March 29, 2005
Return of the swastika (2)By Charles A. Coulombe
[Second of a three part series; part one can be found here.]
Once arrived at the Chancellery, Hitler faced an awful lot of opposition to either defeat or co—opt: the two major Churches, the nobility, the army, the Socialists, the Communists, rival corporatists, and so on. After Hindenburg's death in 1934, he and his party rapidly pursued a policy of Gleichsaltung ——— 'Coordination.' What this meant was that all of the various interests in the State must be made either to fit into the NSDAP's program, or else eliminated. In piecemeal fashion, this was achieved.
As for Christianity it was the Protestants, due to their lack of organization, who were a bit easier to tackle ——— the more so since, prior to 1918, the Protestant Landeskirchen had functioned more or less as departments of the State, with each Evangelical territorial King, Grand Duke, or Prince functioning as Summus Episcopus ——— 'Highest Bishop,' of his own Church (the Catholic Kings of Saxony and Bavaria were of course left out of this arrangement; the imminent ascension of a Catholic to the throne of W�rttemberg was one of the major pre—War questions in 1914). Thus, the creation of an overarching 'German Christian' Church under Reichsbischof Mueller was not without precedent. The German Christians who were able to reconcile their faith with the tenets of the party were able to do so quite easily, as it was presented to them as 'updating' their religion, bringing it into tune with the spirit of the age: in a word, making it relevant. There was, to be sure, a 'Confessing Church' which rejected these efforts. But in most cases these were folk who had held to such notions as the inerrancy of Scripture before Hitler's rise. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was typical of such.
As for the Catholic Church, this was a harder nut to crack. For one thing, the Catholic Center Party had remained a powerful factor when the other parties collapsed at the ballot box (an election map of the elections in 1932 and 1933 shows that while most Socialist, Liberal, Conservative, and even a few Communist districts eventually went NSDAP, the Center's territory remained almost intact). But Hitler went over their heads, signing a concordat with Pope Pius XI in return for securing the Pontiff's order to the Catholic Center Party to disband. Mind you, this was not because of any love of Hitler on Pius' part: rather, he was keen to 'get the Church out of politics' whenever possible. Hence he had ordered the Popolari in Italy similarly to dissolve after Mussolini's promises, and ordered the Cristeros in Mexico to lay down their arms and cease their rebellion against the U.S.—backed PRI government. In all three cases, the result was the same: disaster ——— a precedent future peace—minded prelates might take into account. There were of course some Catholic collaborators: Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., (later to win fame of a more clearly theological sort) was the only Catholic priest granted freedom to travel throughout the War ——— all others had to report their movements.
Contempt for Christianity
Although some few high—ranking nobles, such as Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia and the Duke of Saxe—Coburg—and—Gotha, rallied to Hitler's side, most veered between a watchful and hostile neutrality and outright opposition. After the outbreak of the War, the Fuehrer ordered all the serving members of Germany's royal families out of active duty, for fear that they might win laurels on the battlefield. Remaining local prerogatives for the nobility were abolished: he even outlawed hunting with hounds ——— a bit of Nazi legislation retained after the war (which is why all current German Hunts feature drag—hounds).
Hitler's hatred and distrust of the aristocracy carried over to his attitudes regarding the army. Although he needed the army for his plans, he was not terribly fond of it or its officer corps (a feeling they cordially returned). While he sacrificed Ernst Roehm and the SA in the Night of Long Knives in order to assure the Army that he did not intend to replace it, he took the first opportunity to bind its officers to him by a personal oath to himself. While this did impede a good deal of disloyalty, it is well known that had the Allies responded militarily to German advances in the Rhineland, Austria, or the Sudeten Land, the General Staff would have deposed him ('a single French battalion entering the Rhineland would have done it,' recalled one participant). But as we know, he was successful in his bluffs until Poland; after that, the country was at war.
Another potential source of opposition was the Judiciary and the legal establishment. Weimar Germany had bequeathed the Third Reich an extremely freedom—friendly civil code, chock—a—block with civil rights. Even the death penalty had been abolished. But through a combination of intimidation and non—promotion for legalistically—minded jurists, and privileges for more elastic thinkers, this impediment was overcome. The letter of the law was held to be a mere strait—jacket confining the spirit of the volk: rather than being bound by such anachronisms, courts altered the law and handed down decisions as they saw fit ——— generally in accordance with whatever the prosecution wished.
This was just as well, as the government handed down any number of measures regarding legalization of abortion and contraception, sterilization and elimination of the unfit (in accord with Dr. Williams' dictum earlier noted), euthanasia, easy divorce, and the like. For what Hitler wanted was a social revolution, and he saw all these measures as a key part of it.
The Nazis Hated Smoking, Too
Conventional sexual morality was also a target. Healthy girls were more or less quietly urged to sleep with as many Aryan soldiers as possible ——— not only to help the War effort, but to produce a new, 'pure' generation. Morality always suffers in wartime; but rarely does this receive official encouragement. Moreover, had Germany won, the Fuehrer did not intend for the populace to return to its former ways. Although homosexuality had suffered a period of suppression after the Night of Long Knives (Hitler had not minded Roehm and Co's interests so long as he was useful), it was encouraged in the Cadet Schools, and particularly in the S.S. Ordensburgen, as a way of building the new elite Hitler hoped would run the country after the War.
The Reich's expansion gave the Nazis an even larger canvas upon which to paint their utopia. Deathly afraid that von Schussnig would restore the Monarchy in Austria to rally resistance, Hitler dubbed his plan to invade his homeland Case Otto, after the heir to the throne. Luckily for the Fuehrer, the hapless Austrian Chancellor's nerve failed him. When Poland was defeated, Hitler was able to do openly in his new conquest what he could not do at home: slate three classes for destruction ——— the clergy, the nobility, and the intelligentsia. Polish members of these proscribed groups (including St. Maximilian Kolbe) actually formed the majority of those imprisoned at Auschwitz, which fact led to the much denounced establishment of a Carmelite Convent and the display of crosses at that death camp in the early 90s.
Of course, Hitler's racial and sociological views had an important advantage: they were held by the man in charge. By the same token, they had a little drawback: they were both untrue and ultimately self—defeating. Taking on the Soviet Union, the Nazi propaganda machine preached a Pan—European Crusade against Bolshevism. To a European populace who saw the Communists as responsible for their present plight (and who were mindful that following the Molotov—Ribbentrop pact, the Reds had actually collaborated with the Nazis, in the case of France blowing up bridges in front of retreating troops), it was a clarion call. Not only did thousands of Europeans respond, so did some Russians: the Wehrmacht were initially greeted with flowers and mass desertions from the Red Army.
Hitler Could Have Won
Fortunately or otherwise, the Axis preferred their ideologies to victory. After the Wehrmacht conquered a sufficient tract of Soviet real estate, the Nazi Party apparatus moved in, and applied its racial laws. It was more important to Hitler and his gang that the inferior beings be properly abused than that the army should win. Indeed, in a thousand other ways ideological pressure, certain to sap the effectiveness of the military, was applied regardless (and sometimes with clear knowledge of) its deleterious effects. Political officers and the like carefully monitored the officer corps, removing those they judged unreliable ——— many of whom were among the best soldiers the Wehrmacht could boast. It is no coincidence that it was his experiences of this sort of thing on the Eastern Front that convinced Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, liaison with General Vlassov, commander of the Russian defectors to the Germans, of the necessity of killing Hitler. Nor should we be too surprised that Vlassov himself led his troops in a forlorn revolt of their own against the Nazis.
Thus it was Hitler and his own ideology that doomed the German war effort. But in one sense, the Fuehrer did not mind that much. The fact is, as his own table talk to his associates reveals, he came to hate Germany and the Germans, as much as ever he did the Austria of the Habsburgs. It was not just because he believed that they had failed him: in a real sense, he had always believed that. This was why Hitler's dream, in essence, was to entirely change the Germans from what they were into supermen of his own imagining. Central Berlin was indeed devastated by allied bombing and by Communist demolitions after the war. But even had Berlin come through the war intact, it would not have survived. Readers of Robert Harris' dystopian thriller, Fatherland, will recall the schematic of the huge audience hall in the center of the city Hitler planned to rename 'Germania;' this was based on Albert Speer's own plans. The contemplated rebuilding of the old Berliner Schloss will mark the concrete defeat of both Hitler's and Stalin's visions for the city.
FDR's Big Changes
Fascism will come at the hands of perfectly authentic Americans, as violently against Hitler and Mussolini as the next one, but who are convinced that the present economic system is washed up and that the present political system in America has outlived its usefulness and who wish to commit this country to the rule of the bureaucratic state; interfering in the affairs of the states and cities; taking part in the management of industry and finance and agriculture; assuming the role of great national banker and investor, borrowing billions every year and spending them on all sorts of projects through which such a government can paralyze opposition and command public support; marshalling great armies and navies at crushing costs to support the industry of war and preparation for war which will become our greatest industry; and adding to all this the most romantic adventures in global planning, regeneration, and domination all to be done under the authority of a powerfully centralized government in which the executive will hold in effect all the powers with Congress reduced to a debating society. There is your fascist. And the sooner America realizes this dreadful fact the sooner it will arm itself to make an end of American fascism masquerading under the guise of the champion of democracy. (As We Go Marching, p. 253).
Of course, things did not quite turn out as Flynn supposed, or at least as quickly. He may well have been right about the machinery of a fascist state of sorts having been established in America. But what the monster needed to come to life, it lacked as yet ——— an ideology. This would be supplied.
Charles A. Coulombe's most recent books are 'Rum: The Epic Story of the Drink that Conquered the World' and 'Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes.'� He is currently working on a biography of four—time Olympic—gold—medal winner Pat McCormick.�In 2004, Mr. Coulombe was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pope John Paul II.�