Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Book Report: "The Coming of the Third Reich" by Richard J. Evans

Which I'm in the beginning stages, although not in the beginning, of.

On top of answering the basic question "Why?", which isn't sufficiently answered by saying "The German people are bad", there are other considerations.

But first let me run down some things.

Did the Germans allow Jews to be deported, to their deaths? Yes.
Did Germans acquiesce to Hitler? Yes. There wasn't a German resistence movement.
Did Germans stand by while the Nuremburg laws were passed and enforced? Yes.
Was anti-semitism present in Germany before the Nazis, in some form or another going back to the middle ages, although not necessarily a racially conceived idea of anti-semitism? Yes.

But none of this explains the rise of Hitler or that of the Nazi party.
What they do explain pretty well is the war and the society as seen up close by the American troops in Europe during World War II. My feeling is that the basic knowledge of the period by Americans comes from the war years. There doesn't seem to be any awareness that there was a historical process that lead to the Nazis coming to power. What's more, sometimes suggesting that there was one is considered tantamount to anti-semitism. Which is absurd.

"The Coming of the Third Reich" helps to understand the currents that coalesced into Nazism through tracing their origins back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Incidentally, and perhaps the most significant for us, is a theme that he repeats over and over again: there were many extremist, reactionary, racist, currents in Germany in the early years of the 20th century, but they were comparatively small although their influence was growing so that they somewhat began to effect the mainstream. What changed all that, what accounted for the spectacular growth of these ideas, along with a general radicalization and division of German society on both the right and the left was the experience of the First World War.

That's a lesson to remember, something that's not trivial or rhetorical.

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