Intro ~ Hitler’s Holocaust, the Great War 1-a an& 1-b & the Letters to the Scattered Brotherhood as a starting point

February 15, 2016

This post on Hitler and WWII was originally just a short introduction for the Letters of the Scattered Brotherhood — an English anthology by leaders of the Anglican Church during the pre-war period and WWII (approx. 1933 to 1945). (link to LSB sub-directory)

However, it took on a life of its own, as it addresses the question of the whether or not individual citizens can or should be held responsible for the criminal actions of its country’s political leaders and the twin question, can the victims of these crimes be blamed for not resisting “enough”?

This is the “big blue elephant in the middle of the room” that we generally don’t want to acknowledge or talk about.

So here “it” is: Was the German population itself responsible for not ‘stopping’ Hitler? Was the Jewish population of Europe responsible for ‘letting’ itself be victimized by not adequately resisting? From that perspective, how would we account for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Beyond straightforward yes/no answers is what i believe the more important question of whether there is something important to be gained from the very act of inquiring. Is it possible that learning more about why wars are started, how they are fought, the qualities of human nature — especially between psychology and the implementation of political power — both steers us (humanity) away form the total insanity of industrialized warfare, while providing a valuable measure of grace that maybe (just maybe) makes a future world war less likely?

In the course of my research on WW I and WWII and the social and political experience of the German population during the intra-war years (1918 -1939), i had to face the horrific realities of modern warfare and of Hitler’s inexplicable crimes against humanity. The year 2014 is the 100th year anniversary of WWI which was called the Great War at that time.

My learning process began with the History Channel broadcasting an astonishing amount of documentary footage of the event prior to the war and old and newly-made documentaries that addressed nearly every possible topic. These included political personalities, European geography (rivers are a big deal when it comes to troop movements!), nationalism, weaponry, military generals and their particular strategies, etc — more than anyone wants to know. None the less this was the first time that i actually came to deeply understand the realities of WWI and its pivotal place in the events of WWII.

Then i moved on to WWII by watching 26-hour documentary series that was originally film just 8 years after the end of WWII. The film makers interviewed people who had lived through the war, including European civilians, soldiers from both sides, prisoners-of-war, concentration camp hostages and slave labors, the tiny number of death camp survivors (2), German officers prosecuted for war crimes and two surviving members of Hitler’s personal staff, his valet and his secretary. They both lived with him in the Berlin bunker during final days of the war and suicide of Hitler and Eva Braun, as well as the murder-suicide pack of a high-ranking military officer who shoot his wife and all six of their young children before turning the gun on himself.

Given the miracle of  the History Channel, i also watch about dozen documentaries about different aspects and battlefronts of WWI, as well as another dozen specifically about Hitler, his early life, those that surrounded him after he became Chancellor/dictator and the high-ranking military officers that personally set policy and conducted the war strategy.  To learn more about these historical periods and events, I drilled down on specific topics via internet searches and lots of Wikipedia articles (G*D bless Wikipedia!).

The obviously question this raised was why the German population ‘allowed’  such carnage to be perpetrated on themselves and others?

My Mennonite great-grand father, whose ancestry traces back 500 years to Bern, Switzerland, only spoke high German. My paternal grandfather was from a region of Poland that had been a part of Germany in the previous century, and became German territory again in the subsequent one.

This made the question of the German people’s  “character” personal as well as sociological. As a child i remember being embarrassed to be “German” because i thought that “germs” came from “Germans”, which meant we were responsible for all the germs that made people get sick. As a skinny blue-eyes blonde, i dreamed as a child of becoming a dark-haired, dark-eyed Italian with a figure like the movie star Sophia Lorean.

But frankly the issue of communal responsibility for the actions of one’s government goes far beyond any single ethnic group, political configuration or geographical location. The question is straightforward, but ultimately important to the stability of civilized societies — what would set a society up to either become a victim of its own government, or co-conspirators in a government organized around the perpetration of whole-scale crimes against humanity? These crimes were perpetrated directly and in large number against its own population and many other ethnic and religious groups, as well as military aggression against half the sovereign countries of Europe.

After careful study, i think i have arrived at a conclusion that helps understand Nazi Germany, and how Hitler the Mad-Man was personally able to orchestrate the (not always voluntary) participation of the German government and military to perpetrate these institutionalized and industrialized crime against its own people, others groups and countries. I hope this might help us (mutual members of the human species) to avoid or at least reduce the likelihood of systematic evil in the future.

This is particularly an issue when resistance to what is perceived as political oppression of a country’s citizenry or protest against our own government’s unethical or extra-judicial transgressions against other countries, groups or individuals (such as holding prisoners-of-war indefinitely without trial) presents an ethical question to us all — are such protects an act of patriotism or disloyalty and subversive behavior?

Is Bradley Manning a hero or a traitor for revealing what most American already assumed to be true — that much (but obviously not all) of what is stamped “Top Secret” by governments (our own and others) is to hide embarrassing bureaucratic blunders, bad judgement and/or manipulate the system to one’s personal or political advantage by hiding essential information from the public.

Is there a logical distinction between a true ‘freedom-fighters’ and terrorism masquerading as patriotism, or are such distinctions just the politically-expedient opinion of those in power at that moment?

Most of all, does it matter? Can we as individuals and politically-active citizen groups hold our government appropriately accountable for its actions and exert the crucial influence that would keep our democracy genuinely democratic?

Or if things ‘fell apart’ as they did for the German people during the intra-war years (1918-1939), if our economy imploded and a bold but psychopathically-insane politician seized control of a weakened government, or if our country was facing extreme destabilization on many fronts due to an ecological disaster (like rapidly raising sea levels), would we inevitably become as politically helpless as the vast majority of ordinary citizens living in Nazi Germany from 1931 to 1945?

Nobody can answer that question, but a better understanding of why German society fractured from within at least makes me feel better prepared to keep it from happening again. This is an important part of preserving peace on Planet Earth.

Peace to all

faith ^O^