Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Third Reich 1

1. Started reading The Coming of the Third Reich last night. It's the first of three volumes in a series on the entire sweep of the Nazi movement in the early twentieth century. This particular volume has to do with the rise of Nazis to power.

2. Evans starts with Otto von Bismarck, who unified his power over Prussia in 1871. Bismarck was idealized as the model German leader in the fifty years that followed. As is often the case, the myth of the man remembered was not always exactly the man himself (reminds me of how Reagan is sometimes made to look like a Tea Party Republican).

Bismarck was remembered as being ruthless and deceptive, a Machiavellian statesman for whom the end justified the means. He was remembered as a man of force who made his own reality, a conservative German reality. He was the "wild man of German conservatism, given to brutal statements and violent actions, never afraid to state with forceful clarity what more cautious spirits were afraid to say out loud" (2).

One person in 1915, in the middle of WW1, described the memory of the "Iron Chancellor" as "like a strong fellow, who has two good fists at his disposal, one for each opponent" (3).

3. There's no doubt that Bismarck was a conservative. There's no doubt that he was at times ruthless in advancing German interests. He is responsible for establishing the second German Reich in 1871, a rule over Germany, parts of France, Denmark, parts of Poland, and so forth that would last almost fifty years until it was ended by defeat at the end of World War 1.

There was, however, another side to him that was not remembered or much popularized. "He was not the reckless, risk-taking gambler of later legend" (3). He dealt in the "art of the possible." He said, "A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grab the hem of his garment."

Not popularized was the fact that he also served as a restraining force to the power of the military. The power of the military at the time in Germany was much as the power of the military currently seems to be in Egypt. After the conquests against the Danes, the French, and other German territories, the military would have enjoyed continuing. Bismarck tried to maintain the peace of Europe in the aftermath of these adventures. He did not seize colonial territory out of thirst but somewhat reluctantly, while others were looking to compete with the glorious takings of the British and others.

4. Germany came close to something like democracy in the revolutions of 1848. The liberals were clamoring for a Constitution like America, the French, and other countries had. They wanted the right to a trial by jury in an open court. They wanted equality before the law. They wanted freedom of business and the removal of censorship from freedom of the press. They wanted the right to assemble. "Germany reached its turning point and failed to turn" (5).

Nevertheless, after these "liberals" were defeated, the people did get some of these. They were given parliaments. Under Bismarck there was the birth of the Reichstag, the parliament for all the German states. But the chancellor controlled the military. The Reich Chancellor controlled when there was war and when there was peace.

Bismarck legitimized violence as the preferred path for political goals. "The great questions of the day," he said, "are not decided by speeches and majority resolutions... but by iron and blood" (8). Not exactly the American way. When he was in charge, martial law was the name of the game. Politicians and legislatures of the time lived, as it were, under the permanent threat of coup d'etat (9).

If there were protests, the police treated people more as enemies than as fellow citizens. Many of the police and other civil servants were in fact former military, indoctrinated in a way of life of force. The German army in the 1800s engaged in genocide in Namibia. They behaved like conquerors in the French and other territories they had conquered, not as if they had incorporated new people into a common land.

5. There were six political parties who differed quite widely from each other. This pendulum of extremes seems to have created a fundamental instability. Catholics were targeted and imprisoned in the 1870s in a "struggle for culture." The "liberals" were happy to see these traditionalists squelched. And after things eased up, the "Center" party of mostly catholics would be strongly anti-liberal.

Bismarck similarly stomped on the socialists. In a tactic Hitler would later used, he falsely blamed them for a couple assassination attempts and used the public outrage as an opportunity to oppress them. [Reminds me of Trump trying to suggest that Sanders is somehow responsible for the protests at his rallies or that it was a Muslim extremist who tried to storm his stage. Look for him to try to manipulate the American people in this way in the days to come. Wouldn't it be interesting if there were some kind of "terrorist attack" for him to take advantage of in the days right before the election?]

Lenin made fun of the German socialists saying they would never launch a successful revolution because "when they came to storm the railway stations they would line up in an orderly queue to buy platform tickets first" (15).

So Germany was racked by internal tensions and widely differing factions in the lead up to the first world war. It was controlled by a strong hierarchy that was associated with the military and considered use of force business as usual. It had political parties characterized by extreme views who hated each other and did not work together.

Here endeth the first chapter, "The Legacy of the Past."

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