Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

26 February 2015

What is “Nazism”?

[For a recent post on electric cars’ underappreciated advantages, including variable range and variable performance, click here. For a short post on what may become the iCar, click here.]

Pose the title’s question to one of the remaining members of the “Greatest Generation.” What answer will you get? There will be images of Adolf Hitler, “sieg heil!” (“Hail victory!”) salutes, Swastikas, goose-stepping storm troopers, brutal conquest, and the Holocaust. Amidst a swirl of terrible images, survivors of history’s most gruesome war will have no doubt in their minds what “Nazism” is.

But times change. If the truth be told, Nazism is no longer a German phenomenon. It’s anything but. Yet the word and the evil still exist.

Germans gave Nazism a memorable, two-syllable name. But they didn’t invent it. It was around for a long, long time before Adolf Hitler.

It was there when Rome annihilated Carthage. It was there when the Mongol “hordes” massacred whole Eurasian cities, leading no one alive. It was there when the Ottoman Empire’s Turks wrought near-genocide on defenseless Armenians. It was there in the Japanese rape of Nanking. This all happened before the Third Reich fell.

In Germany today, there’s not much Nazism left. Today’s Germans are the most sincerely repentant among all of history’s brutal conquerors. They’ve built memorials and monuments to their bestiality in the Holocaust. And they’ve passed laws making denying history a criminal offense. Dachau and its gas chambers are now a sombre museum.

But outside of Germany, Nazism is alive and well. It lives in the Islamic State, which cold-bloodedly murders others who do not share both Islam and its own bizarre, extremist ideology. It lives among the Russian troops and Russian partisans driving refugees west and east from Debaltseve and Donyetsk. It lives among freedom fighters struggling in Ukraine, some of whom are actual cultural and genetic descendants of Ukrainian partisans who once fought for Nazi Germany. It exists in the various European fringe parties that want to expel or marginalize helpless Muslim immigrants seeking a better life. It’s especially vibrant among those who believe that Muslims are somehow genetically inferior or culturally violent.

It lives in places as disparate as Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and the American South and Northwest. It lives in the hearts of Hamas partisans in Gaza who urge killing Israeli children while they hide innocent Muslim children near their weapons caches. It lives in the minds of “Orthodox” Israelis who cheer destruction of Gazan people and homes but won’t serve in the Israeli army and see the suffering firsthand. It lives in the minds of American police who kill or injure unarmed people of color when they wouldn’t a white man because, deep down, they think people of color are categorically more dangerous or less worthy, or that no one important really cares about them. It lives in the minds of Yanks who—despite all evidence and humanity—insists that our President is not one of us and doesn’t love the country that gave him the chance to be President despite his much-oppressed race.

Sometimes we call these offshoots or regrowths “Neo-Nazis,” to distinguish them from the now-all-but-vanished German kind. Yet except for nationality and ethnicity, they are all the same.

Nazism is Nazism. It’s an extreme form of the tribalism that arose out of our species’ biological evolution, but which our social evolution must some day overcome if our species is to survive.

Although convenient shorthand, the two-syllable word “Nazi” is a misnomer. Once it was an acronym for “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei,” or “National Socialist German Workers’ Party.” That was Hitler’s political party.

But the root words “socialist” and “workers” were and are misleading. There’s nothing “socialist” about Nazism. It took the great private German industrial combines (including Krupp and Bayer) as it found them and bent them to a tyrant’s ends. Germany remained firmly capitalist throughout the Third Reich—a corporate totalitarian state run by a clique of evil, uncultured men who had managed to capture the spirit of a resentful nation battered by a previous war, defeat, and the Allies’ misguided collective punishment.

Nor was the Nazi Party a workers’ party. Although it won its first national election fairly, it quickly morphed into a brutal totalitarian organ that captured and controlled German politics, finance, industry and media by force, threat of force, and terror. Then Nazi Germany fought history’s biggest, longest and most horrible ground war with the Soviet Union, which styled itself the “workers’ paradise.”

There have never been two more adamant mortal national enemies than corporate Nazi Germany and the “proletarians” from the Soviet “worker’s paradise” in World War II. So much for “socialism” and “workers.”

However much a misnomer it may have been, German Nazism was not just an atrocity. It was an unutterably tragic mistake.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Germany had one of two most advanced societies on Earth (the other being Britain’s). Bach, Brahms and Beethoven reigned supreme in music, Göthe, Schiller and Heine in literature. Men like Bose, Euler, Gauss, Planck and Schödinger—not to mention Albert Einstein, a German Jew who thought and wrote in German—dominated math and physics.

Not only was Germany at the apex of the arts and sciences. Many in the West naïvely saw Nazi Germany as a savior from something even worse: Soviet Communism and its Terror. When Hitler’s armies began marching east, many ordinary Eastern Europeans at first fought for and with them, until then-Germany’s “master race” ideology trod them under foot. As I’ve outlined elsewhere, the Ukrainians (along with the Poles) were among the most deluded and betrayed of this kind.

Unfortunately, Germany’s Nazi leaders were a clique of psychopaths dominated by a deranged former corporal and house painter. Neither they nor their extreme-tribalist “master race” ideology were clever enough to take advantage of these “facts on the ground.”

But what might have happened if then-Germany’s best had ruled in their places? It’s interesting to speculate. Here’s one possible alternative history:

After its bloodless “Anschluss” (annexation) of Austria and nearly bloodless invasion of Czechoslovakia, Germany’s blitzkrieg quickly conquers Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Then Germany turns east, but not with further blitzkrieg. Instead, it tills the fertile soil for anti-Soviet action in Poland and Ukraine, with months of political and undercover action.

With this groundwork done, the conquest of Poland and Ukraine is quick and (compared to actual history) painless. Most Poles prefer efficient and fair German rule to domination by Soviet Russia. They fight with German troops or stay at home. Nearly all Ukrainians want to remove the Soviet pillager that had battered their country with coercion and starvation during the inter-bellum period.

Having learned the lessons of Napoleon and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, German leaders are smart enough to stop there. There is no German invasion of Russia, no Battle of Stalingrad, no Siege of Leningrad, no years-long scorched-earth war on the frozen plains of Russia. Stalin, relieved of the pressure of threatened invasion of his still-nascent nation from the West, turns to fortifying the Soviet Union’s new western frontier, and to Japan.

With Russia in the Pacific war early and for real, and Germany essentially out, Japan makes a truce and departs from China and Korea, if not from Malaysia and Singapore and a few conquered Pacific Islands. Germany sues for peace, offering freedom or substantial autonomy for Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Not having been goaded by countless atrocities, Britain and the other Allies heave a huge sigh of relief and make a deal. (After all, the map of Europe changed dramatically after the First World War, and nobody seemed to mind much.)

The result? Yet another new map of Europe, with post-war Germany at its heart, a bridge between East and West.

The result today? A much larger Germany, not the US or China, is the world’s number-one economy. Russia (or what remains of the Soviet Union) is far advanced socio-economically, having avoided the catastrophic losses of history’s most costly and terrible mechanized invasion. Nuclear energy has been developed (probably by Germany, from which the most important physicists came), but nuclear weapons are still only a theory. The total of wartime deaths worldwide was a bit over seven million, less than one seventh of the actual total and less than in World War I. The world is a happier, more prosperous, less fearful and more productive place.
Of course there are questions regarding this alternative history, as with any counterfactual scenario. If Germany had had better leaders than Hitler, would it have made war at all? Could there have been any other consequence to the Allies’ disastrous collective punishment of the loser Germany after World War I than—as actually happened—an explosion of German resentment and rage?

No alternative history can ever claim accuracy. There are too many variables. You never get to rerun the tape. But the mere plausibility of this much more pleasant outcome for our species reveals an essential truth. Nazism was neither a rational strategy for Germany nor an inevitable outcome of Germany’s postwar mistreatment by the World War I Allies (against which our own Woodrow Wilson advised). Nazis and Nazism betrayed Germany, not to mention human civilization and the human race.

Having given us all a memorable name for Nazism, Germans have expunged it from their home. But the rest of us have not. We Yanks have plenty in our midst. We even have a private propaganda organ of great power (Fox) that fosters Nazi-like ideology among us. The Russians, with their tribalist action in Eastern Ukraine, have a Nazism problem of their own.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth advised us against Nazism in the most memorable way possible. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” he told us. “Love thy enemy.”

Jesus knew nothing about evolution. Nor did the people of his time. But in advising us to love each other and to cooperate, he advised us to cherish our species’ single greatest competitive and survival advantage. It’s not our brains, our warm-blooded bodies, or our opposable thumbs. It’s our ability to communicate, empathize, and cooperate, which vastly enhances all of our other abilities, including our limited intelligence.

In all its many forms, Nazism is the antithesis of cooperation and humanity. It says, in essence, “You are inferior and subhuman. (Or you are violent, an infidel, lazy, criminal, or useless.) I will kill you just because you are you. Or, if you don’t do what I want, I will stomp on your face.”

To the first variant of Nazism, there is no answer but violence. The second variant admits of non-violent resistance, like that of King, Gandhi and Mandela. But more often than not, the actual answer to any kind of Nazism is violence, rebellion, or terrorism.

The best approach, of course, is to stamp out Nazism before it grows strong, with understanding, inclusion and empathy. Only if we do that can we solve the worst problems facing our species and requiring our global cooperation, including climate change, nuclear proliferation, and oil’s rapidly approaching exhaustion.

The Germans have seen the light and have given us a memorable name for our species’ most fatal character flaw. But outside of Germany it lives on. Fighting, suppressing and destroying it everywhere are every human being’s job one.