As a counterpoint to Edmund Burke and George Santayana, let me start with an admonition: Those destined to repeat history are first doomed to forget it. A while back I wrote an article warning of the insidious dangers of state propaganda, especially when augmented by the grinding mediocrities of a government school system, the steady drone of a compliant press, and the in sync idols of popular culture. In that article I illustrated my point by highlighting Germany in the 1930s as an object lesson. Having just read William Shirer’s 1960 classic “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” I was astounded to learn how completely the formerly sensible German people had under Adolph Hitler succumbed to an assemblage of lies, myths and distortions so absurd that a child, one would think, could never have swallowed them. And yet according to Shirer the German people gobbled them up wholesale and without so much as a hiccup.
I’m afraid destiny has not favored us, because as a nation we have forgotten this most crucial lesson from our history. For if Shirer was correct—and I am convinced that he was – how is it that those Germans were so easily and completely duped? Were they somehow less intelligent than ourselves, or more gullible? Was the Nazi dictatorship more subtle or more persuasive than the fabulists in Hollywood and Foggy Bottom? Are modern governments so much more honest and principled that we are justified in trusting them? Perhaps we are more wise, or more shrewd, or more discerning than those long ago Germans. Or perhaps we are not! I will let you be the judge.
But before examining the Nazi propaganda juggernaut in detail there are two historical myths we must first clear up. The first myth is the misconception that state propaganda is generally directed outwardly, as exemplified by a coven of English speaking Japanese women collectively known as “Tokyo Rose,” who broadcast discouraging misinformation over radio to demoralize American troops in the Pacific. “Lord Hawley” and “Axis Sally” did the same in Europe. But these instances were the exceptions—almost anomalies. The bulk of propaganda is always directed inward toward the home population in a fashion best characterized as “Orwellian.” There is a very simple explanation for this: Information is power! And power, for socialists of every sort, is their reason for being. Ideology is only the apocalyptic horse upon which they ride.
The second myth involves a conventional misunderstanding of the nature of socialism itself. Most of us cut our teeth on the notion that socialism and fascism are polar opposites, the former an ideology of the left and the latter of the right. But what is the substantive distinction between the two? Both entail government control of the means of production. In fact that is their essential feature. In terms of their economic and political bases, the only meaningful distinction I can discover is that while under socialism the state takes over the economy entirely by nationalizing all commercial operations, under fascism the state exercises equal control through coercion, leaving much of the management structure of businesses and corporations nominally in place but entirely emasculated. Such a system is also sometimes described as “corporatism.”
The Nazis employed the fascistic or corporatist model of socialism, probably because it is more efficient to enslave trained managers than to hire green comrades off the street. Under Hitler, who had officially usurped absolute and unrestricted power, every industry and business was strictly controlled by statute and under a merciless bureaucracy, and the press was no exception. Under the Reich Press Law of 1933, all editors were required to be Aryan German citizens not married to a Jew. They were “to keep out of the newspapers anything which in any manner is misleading to the public….” In other words, they were to rigorously censor those inconvenient facts and opinions which today’s left would call “fake news.” Likewise they were to suppress information which “tends to weaken the strength of the Third Reich… or offends the honor and dignity of Germany.”
German news organizations which could not or would not comply were quickly forced out of business. Such included the Vossische Zeitung, more than two centuries old, and a host of lesser known publishers. Other major papers, after being divested of Jews and brow-beaten into compliance by the Ministry of Propaganda, included the world renowned Berliner Tageblatt, the Frankfurter Zeitung, and the Deutsche Allegemeine Zeitung. These were allowed to carry on as masthead operations for the propaganda ministry because their historic prestige lent credibility. But as Reich Press Chief Otto Dietrich boasted at the time, in terms of the Nazi party line they had become “more papal than the pope.”
On a day to day basis, here is how this worked:
Needless to say, the press reporting under The Third Reich soon became as monotonous as it was dishonest, and subscriptions dramatically lapsed. Never to be outdone in chutzpah, Nazi leaders began to publicly lament what Reich Leader for the Press Max Amann condemned as “the presently far-reaching uniformity of the press, which is not a product of government measures and does not conform to the will of the government.” (Shirer p. 246.) But Herr Amann needn’t have worried, for fascism soon came to the rescue by his own hand. As President of the Press Chamber, he had “the legal right to suppress any publication he pleased.” Suppression, of course, quickly led to bankruptcy, and Amann was so situated that he could buy up vast numbers of such distressed publications. Very soon two thirds of the daily press circulation was owned by top Nazi officials and the Nazi Party.
Under questioning at the Nuremburg Trials Amann described how the system had been rigged:
The commandeering of Radio for Nazi indoctrination was accomplished even more expediently, because in Germany at that time the air waves were already a state-owned monopoly which fell like a ripe plum into Joseph Goebbels’ eager hands. Needless to say, all broadcast news and opinion quickly fell in line with National Socialist Party objectives, as dictated at Goebbels’ daily press briefings.
The film industry likewise was wholly captive to the Reich Propaganda Ministry under the close supervision of the Chamber of Films. That esteemed body was gracious enough to assist us in understanding its purpose by issuing what we might today call a “mission statement,” which read, in part, “(Our purpose is) to lift the film industry out of the sphere of liberal economic thoughts…and thus enable it to receive those tasks which it has to fulfill in the National Socialist State.”
Forgive me for relying so heavily on quotations, but I find it impossible to improve upon William Shirer’s summation of the impact a steady diet of Nazi propaganda had upon him personally.
Shirer eventually came to realize that it was useless “even to try to make contact with a mind that had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for the truth, said they were.” Sound familiar? The Nazis operated what we today might call a “mainstream press.” Only unlike our truckling publishers today, the official government press of 1930’s Germany had no competition whatsoever. Why is that? Well, because the National Socialist Party press did not argue with opposing points of view. It zealously “cancelled” them out, and ghosted (both literally and figuratively) any and all who strayed from the party line.
The revelation that the German people so easily succumbed to Hitler’s seemingly preposterous propaganda came as a great surprise to me. I suppose it is understandable in a way. Credulity is often an affair of the heart more than of the head. It takes courage to embrace facts and information which one knows will come at a cost, or at least with a distasteful duty. Many of us, and perhaps even most, resist mightily when we sense that what we are being asked to learn will put us at odds with family, friends, a potential mate, popular opinion and the word as handed down from respected authority. Imagine what it would take to face a forbidden truth when the consequence might easily be a trip to Auschwitz!
Sometimes I feel that for every committed progressive in America today there are three who merely pretend because it is expedient to do so. Did our entire population really become so suddenly and honestly convinced that same sex marriage, formerly entailing a felony, should now be celebrated? How many truly believe that in mammals there are more than two genders? Now that Biden has loused things up so badly across the board, how many remain honestly convinced that Trump collaborated with Putin or, as I have been told many times, that Trump is “pure evil?” Have Americans-of-no-color really accepted the self-loathing double-think dogma that they are both evil because they are white and evil because they are racist?
Because after WWII the German people so desperately needed a scapegoat for the humiliation and the cost of the Versailles Treaty, they readily accepted Hitler’s foundational tenet that they had been betrayed—stabbed in the back. Similarly, since Jews dominated the culture and economy of the Weimar Republic it was an easy step to name “the Jews” as the culprit. From that point it was an easier step still to the myth of German ethnic superiority, which justified expansion for “lebensraum,” and so forth, until all of Europe was in flames. Having accepted a foundation of lies, those “Good Germans” were easy dupes for the details—staggeringly implausible details – and as you have seen, Hitler’s propaganda ministry and a compliant media steadily supplied them.
But here’s where it gets interesting. With each element of the Nazi lie the German people swallowed they became more rigid in their delusions and more zealous in their actions. In no time at all a previously Christian people had rationalized away nearly their entire sense of common decency. They did not recognize the truth because even a seemingly trivial fact could be so enormously incongruent with what they had come to believe that recognizing it might have shattered their entire world view. Just as much of America today refuses to hear anything at all from “the other side” because that side is alleged to be hopelessly “wrong and evil,” the Germans considered the purveyors of facts at odds with the Party orthodoxy to be treasonous—even blasphemous. And reason being a capital offense as much as treason, they did not dare to consider objective truth even as a category of thought. It was too dangerous, first to their economic wellbeing, and then eventually to their very survival.
In other words, the Germans of the late 1930’s became radicalized by becoming “woke,” because “wokeness” provided solidarity while it groomed their grievances and settled their fears. Had they stood together on principle they might have resisted the Holocaust. But instead each surrendered his integrity quietly in isolation, and having thus capitulated became a champion and enforcer of the new order. They became woke until their entire ideological universe was 180 degrees from reality. And then their leader blew his brains out.
I hope we can find a way to awaken the conscience of America before it is too late! But I am very much afraid of what is taking place in our country today. The censorship and mendacity from our government-media complex is alarming in and of itself. The uniformity of deceit from our self-appointed movers and shakers has become nauseatingly obvious. In fact most press outlets now use identical catch terms, probably to help the dull witted internalize and then disseminate their pap. But the fact that vast numbers of Americans are so easily accepting of their propaganda, accepting, for example, of their alphabet soup of gender multiplicity myths, their self-loathing and culturally suicidal fable of Critical Race Theory, and their fantasy that bloody street riots across the land have been “mostly peaceful” while a relatively bloodless demonstration at the capital is termed a “revolution” on a scale with Pearl Harbor…. All of this has me concerned. So perhaps I’ll just pretend not to notice. As Sergeant Shultz used to say on a popular television series set in one of the Nazi camps, “I see nothing!”© Jim Wagner
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