The Third Way
Vol: 107 Issue: 16 Monday, August 16, 2010
Over the weekend, I watched a six-part BBC WWII documentary I had never seen before called, “The Nazis – A Warning From History.” In the first place, I didn’t know there was a WWII documentary I’ve never seen before.
Secondarily, every one I’ve seen used essentially the same stock footage, which necessarily forces the filmmaker to focus on the events for which there is the most video footage.
We’ve all seen the same five seconds of D-Day footage where six guys are charging up from the shoreline when one of them goes down. The next scene always shows a Canadian landing craft landing at Bernières-sur-Mer on Juno Beach.
The fact is that there is very little surviving video of the D-Day landings. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal (who later shot the iconic picture of the Marines planting the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima) put the film aboard an LST headed back to the armada to pick up more troops.
The LST was hit by a German shell and the photographic record of the landings at Normandy were sent to the bottom of the English Channel. Similar accidents of war destroyed other photographic battle records.
So what is usually discussed in these documentaries are the events for which there is the most spectacular footage to show over it.
What made this particular documentary series unique was that it was made almost entirely using captured German footage. Uniquely, instead of beginning with the invasion of Poland in 1939, this documentary begins with the surrender of Germany in 1918.
On November 11, 1918 (and to the great surprise of the German front-line troops) the war abruptly ended in an armistice. The Germans on the front lines weren’t losing ground – some German forces were forced to surrender from positions behind enemy lines.
They wondered why the war had ended so quickly and why they had to vacate their hard-won positions in such a hurry. They didn’t feel defeated.
The myth grew among the average German soldiers that they had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by the Marxists and Leftist Jews that had protested the war back home.
They took their bitterness back to the newly democratized Germany with them. The Kaiser was deposed and his government replaced by a parliamentary constitutional republic officially called Deutsches Reich, better known to history as the Weimar Republic.
Thanks to Germany’s defeat and the crippling reparations demanded by the Versailles Treaty, the country polarized along the lines of left and right. On the Left were the Communists and on the Right were the disaffected veterans.
The Weimar government, unable to meet the war reparations payments, began printing money to deal with the crisis, using the freshly printed marks to repay war loans and reparations. In 1914 the papiermark was trading at 4.2 to the dollar.
By August, 1923 one dollar was equal to one million papiermarks.
Suppose you had saved up for retirement all your life and you were five years away from retirement. You have a nice little retirement nest egg – you lived frugally and made some smart investments. Let’s say you’ve accumulated a million dollars and you’re fifty-five.
If you were a German living 100 years ago in 1910, by the time you retired in 1920, your million-dollar retirement money is worthless. By November 1923, the papiermark is replaced by the rentenmark.
The value of the rentenmark was pegged at 4.2 to the dollar, just like the million papiermarks were when you were saving them for retirement. Now you are sixty-eight and need to exchange your million papiermarks in for rentenmarks so you can retire.
One million papiermarks will buy one billionth of ONE rentenmark which, by 1923, was trading at one trillion to one. Remember, one rentenmark is worth about 23 cents.
Politics was totally polarized – on one side were the radicals, led by the Marxists and Communists, on the other were the conservatives led by the disaffected veterans who supported President Von Hindenburg.
Into the middle of this arose a young unknown, a charismatic politician who promised “hope and change” and promised to fundamentally transform the government. Neither liberal nor conservative, he introduced a Third Way, national socialism.
In 1923, he published his political manifesto, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) that, in retrospect, causes historians to wonder why nobody saw what was coming.
The BBC documentary was published in 1997 using video interview clips from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s from surviving Nazis then well into their eighties.
So the context offered by this documentary is unique in that it offers the actual perspective of the time, rather than an historian’s opinion on the historical perspective.
At the time the documentary was released, Bill Clinton was president. The budget deficit was balanced and the US had actually begun paying down the national debt. The Cold War was over. We won.
Nobody suspected in 1997 what the next decade would bring. Anymore than anybody could foresee from 1910 what conditions would be just thirteen years later.
What struck me about the documentary was how closely it tracked with our past thirteen years. It was spooky. Nobody could have known when they were translating Hitler’s early speeches that the words “hope” and “change” and “fundamental transformation” would soon become part of the American political lexicon.
I was particularly stunned by a 1928 political speeches in which Hitler apologized to his supporters because change wasn’t coming as fast as he had promised, exhorted them not to give up hope and repeated his promise that the fundamental transformation of the German nation was just around the corner.
It was creepy. Here is one example from a Hitler speech:
“Our opponents accuse National Socialism and me in particular of being intolerant and quarrelsome. They say we don’t want to work with other parties. They say the National Socialists are not Germans at all because they refuse to work with other parties. . . I have to admit one thing – these gentlemen are quite right – we are intolerant. I have given myself one goal, to sweep these parties from Germany.”
Replace “National Socialist” with “Democrat”, “German” with “American,” and Hitler’s political antagonists with the Tea Party, and one has all the elements of an Obama stump speech.
The documentary also focused its attention on other less-commonly examined themes, such as the kinds of men Hitler surrounded himself with and those whom he appointed to various jobs.
As I watched, I kept thinking of Obama’s stable of unelected political ‘czars’ that he’s used to circumvent the Constitution’s ‘advice and consent’ requirements.
There is some kind of rule about comparing anybody to the Nazis – something to the effect that making such a comparison dilutes the singularly evil character of the Nazi era.
Ordinarily, I would agree. There is no historical comparison between Hitler and the Nazis and anybody else — yet. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be – but if nobody dares to compare, then nobody will see the next one coming until he is here.
That is the titular purpose for the documentary — it is “a warning from history.” To hear a warning, you have to listen and then watch for the signs.
“Hope and change” isn’t a new political slogan. And the “fundamental transformation” of a nation is not a new political goal. It’s all been done before.
And according to the Bible, it will all be done again.
I don’t know if Obama is just another fascist dictator wannabe or if he is the real deal, and neither does anybody else, yet. Until Hitler became Hitler, even Hitler wasn’t “Hitler” — yet. He was just another politician with an agenda..
By 1937 all the signs were in place that were necessary to foresee the coming cataclysm, but had Hitler been hit by lightning, run over by a truck or otherwise swept from office prior to 1937, Hitler would probably have gone down in history as one of Germany’s greatest leaders.
What we do know is that the Bible predicts that during the last days, a mysterious and charismatic leader will suddenly arise from obscurity, will seize the reins of power by popular acclamation, and will unleash one of the most vicious periods of war, poverty, famine and persecution the world has ever seen.
The other thing we do know is that nobody listens to warnings from history.