Thursday, November 05, 2015

First Paragraph

The Second World War was a German war like no other. The Nazi regime turned the conflict into the most horrific war in European history, resorting to genocidal methods well before building the first gas chambers in occupied Poland. The Third Reich was also unique in enacting its own "total defeat" in 1945, in the process expending and exhausting all the moral and physical reserves of German society. Even the Japanese did not fight to the gates of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as the Germans fought for the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. To wage a war on this scale the Nazis had to harness levels of social mobilization and personal commitment which went far deeper than anything they had tried to achieve in the pre-war period. Yet, seventy years on - despite whole libraries of books about the war's origins, course and atrocities - we still do not know what Germans thought they were fighting for or how they managed to continue their war until the bitter end. This book is about how the German people experienced and sustained this war. 

- From The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939 - 1945 by Nicholas Stargardt


At 8:02 AM, Blogger Daniel Richwine said...

Please let me know if this or any other resource will answer the questions about why the people in Germany did what they did. As near as I can tell, they were trying to enact 19th century ideas about race, land, and empire using 20th century technology which had made such ideas obsolete. I’ve gleaned these things from passing references in Mein Kampf and extracts from letters of ordinary German soldiers, but since I’m not a historian or academic I can’t verify my understanding and have yet to find anything which truly addresses the question.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Michael Wade said...


I plan on starting the book in a few days and will let you know what it provides with regard to your questions. One very good book that is already out is "The End" by Ian Kershaw.

My own take is that the Nazis were more of a cult than a political party. BY the end of the war, many Germans resembled hostages overseen by fanatics. Many fought on more out of fear of the Russians than out of commitment to the cause. That, however, doesn't explain why there wasn't a collapse on the western front.

I'll be posting more on this when I finish the book.

I don't know if you've seen it but there is an interesting film about a German family at the end of the war: "Lore."


At 8:03 PM, Blogger Daniel Richwine said...

I've read The End. It is powerful, but not providing quite what I'm looking for. I'm trying to understand what they thought they were doing, and why. I have the belief that even though it's basically impossible to predict the future, there are all kinds of people trying to make specific things happen in it. Sometimes some of them succeed, and tracking down who was trying to do what is my interest.

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Michael Wade said...


Consider the psychological condition: folie a deux. Take a charismatic leader and add highly dependent associates. After a while, the associates fail to acknowledge reality if doing so risks losing the approval of the leader. There were Nazis who thought Hitler could turn the war around at a time when the eastern and western fronts could be pretty much seen on a city map of Berlin.

Likewise, the concentration camp system was designed to produce deniability and detachment.

It was one of the craziest regimes of all time but it had a crazy logic tied to the charisma of its leader. In contrast, Stalin lacked charisma and ruled his associates through raw fear but even that was rationed out so they were never without hope. If they'd lost hope they would have turned on him. Mussolini's system had charisma but no dependency and certainly not as much fear. You know how easily he was deposed.

Fascinating stuff. One of my management consultant hobbies is studying dictatorships.



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