I do not wish to obsess over Hitler in this piece. Sure, it’s easy to do, get caught up in the open horror of the man’s influence and reign. And, inevitably, the Nazis will be a part of the story, with their destruction of humanity on a global scale far beyond the death camps. In the meantime perhaps we should look at where ideas like Adolph Hitler’s come from. What rift (or maybe vortex) must be sheered open within the soul of humanity to cause such desires for the emptying of organized society? How could such things come to be, and are there warning signs for the future? Is there any way, or are people too stiff and stubborn and weak to turn away from the apocalyptic March that haunts all of human history?
Germany is a fascinating place. If we go all the way back in time, let’s say to 55 BC, there were several roving tribes of self-consciously ethnic people, clashing and at war with each other over not just the need for land, but over their perceived differences, which were, particularly that long ago, minimal.
Each one of these images comes from different regions of ancient Germany, declaring four different Germanic tribes, each, presumably, of a wholly different race. The guy on a horse in the first image deserves some further attention. That is Hermann Arminius, a general born in 18 BC who led one of the few successful revolts against Roman rule at the time.
One particularly interesting thing about Arminius is that, unlike the Germanic leaders before him, he was somehow capable of forming temporary alliances between the warring tribes in order to fight the “Romanization” of the region. Of course Rome had their partisans within the land as well, in these pre-Christian days, and of course everyone feared and loathed the Jews (this is, after all, German history).
Arminius was born into the royal family of the Cherusci tribe in northwestern Germany, a barbarian horde of which he was first heir to the throne. Shortly after his birth, after a raid from Roman soldiers under Augustus Caesar, the small boy was kidnapped and taken in by a lesser royal family, and raised as a Roman prince. He grew into a powerful, intelligent man, and was granted Roman citizenship while still quite young. He was made a knight and served with great distinction, so much so that he was considered the perfect envoy to the then governor, Publius Quinctilius Varus,
who was then controlling most of Germany.
Arminius had grown up fully aware of who he actually was, and he had kept silent about his passion for his true ethnic identity until given the chance to reassert himself. Upon his return home, those awaiting him considered his arrival similar to the way Jews in Jerusalem would later think of Jesus Christ. He was truly a Messianic figure, and in 9 AD he had formed and led an alliance between the Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
This was an ambush upon three Roman legions and their auxiliaries. Rome was demolished.
Varus, who had up until the moment his soldiers were attacked, believed Arminius his most trustworthy underling, was mortified. He cut his own throat. Arminius, upon finding the corpse, finished the job and sliced the head off, then having it delivered as a gift to Bavarian King Marbod,
who was the other primary leader of the alliance.
Over the next twelve years Arminius led almost constant invasions of Roman held Germanic territory, winning battle after battle, the barbarians of every tribe seeming to see in this man what would one day evolve into the term Fuhrer. He was beloved, linking the members of the numerous tribes together so completely into a multicultural group that other nobles began fearing for their own power, and had the liberator assassinated in 21 AD.
After this the legends grew and grew about who Arminius was until mythology overtook reality and later Roman historians–notably Tacitus,
and the British historian Edward Gibbon
(for Tactius see: https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=&an=unknown&tn=tacitus%20annals%20imperial%20rome&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ats-_-used and for Gibbon see: https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780375758119&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used) painted pictures of the man that could not possibly be true.
Arminius became a national symbol of German liberation into the 19th century, and the Nazis, later, incorporated him into their new religion. Celebrations of his past have since been eliminated in Germany due to his association with radical nationalism, and the 2000th anniversary of his victory over Rome went by nearly unrecognized.
Jumping ahead into the 2nd century AD we find the Germanic tribes separate once again, and much more primitive than they had been in the days of Roman rule. They had scattered across the growing land, conquering small villages and larger cities. They did not yet have a written language of their own (although the increasingly intricate barks began to form into a comprehensible dialect which would eventually be refined into High German). The only thing they seemed to retain was their proficient warlike nature, allowing them to conquer and obliterate all resistance. There are endless stories in ancient history of truly barbaric acts, giving birth to the actual title they were known as: Barbarians. Stories proliferate of the brutality of raids, of the rapes and torture and perverted acts of cannibalism, and sex with severed body parts. Fire was apparently an obsession with many of the horde, certain tribal leaders known to enjoy watching children set on fire and dancing around until they collapsed into piles of ash. These were celebrations, drinking festivals. Orgies.
As the Roman Empire continued its decline (and as the Holy Roman Empire was rising), a period of time that has come to be known as the Migration Period (in other contexts the “Barbarian Invasions”) spread across much of Europe. The tribes continued onward, slaughtering and terrifying people from foreign tribes, following foreign customs, falling, eventually, under the sway of the violence and descending, themselves, into broken and utter chaos. That is, until the Huns began arriving in Europe from Asia.
At first the Huns were allied with the Holy Roman Empire, spreading its way throughout Europe in a manner similar to Islam in Asia three hundred years later. Rome was thrilled to have their own savage hordes to challenge the Germanic tribes on their own ground. Rome considered the Huns to be monsters and were delighted with this coup. However the Huns had their own ambitions of conquering the world and quickly turned against their benefactors, awaiting their own dictatorial strongman, Attilia, nearly 100 years later.
No one was the victor of this seemingly endless war other than the Catholic church, who suffered their own defeats and grew both more power-hungry and increasingly paranoid. The dark ages consumed all of Europe, a festering time of poverty, starvation and disease. The people were all terrified of demons and dragons and spirits and ghosts, frightened by ominous birds in the sky and the howl of the night wind. Generation after generation suffered in this darkness, the church seeming to be the only thing offering any hope of light. And with the rise of Islam to the south and east, the church became increasingly warlike until they finally devoured the continent and furthered the gains of the Roman Empire before them until their power was unrivaled, to that point, in all of human history.
The First Reich (800-1806):
Adolph Hitler famously promised the German people a thousand year Reich. This was to be the second one. “Reich,” itself translates into Imperial rule, but has the twist of referring to the monarch himself as next to God, or even God Himself. This is what happened in 800 AD when Charlemagne the Great rose to the top of the Holy Empire.
Now Charlemagne presents a complicated narrative, the historical debate considering the one time king of the Frankish Empire the ruler not of the Roman Catholic Church, but of a separate German Catholic Church. This is difficult to reconcile, as the Roman Empire itself fell nearly 300 years earlier, the ultimate reasoning behind the so-called Dark Ages. The church had morphed in those years, taking on a far more international face, less a nation-state than a domineering political philosophy influencing all the leaders of the world. When Charlemagne was named Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III in 800,
he was no longer considered merely the founder and ruler of his Carolingian Empire of the Lombards and Franks, but was thought to be the true king of the world. Some even believed him to be Christ returned, and the very idea of the thousand year reich corresponded with the believed millennia of peace following the War of Armageddon. Pope Leo III was savvy enough to exploit this among the superstitious people then clawing their way out of the Dark Ages, and solidified not just his placement of the puppet king, but the true dominance of the church by selecting such a blood-thirsty man as its ruler.
Charlemagne, like his father Pepin the Short
before him, was a religious fanatic, leading campaigns throughout the Frankish empire of convert or die. He declared war against the Saxons, people of a massive colony which makes up what later became Northern Germany, the Netherlands and, across the ocean, Great Britain itself.
The Saxons remained a pagan people, worshipping fallen gods on Druidic principles, and once Charlemagne took over the Franks he turned to all-out war. In 772 the precipitating event of the 32-year Saxon wars occurred when Charlemagne ordered the destruction of the sacred Irminsul,
a divine runic symbol of the Saxon faith. This was, in fact, a man-made tree, chopped down and reformed into something not so far from a cross, where Saxons would kneel and pray and revere their open existence under the night sky, having celebrations that devout Catholics could easily have mistaken for worship of Satan. (One curious thing to note, considering the early history of the Saxons in Great Britain and the actual appearance of an Irminsul, some of which still stand to this day,
is the curious formation of Stonehenge.)
It was ten years later, in 782, when Charlemagne finally began putting the Saxons in their place at a battle since renamed the Massacre at Verden, where more than 4,500 citizens are said to have had their heads chopped off upon the Franks conquering this area of lower Saxony.
This war continued through dense outrage among the Saxons, but it never again really picked up steam as the Franks rolled through the region, declaring the triumph of their God and establishing the first reich.
What followed throughout the rest of Charlemagne’s life was an increasing split between the Eastern and Western Orthodox church, begun as a territorial dispute from the moment Pope Leo III named him emperor. Irene of Athens,
the ruler of the Byzantine Empire, believed that she was the rightful heir and, upon Leo denying her the title based entirely upon her gender, she began splitting the church by declaring the appointment heresy, and in support of a heterodox view about the order in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit should be announced (her branch of faith believed that the Holy Spirit came first). This would lead, eventually, to further divisions within the church, finally breaking into the numerous different sects that exist today and, ultimately, to holy war.
Irene was shortly thereafter overthrown and exiled to the isle of Lesbos, where she died in 802.
The Reich continued to grow over the next thousand years, led by such figures as Otto I,
who actually deposed Pope John XII
in order to place a more friendly holy advisor in his place, Pope Leo VIII.
Both men claimed to be the head of the church until John died the following year.
Other important figures are German King Henry IV,
who was actually excommunicated from the church five different times by five different Popes. Obviously this did not hold. Civil Wars at this time (1084-1105) rampaged throughout the Holy Roman Empire until Henry was forced to abdicate his throne, the tides of history having turned against him.
who was the first German king from the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Eventually we get to Frederick I, also known as Frederick Barbarossa,
who was king of both Germany and Italy and went on to emphasize “Romanism” to the people of his native land. This would eventually lead to further tribal culture wars, culminating with the rise of fanatical nationalism at the dawn of the Second Reich in 1871.
By the 13th century the political structure of the world was drastically changing. The ideas of the Magna Carta had given the non-royal aristocrats and wealthy tradesmen the idea that they could actually have a say in governing themselves and their land (or at least protect their property from church and state incursion). This put tremendous pressure on the church to change, to liberalize their stance on certain practices of the wealthier church patrons. Frederick II
is particularly notable during this period of crisis for the church as he led two full crusades with the intention of doing away with Islam once and for all. Of course being a masterful politician (as well as possibly a closet homosexual), Frederick was a master in the art of deception. And despite his occasional lapses and public moral failures as far as the church was concerned, he could always wash away his sins by claiming illness. He ended the sixth crusade this way, promising the Muslims retained rights to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (one of Frederick’s wives, Isabella II, was queen of Jerusalem).
Upon this deal being reached Pope Gregory IX
immediately excommunicated Frederick on the grounds of not fulfilling his promise to wipe Islam from the face of the earth. To gauge just how serious Gregory was about this we need only read just one of his many quotes on those of any faith who did not fall precisely in line behind his vision of church doctrine:
“When you hear any layman speak ill of the Christian faith, defend it not with words but with the sword.”
This is a man who also believed cats to be agents of Satan and demanded that they be executed on sight. Frederick would go to war with him (and by proxy the church) in 1229.
The result of this conflict was one-sided, Frederick’s wife Isabella dying in 1229 and thus making him the King of Jerusalem, humbling the Pope, who removed the excommunication. The crusades continued after this, more bloodshed, more slaughter, more and more holy war invading every province throughout Europe.
The Holy Roman Empire continued on, often at war with itself, but still defining the very first reich, something to be perverted (regardless of its barbarity) in the later years of time. Rival emperors popped up, mostly arrogant kings of various interests–all of them devoutly Catholic in their own ways– and the wars continued both against the Muslims and Jews, as well as against each other. A man named William of Holland, or William II, the Prince of Orange
was declared the German anti-king in 1247, his title alone an indication of the tribal split, of the racial and religious divide otherwise conquering the people of Germany. In one of the many wars splattered all throughout Europe at the time, in 1256, William of Orange fell through a lake of ice and drowned. It was somehow an appropriate death, in hindsight, for yet another pretender not just to the throne, but for a man who tried to alter the faith, if only slightly, declaring his small portion of Germany the true home of the God.
The extravagantly wealthy Richard of Cornwall
battled Alfonso X of Castile
for the title of Holy Roman Emperor from 1257-1272, deciding that Catholicism was the religion of war instead of the formerly promised faith of salvation. The Habsburg empire overtook Germany for a number of years and continued warring, further limiting the superior racial identity within Germany until the first reich was transformed into not just one side of a holy war, but one about singular and barely discernible racial superiority. Germany, towards the later 13th century, was suddenly considered the home of the white race, the true Israelites, damning the Jews, renouncing Islam, and forcing itself more than any other nationality–the coming years of Spanish missionaries included–as the demanding, absolutist faith that one better kneel before unless they wish to die.
ascended to the throne in 1452 and managed to survive as the Holy Roman Emperor for over forty years. Frederick III was known as “the Peaceful,” although that designation is incomprehensible in his history. A sluggish, indifferent leader, Frederick was the perfect stooge of the more ambitious underlings within the church seeking to turn these high middle ages modern. There were all sorts of new philosophies distracting the newly literate citizenry, and thoughts of atheism, alongside reformation ideologies, were undermining the totality of the church’s rule. Frederick did his best, under the guidance of Pope Paul II–
a hideous man who was far more interested in politics than the basic and ongoing tenants of faith–to establish absolute dictatorship over the wavering masses who had lost faith in the lingering status of the church.
Enter Martin Luther
a radical absolutist who declared that everything that had come before was wrong. A radical anti-semite turned radical anti-Catholic, Luther further divided the collapsing Holy Roman Empire, stating under his 95 Theses
that everything the Roman church had ever taught was not just a lie, but heresy, and that all the so-called saints of the past were presently burning forever in the darkest pits of Hell. These words nailed upon Castle Church in Wittenburg
initiated the Reformation, and destroyed the unity of a single Christian church of God forever. Inevitably the Thirty Years War arose out of this religious divide
and the world, led by Germany, continued down its rapid decline into religious and partisan warfare.
The subsequent rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, thus leaders of the First Reich of Germany, came from all over the map, Europe being continually unified and divided. Occasionally a German born king would take over the church, but the church was less than it used to be, and the strange influence of outside forces and irreligious conquest seemed to be overtaking the crown everywhere in the world. Some kings were demanding new rights while others sought to impose new holy restrictions based upon whichever dire moment they individually found themselves within. It was at this time, let’s say the early 17th century, that kings realized that religious, instead of the unifying force one must bow to, was nothing more than a political tool to inspire the masses when dissatisfaction and doubt were the talk of the town.
In 1765 Joseph II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
Joseph was a combination French and German and Austrian and numerous other incestual byproducts who was aware enough to be appointed leader. Perhaps he was one of the rare children of incest who was awarded with only the finest genetics of his malformed parents, and yet he maintained a certain rule, through the French revolution, until all of his dreams were crushed and he died, a broken man, in 1790, fully aware that everything he had planned, that all of the structure he had built, had been denied and renounced by his underlings, the young, the next generation who called his devout faith a sham.
After this the reich was in full decline. The final Holy Roman Emperor was not even German, but a Frenchman, trying to lull the revolting, newly atheistic nation back into the good graces of Christ. This was Francis II,
a rather pathetic man, desperately trying to reform the church to appease people who had entirely lost both faith and interest in the gospels that Constantine allowed to overtake the world nearly 1,500 years earlier. Eventually, in 1806, Francis II dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, ending the 1,000 year reich, and abandoning the future to the command of Napoleon Bonaparte.
After this, Germany once again descended into religious and racial anarchy. It is wrong to call these battles civil wars, because sometimes they were neighborhood versus neighborhood, person versus person. Everyone had grown to hate one another, and Germany was lost for another sixty years.
The Second Reich arose when the grandchildren of the collapse of the reich realized that they were still, and always should be, a unified people and a unified nation.
Before the founding of the new Reich Europe had caught fire, the French Revolution spreading so densely that by 1848 the entire continent seemed to be in revolt. Here is a brief detail of what was going on in 1848-1849:
- Barricades in Paris
- Louis Philippe abdicates, Republic proclaimed
- French Elections
- June Days insurrection
- Louis Napoleon elected President
- Hungarian Demands
- Student Risings in Vienna
- Metternich Resigns
- Liberal Legislation; Hungarian autonomy
- Czechs promised a constituent assembly
- Emperor proclaims constitution for Austria
- Vienna demonstrators demand democracy
- Emperor Flees
- Prague bombarded; Pan-Slav congress dissolved; military dictatorship
- Assembly in Vienna adopts constitution, peasants emancipated
- Austria army from Croatia invades Hungary
- Vienna Bombarded, occupied
- Francis Joseph, Emperor
- Budapest Occupied
- Austrian Reichstag dissolved, its constitution replaced
- Hungary declares a Republic
- Russia Invades Hungary
- Hungary Capitulates
- Berlin Rising
- Prussian King calls Landtag
- Frankfurt National Assembly Meets
- Prussian Constituent Assembly meets
- Frankfurt assembly supports Prussia against Danes in Schleswig-Holstein
- Prussian Assembly Dissolved
- Frankfurt Constitution completed
- Frankfurt Constitution rejected by Prussia
- Palermo Revolt
- King in Naples Grants constitution
- Constitution Granted in Tuscany
- Constitution Granted in Piedmont
- Pope grants constitution
- Milan Revolt: Five Glorious Days
- Venice declared Republic
- Italian troops defeat Austria
- Austrians defeat Italian Army
- Pope flees Rome
- Roman Republic Established
- Decisive defeat of piedmont by Austria
- French Army lands in Papal States
- Rome falls to France
- Venice Surrenders
- Barricades in Paris
- February 22, 1848
- Feb. 23, 1848
- April 23, 1848
- June 23, 1848 – June 26, 1848
- November 4, 1848
- December 20, 1848
The Hapsburg Empire:
- March 3, 1848
- March 12, 1848
- March 13, 1848
- March 15, 1848 – march 31, 1848
- April 8, 1848
- April 25, 1848
- May 15, 1848
- May 17, 1848
- June 12, 1848
- June 22, 1848
- September 17, 1848
- October 31, 1848
- December 2, 1848
- January 5, 1849
- March 4, 1849
- April 13, 1849
- June 17, 1849
- August 13, 1849
- Berlin Rising
- March 15, 1848
- March 18, 1848 – march 21, 1848
- May 18, 1848
- May 22, 1848
- June 1848 – september 1848
- December 5, 1848
- March 27, 1849
- April 21, 1849
- Palermo Revolt
- January 12, 1848
- February 10, 1848
- February 17, 1848
- March 4, 1848
- March 14, 1848
- March 18, 1848 – March 22, 1848
- March 22, 1848
- May 30, 1848
- July 24, 1848
- November 25, 1848
- February 9, 1849
- March 23, 1849
- April 24, 1849
- June 30, 1849
- August 28, 1849
This endless cycle of demands all throughout the most powerful empires of continental Europe formed a new ideology, one called ‘nationalism,’ that would soon overtake nearly every corner of the world. Everyone was at war with everyone else, whether over faith, over national identity, over loyalty to a king, over politics, over various opinions that often bled into absurdity–everything was apt of cause conflict, and the entire human race, with the abandonment of slavery, with the economic changes based upon the rapid evolution of technology, was more than just confused. They were angry. All people were angry. Everyone was feeling smaller, less useful, and in need of someone to tell them that they still mattered.
Enter Otto von Bismarck.
The second reich lasted for 47 years, from 1871 until the end of World War I.
Now Bismarck was a different sort of creature entirely. Perhaps the founder of modern German nationalism, his leadership bred a deep distain within the people of his country which would lead to the rise of National Socialism. The second reich was a toxic time, where modern world anger and hatred mixed with the same old world bias and superiority that mankind has always been guilty of. War and violence overwhelmed the world, from the end of the American Civil War and through the endless coups and coup attempts that destroyed all hope and faith in absolute leadership and national independence. Bismarck, with whatever grubby charm he possessed, managed to convince his recently fallen nation that they were still better than everyone else in the world, regardless of what their eyes could tell them and their senses could smell.
The nobles of Germany had had enough of foreign influence, still deep down believing in magic rings and operatic triumph. The nation, long since out of the caves, had suddenly decided it was educated and now considered itself the true artists of the world. Everything they offered was meant to last forever.
It was a competitive world, under Bismarck, and it was only the loudest (as opposed to necessarily the most talented) who would arise in the political sphere, impressing the still roving hordes of borderline barbarians, telling them about the way things were supposed to be, and developing armies out of nothing more than the promise of a better life than anyone outside the national borders could offer.
Of course there was the problem of Prussia,
a large chunk of the fatherland that had been divided on religious grounds. In fact it was larger than Germany, which was then reduced to a few meaningless colonies, and separated from Austria as well. It seems that command of Germany continued to come from outside its borders, even the former German Holy Roman Emperors bound more completely to Rome than the land of their forebears.
Bismarck announced that Prussia was merely a part of the larger German Empire, offending the nominal leaders of the territory (all of them at war with each other for a smaller piece of the pie). He outright claimed the land in his famous speech to the Prussian Chamber of Deputies (a gang of mostly German loyalists who were greedy to hear such a nationalistic chant):
“Prussia must concentrate and maintain its power for the favorable moment which has already slipped by several times,” he said. “Prussia’s boundaries according to the Vienna treaties are not favorable to a healthy state life. The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.”
This was, and let us not prevaricate like those 19th century monarchs did, completely unprepared for the next (and then the next) revolution that had spawned out of France more than 80 years before, and acknowledge that this was a declaration of total war, the awareness that everyone outside the limited boundaries of German loyalty was the enemy and needed to be destroyed. Anyone else seeking change would have a valuable lesson to consider when thinking about the next holy war that, as history tells us, could not possibly change anything beyond the idea that faith must be defended even more radically against equal and opposite fanaticism.
Otto von Bismarck continued to ride through Europe, establishing a secular reich this time, consuming not just Prussia, but Belgium, Austria and, much of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, a cruel six-month conflict between two nationalist factions seeking what they presumed was a restoration of their historical empires.
One quick note on “nationalism.” This is not a political philosophy, nor is it an ideology of any sort. Nationalism is the result of paranoia, greed, fear, and selfishness. While it might proclaim itself all about the nation and its people, this has never actually proven to be the case. The boundaries of this nervous shuddering range from the weakness of isolationism (as with many nations at the outset of the World Wars, a turning away from the realities right in front of them, and the hope that if they imitate the conquering hordes enough then, maybe, they will be left alone. We never took a side.) to outright world conquest, the nation deeming itself in every way superior to everybody else and therefore having the right to impose its own way of living on the rest of humanity. Much has been made today of the renewed rising tides of nationalism sweeping through much of the western world (think “America First.” Think the increasing intolerance of right-wing exclusionary notions, and the closing of borders to everyone, and the tired old statements about taking care of the problems at home instead of dealing with the boiling cauldron of evil spreading to every corner of the earth, as though those closing the doors upon themselves are somehow no longer a part of the larger world conflict.) German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently warned of rising “dark forces” throughout the world and said “In Germany, obviously, they always have to be seen in a certain context, in the context of our past, which means we have to be that much more vigilant than others.”
In other words Germany knows what may come of extreme nationalism, of the consumptive results upon both the nation and the world.
To return to the second reich, in a mere eight and a half years Bismarck had somehow managed to unify all of the German territories, forming a genuine cult of personality around his ruthless genius. Prussian king Wilhelm I was declared emperor in the final days of the Franco-Prussian war, and was little more than a showpiece, the people loving their kaiser while Chancellor Bismarck ran the empire.
The next phase of the nationalistic second reich surrounded an all-out culture war, the Protestants versus the Catholics primarily. Bismarck was a very devout Protestant, and was enraged by the nerve of the “Papists” daring to challenge his rule. The Catholics even formed a political party, invading a large minority of parliament and wrecking havoc upon the dictator’s plans. The rest of the world looked on nervously, seeing the transformation of nominal religious leaders into powerful political voices. Forty years before the Great War erupted many people could see it coming.
Bismarck, a political genius, realized that the most effective way to turn the tide back to his favor was to develop a fear campaign. Suddenly the Catholics became the villains, the true spawn of Satan who were seeking to destroy all civilized people, and devour the world. Mass hysteria led to organized hate groups, gangs of violent thugs who targeted their perceived enemies because the leader of their cult insisted upon it. Obviously we can see the importance of this style of governing and what has come from it ever since. Groups began being targeted and blamed for all the struggles in the world. The people of Germany could no longer truly blame the Kaiser or Chancellor for their problems because it was all the fault of outside forces invading the nation and trying to turn it into a foreign land. The Catholics, the Jews, the growing Socialist movement–these were the enemies of the state, and they had to be eradicated if the nation were to survive. Germany first! the loyalists said, outlawing the various practices and belief systems at odds with the singular, narrowing ideology that had been born in terror of the uncertainty overtaking the world, as time sped up and populations exploded and the technology spreading everywhere allowed people to do and learn more than they ever had before. And the urgently conservative nature of nationalism saw this, finally, as the ultimate threat to their influence and power. It was not prejudice genuinely formed out of racial, national, or religious hatred (although that was how it was sold and adapted into the masses), but simply assigning blame with the intention of unifying if not a majority, than at least a radical minority willing to do whatever it took to survive.
A massive campaign of “Germanization” overtook Bismarck’s agenda. This resembled the years of Inquisition in many startling ways, the demands upon the non-Jewish, anti-Catholic, purely Aryan people of the nation to declare themselves a part of one race or die. By the time the First World War erupted, political corruption, opportunism, misunderstanding and outright anarchy overtaking nearly every corner of Europe, the sides had long since been set, and the reign of monarchies throughout the world began its death rattle.
But Bismarck did not live to see this. When Wilhelm I died in 1888, followed to the grave shortly thereafter by his cancer-stricken son Friedrich III,
Kaiser Wilhelm II
became the new monarch, and he was not a fan of Bismarck’s. He saw his policies as too aggressive and wished to relax the bans on Socialism because so many people were agitating for it. Of course Wilhelm II hadn’t the faintest understanding of the new political philosophy sweeping the globe, and focused his anger on banning the “curbside, gutter” dance of the tango among those in uniform. Bismarck, meanwhile, ailing and now very old, had become more of a noble figure of the past to the new generation that either saw Wilhelm II or Karl Marx as the saviors of humanity in the late 19th century.
Petty partisan politics overtook the governance of Germany, dividing the people even more, the absolutism on both the left and right assuring that no legislation of value could be passed. Meanwhile the conflict between royal second and third cousins was heating up. Tsar Alexander III
in Russia sent Bismarck a mocking letter which described Wilhelm as a “badly brought up boy,” which the 75-year old Chancellor maliciously showed to the kaiser, ultimately proving the truth of the statement as Wilhelm screamed at Bismarck and then stormed out in a tantrum, knocking things over in the hall, shoving servants out of his way, and screaming gobbledygook about betrayal and treason.
Bismarck resigned his position shortly thereafter. Less than a year before he died in 1898, Bismarck offered a few warnings to the stubborn kaiser, telling him that “So long as you have this present officer corps, you can do as you please. But when this is no longer the case, it will be very different for you.” and “The crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this.” He even predicted that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”
The old man spent his final days composing his memoirs (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=&an=bismarck%20translated%20a.j%20butler&tn=memoirs%20being%20reflections%20reminiscences&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ats-_-used), a brilliant, important historical document that served also as a righteous attack on the failures of Wilhelm II. It helped to stoke the ire of many of the slumbering citizens, both the Socialists and their opposites on the farthest fringes of the right. As with most autobiographies, the story he told about himself painted him as the last honorable man–a true hero who had sacrificed his every waking moment in order to save his beloved nation. He died in agony of gangrene in his foot, a condition he refused to acknowledge. His last act was one of treason, publishing the secret details of a treaty with Russia.
Wilhelm II, thereafter, appointed weak royalist Chancellors who would do his bidding. Being as incompetent as he was, his whims were small, pointless, and often entirely self-serving. In 1900 he allowed Bismarck’s treaty with Russia to lapse, mostly out of resentment that he could not prosecute the late Chancellor for his crime. This led to a serious weakening of the empire, his efforts to entice the Ottoman empire into an alliance mostly failing due to Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s
personal distaste for the man, as well as his own sense of nationalism, believing all non-Muslims untrustworthy. This left only Austria-Hungary as an ally. Wilhelm further distanced himself from Russia with his wholehearted support of his ally’s taking of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. Tempers had reached a boiling point and there was no turning back.
When Archduke Franz Ferdinand,
the heir apparent to the Austrian throne, was assassinated in 1914 by a nationalist Bosnian Serb,
World War I almost immediately broke out, Germany taking the lead in trying to humble all rivals to their lordship over Europe.
Once the war was over, so was the reich. Germany had been humiliated and the rest of the world sought revenge for their more than 1,000 years of provocation. And while certainly the barbaric leadership of the nation deserved sanctions and unquestionably, as the losers of the war, they should have expected to lose both a good part of their income, and a substantial portion of their land, the same angry, nationalistic energy had by now spilled over into every land involved with the conflict. And with the increasing controversies over women’s suffrage, over the spoils of war being gambled with and spent in orgasmic frenzies, the resentment of the people of Germany, faced with such desperation, descended at first into poverty
and hedonistic perversity,
and then the reactionary nature of all moralizing nationalistic movements gave rise to the Nazi Party.
By the time Hitler rose to power in 1933 and the Third Reich was begun, the frustration that had so overwhelmed Germany was given a salve, the great leader returned, and one perhaps better than anyone before him at attributing blame, even going so far as to state that the Great War had only been lost because of the treachery of the Jewish Communists (a statement that, while untrue, was at least a plausible explanation considering the counter-demonstrations to the Nazis parading through the streets.)
The third reich is the single most written about piece of modern history and I do not wish to particularly add to this (right now this piece is the single longest one I have written in Recording Editorial History). I only wish to restate how this sort of horribleness is nothing new, and not even the single worst period of time in all of human history. The only thing that truly makes World War II stand out is the fact that things were so well photographed
and the additional new fears provided by the amazing feats of the newest technology.
People continue to blame Germany for all of the world’s ills, and even though in the years since World War II the nation has suffered more than most, from a division into battlegrounds during the Cold War,
to the rising anger on both sides over the outside control enslaving social and political culture, there remains a hint of apocalyptic fury that continues to rise, phoenix-like, out of the ashes of history.
Germany has been the birthplace of the two largest and most deadly wars in all of human history. And today, as Angela Merkel warns, there are dark forces on the rise.
While it is important to note the profound whiteness of the individuals depicted in the above photos, it is just as important to note that it is certainly not only white folks who are the perpetrators of such radically extreme nationalism.
or how about
And so this is the world that perhaps we have to look forward to again, one steeped in the same hatreds and fear of the long ago and recent past. People still need to feel better than others, still need to blame them for their failings, and must always think about themselves first. It is not the nation first, nor the party or faith. It is me first. Please, please, make me great again . . .
©2019 Lance Polin