Before laying down the “evil Hitler” gauntlet to stop the debates, let’s take a look at history.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people compare our presidents to Adolph Hitler. Both political sides say it about the other with such conviction and resolve it’s impossible to argue with them. This year, we actually have a candidate who mimics Hitler’s authoritarian style and, yet, those who support him blindly raise their right hands in Nazi-style allegiance. Still is it fair to compare Donald Trump, or any other candidate to Hitler?
Americans aren’t always great with history, so as we move forward in this year’s presidential selection process, let’s do a refresher on what Hitler was actually like.
It’s important, first of all, to understand the political climate in which Hitler rose to power. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the mood of the Germans in the early 1930s was grim. They had lost World War I, the depression had devastated them and millions of people were out of work. The current government, called the Weimer Republic, was weak. Hitler “promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany. The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people, and members of the lower middle class.”
According to the BBC, “The government did not know what to do. In July 1930 Chancellor Brüning cut government expenditure, wages and unemployment…He could not get the Reichstag to agree to his actions, so President Hindenburg used Article 48 to pass the measures by decree.” Article 48 is similar to an executive order here in the United States. This had become a common practice in German Parliament because of the political gridlock. “In January 1933, Hitler became chancellor, and immediately set about making himself absolute ruler of Germany using Article 48.”
Also interesting to note is that many German workers started looking to communism as a way out of the political climate, which frightened wealthy business men. They, in turn, began funding Hitler’s campaigns.
Hitler’s rise to power began years earlier. He was a decorated World War I veteran and joined the German Worker’s Party in 1919. By 1921, he became the Party leader. He led an army of around 2,000 men in an attempted coup on Munich, Bavaria. The failed attempt led to his arrest and a five-year prison sentence. During his time in prison, he wrote Mein Kampf. After nine months, however, Hitler was released. Historians agree that his widely publicized efforts gave him a national platform and name recognition.
Hitler also learned and expounded on the value of propaganda, information that is biased, misleading or partially true for the purpose of promoting a particular cause. In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated:
“All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed…The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another.”
“Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favorable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favorable to its own side…The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble.”
Hitler’s platform was to unite all German-speaking nations as one and find a scapegoat for the economic problems Germany faced. Anti-Semitism, according to AnneFrank.org, was already common at the time. Additionally, many of the socialist leaders in the German liberal party, were Jews. When Jews went on strike in the arms industry factories, they were seen as weakening the war effort. Socialists, some of whom were Jewish in the German Parliament, and who once supported the war, began to see it as a rich man’s war and started protesting against it. This caused disdain from many of the German patriots towards both Jews and socialists.
In the final hours of his life, Hitler left a message for the Germans, “”It is untrue that I, or anyone else in Germany, wanted the war in 1939. It was desired and instigated solely by those international statesmen who were either of Jewish descent or worked for Jewish interests.”
According to one of Hitler’s earliest supporters, Eduard Humer, “Hitler was certainly gifted in some subjects, but he lacked self-control. He was argumentative and bad-tempered, and unable to submit to school discipline….moreover, he was lazy. He reacted with hostility to advice or criticism.”
In spite of Dr. Henry A Murray’s fascinating read, Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler, 1943, we can only piece together what drove Hitler to be the way he was. A bad childhood doesn’t necessarily determine that an individual will become a megalomaniac and kill millions of people. We don’t know if there was a neurological malfunction, as in the cases of psychopaths and sociopaths who lack the mechanism to experience empathy, or if, or how much, Hitler’s passion for power and hatred of the Jews drove him to commit the atrocities he did.
So let’s take a step back. Just because someone believes in ideological principles that are different from ours doesn’t make him Adolf Hitler. Because a president goes to war in search of weapons of mass destruction, under whatever pretenses we may speculate, doesn’t make him Adolf Hitler.
Hitler and his regime were a unique moment in time that represented the worst of human behaviors, both the person who led the atrocities and the people who willfully followed and allowed them to happen.
Fear is a strong motivator for action and invokes our “fight or flight” responses. When we are told, as the German people were told, that a certain group of people are the cause of our problems, that we should fight against them and build walls to keep them out, or that we should legislate to prevent one group of people from the same rights of another group of people, we are setting ourselves up for another psychologically unbalanced leader.
Hitler was never interested in inclusion, human dignity, income equality, education, sharing of ideas, human empathy, and building greatness on diversity. Instead, he built his platform on other people’s fears, exclusiveness, division, scapegoating, finger pointing, belittling, and authoritarianism. His popularity grew out of chaos, political strife and lack of education. It was fueled by half-truths and people who felt betrayed by the current political climate.
Photo – Royal Opera House Covent