Sunday, November 21, 2004

Through a Glass Darkly

Oliver Stone portrays Alexander the Great as gay (via Instapundit and Ann Althouse) and whether or not that was the case, it illustrates the potential dangers of learning history according to Hollywood. While the Third Reich still remains a potent historical image only the very old have any first hand recollection of it and there is the danger the term 'Nazi' may become just as much a figure of speech as 'working like a Trojan' -- a reference to nothing anyone understands in particular. When people aver that 'Bush is like Hitler', it presumes the speaker has a clear historical knowledge of what Hitler was really like, an assumption which is increasingly invalid.

For one, Hitler would have taken a very dim view of Jesusland, a country which George Bush is said to be in the process of founding, whose geographic location is to the immediate south of the United States of Canada. Martin Bormann said, "National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable." Hitler, according to Klaus Fischer's Nazi Germany stated that "one day we want to be in a position where only complete idiots stand in the pulpit and preach to old women." In a concession to popular feeling, however, the Nazis offered the public certain acceptable 'faith traditions' including something called "Gottglaubig", a dished-up creed heavily overladen with ancient Germanic pagan beliefs with versions of rituals for birth, marriage and death.  "By 1938, carols and nativity plays were were forbidden in the schools, and the words 'Christmas' itself was replaced by the word 'Yuletide'."

It has been fashionable to equate teaching the Western classics to spreading an oppressive and fascist ideology. The views of the ultimate fascist on education would surprise many. Hitler did not believe that the classics or intellectual excellence had any more value than dirt on the bottom of a shoe. What he wanted was street fighters, brawlers and unthinking thugs. Articulating his vision of education, Hitler said:

"I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men. I would have them learn only what takes their fancy. But one thing they must learn - self-command! They shall learn to overcome the fear of death, under the severest tests. That is the intrepid and heroic stage of youth. Out of it comes the stage of the free man, the man who is the substance and essence of the world, the creative man, the god-man. In my Ordensburgen there will stand as a statue for worship the figure of the magnificent, self-ordaining god-man; it will prepare the young men for their coming period of ripe manhood."

Maybe Oliver Stone had the right idea, but the wrong historical figure. The Nazis were swingers in their own way, not at all like the stuck-up inhabitants of Jesusland. The wife of Martin Bormann, for example, thought having a menage a trois was a great idea. "A fanatical adherent to Nazi ideology, she bore her husband ten children, the first being named Adolf, after his god-father. Of her husbands mistress, Manja Behrens, she wrote "See to it that one year she has a child and next year I have a child, so that you will always have a wife who is serviceable". The Nazis were big fans of alternative families, as exemplified by the Lebensborn program.

As you know the Lebensborn program had two main components. The first was the encouragement of non-marital pregnancies between Aryan youths with the off-spring raised as Nordic supermen. The second, and more disturbing aspect of the program was the kidnapping of children from occupied territories and the distribution of these children to "Aryan" families. During this program about 200,000 children were kidnapped from Poland. It is estimated that about 50,000 Ukrainian children were kidnapped and about 50,000 from the Baltic regions. Even countries like Norway and France were not immune from such kidnappings and most of the children that survived the Lidice massacre (Czechoslavakia) were taken into the Lebensborn.

It would come as a surprise to many that Hitler believed in state control of the economy. In a speech Hitler gave to German business in 1934, he said:

Private enterprise cannot be maintained in the age of democracy; it is conceivable only if the people have a sound idea of authority and personality. Everything positive, good and valuable, which has been achieved in the world in the field of economics and culture, is solely attributable to personality. When, however, the defense of this existing order, its political administration, is left to a majority it will irretrievably go under. All the worldly goods which we possess, we owe to the struggle of the chosen.

He didn't believe in international trade either. Immediately upon taking over, Hitler embarked on a program of making Germany self-sufficient in every strategic commodity. "The goal of the re-organization of the economy was to achieve German self-sufficiency (Autarky). In September 1936, a Four-Year Plan was launched. It was intended to make Germany self-sufficient in coal, iron, steel and other basic raw materials and improve the economy by initiating public works and financial aid to industry and agriculture." What he ended up with was a hybrid economic system not unlike that recommended by many 'progressive' economists. Wikipedia summarizes Nazi economics.

It is important to note that the Nazi Party's conception of international economics was very limited. As the National Socialist in the name NSDAP suggests, the party's primary motivation was to incorporate previously international resources into the Reich by force, rather than by trade (compare to the international socialism as practiced by the Soviet Union and the COMECON trade organization). This made international economic theory a supporting factor in the political ideology rather than a core plank of the platform as it is in most modern political parties.

In an economic sense, Nazism and Fascism are related. Nazism may be considered a subset of Fascism, with all Nazis being Fascists, but not all Fascists being Nazis. Nazism shares many economic features with Fascism, featuring complete government control of finance and investment (allocation of credit), industry, and agriculture. Yet in both of these systems, corporate power and market based systems for providing price information still existed. Quoting Benito Mussolini: "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power."

Rather than the state requiring goods from industrial enterprises and allocating raw materials required for their production (as in socialist / communist systems), the state paid for these goods. This allows price to play an essential role in providing information as to relative scarcity of materials, or the capital requirements in technology or labor (including education, as in skilled labor) inputs to produce a manufactured good. Additionally, the unionist (strictly speaking, syndicalist) veneer placed on corporate labor relations was another major point of agreement. Both the German and Italian fascist political parties began as unionist labor movements, and grew into totalitarian dictatorships. This idea was maintained throughout their time in power, with state control used as a means to eliminate the assumed conflict between management labor relations.

If Hitler was altogether more evil than we can conceive, he arose from a time and circumstance which few if any can still remember. Any comparisons between the 1945 and 2004 are likely to be inexact. Those who point to the shooting of Jihadi in Fallujah by a US Marine as evidence that America is drifting into Nazism would do well to remember that in 1945, American troops who arrived in Dachau were so disgusted by what they saw they executed hundreds of SS guards on the spot. This is a link to remarkable photographs of the incident.

"The killing of unarmed POWs did not trouble many of the men in I company that day for to them the SS guards did not deserve the same protected status as enemy soldiers who have been captured after a valiant fight. To many of the men in I company, the SS were nothing more than wild, vicious animals whose role in this war was to starve, brutalize, torment, torture and murder helpless civilians." Flint Whitlock, The Rock of Anzio, From Sicily to Dachau: A history of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division

The facile comparison of Hitler to the modern leftist bogeymen du jour lends itself to distortion. Most people are tolerably familiar with the Third Reich's oppression of homosexuals. But relatively few know that a special badge was minted in Dachau for assignment to the Jehovah's Witnesses: the purple triangle.

Red was for Communists, Social Democrats, anarchists, and other "enemies of the state"; green was for German criminals; blue was for foreign forced laborers; brown was for Gypsies; pink was for homosexuals; purple was for Jehovah's Witnesses and black was for asocials, a catch-all term for vagrants, bums, prostitutes, hobos, alcoholics who were living on the streets, or anyone who didn't have a permanent address. The "work-shy," or those who were arrested because they refused to work, wore a black badge.

That Nazi medical experiments were carried out on Jews is common knowledge. But what about Roman Catholic priests? Hitler was remarkably even handed in his treatment of religions.

After the war, Dr. Schilling was arrested by the American Army and charged with participating in a "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of War because he conducted experiments on Dachau prisoners, using various drugs in an effort to find a cure for malaria. Most of his subjects were young Polish priests whom Dr. Schilling infected by means of mosquitoes from the marshes of Italy and the Crimea, according to author Peter Padfield in his book entitled "Himmler." The priests were chosen for the experiments because they were not required to work, as were the ordinary prisoners at Dachau.