Tuesday, July 25, 2017

21. Conquest by Peace

"Conquest by Peace" is the title of chapter 24 of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer.  See the bottom for previous posts.

1. Make no mistake, there is no love for Hitler in this chapter. But perhaps there was a hint of admiration for the talent of an evil man at one skill. And indeed, although Hitler was presiding over the murder and oppression of swaths of his own people, he managed to calm a nervous world with talk of peace.

One of the most striking comments of Heiden is that Hitler may have even believed himself. We are not looking for the Germanization of the world, he told the world. They did not want war. They needed peace. Hitler agreed with the proposal of US President Roosevelt when he argued that the nations of Europe should only keep a defensive military but do away with offensive weapons like planes, tanks, and such.

Germany only wanted the right of self-determination, the right to truly be German. They did not begrudge the rest of the world its own right to be French or British or Italian or Russia. "Germany does not think of an attack, but of her security" (620), said the new dictator of Germany.

Perhaps Hitler even believed it in the moment. But it was not in his nature. You cannot believe what people like Hitler say. You have to see beyond what they even see of themselves to their true nature and destiny, which is the destruction of all around them.

2. The world wanted to believe Hitler. Perhaps in his more honest moments, he was doing with peace what he did with democracy. Having used democracy to destroy democracy, now he would use peace to destroy peace.

He did not have an army, he said. The SA are not an army, he said. War would not bring the much needed peace to Europe. What would bring peace, according to Hitler, was letting each national entity be itself, and Germany would not begrudge other nationalities from doing the same. "She wants nothing for herself which she is not willing to give others" (621).

"An extraordinary number of people were immediately convinced" (624). Hitler had done it again. He had changed his message to fit the expediency of the moment. "Facts were powerless against the tone of truth in Hitler's speeches" (624). "With his peace speech Hitler had immediately become the most powerful and most widely heard speaker in the world" (625).

"Fate, for a moment at least, put it in his power to say what the world felt" (627). Even President Roosevelt was enthusiastic about Hitler's vision for peace.

3. Meanwhile, parliaments and democracies were fading away all over Europe. Mussolini was already a dictator in Italy. The leader of Poland had slowly taken the role of a dictator. The leader in Austria, in a dispute over the rules of parliament, sent parliament home and never called it back. Only Czechoslovakia remained a democracy, isolated in eastern Europe.

"While incomprehensible and hideous things kept happening in Germany, which foreboded nothing good for the future of the rest of the world, Hitler's policy toward foreign countries was of a suppleness, indeed a compliancy, which should have aroused amazement, except for the fact that people see only what they expect and perceive the new only after it has become customary" (614).

  • Never trust the word of a madman wanting to lead, even when in his own mind he is speaking truthfully.
  • The rising dictator, still gaining power, can lull his opponents into a self-defeating acquiescence because they do not want to face the need for painful action while it is still possible.
  • People only see what they want to see, until they get used to the new normal, when they then deny that anything is truly wrong. Frogs will deny that the temperature is dangerously rising until they have become used to the boiling water.
Previously on Hitler:

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