Tuesday, January 10, 2017

7. His Brand is Crisis

On to the next chapter of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer, titled, "War on the Ruhr." My reviews of the first seven chapters were:
1. 1923 was clearly a pivotal year for Hitler. 1923 threatened his attempt to start a movement in a very key way--Germany was in danger of stabilizing. Hitler had no power if people weren't angry, if the people weren't crying for revolution of some sort. It hardly mattered what the revolt was about. It just needed to be something.

For these reasons, Hitler didn't need to be consistent about who the enemy was or what the threat was. He could shift from one to another. The key was that the discontent continued. The material used to stoke the fire was almost immaterial.

In a sense, the crisis didn't even have to be real. The key was that people felt it was real. It is not a situation for reason but for passion.

2. The French were the major fuel in this chapter. There are important lessons about how you deal with the conquered here. Heiden says that "Among the foreign conquerors, they [the Americans] alone had given the German population the feeling that understanding was still possible between victor and vanquished, a return to peace without bitterness and vengeance" (162).

When you use your current power to beat an enemy down, you are often sowing the seeds of your own future demise.

The British were less friendly but at least had the good of the region in view. Their key interest in post-World War I was the stability and security of the region. It was thus important to them that multiple countries had access to the North Sea, not just France. British self-interest also led them to oppose France taking the coal-rich region to the west of the Rhine river, the Ruhr. England needed to sell coal to France, which they couldn't do if France itself was in control of coal mines. On this issue, the British were with the Germans.

3. But the French leadership had a winner take all approach. The French people wanted no more war--something Hitler knew and would later use to his advantage. But the French leadership wanted France to expand to the Rhine. There were strikes in this 'Ruhr" region against the French occupation, but they hurt Germans more in the end than France.

Hitler's worst fear at this time was that the French would return the land to Germany. He needed that outrage to fuel his fire. But instead, Germany finally yielded. Yes--the imperialism of France kept the fuels of revolution burning.

4. World War I left Germany and Austria vastly diminished. Poland was created as a country, and the Polish enjoyed their new found freedom to the disadvantage of Germans living there. Czechoslovakia was also newly created. They were friendlier to their Germans but still a thorn in Hitler's side. Italy now had territory that had once been Austria's, but Hitler urged to let that go because he wanted the Fascist Italians under Mussolini on his side.

For a time, the situation on the Ruhr enabled people like Hitler to have weapons. But when it was over, he had to return them. This was a moment when his movement was in danger by reason of stability.

5. For a time, he took aim at the communists. He begged the leader of the German police in Munich (the Reichswehr) to let his group have weapons. He aimed to shoot up a peaceful communist rally. He was refused and threw a tantrum. With the help of his allies in the Reichswehr (Epp, Rohm), he took some anyway. Thankfully he chickened out. Instead he went to a Reichswehr camp and tried to get more people on his side. He failed, was surrounded, was forced to return the weapons.

His movement was very vulnerable. Sanity was in danger of prevailing. He needed crisis.

6. Hitler seems to have certain narcissistic personality traits. When you are agreeing with him, when he needs to get something from you, he is nice, quiet. He acts submissive. But if you disagree with him, he goes crazy. He makes promises to someone, but then breaks them and says the other person is to blame for it.

The moderates in leadership think they can use him. They don't want to destroy him, only keep him in check for their own purposes. Mistake. "They employed the illusory, halfway methods which have destroyed so many moderate rulers who thought that they could make pacts with extremists and use them as tools" (178).

They keep trying to bring the crazy Hitler back to reality, to the realm of facts. But you don't reason with a crazy man.

4. Underlying all this is a mass of malcontents, including former soldiers who are unemployed. They are desperate, a pressure cooker in need of a release valve. And Hitler had only stoked their fires. Either he must give them a release or they might even consume him.

This was an interesting dynamic to the chapter. The demagogue stokes the fires of revolution. There's a point where even the demagogue cannot back off. The fires cannot be stopped. Hitler promised the head of the Reichswehr in Munich, some man named Lossow, that he would not lead a revolt, a coup, a putsch, as it is called in German.

Lossow's response was prescient: "If you continue your propaganda in its present form, it will inevitably lead to a violent explosion some day, whatever your intentions. You can't just go on talking for years, some day you will have to act" (155)

1 comment:

David Drury said...

Facinating analysis