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The gutter came to power

I was going to write YET ANOTHER post about how this whole school/nap/life schedule is going down, but I think we should discuss Hitler instead. Deal?

So NOW I am reading Double Cross, about double agents in Britain who misled the Germans about D-Day and HOO BOY is it convoluted and not written HALF as fantabulously as either of the big fat Hitler books I read earlier this year, and how disappointing is that? This is a book about SPIES! And eccentric, bizarre, WEIRDO spies at that! How does it manage to be NOT AS INTERESTING? 

The first big fat Hitler book I swallowed up this year was The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich by William Shirer. Who knows why I read this book. Well, there are two reasons, I suppose. 1) I am interested in WWII and 2) I was browsing for books on the Kindle and thought, "Hey, I've heard of that one." Also maybe 3) I like to read books that may, when I tell my dad I'm reading them, fool him into the impression that I Know Things. (HAAA.)

So I read it and dudes. I KNOW THINGS NOW. That big fat book was utterly un-put-down-able. It was fascinating. Horrifying. AMAZING. Then, because The Rise And Fall did not fully explore the terrible psyche of Hitler, my dad recommended Hitler: A Study In Tyranny, by Alan Bullock, and I read that. EGAD. So THAT book I checked out of the library and it was ancient and underlined and had notes in the margins and I had to renew it the maximum number of times PLUS go to the library and ask for MORE time, which they granted because no one had a hold on it (FANCY THAT). It was much more academic than The Rise And Fall, a true horror story told by a journalist. It was also - I feel funny saying this about a Hitler book, but whatever - beautifully written. After a while I started dogearing pages so I could copy down quotes. 

There are few more ghastly pages in history than this attempt to eliminate a whole race, the consequence of the ‘discovery’ made by a young down-and-out in a Vienna slum in the 1900s that the Jews were the authors of everything that he most hated in the world. 

 

In making use of the formidable power which was thus placed in his hands Hitler had one supreme, and fortunately rare, advantage: he had neither scruples nor inhibitions. He was a man without roots, with neither home nor family; a man who admitted no loyalties, was bound by no traditions, and felt respect neither for God nor man. 

 

No man was ever more surely destroyed by the image he had created than Adolf Hitler. 

 

I had a lot of questions when I started - probably the biggest was "how could this have HAPPENED?" And in answering that question, specifically, I realized a lot about, well, ME. (OH HELLO NARCISSISTIC BLOGGER!)

I realized that I have no real framework for imagining the sort of government, or lack of one, the German people had at the end of WWI. I'm used to presidents who step down after four or eight years. Two political parties. DEMOCRACY, even. I just couldn't think about "how it could have happened" within in my 21st century picture of American politics. 

That probably sounds incredibly simple and stupid, but it was a big lightbulb for me. 

Also issues of culture and history and tradition, the place of the German military in public life, senses of honor and betrayal, the crushing humiliation of defeat. Until I read these books, what I knew about the war was largely about the Holocaust. It was SO disturbing to read that the Holocaust was... well, there were all these other elements that made it POSSIBLE. Hitler didn't come to power and start a war because he hated the Jews - that was just PART of the plan. And it blows my mind that something as massive and evil and tragic as the extermination of millions of people was just PART of what was going on in that demented mind. 

A long while back I read a biography of Churchill, mainly because of reason 3 up above, and I found it fairly boring. Political intrigue, especially in the parliamentary system that I still don't understand, and military strategy were, I decided, not my thing. Churchill himself was an interesting subject, of course, but all the political and military minutia, of which there were tons, of course, made my eyes cross. 

Not so with Hitler. Halfway into my books I realized that, when posed from the perspective of a raving madman, political intrigue and military strategy are suddenly fascinating. You understood Churchill's motivations without reading his book. I've read a bunch of Hitler books now and I'm still baffled by his decisions. 

The German generals... they could have stopped it all. At so many points along the way they could have stopped everything. Although that was one strange aspect of reading solely from the German perspective - certain characters are sympathetic. Rommel, a handful of other generals, and (especially in The Rise And Fall) Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and Foreign Minister. I had to keep reminding myself that Ciano was a Fascist, that he was in MUSSOLINI'S camp. But there are ways that even Mussolini is a sympathetic, or, at the very least, pathetic, character in this history. 

Neither book concentrated too much on the particular evils of the Holocaust, but every time I sensed I was about to read something truly horrible I quickly flipped the page. I can't read more of that. 

But troop movements, diplomacy, treaties, conferences, secret deals, economics, strategy - my head was pounding. I found myself looking up books about specific battles, like Stalingrad, which I have never ever done before. Who am I? MY FATHER?!

My friend who's as into personality tests as I am gave me a book called Strengths Finder. It had a code inside to take the quiz online and I was sort of surprised by my top five "strengths". Three of them I could have easily guessed, but the other two were "Input" and Context" (the book comes up with vagueish names, perhaps so you are forced to read the book.) Anyway, "Input" is basically liking to read and collect information and "Context" is sort of "looking back to understand the present". So. My current fixation with Hitler books is explained, eh? This is from the "Input" section of my "personal report" (a more detailed explanation of my particular strengths and how they interact):

Because of your strengths, you are inclined to read about major wars.
While some people find this topic boring or irrelevant, you are quite 
fascinated with it. Whenever you read about global conflicts, you feel
impelled to collect more information. One book or article is likely to
lead you to another then another.

HAAAA.

Anyway. So many things crossed my mind when I was reading that I can't possibly remember them all and write them down here. You are thankful. But I'm still going to be annoyed when I publish this and realize I FORGOT SOMETHING. 

I think... I have a much better understanding of what happened, obviously. And a more sober, I suppose, viewpoint on current events. My dad is fond of saying that you can't understand WWII until you understand WWI so I suppose that one is next. After this spy book. And maybe that book that came out recently called Inferno, which tells more personal stories of WWII from all over the world. I kind of want to read that one too.

Did you guys see the movie Valkyrie? With Tom Cruise as the guy who tries to blow up Hitler? I copied this down too - as a way to honor them, I think.

Tresckow to Stauffenberg: “The assassination must be attempted at any cost. Even should it fail, the attempt to seize power in the capital must be undertaken. We must prove to the world and to future generations that the men of the German Resistance dared to take the decisive step and to hazard their lives upon it. Compared with this object, nothing else matters.”

GAH I'M SORRY. But it's Friday, you can just move along, and rest assured I will be back with more heartwrenching stories about how a schedule and routine of my own making is trying to kill me. 

Comments

Hillary

This post was everything I had hoped for.

It is just so scary to me that someone as insane as Hitler could come to power. And the thing is, he's not the only one, just the one who has managed to carry his plan the farthest. I just finished a book about Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. Insane. And yet people follow him.

Erica

I love when a book/article/topic gets me going. It's so awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Christina

My daughter K, the Lit major who took a lot of British history classes last year, says that WWI is her "favorite war". I try not to worry about that statement. (She also has a favorite disease. I think it's a writer thing. LOL). Anyway, perhaps that means you will find it equally fascinating.

Angela/@antiangie

Haa! We have to do StrengthsFinder at my job. Input is also one of my strengths. Also Harmony, which means basically I'm conflict-averse. Heh.

You would probably enjoy reading about Operation Mincemeat which the Allies used to distract Hitler from their plans to invade Sicily.. More spy stuff! Fake documents! Ineptitude! The Man Who Never Was was the original book about it but I read a more recent one that I'm totally blanking on the name of.

Angela/@antiangie

Oh! It was this one:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/12/books/12book.html

julia in prague

All your Hitler posts have been great and you really got me with this one, I am definitely ordering the Rise and Fall book. I am Russian, so I am irrevocably drawn to all WWII topics, I think it's in our blood.

HereWeGoAJen

I now feel like I need to study some Hitler.

DavidD

Maggie, my wife forwarded your post to me because I too read a lot of war history; I have added both The Rise and Fall and A Study in Tyranny to my reading list.

A book I recommend on how Nazism happened is Defying Hitler, by Sebastian Haffner ( http://www.amazon.com/Defying-Hitler-Memoir-Sebastian-Haffner/dp/0312421133/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347807506&sr=8-1&keywords=Defying+hitler ); what I found especially telling was how the Nazi government would use the threat of withholding pension payments to force compliance with new regulations.

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