Stephen Green looks at a major bit of revisionism going on by the Germans at D-Day today:
if Germany wants to rewrite history to show that Hitler and the Nazis were some sort of occupying power in Germany, then they risk forgetting the lesson taught to them at the cost of millions of Allied lives. “Never again” becomes “Never what again?” becomes “It’s happening again.”
We can’t afford to let Germany forget what happened, and who was to blame.
Ironically, Germany’s efforts at revisionism come at a time when historians are finally starting to recognize just how welcome and accepted the Nazis were in Germany. And this is in marked contrast to the themes of previous tomes, such as William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. As Orrin Judd noted:
A perfectly acceptable relic of its time, [Shirer’s] book treats Hitler and the Nazi Party as complete aberrations, imposed on a slumbering Germany by a freakish set of circumstances. This view, understandable in a liberal West which finds it necessary to aver “it couldn’t happen here” and which found it necessary to rehabilitate Germany into a worthy Cold War ally, has prevailed for the better part of sixty years now. In recent years however at least one book has come along to directly challenge this view, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s excellent Hitler’s Willing Executioners. But to my knowledge, British historian Michael Burleigh’s Third Reich is the first major one volume history to rival Shirer’s work and it is an invaluable corrective, precisely the kind of big idea contrarian history that we could use more of and which, even if the author’s claims are ultimately rejected, can serve to clarify the thinking of us all on the issues he broaches.
Burleigh apparently draws on some academic work (for instance that by Saul Freidlander) with which I’m unfamiliar, but his central argument will ring a bell with anyone who’s ever read Eric Hoffer’s great book The True Believer. Burleigh considers the Third Reich to have been the product of a political religion, replete with symbols, hymns, liturgy, martyrs and a Messiah. From this perspective, the German people, defeated in WWI and impoverished by reparations and Depression, emerge, not as unwitting dupes, but as desperate believers in a new state religion propounded by Hitler, a true totalitarianism, suffused with racially motivated criminality, which sought to infiltrate every aspect of their lives.
As Orrin said, we needed to maintain the fiction that the Nazis were a strange alien virus imposed on innocent Germans, to resuscitate them into a worthy Cold War ally. But as Steve notes, the Germans themselves are returning to that fiction, just as she and France are returning to their shared anti-Semitic roots.