Iraq and the Pathologies of Primacy
The Flawed Logic That Produced the War Is Alive and Well
NEWSPAPERS in dictator-countries serve several purposes. They disseminate such news as the authorities think wise to convey to the people. Their decision on this is bound to be influenced by certain factors. It obviously is necessary to convince the people that they are being informed, otherwise nobody would buy newspapers at all. It is necessary, also, to publish such news as is already widely known from other sources, such as the verbal reports of eyewitnesses. Facts which simply cannot be suppressed must be admitted by the most rigidly controlled press; for any press is effective only if it gives the appearance of candor. Even total despotism, so long as it rests upon a mass base, as all modern despotisms do, has to admit that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. It can only hope to fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time.
The press in a dictatorship is also used as a vehicle for distributing the party propaganda and bolstering national morale. As propaganda organs, the newspapers are compelled to take account of unfavorable reactions to a particular policy and to offset such enemy propaganda as infiltrates into the country. This gives the editorials, feuilletons and other comments upon the news great interest, for they show what is causing the party leaders sufficient concern to demand counteraction.
They also serve a purpose which is not intentional. Even the most rigidly controlled press cannot fail to reveal a great deal about the civilization and state of public opinion prevailing in the places where it appears. From the beginning of the present war, then, I have made a special effort to follow the German press carefully. I believe that the pursuit has been rewarding.
The Nazi press is by no means uniform. There is a press for every class. The S.S. organ, Schwarze Korps, is designed for the most ardent Nazi élite. The party organ for the masses is the Voelkischer Beobachter, which is published simultaneously in several cities, has numerous daily editions, and is as consciously designed to appeal to the broadest masses of the people as is the Hearst or Patterson press in this country.
Das Reich is Dr. Goebbels's own party weekly, usually carrying an editorial signed by the propaganda minister in the two right-hand columns of the front page. This paper, which also circulates widely in the occupied countries, presents the party line in its most respectable and cultivated aspects. It is the Voelkischer Beobachter for those who cannot be moved by mass appeals, human interest stories, vulgarisms, and infinite repetitions reflecting the lessons which Hitler learned from the techniques of mass advertising. It plants its propaganda in a more cultivated bed, and nourishes it by more logical processes of reason.
For educated Germans of mature mind and memory there is a press which bears the outward marks of independence. It follows the party line closely, but wears its rue with a difference. Its object is to present Nazism as an integral development of German and European culture, to provide the news with apparent disinterestedness, to indulge, from time to time, in discreet but apparently candid criticism of wholly minor policies, and thus create the illusion that there is still a modicum of free speech in the Third Reich. To this group, among the Berlin newspapers, belong the Boersenzeitung and the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, and to it also belonged, until its demise on September 1, the Frankfurter Zeitung, edited by a former liberal and distinguished Weimar Republic journalist, Dr. Rudolph Kircher. There is also a worker's press, represented by Die Morgenpost of Berlin.
A study of these various groups of papers, published for various classes and publics, reveals what line the party bosses think it necessary to take in order to have influence with the various strata of German society.
Much is revealed, not only by what is published, but by what is omitted. As far as possible, the German press works to give the appearance of openness. It is therefore interesting to notice what subjects are universally avoided. There are, for instance, ten to twelve million foreign workers in the Reich, but it is impossible from reading the German press to discover anything (except, occasionally, very indirectly) about their relations with other workers, their living conditions, the problems that may arise in connection with them.
Millions of Germans are scattered throughout Europe in the occupied countries, and presumably the conditions under which they are living and the problems they confront are of great interest to more millions of relatives. But although the German press carries many feature articles, the occupied countries are left very much alone, except for spot news, and pictures of purely cultural life. A search of the news columns and editorial pages also fails to reveal anything about domestic wages, budget problems or production figures in the Third Reich. Nor is there any publication of casualty lists or of editorial comment on them.
But the German press still publishes, as it always did in pre-Hitler times, privately inserted obituary notices. The obituary notices of war casualties carry the military-swastika insignia at the top. It is obvious that newspapers are restricted as to the number they may publish, for none carries more than half a page, and many carry much less. A study of these notices is nevertheless revealing.
Finally, the German press is still a vehicle for commercial transactions. Some inkling of what is suppressed in the news columns and editorial pages can be gleaned from the want ads and the ads of things for sale.
Bearing these circumstances in mind, I see by the German papers that the leaders of the Third Reich are profoundly concerned with rumors and that they are finding it desperately difficult to cope with them; that they find it necessary to conduct an unremitting campaign against the thesis that Germany, and specifically the Nazi régime, is guilty of the war; that they think the desire for peace can be offset effectively only by terrible pictures of Germany's fate as a people and as a nation in defeat; that they are so convinced of the fear in all classes of violent Bolshevism under Russian occupation that they do not feel the necessity of working up hate against Russia, but that they consider continual hate-mongering against the Anglo-American powers essential. I see further that bombings from the air require reiterated explanations that Germany was not guilty of starting this form of warfare; that all but the most reliable Nazis are impervious to the Master Race theory; that the slogan of Lebensraum is ineffective, and the "Defensive War for the Fatherland" highly effective; that draconian measures in the occupied countries must be justified as "temporary expediencies;" that the concept of the Unity of Europe is popular, while the concept of German domination must be played down; and that the Nazi Party itself is as strongly on the defensive among the German people as the Third Reich is on the defensive against the United Nations.
The slogans which are considered effective with the German people are revealed to be: "The war for the liberation of Europe against outsiders," "The punishment of the war criminals," "The war for survival," "The menace of Bolshevism" (the word "Communism" is never used), "The predatory plutocracy which seeks to destroy the German nation as a formidable peaceful rival," and "The war against the German people."
These slogans and ideas, in many variations, are bolstered by quotations from Anglo-American statesmen and spokesmen. In a single issue of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (August 29, 1943) the front page was given to a dispatch quoting, with great accuracy, Clarence Budington Kelland's speech before the Republican Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which he declared that the Pacific must be an American lake. Beside it was printed a précis of Kingsbury Smith's article in the American Mercury on "Our Government's Plan for a Defeated Italy." Inside was a review of Lord Vansittart's ideas on the sort of peace needed to keep Germany defeated.
These and many other quotations from Anglo-American sources are used to support the argument that Germany cannot expect after this war any peace comparable in mildness to the Treaty of Versailles; that the Anglo-American war is exclusively for loot and power over the whole globe; that defeat means the extinction of the German nation and the reduction of its population to slavery; and that, therefore, under whatever leadership, Germany must fight to the exhaustion of her enemies.
This argument was presented with an air of detachment by Rudolph Kircher in one of the last issues of the Frankfurter Zeitung (August 29, 1943). Kircher wrote:
The original fight for our national rights has become, since many months, the fight for our mere existence. There may be different opinions about the juridical situation and about conflicting political claims, but whoever has to face the question of life and death need no longer indulge in intellectual arguments. He must merely decide whether he wishes to live or to die. And the fight for existence and national rights is essentially the same. . . . The menacing power is England, which decided to use the power of the Empire, the United States and the Soviet Union, to block the way for Germany, and to fight our nation to annihilation, knowing that our will to fight for our rights will never cease.
This argument, set forth by a former liberal in the paper that continued to attract former liberals, first disarms the reader by admitting, in a careful manner, the possibility of past mistakes. These are then described as no longer pertinent, for life itself is at stake. These points having been made, the writer proceeds to a study of war guilt, arguing that in the summer of 1939 a peaceful solution was still possible. "The English alone," he says, "did not want peace." He blames the British for playing the "game of the Bolsheviks" against their better interests and knowledge.
His argument is extremely interesting in that he blames the British -- not Germany or Poland or the Soviet Union -- for bringing Russia into the war: "It was the British who forced us to fight on an Anglo-Saxon and Bolshevist front." He attacks the version that the Allies are fighting to liberate Germany or Italy from Nazism or Fascism. "That," he says, "is a fairy tale. We can only be grateful to British politicians like Lord Vansittart for continually revealing the real truth." The writer concludes:
Indeed, for the future of Germany the break into Sicily will not be decisive. Decisive will be the battle on the Eastern Front. The inner law of this enormous war cannot be changed by tricks. That law was created when England decided against reconciliation with Germany, and for war on the side of the Americans and Bolsheviks.
This argument contains practically the whole thesis which the German propagandists feel called on to present to German readers. Germany must be exculpated in the eyes of the German people of guilt for the war. They skilfully pass over the fact that Britain decided for war when Poland was her only eastern ally and that Russia at the time had a non-aggression pact with Germany. They of course ignore that Hitler himself agreed to Russia's penetration into Poland and supported her acquisition of eastern Finland and the Baltic states. Also ignored is the fact that it was Germany who prepared for "the defense of Europe" against Russia by first defeating and disarming all of Europe, including Poland. And forgotten (or rather not recalled) is the obvious historic fact that it was Germany, not Russia, who broke the Russo-German pact.
The article plays upon German admiration for Britain and German regret that she is an opponent, basing a peculiar hate against the British on the fact that they chose not to be brothers. "Und willst du nicht mein Bruder sein, so schlag ich dir den Schädel ein." It passes over Munich, tacitly revealing that Munich was immensely popular with the German people, as was the Russo-German pact and every other measure that seemed to promise peace.
Many other articles might be chosen, of course, to reveal how the Government is trying to answer the German people's questions about the charges of war guilt. For example, Dr. Goebbels, writing in Das Reich of September 6, attacks the problem in a more Nazi manner. Where Dr. Kircher registers grief at Allied stupidity Dr. Goebbels registers indignation:
We may assume that the enemy statesmen and the secret powers who frivolously exploded this war on the Reich in the beginning of September 1939 did not foresee with any clarity the disastrous consequences of their fateful decision. It was their plan to knock down the Reich, for they observed in it the much too spontaneous hunger for life of the overpopulated young nations. They wished to prevent Germany from exploiting the forces given her by God. Therefore the war. The German people and leadership have no guilt. Our intentions and plans were exclusively in the domain of peace. Contrary to our enemies, we before this war had no internal difficulties from which we could escape only by war. The Reich was strong and solidly built, and consolidated in all directions. The German leadership had earned so much historic glory in the realm of peaceful construction that it needed to win no more by provoking war. But the contrary was true of our enemies.
Entirely passed over in this article is the fact that in September 1939 there was in England a government under Neville Chamberlain which was highly favorable to Germany, was anxious above all to avoid a war, had swallowed the conquest of Prague (which occurred while German and British industrialists were actually engaged in a conference in Stuttgart), and all but begged Hitler not to take a step in Poland which it could never persuade the British people to accept. The article indicates that the domestic development under Nazism is still popular with the German people. The "secret powers" (by whom is always meant the Jews) connived for war. No mention is made of the arrest at the very beginning of the Nazi régime of all German pacifists, Jewish or Aryan. There is a veiled reference to Germany's need for Lebensraum, immediately offset by the claim that Germany only needed to exploit peacefully her own "forces" -- an ambiguous word -- in order to become strong. The war thus is against German strength and unity, not against German expansion.
Dr. Goebbels, who is nobody's fool, here reveals clearly what is in the German mind. With peace and a reasonable diplomacy on the part of other countries we could have become great. We had no conceivable need of war. Our own resources and labor were sufficient. We had settled our internal difficulties. We had gotten rid of our "secret powers." So, argues Goebbels, picking up the content of the German mind at this point, since we had no necessity to explode externally, and since peace would serve us best at home, it is preposterous to assume that we precipitated the war. It was our enemies who undertook a preventive war against our growing national solidarity, which they envied and feared.
It may be argued that the repetition of this theme song is another proof of German hypocrisy and that the German people as a whole join in the whitewashing perversion of events. It may equally be argued, and I think more reasonably, that it is essential for the Nazi leadership to answer serious doubts in the popular mind. If there were no doubts it would hardly be necessary to conduct so unremitting a campaign against them; nor would it be necessary if, in the minds even of Germans, aggressive war were not regarded as a crime. This is surely something new in German history. "Prussian militarism" never hesitated in the past to justify aggressive war for purposes of national power and expansion. But the Nazi leadership has felt compelled to present this war to the people as a defensive struggle in which Germany is the victim.
In the early stages of the war, when all campaigns were victorious, the Master Race theory and the Lebensraum necessity did play a rôle in the propaganda. Then the argument was that Eastern Europe is Germany's natural living space in which no European Powers have the right to interfere. The Czechs and Poles were inferior peoples whose integration into German civilization would eventually be to the advantage of all. Dr. Robert Ley, in Poland, made a speech brutally stating that Germans would remain forever masters and Poles forever inferiors, since such was the law of nature. The guilt of the British in those days was for interfering with something that was none of their business. But obviously this no longer goes down with the German public. Dr. Goebbels, in another article, admits that the Nazis are unpopular in Europe. "But," he adds, "war measures are no indication of the peace to come after a German victory." Germany, he argues, is now protecting Poles as well as all other European peoples and cultures against the Red Menace out of Asia. Germany is the servant and soldier of Europe, not its master. Germany never wanted war at all for purposes of expansion. It is the United Nations who are the expansionists.
If any comfort for the future can be derived from the apparent fact that Nazi leaders believe an Atlantic Charter for Europe is good propaganda with the German people we are entitled, on this evidence, to derive it.
The greatest efforts are made to convince the German people that they have never been guilty of using the Luftwaffe as the Allied air forces are now being used against Germany.
The sum of the argument, as it appears in numerous articles, is that the Luftwaffe was designed and used exclusively as a weapon to pave the way for, and to accompany, the German armies. The bombing of Warsaw and Rotterdam are presented as military manoeuvres for accompanying land forces. That Rotterdam was bombed after a Dutch request for an armistice is not mentioned. A formidable literature has been compiled to prove that Britain started this form of warfare before the Germans, and a speech of Hitler's, made before the bombing of British towns began and warning that Germany would also indulge in this form of warfare if Britain did not stop, is often quoted. On the few occasions when mention is made of the bombings of London, Bristol, Coventry, Plymouth, etc., these are presented as reprisals for what the British had already done to Germany. The word "Coventrate" has been dropped from the German vocabulary. Previous Italian bombings in Ethiopia, and German and Italian bombings in the civil war in Spain, are passed over as apparently not belonging to, or pertinent to, this war, and of course no reference is made to the earliest use of this weapon in China by the "heroic and chivalrous" Axis ally, Japan. Clearly the Nazi leaders are making immense efforts to rid the German mind of any moral sense that payment is now being exacted in kind.
There no longer is any attempt -- as there once was -- to hide the devastating facts about the air warfare of the British and the Americans. It is impossible to do this, so a contrary line is taken. Heart-breaking and graphic eyewitness tales are printed of the sufferings of non-belligerents in Hamburg, Cologne and elsewhere. The Allied air forces are "torch murderers" and "air gangsters." At times comparisons are made between the Anglo-American war and the Russian, to the advantage of the Russians. "Our first enemies are the Bolsheviks, but they fight like real soldiers. They fight like men or like beasts, but they fight. But these westerners murder our wives and children in cold blood."
Occasionally one reads moving articles about the sufferings of the poor Russian people under their unconscionable dictatorship. We ourselves are in possession, from Polish and other underground sources, of terrible accounts of the treatment of Poles and Russians in the areas under the administration of Alfred Rosenberg; of how thousands of Russian workers have been sent on foot hundreds of miles to work at forced labor; of the appalling physical conditions and the terrorist tortures inflicted on the White Russian and Ukranian populations in the areas where the Gestapo is permitted unbridled license. But the German press carries touching tales of German tenderness to wretched peoples. Stories are printed of Russian civilians who beg the Germans to allow them to retreat with them. From some of these stories the Germans all appear to act in the East like Y.M.C.A. secretaries. The propaganda makes clear that the Nazis believe the German people prefer to think of themselves as liberators and ministers rather than as conquering master heroes. It would also seem that they feel the necessity of offsetting other sorts of stories that must be trickling home.
Through the editorials and feuilletons runs the line that Germany is even fighting for the British people against their misguided leaders:
If we Germans were not fighting the Bolsheviks does anyone think that the British and Americans could ever defeat us? That is sufficient proof that there is only one wall of resistance against the Bolshevists -- the German wall. Once that is broken, no one can stop the Bolshevik flood. The Anglo-Americans come with "agreements" reached with the Soviet Union. We do not believe, however, in scraps of paper, but only in power. Whatever illusions the Anglo-Americans may labor under, they are destroying the only possibility of keeping Russia within some bounds. Some smaller neutral Powers, Switzerland and Sweden, are also against us. [This is constantly admitted, as is German unpopularity in Europe as a whole.] How stupid of them! They live in a past age, longing for the happy time when they were not entangled in the tortures of Europe and blame us for the unrest which these tortures have produced. They do not see that the result of our defeat is inevitably their domination by Russia.[i]
The "pro-European" arguments of the German press today forget the time when Mussolini was hailing a trade treaty with Russia by saying that "the two great young Socialist nations now stand against the plutocrats;" when Goebbels, in the days of the Russian pact, was taking the same line; when Nazi boys were screaming, long before the war, "Siegreich werden wir Frankreich schlagen;" and Hitler was proclaiming, long before the war, that France was Germany's "eternal enemy." Germany has now become the lover and protector of all the nations of Europe. If she punishes them, it is only for their good, and it hurts her more than it does them.
In contrast with earlier days, when the Weimar Republic was continually presented to the people as the "fourteen years of chaos and shame," today's press seldom refers to the Weimar Republic with contempt. It is clear that all the misery of the days of democracy is nothing compared to the misery of today and everything is done to promote the concept of unbroken and legitimate continuity. The Kaiser's Reich is painted as civilized and liberal, and the last war becomes proof that Europe and Russia were determined not to let even such a Germany live. The Treaty of Versailles, once described by Hitler as embodying the worst fate that could befall Germany, is now referred to with contempt, but still as something better than any German government could now obtain. To depict the horrors of defeat, Goebbels now goes back to the Thirty Years' War and the Peace of Westphalia, and promises that a defeated Germany's future lot would be worse than either the 1648 settlement or that of 1918. He draws on Allied hate-mongers for confirmatory evidence.
Until early this past autumn the press which was designed to appeal to the more mature and liberal elements of the German population was permitted to indulge in a certain amount of veiled nostalgia. The suppression of the Frankfurter Zeitung was therefore the more significant. The ostensible reason given was the paper shortage and rationalization of the newspaper industry; but this does not explain why this particular paper was selected for extinction. It had appealed to possible dissenters in the upper middle class who found themselves culturally and politically homeless in the Third Reich; but as rallying point for impotent but not extinct former liberal trends it was harmless and even useful. Its assigned task seemed to be to reconcile the "old" and the "new."
A feature of the paper was the publication of well-known poems evocative of the Germany of "Dichter und Denker." Apparently the Nazi leaders believed that it would be well to give the remnants of German humanism the sense of having an outlet somewhere, the feeling that their world continued. The departure from the party line was not political, merely sentimental. Thus in the midst of serious disasters in Russia, and simultaneously with the landing of the Anglo-American forces in Sicily, the Frankfurter Zeitung published this poem, which I translate freely:
At dusk the autumnal forests resound with deadly weapons,
Over golden plains the sun rolls gloomily,
Night embraces dying warriors, stilling a wild complaint out of dying mouths,
Quietly over the willow-planted ground the red clouds gather,
And in them dwells an irate God.
Spilt blood, and the coolness of the moon!
All roads lead into black disintegration.
Beneath golden branches of night and stars
The shadows of our sisters move through silent trees
To comfort the ghosts of heroes, the bleeding heads,
And quietly in the bushes are heard the dark flutes of autumn.
Oh, proud grief on iron altars!
Today the hot flame of the spirit feeds on a powerful pain.
Oh, our unborn scions!
The gloomy and romantic mood was further emphasized by a reprint in the same paper of Goethe's magical "Ode to the Moon." It appeared conspicuously in the body of the paper. Such poems -- sad, romantic, nostalgic -- appeared for many months. From what I know of the German temperament I would say that the Nazis allowed it because they chose to canalize the disillusionment of older and more cultivated Germans into resignation rather than rebellion. One of the most important words in the German language as a clue to German character is Schicksal -- Destiny. The Germans use it more than any other western people. It registers their sense of being the victims of forces that move in life and history apart from human will. Not for nothing did so many of the modern theories of "inevitabilities" -- Marxism and Freudianism, for instance -- come out of Germany. Apparently the Nazis, who themselves assert the "driving power of the will," concluded that the best thing to do with the hang-overs of the old régime was to let them weep for a lost world and resign themselves to Destiny.
But on September 1 the Frankfurter Zeitung ceased publication. From this it may be deduced that the rifts were becoming intolerable and that resignation was degenerating into outright defeatism, at least in the classes reached by this type of newspaper. Any sort of nostalgia, any concession to "objectivity," is now shut out except in the obituary notices.
These, however, have undergone a change in the last months. Except in the S.S. paper, Schwarze Korps, where almost all deaths at the front are formally announced with the words "for the Fuehrer and Greater Germany," these words now seldom appear. Germans today are all "dying in the defensive war." The notices are grim, and although the fallen are referred to as heroes, the survivors seem inclined to suggest a lip-biting doubt as to whether it is all worth while. This is the more understandable, since the notices often reveal that whole German families are being exterminated. Among the fifteen notices published in one newspaper, five report the death at the front of more than one member of the same family. Sometimes this is done in a veiled manner. The parents announce the death of "our last son," or say, "Now, also, our beloved son," or "Kurt has followed his father."
A sense of fatalism has come to pervade the notices, and many, neglecting Fuehrer and even Fatherland, appeal only to the "inscrutable will of God" and express a sense of comfort only in religion. I quote one from the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of August 28 in which relatives report the extinction of all but one immediate member of a family through a combination of the air war and the fighting at the front:
In the night of August 23rd, my beloved husband Paul Becker, his daughter Gabriele, his son Klaus, fell, victims of the air war. They thus followed their son and brother who fell at the front, and today they look into the eyes of the God of Love, from whom in all the darkness of this life they alone drew strength and comfort. We, the remaining relatives, bow ourselves even in this hour of grief before the will of God.
Finis is written in another notice which concludes: "He was the last, highly-talented scion of a German family that had flourished for four hundred years."
Notable, also, is the number of high officers, generals and colonels whose deaths are announced. This does not indicate a repetition of what happened in the last war, when German officers, for reasons of military policy, were exposed as little as possible to personal danger. The nature of a war of movement necessarily brings higher casualties for officers. But the high proportion of officer deaths, on the Russian front particularly, may also indicate that the officers have found it more necessary to lead their men personally and furnish examples to them.
How about the morale of the troops? The German newspapers even reveal something of this. Some articles chide the civilian population, calling attention to the fortitude of the front soldiers. The Russian war is described in the most horrifying manner, and no attempt is made to play down the strength of the Russian enemy. Article after article describes the seemingly inexhaustible Russian reserves of men and matériel; the phalanxes that are shot down only to give way to new and fresh ones; the tanks that are obliterated, only to be superseded by new rolling masses; the ineradicable activities of the guerrillas. Thus:
The air behind our lines is filled constantly with parachutists, dropping down to bring communications to the guerrillas, and to set up radio communications with the other front. Among these paratroopers are women radio operators of formidable intelligence. Every mile of the retreat must be protected against saboteurs; not a road is free of snipers; all bivouacs, though miles behind the front, must be protected and guarded; it is necessary to build entanglements and pillboxes at every bridge.
By painting the eastern front in the most somber colors an appeal is made to the public against lack of equal fortitude at home. Even very pessimistic letters from soldiers are printed, including one (which appeared in the Schwarze Korps, of all places) in which the writer asserted: "Every one of us here at the front knows that we are fighting the most formidable enemy in human history, and that victory for us will be only the right to walk ragged and barefoot, with nothing in the world but the packs on our backs, through the Brandenburger Tor." Such letters are played up -- often with editorial comment -- as indications of the realistic attitude of the troops and their unbroken morale in the face of the bleakest realization of the German situation.
But other things creep through, also. A writer discusses "the New German folklore" in an article in Das Reich of September 5 entitled "Soldiers' Dictionary." The article, written with humorous detachment, presents soldiers' slang as characteristic of the griping of men in all armies the world over. But some of it is extraordinarily contemptuous of the Party.
What, for instance, do the soldiers call the various medals for heroism? They call the Iron Cross "the border passport," obviously meaning something had by everybody who has struck across a frontier at the enemy. They call the Eastern Medal, for heroes fighting in Russia, "The Frost Medal" (a pun on Ost-Medaille -- Frost-Medaille), or "The Order of Frozen Feet" (a pun on "Eisbein"), or, more grimly, "Snowman in Steel Helmet." The famous German Cross in Gold is called "Ideology Reflector." The Knight's Cross is contemptuously referred to as "Tin Necktie. "The Civilian Service Order is called "Dumbbell's Citation." The military profession is referred to as "the sole German occupation," the Russian artillery as "the Volga song." The Steel Helmet is a "torture cap," an "enthusiasm cooker" and "an ideology cooler." Tanks are "Busses to Heaven" and "Motor-Hearses." The slang about food is not very different from that of most armies, but one expression reveals the general sense of security about the West Wall. Two varieties of bread are distinguished as "Maginot Line -- takeable" and "West Wall -- untakeable."
The abrupt end of the nostalgia-fortitude-resignation note was to be observed in a new editorial tone in all papers. Schwarze Korps on August 19 carried an editorial scolding the public. The argument was directed against the concept of a "Russian Miracle." It was no miracle at all, said the writer. The Russians are winning their victories, not because their armies are invincible, but because the Russian people are making the most terrific effort, sparing themselves absolutely nothing. A similar effort on the part of our own people would bring victory.
This attempt to dispel the myth of the invincibility of the Russian armies puts the shoe on another foot in the fifth year of the war. Certainly the change reveals the public mind. There is obviously a fear that discontent canalized into resigned acceptance is in danger of degenerating into outright defeatism. The clarion call to duty and emphasis on unexhausted German strength has come back into the press.
The press also has to deal with rumor-mongers, and here it is belligerent, persuasive and threatening, suggesting by implication that the authorities are at their wits' end about how to deal with what they themselves describe as one of the greatest morale problems of the administration.
Rumors can be classified in groups. Among them, those dealing with the corruption of Party bosses seem to be rife, and the newspapers complain that it is all but impossible to trace them down. Thus, again, the Schwarze Korps (August 26), instructing good Nazis on how to deal with the enemy within the gates, complains (and suggests) in an article entitled "Have You Heard?" It seems that Germans have been hearing that the wives of prominent leaders have been taking the children "for holidays" in Switzerland to escape the air bombardment, that they have been taking baby carriages with them, and that in these baby carriages are secret compartments hiding incriminating documents. They have also heard that famous Gobelins from Castle X are now hanging in the bedroom of Nazi Leader Y, and that valuable pieces of art have been stolen by Gestapo leaders from bombed towns.
Looting charges, circulated by rumor, are also offset sometimes by stories of Anglo-American looting. It is asserted, for instance, that art dealers accompanied the British and American troops into Italy and have already sent valuable objects of art back to New York and London.
Then there are the rumors about the effects of bombings. It is claimed that the numbers of dead are exaggerated. It is announced that a high ranking official was court-martialed and shot for spreading false stories about the devastation at Rostock and the behavior of Nazi officials. Rumors to the effect that the U-boat warfare is a complete flop also bother the Nazis greatly. But worst of all, writes the Nazi press, are the optimistic rumors that backfire. As an example is cited the rumor that "England is about to be bombed with a vengeance, that the Luftwaffe has been biding its time, but within a few hours we shall receive fantastic news." "The people," complains the article, "wait anxiously. They hang upon their radios, and rush into the streets for each new edition of a paper." The rumor spreads like wildfire, "for whose heart does not leap and who does not rush to spread the good news?" Days pass and nothing happens. Then another rumor is started. "The attack started but failed." Hopes have been driven to a peak, and then are dashed into bitter disappointment.
What can be done about this? The paper complains that it has gone so far that "even Nazi officials have refused to listen to denunciations, and have declared that such denouncers are not good colleagues." It swears that old and reliable Nazis have been deprived of their offices by higher-ups for attempting to take too draconian measures against the rumor-mongers. "The creeping tuberculosis affects all classes and ranks, from top to bottom." An appeal is made to fight it. "But this," says the S. S. organ, "requires civil courage." I find this remark most enlightening. "Civil courage," in its traditional German meaning, has meant the courage to stand up against the powers that be, namely the state. Now civil courage is being required of those who are loyal to the state!
Another article headed "Attack!", published on September 9, pursues the matter further. It admits that it is rarely possible to catch the culprit. In case after case investigated the rumor-spreader has been entirely innocent. The Gestapo, it is pleaded, cannot do everything alone. The public must help. It must not only denounce those responsible for "a phosphoric excretion of disintegrating defeatist rumors, false news, libels, illusions, and threats," which "are spreading in Germany and throughout Europe," and not merely deny the rumors, "for this is a hopeless fight, since they change from hour to hour and circulate so rapidly that when one version is denied another is already current." No, the public must find means to frighten both the malicious and the innocent.
Examples are given of how rumor-killers should behave. Overhearing two ladies in a compartment telling a defeatist yarn, one young man needed but remind them that the Gestapo had ears and eyes everywhere. "They turned pale and got off at the next station." Another suggestion is that work hours be further extended, "for the utterly fatigued have neither time nor energy to listen to or spread rumors." Particular places where they flourish are said to be railroad compartments and offices. The stenographer tells the boss that she heard thus and thus on the German radio; the boss tells the directors at lunch; the directors, after lunch, tell their secretaries, etc., etc. In this case a Nazi faithful traced the story down to the original stenographer, who swore that she was certain of what she had heard, although the static was rather bad. He "fined her fifty marks for the Red Cross." Making people pay by fines like this one is recommended.
Although the news columns of the papers reveal practically nothing about economic conditions in Germany, the commercial advertisements reveal a great deal.
From them we learn that everyone is 10th to sell anything for money, and that when anyone is willing to do so he demands an exorbitant price. The goods sought after are those which presumably have some international value and are mobile. There is an enormous traffic in works of art, and anything in a frame or on a pedestal is so classified. The demand market is indicated by the prices asked, and prices that would once have bought museum pieces are demanded for what in prewar Germany or present-day New York would be classed as junk. Pictures are advertised without the artist's name, or with the name of an obscure painter and described by subject, such as "Charming interior, circa 1890," or "Wild romantic landscape near Abbazia." These pictures, which in prewar Germany would have brought 25 to 50 marks are now selling for 800 to 5,000 marks. A marble pillar of the sort that used to support a bust in a cluttered bourgeoise drawing-room brings 800 marks.
A newspaper article satirizes this, and also the fact that anyone who can daub paint on canvas has an eager public waiting to carry his work away. The article accuses the public of being gullible. "Any sunflower in a pot, created by a man who according to his talents ought to be a house painter [sic!], is snatched up for anything from 20 to 10,000 marks. All artists would be millionaires if paint and brushes were not rationed."
There is also a rush after stamp collections, which in the public mind belong in the category of easily transferable and negotiable goods. The collections of rank amateurs bring fabulous prices. Since they are often advertised in detail, I consulted a New York expert regarding the prices, and found that they varied from ten to twenty times normal, supposing they were saleable in a normal market at all, as they often would not be.
The advertisements also make clear that usable consumers' goods are not to be had at any price in money. Occasionally a table cloth or tea set is offered second-hand for money, but the price is fantastic. For instance a second hand damask tablecloth is offered for 575 marks (the official rate of the mark is .45 to the dollar, making the price of the tablecloth over $200).
Apparently the whole of Germany is a thrift shop. The barter is mainly in consumers' goods. An outgrown pair of children's shoes is offered against a garden hose; china, kitchen ware, carpets, furniture, winter coats, and toys, are offered in exchange for underwear, tools, baby carriages, curtains, etc. Apparently everyone, desperately needing household goods or personal effects, is going through his possessions and seeking to find something he can offer in exchange. It is worth while to advertise any old thing even in papers which are "class" organs.
Since there seems to be considerable ready money lying around for objects of art, one can only conclude, first, that there is a great shortage of the most primitive consumers' goods, and, second, that nobody believes in the currency.
No department stores advertise at all. Presumably they have nothing to offer. Businesses are also using the small classified advertisements, as apparently providing the only means to get new equipment. In one such advertisement a factory advertises for "70 burlap bags," either "to buy or to rent." The same exchange that goes on with household goods goes on between factory owners, especially in smaller business. There is no hope of buying; they can only hope that some other factory owner, for a consideration, will help them out.
Elsewhere in this article I have remarked the absence of any news about the working conditions of labor, or about relations with foreign labor. But sometimes light is thrown indirectly.
In the Schwarze Korps, to quote it once again, an angry editorial on August 19 was directed against industrial managers for not maintaining adequate discipline amongst their workers. "Some seem to think," it says, "that if two, three, or four foreign workers can do the work of one German, everything is all right, since money doesn't matter in war production. But it does matter, and apart from that, these workers take food and shelter from Germans. Admitting that these fellows are none of them worth a good German, with his superior skill and joy in work, the effect of their loafing on the job carries over to the Germans themselves and spoils morale. One manager had the right idea. Sick of the halfheartedness of the foreigners, he took a lazy German and made an example of him in front of the others, giving him a resounding kick in the backside. That impressed the foreigners, for they could see what might happen to them. The example is highly to be recommended." I find this a quite extraordinary revelation. Why did the energetic manager, who is cited as a rare example, not take a running kick at one of the "worthless foreigners"? Why did he have to select a German worker as an example?
A letter to the editor complains that foreign workers grab the best seats on trolley cars, and sit while German women and children stand. Cannot anything be done about it? Apparently not. Apparently the imported slaves have the Herrenvolk rather nervous.
A little glimpse on wages is afforded by an article attacking the extravagance of the rich. A lady, it is reported, sent off a whole flock of telegrams to various resorts in a search for accommodations for a holiday. The editorial attacks this use of the crowded telegraph wires, and adds: "And incidentally, her bill of 127 marks was exactly the monthly wage of a woman worker in a war plant." That is about $57 a month in an economy where a secondhand damask tablecloth brings over $200.
The German press is also concerned with the social effects of the bombings. The public in areas which have escaped bombardment, and to which the bombed-out victims are being evacuated, are warned by the newspapers not to expect from these victims "the same view of property that others who have suffered less still have." It is pointed out that men and women who have seen their fellows buried and burned, and have escaped "with only one thought, gratitude for life, and the chance to rebuild their lives with work," cannot "attach the same importance to every trinket and teaspoon as the more fortunate still do."
An article ruminating on the Bolshevik menace and why the British should have been so stupid as to have clasped hands with the Soviet Union remarks somberly that even Germany, which normally has been made immune to Bolshevism, is learning, from the air bombardments, to take a quite different attitude toward property rights than it used to have.
A summary of my impression of the condition of public opinion in Germany, after months of reading the German newspapers as they have come to me in batches from time to time, would be about as follows:
The fear of losing the war is acute. Stress on this fear is considered by the authorities to be the most effective form of propaganda. Defeatism is strong, but fear is stronger still, and transcends all questions of ideology. A promise to punish Nazi war criminals alone is not effective Allied propaganda, because the German people are absolutely convinced from the writings of the Vansittart school that surrender will finish Germany as a nation-state, as an industrial civilization, and an independent country.
The German people have a strong sense of guilt; but it is clouded by doubts and counteracted by self-pity.
There is an almost universal distrust of Anglo-American promises.
There is an almost universal fear of Russia. Communism is not feared. What is feared is violent Bolshevism, in the form of wholesale purges, shootings, mob incitations, conspiracies and civil war.
The Nazi Party is not popular. The recital of its past achievements is not good propaganda. The people are apathetic even toward Hitler. And, in retrospect, the Weimar Republic and the Kaiserreich seem like relatively golden ages.
There is no longer much popular interest in plans for the German domination of Europe or in German expansionism. The occupied territories are looked on as valuable only as they form a protective cordon around the German homeland.
The Nazi "revolution" is an admitted failure elsewhere in Europe. The German people are being promised that after their victory the western Europeans and even the Poles will be given freedom, in the framework of some all-European integration.
The Herrenvolk idea has proved such a dud that it has been dropped completely out of popular propaganda. The people are told that they are fighting to save Europe, not to rule it. Imperialism is unpopular.
A profound sense of comradeship is growing up amongst the masses of the people, who have become increasingly dependent on mutual aid both for spiritual comfort and for the simplest amenities of life. Draconian state measures against the people do not work, because even Nazi officials often stand with the people against the Gestapo and will not denounce them.
There is a thirst after religion and culture, peace and quiet.
There is an intense social introversion. Germans fear the foreigner, whether as conqueror or worker in their midst.
People are not classified as Nazis and anti-Nazis in the popular mind. There are those who are "with the people" and those who are "against the people." The only place where the Party takes an aggressive tone is in the S. S. sheet published for its own corps.
Finally, the Nazi leaders wish they had pursued a different policy and are trying to persuade their own people that they did. They committed no aggressions, they worked for peace, they tried to build a strong enterprising Socialist country on the basis of Germany's own labor and resources, they wished to achieve European unity, diplomatically and with respect for all European cultures and peoples. Plutocratic greed and Bolshevist rage rose against them; so they struck first, but only in order to carry the inevitable war as far as possible from German soil. Now, in the face of terrible odds, victory is mere survival.
The Nazi leaders thus reveal what they now believe their people sincerely want. Unfortunately for them, and unfortunately for Germany, they are too late. Germany is in the terrible dilemma of no longer believing in the original war and of believing with conviction that no German government can make a tolerable peace. Can the armor of this despair be broken? Or will the German people support the war until their armies crack and are totally defeated?
[i] Condensed from an article, "Darauf fallen wir nicht rein," Schwarze Korps, August 26, 1943.