A history lesson

More from Dorothy Thompson, of the American Dictator.

In 1931, Thompson interviewed Hitler and was underwhelmed by his appearance and demeanor, predicting, erroneously of course, that he would never become the leader of Germany.

But what she wrote about him is worth quoting at length (the text below is posted in its entirety from Dorothy on Adolf by sallybrown):

Millions of Germans follow Hitler because he has proclaimed war upon the banks, upon the trusts, upon the ‘loan-capital.’ He has asserted time and time again that he will abolish the rule of one class by another. What actually do these statements mean, in terms of practical politics?

I couldn’t find out, and anyone who can is a better interviewer than I. When I dared to interrupt the stream of eloquence by bluntly repeating my question, he replied (rather coyly) that he didn’t intend to hand his program over to his enemies (the German Chancellor) for them to ‘steal.’ . . . People who laughed at Hitler a year ago, now pull serious faces and say: ‘There’s a great deal to the man.’ . . .

This social and economic theory is, to a halfway educated person a tale told by an idiot. . . . But reason never yet swept a world off its feet, and Hitler, an agitator of genius, knows this. Self-interest, expressed in the most pathetic terms, does. Hitler is the most golden tongued of demagogues. Don’t bother about the fact that most of what he says, read the next day in cold news print, is usually plain nonsense. . . . This is the way Hitler writes–but he cannot write; his book is one long speech. Eight hundred pages of Gothic script, pathetic gestures, inaccurate German, and unlimited self-satisfaction. You must imagine the crowds he addresses. . . . Do you wonder that millions follow him? Listening to him they feel themselves exalted. Better times are coming. Just around the corner is the era of Race, when all good Teutons, just by reason of their being Teutons, will come into their own. . . .

Take the Jews out of Hitler’s program, and the whole thing, both the economic program and the racial, collapses. The Jews are responsible for everything. In ‘My Fight’ I find that Mr. Hitler is capable of accusing them of the most contradictory impulses without turning a hair. They are worthless democrats and bloodthirsty plutocrats; they are shabby and given to oriental pomp; unimaginative rationalists and mystic international conspirators; ritual murderers and bloodless intellectuals; crass egotists and sentimentalists; their way is paved with corpses and they are the world’s international pacifists; they are dangerous assimilationists, and a foreign element in the body politic.

It doesn’t, you see, make sense.

But if you want to gauge the strength of the Hitler movement, imagine that in America, an orator with the tongue of the late Mr. Bryan and the histrionic powers of Aimee MacPherson, combined with the publicity gifts of Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee should manage to unite all the farmers, with all the white collar unemployed, all the people with salaries under $3000 a year who have lost their savings in bank collapses and the stock market and are being pressed for payments on the icebox and the radio, the louder evangelical preachers, the American Legion, the D.A.R., the Ku Klux Klan, the W.C.T.U., Mathew Woll, Senator Borah, and Henry Ford–imagine that, and you will have some idea of what the Hitler movement in Germany means.

In one of the great underestimations of history, she predicted that Hitler would falter:

He needs money for this vast organization which he has built up–and banks and great trusts give it to him. . . . What becomes then of his brave words against them? Once in power, will he want to risk another French invasion? What becomes, then, of his sonorous calls to arms? He will have to maintain law and order. What becomes then, of his promises to a revolutionary working class? He has promised to win back all the Germans handed by the peace treaties to other countries. But diplomacy demands concessions . . . . And the Jews? Bismarck’s first speech in the Reichstag was against the Jews. But he lived to have a Jewish banker as his most intimate advisor.

In 1934, Thompson was the first American journalist expelled from Nazi Germany.

Ten years after interviewing Hitler, Thompson reflected on the rise of Nazism in “Who Goes Nazi?”

Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. . . . Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind. . . .

It’s fun—a macabre sort of fun—this parlor game of ‘Who Goes Nazi?’ And it simplifies things—asking the question in regard to specific personalities.

Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes—you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success—they would all go Nazi in a crisis.

Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi. Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them.

Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t-whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi. It’s an amusing game. Try it at the next big party you go to.

Still more about Thompson on Hitler; and the full text of her “I Saw Hitler!” (must read).


8 thoughts on “A history lesson

  1. Fascinating – thanks for posting. It makes understanding Donald Trump popularity easier to grasp. He’s the magician who’s going to give you the things you haven’t been able to get and he’s going to show you the people and organizations that are guilty of stealing your dreams from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. And with it, he’ll avenge your humiliations and suffering, real and imagined (especially imagined, as it is usually the case with narcissistic rage).

      Of course it is all a lie. He has no concept of reality as the rest of us know it. He makes up his own as it suits his needs — for adulation and power — at the moment.

      With time, as he is forced by the adoring but demanding crowds to put his vague but bombastic promises into life, he unleashes his aggression on the world and co-opts others as its instruments in a mad and bloody, but doomed all the same, march toward ultimate glory, whatever it may be in his mind. Destruction is all but guaranteed.

      This is the worst, deadliest form of psychopathology known to mankind, not in the least because it so easily “infects” others, removing inhibitions of reason and conscience, and making every possible atrocity seem necessary and justified.

      We are “privileged” to witness this development as it’s taking place in America now, in the form of Trumpism. The time and place are different, but the psychopathological dynamics the same, as they always are.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Finns “may be more susceptible to nazism, than most people”, as many of my countrymen fell for it when Hitler rose to power, even as far as to fight alongside with Germany in the Operation Barbarossa and beyond. Almost to the bitter end, when at the last moment the Soviets brought their wrath to our borders in full strength and our non-Nazi politicians managed to negotiate a surrender and to turn us against our former allies on the side of the Allied.

    Today we have a similar demagogue in our politics, Timo Soini of the “True Finns” party. He is our current foreign minister as a result of comet like rise of the popularity of his party during just a few years span. The popularity of his party is based on extreme conservatism and fear of the outsiders. His crowd has most of the “immigration critical” people. In real life terms that means racists, or people who are affraid of foreign culture, but mostly just ignoramuses, who have bought into the nationalisitic ideal, that Finland is culturally homogenous, when nothing could be further from the truth. It is an illusion of an illiterate person who has lived inside a small social pubble. Typical to Mr. Soini is that when he speaks he actually says very, very little about anything in plain speech. He uses words and pharses, that make him sound like the “working man”, but most of it is so vague, that the listener can then impose their own view – wich happens all the more easily, if the vocabulary and self expression of the listener are limited – onto what Mr. Soini said. Hence, in the eyes of the least educated part of the society and those who have grudges against the society, he seems to always agree with them.

    However, during the past year, having ministers in this current right wing government, the “True Finns” -party has lost a lot of momentum and fallen back among the smallest parties. It seems, that even if Mr. Soini manuevered himself cleverly to an important political position (where to aquire the prestige to compete for precidency) the vague and meaningless use of Laconian soundbites has backfired, as his party has been totally unable to deliver anything their voters imagined they promised.

    There is a growing trend not just in Finland, Europe, but in the entire world, it seems for authoritarian demagogues to give rise and use the fears of people as means to gain power. Wich is what they are after. The Hitlers, Mussolinis, Soinis, Erdogans and Trumps of this world are not interrested in making things better for all of us, rather they merely seek the personal satisfaction of gaining power. The problem is, that there are a lot of people who actually approve even this, as they think that is a natural state of humanity. Often it is the case, that when this sort of individuals gain power it is too late for the rest of us, even if they fail to deliver anything that their supporters thought they promised. On the other hand where would we be, if they could deliver, like Hitler pretty much did?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Welcome, Raut! I’m happy to see you here, sharing your insightful thoughts.

      Yes, Mr. Soini sounds very much like Mr. Trump (and like Mr. Hitler, and Mr. Strongman of Choice in every country on the globe). They are multiplying fast these days, which spells trouble for humanity — as if we didn’t have enough of it…

      These are frightening developments, and I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do to stop them.


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