Fascism for Beginners


The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which – George Orwell

I’m reading a very good book right now. It’s called THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH by William Shirer. I bought it a few years ago in honor of the 50th anniversary of its publication, but until recently it’s been sleeping on my bookshelf. I’m reading it now because, like many people since the November election, I’m pretty deflated, and I’m thinking this book will be a good antidote. Maybe it will put things into perspective. As low as America is right now, it would have to claw a lot more dirt out of the pit to reach the depths of 1930s-40s Germany.

RISE AND FALL is considered the definitive history of the Nazi Party. It’s a 1,150-page book of small print, so reading it is a long haul. I’m just past the rise and starting on the fall. Churchill has replaced Chamberlain in England. Germany’s vaunted army has finally been repulsed, on the icy Eastern front, by Russia. The U.S. has reluctantly been pulled into the war following the sneak Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I’ve never been much of a WWII buff. As far as historical conflicts go, I’ve always preferred the more antiquated and seemingly altruistic slaughter of the American Civil War. My wife loves the Second World War. Any time one of those black-and-white newsreels about WWII is broadcast on television, she grabs the remote. I can’t watch them. Inevitably, there are clips of that shrieking madman with the greasy hair and Charlie Chaplin mustache. I usually leave the room. The sight of him makes my skin crawl.

So until recently, I was probably like most Americans, in that my knowledge of Nazi Germany was limited to a few names, dates… and one monumental atrocity. But Shirer’s book has made it abundantly clear that Nazi philosophies and practices were aided and abetted many years prior to the war and the Holocaust. The war and the Holocaust were just fascism brought to its logical and horrifying conclusion.

Charlie Chaplin spoofing Adolf Hitler in “The Great Dictator” (1940). Hitler was considered a big joke in the beginning. After the clown makeup came off, the world saw something else.

What’s the definition of fascism? The “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” defines it as follows:

A political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

That’s a mouthful. But let’s look at the first part: “…exalts nation and often race above the individual.”

The Nazi Party was founded by a man named Anton Drexler and three other far-right Germans in Munich on January 5, 1919. At that time, it was called the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or DAP). By 1921, a onetime vagabond and former Austrian colonel named Adolf Hitler had, through boundless energy, skillful oratory, and not a little fanaticism, wrested control of the party.

Anton Drexler, founder of the Nazi Party

Hitler added the words “National Socialist” to the name, making it NSDAP, or “Nazzy” (Note: the word “Socialist” here was merely used rhetorically and had little to do with the philosophies of various leftist parties in Germany at the time, which Nazism eventually extinguished). Hitler and other party leaders also delivered a 25-point manifesto. Two of the manifesto points were as follows:

Point Number 4: “Only a member of the race can be a (German) citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently, no Jew can be a member of the race.”

(This ignorant stipulation mistakenly assumes that precious “German blood” equates with race, when Germanic heritage is actually an ethnicity. And note the casual singling out of one particular group for discrimination: Jews. Evidently there were few Arabs in Germany at the time – at least, any that had social or economic significance).

Point Number 8: “Any further immigration of non-citizens is to be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans, who have immigrated to Germany since 2 August 1914, be forced immediately to leave the Reich.”

(August 2, 1914 is the day Germany mobilized for WWI, which it ultimately lost. The 1918 Treaty of Versailles required the country to make reparations for its aggression, including a substantial loss of territory. This left a lingering bitterness throughout the prideful nation. The date of August 2, 1914 was probably significant to the most nationalistic Germans, but totally arbitrary to most immigrants).

Nation and race. Nationalism and eugenics. Always choice ingredients in a recipe for disaster. Remember, this Nazi “Program” was drawn up in 1921: eighteen years before Germany invaded Poland to start the next world war. Although NSDAP was still only a radical fringe group in Germany, the party principles had already taken root. Hitler and his henchmen would adhere to these two points, and all 23 others – and expand on them – until their empire of sadism finally toppled.

My stomach’s starting to churn, so I’ll break off. But please check back for the second part of my “Fascism for Beginners,” where I’ll be examining how citizens allowed a political party and its leader to turn their country into a pigsty.

13 thoughts on “Fascism for Beginners

  1. I’ve actually read this book a couple of times, once when I was in high school and again maybe two years ago. On the second reading I said that it may be the best book I ever read. I genuinely believe that every citizen of Earth should read it. I also read a book called “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” which went into greater detail about how prevalent anti-Semitism was in Germany. And how all Hitler had to do was get in front and lead in the direction his society was already going.

    • Wow, twice? My hat is off to you, sir. I agree, this book should be required reading, along with “Diary of Anne Frank.” And yes, Hitler exploited many existing feelings in Germany. I hope to try to touch on them in my next post. Thanks Jim!

      • I think twice because, quite frankly, on reading it in high school I just didn’t really know much about the world. But over time I studied history and politics and through just everyday living, learned about the world. And so it resonated with me much more deeply. Plus I’d pretty much forgotten it so it was as if I was reading it for the first time.

  2. I can relate to what you’re doing. The book is on the shelf and waiting for me to bracket some time to read it. Like Jim above, I read it when I as young but retained nothing. I did read Ian Kershaw’s books a few years ago. Very good. Needed to put some time between those and what you’re reading. What I did retain was how things fell into place for this to happen. So many variables. Look forward to more of your take. (Movie note: If you haven’t seen ‘Downfall’ I would recommend it. Like the books it is getting close to a revisit for CB.)

      • It’s pretty low key. The last days in the bunker. I’m not a big docudrama guy but this is an exception . It’s up for a re-watch over here. Like I have said, reading these takes nudge and remind me of all great work out there. I’ll be putting ‘Reich’ on top of the pile.

  3. I’m sure the docudrama is well-made, and thanks for the tip, CB, but I’m not sure it’s for me (no offense). Unless a well-written book or convincing documentary comes out that reveals he had some kind of magical major epiphany in his bunker – which certainly never happened – I’m not interested. He was a maggot.

    • No “offense” taken. These kind of people don’t have “major epiphanies”. Not in their makeup. Just think, if one of those events leading to his rise didn’t happen, things might have been different. My old man served and saw action in the Northern Atlantic because of what happened. He came back a changed man. “Maggot’ would have been a polite word from him. Not light stuff you’re reading.

  4. Pingback: “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam”—Book Review | longitudes

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