER HAND, White is engaged by The Wave of the Future, Anne Lindbergh, circa 1940. The Lindberghs were pro-Nazi until the United States had to declare war on Germany on December 10, 1941; they then shut up forever. The Lindberghs received medals from the Nazis; they overlooked Crystal Nacht; they disregarded reports of plunder and murder in recently German occupied countries in Europe. Nothing the Lindberghs wrote was worth reading, yet White devotes an article to Anne although is slightly uncomplimentary. In 1941, White gets around to reading Mein Kampf. 

The best article White has in at the beginning, “Removal,” and only part of it: (Written in 1938)

“…Radio has already given sound a wide currency, and sound “effects” are taking the place once enjoyed by sound itself. Television will enormously enlarge the eye’s range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote. More hours in every twenty-four will be spent digesting ideas, sounds, images – distant and concocted. In sufficient accumulation, radio sounds and television sights may become more familiar to us than their originals. A door closing, heard over the air; a face contorted, seen in a panel of light – those will emerge as the real and the true; and when we bang the door of our own cell or look into another’s face the impression will be of mere artifice. I like to dwell on this quaint time, when the solid world becomes make-believe, McCarthy corporeal and Bergen stuffed, when all is reversed and we shall be like the insane, to whom the antics of the sane seem crazy twistings of a grig”

White is entirely correct that television has contributed to depersonalizing human society, and that it will allow broadcasters and governments to be and promote dishonesty: “…sights may become more familiar to us than their originals.” One would expect that human beings with less intelligence would have the most difficulty determining what is “the real and the true,” and what “will be of mere artifice.” HOWEVER, White himself {Ivy League, Eastern Establishment} amply demonstrates in One Man’s Meat that he is completely befuddled. He is dwelling “on this quaint time,” but neglecting to use his powers to examine it. 

White quotes excellent passages from Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, about the weaknesses and annoyances of the spoken word, but upon reading Mein Kampf, White writes and quotes in “Freedom,” 

“…it is not the written word but the spoken word, which in heated movements moves great masses of people to noble or ignoble action. The written word, unlike the spoken word, is something which every person examines privately and judges calmly by his own intellectual standards, not by what the stand standing next to him thinks, ‘I know,” wrote Hitler, ‘that one is able to win people far more by the spoken than the written word…’ Later he adds contemptuously, ‘For let it be said to all knights of the pen and to all the political dandies, especially of today: the greatest changes in this world have never yet been brought about by a goose quill. No, the pen has always been reserved to motivate these things theoretically.'” 

White properly reports what others have said about the spoken versus the written word, but where is the further analysis from the  Eastern Establishment, Ivy League great mind? White says of himself in the same article, “Luckily, I’m not out to change the world…” The best that could be said of White is he is lazy and vacuous. The worse justifiable conclusion is, White is intellectually dishonest. He complains about mass media changing human behavior and society, yet he is unable to cope with the confusion, so sticks his head in his salt water farm on the Maine coast.

 

 

Background

I read a lot of history; I read it in sprees. For a year twentieth century history has been my nut, primarily the two European wars and Germany and the Soviet Union. There are times I’ll find an author, and buy books from Amazon or Bookfinder (and others), but most of my reading comes from used books, stuff bought at library bookstores or library sales.

Why read history? To understand more completely. In Barrons today, Jack A. Ablin of BMO Private Bank, is quoted (M16): “It is hard to conceptualize from our Western point of view, but roughly 80% of Russians surveyed believe that economic growth and jobs are more important than their form of government.” I agree. That has been an issue many books I’ve read over the last year, decade, scores of years.

However, I went to read three volumes by Richard J. Evans, the first being, The Coming of the Third Reich (borrowed from the library). In total the three volumes are about 1500 pages. I read the Preface, and Evans discusses other survey books telling of the Third Reich. He notes William L. Shirer’s books, The Rise and Fall and says it is weak, but he fails to mention it is the first. It is unusual for a historian to criticize, outside critical literature, books. He is complimentary to everyone he mentions, English and German historians. He finally, and has to mention Gordon Craig, an American, but only one of Craig’s books: The Politics of the Germany Army 1640-1945.

I finished the Preface and wondered why it was incomplete: Gordon Craig has a book, Germany: 1866-1945 (1978). It seemed spot onto Richard Evans’ topic, but it wasn’t referenced. A German who became an American wrote three volumes, the last covering 1840-1945. Hojo Holborn was a brilliant historian; he died in 1967. Reading about the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and its culture, one finds Hajo Holborn mentioned. He was part of German academia and participated in the culture before the Nazis came to power. He left Germany in 1933 after losing his university position.

I wondered why Hajo Holborn and Gordon Craig’s other books were not in the Preface. I looked at the bibliography where they were also absent, saving Craig’s German Army book.

I turned the page to Chapter 1, page 1, line 1 or Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich:

       “Is it wrong to begin with Bismarck?”

Richard Evans book was published in 2003, almost forty years after Gordon Craig’s book. I realized I had read this book before. I stopped reading. Indeed, Germany: 1866-1945 by Gordon Craig, Chapter 1, Page 1, line 1 reads: 

       “Is it a mistake to begin with Bismarck?”

DESTINY – FATE

In Joachim Fest’s biography, Speer, the biographer in the final chapter concludes about his subject: “Speer admitted that he would also have placed himself at the disposal of a ruler of a completely different ideological orientation, if he had offered him similar opportunities.” (343)

If that state of mind of a man like Speer is not absurd consider what comes next: “…when asked whether he would have behaved differently after all he had since learned about Hitler and the system created by him, [Speer] replied, after an astonished pause, ‘I don’t think so.'” (348)

Don’t learn from mistakes; don’t learn from experience; have no intelligence; forget free will; I did nothing wrong; I have no personal responsibility; everyone else was doing what I was doing. Speer is a guy who was born to be abused because life could teach him nothing. He would participate with the same group of thugs and criminals in the 1930s and 1940s, groups which have plagued human society since history began recording events. 

But Speer was supposed to be different; he was more intelligent. He figured he had spent 20 years in prison for the 12 years he participated in the Third Reich and afterward he expected to be relieved. According to his biographer, Speer did not understand why he wasn’t relieved after prison; he didn’t know why he felt more comfortable in prison-like settings. That answer is he never left prison. Speer never made the connection that his participation in the Third Reich was not destiny – it was not his fate. He had talent – architect and intelligence. Those abilities did not direct him to the Nazis. A point made in the biography was Speer took the Nazi road because it was easy. He did not have to think, consider or judge: JUST DO.

Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Albert Speer lived an unexamined life. The first obligation any human being has is to understand he is a human being. He is not defined by being part of a social, political or religious group. What sort of human being was Speer? Pathetic, living and struggling through existence and never realizing who he was or how he should act to achieve happiness. He, not others, should make decisions about his life; he should make no choices; others directed him toward opportunities. Human beings should understand that taking the easy way may be more perilous than taking the hard way. The biography described what Speer did to survive, but not why he was incapable of being his own man.

Taking “the road less traveled” [from Robert Frost] is more difficult but frequently more fulfilling, provided one has made the choice and realizes the hazards, avoiding them, before the pot of goodies.

Since learning of Socrates’ axiom, I’ve stride to live an examined life, and it is often troubling. I remember a lot – never feelings, but people, places, dates, times, who said what when. I know that my current state of existence is derived from choices and deliberate actions based upon experience and learning. Nothing comes from destiny. I am not Mozart. My production comes from effort – intelligence, judgment, memory, understanding, intuition, experience, learning and what wisdom is there. I have eight books – six novels, a history and one of essays and stories on the iBookstore. I can post more if prudence warrants that.

But the fact that I am a writer is not destiny or fate. Except for mediocre law school grades, I would have been happy being an antitrust attorney where I was talented, motivated and driven. My initial medium in which to be original was music except I injured a hand early on.

I’ve asked myself why I made certain choices. I’ve come to the realization that I always make similar choices. My choices may be a mistake, or they my be natural. I remember, though, as a teenager I had the conception that I did not want to work for anyone; I didn’t want to exploit anyone. I wanted to take stuff from me and present it to the world. Good or bad that thought has been a significant influence in all my decisions when making choices. I have learned that some choices will force me into activities and actions that will reduce me to unhappiness. I don’t need that. I avoid those situations and activities that will disturb and disrupt my ability to fulfill my ease and comfort.

As for Albert Speer, living through his years and being compelled to act, looking back and he doesn’t think that he would have behaved or acted differently – Speer is properly destined for the hellish oblivion he lived in his entire life. 

As for myself making choices and going off road, I hope to make myself rich and famous. I can stop walking and buy a vehicle – a Honda Civic, a Ford Focus or anything to make my journey on the road less traveled easy.

SPEER – A FINAL VERDICT, Joachim Fest

The last chapter of this book, the conclusion, is a masterpiece. What is Albert Speer’s life worth apart from being Adolph Hitler’s architect and munitions minister? Not much, unless Speer can be used as a model of an early twentieth century German boy, man, adult to explain why the Germans, each of them lemmings, ran off the cliff again, after the horrible tragedy of World War One. This biography gives suggestions but does not provide a thorough analysis.

The book reveals little about the Nazis, although one anecdote is noteworthy. On April 24, 1945 Speer met Heinrich Himmler, SS honcho, who believes wrongly he is to become Hitler’s successor. After saying good-bye to Hitler, Speer has just left  Berlin, now under assault by the Russians. Himmler dresses down Speer, telling him he won’t be part of the new German government and since no building will be done in the foreseeable future [bombed out Germany in April 1945], Speer’s services as an architect won’t be needed. Knowing that Himmler is an abject coward, Speer offers him his plane so Himmler can visit Hitler one last time and say good-bye. Himmler refuses the offer.

There is a sense in the biography that Speer’s IQ ran ten points higher than anyone he dealt with, until May 1945. There is no confirmation in the biography. An elevated IQ will cause restlessness in a young man as thoroughly as wine, women, drugs and mental illness. Was there recognition that the boy, Albert, was bright other than excelling at school, and everything he did came to him easy?

Apparently not. It is not part of the biography. To give a sense of Speer and the society he grew into as an adult, one must write a Life and Times book – sociology, cultural affairs, religious matters, academic successes plus biography. A boy usually gets his initial bearings from his family, but Speer’s parents were distant and not affectionate. A boy is exposed to society though institutions – schools, social organizations and churches. Speer was never religious, but what of the other institutional influences? The book suggests that Speer had no anchor and no safe harbor, despite being married, until 1931 when he heard Hitler speak: First speech – reasonable; Speer joins party. Second speech – distasteful; Speer didn’t like it. Third speech – offensive; Speer remains in party. The party was someplace to be.

There is the statement that joining the Nazis and accepting architectural commissions was the easy way. Nature had made life and society easy for Speer, someone who did not know how to work through problems: Solutions came to him easily. When life comes to an individual easily there is a human tendency to claim self-righteousness and being right, all the time. Yet, Speer’s problem was after April 1945 when life, events and circumstances, and his psychology was not easy to handle or deal with, and for a long time about many issues Speer was lost forever. 

The problem with the biography and in German history with the rise of the Nazis becomes 50 million lemmings ran Germany off the cliff – a highly cultural, highly educated, a sophisticated, intellectual people could not see the the Nazi danger, avoided observing what was going wrong and continued to follow until foreign armies had crushed the country. If it were one person who had gone off the cliff, that would amount to nothing. If it is 50 million, that is a story that needs telling in full. 

NOT I

Not I by Joachim Fest

Many facts in this volume need to be known, but the author reaches the wrong conclusion. Fest wonders how Hitler, Nazism and the Third Reich took swift root in Germany. He presents a persuasive argument, but in the end Fest didn’t get it. One statement: “Democracy…if one approached it responsibly was rather boring.” (378) 

I concede that most of what happens in a democracy is not exciting UNTIL DEMOCRACY MUST BE USED. DEMOCRACY becomes efficient and powerful, much more so than totalitarian systems like Nazi Germany where everyone must wait for the chief thug to awaken from his beauty sleep to make the wrong decision.

DEMOCRACY might be boring it it is not material, relevant or important to balance the interests of individuals, or the interests of the individual versus society, or the interests of an individual versus groups of individuals, of the interests of groups of individuals versus those of other groups. Instead, the people of a totalitarian country have no need to worry because the chief thug can make snap decisions and the problem is eliminated.

DEMOCRACY is boring if considerations, elements and factors constituting and defining freedom and liberty are uninteresting to a people who are grabbing the feet of the chief thug, heiling him at every chance and giving their lives to the caprice of a mentally ill victim of medical malpractice.

In essence Fest does not explore as fully as he should to excuse the actions of the German people into 1945. Unlike Fest’s father who never cooperated with the Nazis, Fest seems to accept still the German influences which infected his family: The glories of German culture.

This book admirably adumbrates circumstances leading the Germans to Hitler: Education, family, culture and society. Fest’s father is political; he attends political meetings. But one wonders about the naiveté and the ignorance. After the War starts the father discusses with a like-thinking neighbor whether they or anyone could justly kill a tyrant. The men discussed St. Augustine and Johannes Althusius (158). Assassination if a political act. The killer does not need theological or philosophical sanctions.

This disconnect to reality reminded me of Lenin’s comment about the Germans: (paraphrased) The Germans could not occupy a train station unless the window were open for sale of platform tickets.

Fest writes “…trust in the German culture always won out…A nation…that had produced Goethe, and Schiller and Lessing, Bach, Mozart and so many others would simply be incapable of barbarism…” (181) Having laid out facts, Fest presents a few examples. Germans quote Goethe to one another. Fest employees Goethe in the text sometimes to provide explanations. The German reaction seems to be if Goethe did it or talked about it, the solution is obvious; the matter is resolved. 

Note Americans and English use authorities, but Abraham Lincoln played games with Shakespeare. In Illinois his friends and he would recite the Bard, not as an authority about life, but to gain the upper hand.

An uneasy sensation comes from reading Not I. Germans are not always living in reality. Gather all the facts and weigh them against individual wants and needs. But Germans carry a load with them, what they call their culture which directs and controls their lives. When Germans wants their culture to restrain the Nazis and save the nation, they imposed too much culture. Culture became meaningless, and the Nazis used culture icons smartly. I believe when Hitler had succeeded to avoid war at Munich and much of Czechoslovakia was taken, German radio made the announcement and punctuated it with a Beethoven symphony, as a grace note.

How detached were the Germans swept into poetry and culture? A neighbor of Fest’s neighborhood was “singing in her wailing tremolo that she was doing to dance into heaven…” (182) Americans, at least, want to dance in the streets.

Americans knew what to do with German culture. Fest became a prisoner of war. Upon his arrival at the POW camp, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony (supremely beautiful music) “thundered from all the loudspeakers, and was still doing so nine days later when we left; day and night without stopping and with an annoying click after the sixty-fourth bar.” (295) I’m not sure Fest appreciated this aspect of American punishment combined with humor.

If I read Not I correctly (I doubt because I can’t believe such poor, ignorant advice departing from reality), Fest’s father urges him to study the Italian renaissance, especially Fifteenth Century Florence. That city as supposed to be the happy combination of art and culture plus and a positive political system. How can anyone be more wrong? The American Founding Fathers studied all Italian politics intensely and thoroughly and realized how temporary were those affair. Florentine politics were obviously not exemplary. Machiavelli thought not. He had to write The Prince.

Fest fails to provide an explanation why Germans who prize intelligence, education and knowledge did not take lessons from World War One: The failings of the German government and shifting politics (in the end it wasn’t a monarchy but a military dictatorship), the inadequacy of its leaders, limits to military success and relying to much on the military, and a necessary restructuring of the whole government. The Germans did none of those things after the First War, although the facts were before them. They acted on ignorance, misinformation and myth (stab in the back). In the end the Germans could only rely on an excuse, a superior culture. [Note the Germans had to wait until after World War Two (1955) to get an excellent book about World War One, Germany’s War Aims in the First World War, Fritz Fischer.] 

Lessons to take from Not I and the German domestic experience is how wrong a people can be. The Germans were not just misled by an evil tyrant and his herd of evil doers, but many in the country supported him, disregarded the horrors of Nazism and overlooked their deteriorating lives. Fest writes about members of his own family who refuse to talk about the Nazi years in Germany, although they knew Fest was researching and writing about those times. It is equally odd that more books like Fest’s have not been published. Germans, telling where they got it wrong, could do much to influence humanity for the better. My perception is that they have avoided that responsibility, unlike European Jews who wrote under the most adverse conditions during those times, to save humanity.

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.