Clinton’s Collateral Damage

The Fighter

An Arkansas state legislator once said of Bill Clinton that he would pat you on the back while he urinated down your leg. The corollary for Clinton’s wife Hillary could be that she will tell the world how honored she is to share a stage with Barack Obama even as she’s gearing up to smash him. When it comes to politics, the Clinton philosophy is simple: It’s war, and wars are for winning. Bill put it this way, back in 1981: “When someone is beating you over the head with a hammer, don’t sit there and take it. Take out a meat cleaver and cut off their hand.”

With her presidential hopes at stake in Texas and Ohio, Hillary Clinton reached for the cleaver. Her campaign made good on its promise to throw “the kitchen sink” at Obama, and that paid off with clear popular-vote victories in both states. What’s more, she said, “I’m just getting warmed up.”

Even for some of her supporters, those are ominous words. Democrats now face a reality they were hoping they might avoid: a knock-down, drag-out struggle between two strong candidates lasting at least seven more weeks and possibly all the way to the convention. For the party that was assumed to have the advantage in November against a G.O.P. that was unpopular and riven by infighting, this turnabout is both depressing and distressing.

While the Democratic channel changed from Happy Days to The Ultimate Fighter, Republicans settled on their standard-bearer. John McCain’s final challenger, Mike Huckabee, bowed out with a smile. The G.O.P. can begin regrouping and mobilizing for the general election this fall while the Democrats pitch headlong into an intramural scrum that could leave their nominee — whoever wins — scarred and limping. Donna Brazile, an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, urged party chairman Howard Dean to intervene before matters get out of hand. (Dean remains largely out of the fight, saying in a statement only that “as we head toward November, our nominee must have the united support of a strong Democratic Party.”) “I’m really worried,” Brazile says. “Who opened up the gates of hell?”

Exaggeration? You can be sure that the Democratic race will be rough from here on out. Clinton’s victories in Texas and Ohio — states where her campaign estimates Obama and his allies outspent her by more than 2 to 1 on advertising alone — came only after she ramped up her assault on Obama. Her previous sweetness was getting her nothing but declining poll numbers. Clinton questioned her opponent’s honesty after it was reported that an adviser had assured Canadian government officials that Obama didn’t really mean his anti-free-trade rhetoric. “The old wink-wink,” Clinton said scornfully. Four days before the Tuesday primaries, she went up with a chilling and provocative advertisement juxtaposing images of slumbering children with the urgent ringing of the national-security hotline in the White House. “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep,” the announcer says. “Who do you want answering the phone?”

For months, the Democratic candidates, including Clinton, devoutly observed that any of them would be a better President than another Republican. But in leveling her charge that the first-term Illinois Senator would be unprepared in a national-security crisis, Clinton went so far as to compare him unfavorably with McCain. “I have a lifetime of experience I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience he will bring to the White House,” she told reporters the morning before the contests. “And Senator Obama has a speech he made in 2002” — a reference to Obama’s declaration against the Iraq invasion that she and McCain had voted to authorize. Obama has repeatedly referred to that speech as proof that his judgment is superior, even if his résumé is shorter.

At the same time, the Clinton campaign stepped up its attacks on the media, insisting that Obama has been receiving kid-glove treatment. The theme sank into the broad public consciousness when Saturday Night Live returned from the writers’ strike to make a recurring theme of the fawning press. Perhaps eager to prove that they can be equally tough on Obama, journalists filled that week with stories about Obama’s Canada problem and his ties to an indicted Chicago real estate developer, Tony Rezko.

The numbers tell the story: it worked. And so, Howard Dean or no Howard Dean, there is going to be more of it. Indeed, the Clinton campaign has been trying to go on the attack since Obama’s win in Iowa kicked off their epic struggle. Early attempts by Bill Clinton to scrape off some of Obama’s smooth persona backfired, and later barrages — like the charge that Obama plagiarized parts of his speeches — failed only (a Clinton campaign official maintains) because the hectic calendar of primaries and caucuses allowed no time for them to “seep in.” You could fill an aquifer in the long stretch between now and the April 22 Pennsylvania contest.

And Obama has no intention of taking it without hitting back. “If she starts asserting that somehow I’m not ready and that one of the reasons that the Democrats or superdelegates should not vote for me is because ‘we don’t know enough about him’ or ‘there may be things in his past or his character that make him vulnerable to Republican attack,’ then I think it’s certainly fair to compare our track records to see whether or not I am more vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.”

After years of battling the scandal machine that Hillary Clinton once called the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she and her inner circle feel well prepared for this sort of fight. Students of the Clintons’ long career have noted that they do better in a scrape. Combat brings them to the balls of their feet; by contrast, they tend to spring leaks on calm seas. Clinton’s successful attacks broke Obama’s 12-win streak that had buoyed him through a month of victories, and her advisers now feel they have put a stick in the spokes of his momentum. “They thought they could kill us,” a Clinton campaign official crowed as the Ohio and Texas results were coming in. “They know time is their enemy; time is our friend.”

That’s bold talk and could be true, though even inhabitants of the Amazonian jungle have probably concluded by now that the only certain thing in this race is uncertainty. If you look at a four-month graph of the campaign, you will see that up to now, time has been very, very good to Obama. He has turned a 20-plus-point deficit in the national polls into a dead heat, spoiled Clinton’s plans to wrap things up by Feb. 5 and ground his way through 43 primaries and caucuses to build a lead in pledged convention delegates that appears virtually impossible to close. As impressive as her wins in Ohio and Texas were, Clinton made up scant ground in the delegate count, where she now trails 1,186 to 1,321, according to CNN.

It is hard to come up with a scenario in which either candidate can amass the 2,025 delegates needed to win without relying upon so-called superdelegates. These are the roughly 800 party leaders and elected officials who are automatically delegates to the party convention this summer in Denver, and they are free to support whichever candidate they wish. In a sense, the Pennsylvania primary will be aimed directly at impressing them. Obama will get another chance to beat Clinton when all the chips are in the pot. For Clinton, it is another chance to demonstrate her appeal among core Democratic constituencies: women, older voters, Hispanics and households earning under $50,000.

Her strategists argue that the general election will be a close-fought contest that may come down to Florida and Ohio, two states where the Clinton coalition has been strong — or, alternatively, to a cluster of smaller states that includes Arkansas, New Mexico and Nevada. In most of those states, they say, Clinton’s supporters will matter more than Obama’s appeal among upscale voters and African Americans. They are, in other words, willing to admit that her hard-fought primary campaign could cost the party African-American votes in November.

Clinton officials note that the political terrain in Pennsylvania is, like Ohio’s, abundant with downscale voters who are feeling an economic pinch. And as in Ohio, she has the support of the Democratic governor and can draw on his ground organization, which can help to fill what has been a weakness in comparison to Obama’s operation. If these factors once again add up to a big-state win, Clinton’s team is sure to argue to the superdelegates that only she has the toughness necessary to survive the fall campaign and that Obama can’t land the knockout punch. For a party still ruing the glass-jawed vulnerability of its 2004 nominee, John Kerry, this argument will likely pack some selling power.

Neither campaign releases its internal tallies of superdelegates, but since Super Tuesday, Obama has been cutting into Clinton’s once formidable lead. The latest estimate by CNN suggests her edge is now only 238 to 199. “When you look at the numbers, this is a fistfight,” says a Clinton strategist. “It is going to be a much more rugged fight, because her lifeline is these uncommitted delegates, and they can be shaky sometimes.” Obama’s team continues to push the case that the supers ought to follow the lead of the pledged delegates for the sake of party unity.

The morning after the four-state primary, Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, who is shepherding superdelegates for her campaign, lost no time in visiting the ones on Capitol Hill who have already voiced support for her. His message: Hold firm. To the estimated 330 supers who have yet to commit, he says, Don’t do anything rash. “What we are saying to the superdelegates is, ‘Hold your fire, keep your powder dry, don’t make a commitment,'” Ickes says. “We’re going to do our level best to show [Obama] is not the strongest candidate in a general election.”

Democrats know well how hard a Clinton will fight when everything is on the line and have learned from experience that they have reason to fear the consequences. In 1993 Bill Clinton’s economic plan passed the House by a single vote, with Republicans waving their hankies at the Democrats whose votes put it over the top. Sure enough, the following year, most of the party’s more vulnerable members were gone — and with them, the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, which had also fallen victim to the resounding rejection of Hillary’s health-care plan. And while Bill Clinton’s tenacity got him through the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, one of the consequences was Al Gore’s defeat two years later.

This time, say some Obama supporters, the Clintons’ win-at-all-costs mind-set could cost the party the November election. “The Clinton campaign strategy is simply going to be to try to run a scorched-earth campaign,” says Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. “Which would be catastrophic for the party.”

It all comes down to one thing, as Hillary Clinton made clear in her last press conference before the Tuesday primaries: “Winning. Winning. Winning. Winning. That’s my measurement of success,” she said. “Winning.”


World War II – Timeline: The Road To Disaster

Timeline: The Road To Disaster

With over 60 million deaths, World War II has gone down in history as the bloodiest conflict ever. Here’s a timeline of the most important events.


January 30: Hindenburg, the president of the German Reich, appoints Adolf Hitler as chancellor


March 16: Germany introduces compulsory military service and embarks on major rearmament


March 12: German troops march into Austria

September 29: Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain und Daladier meet in Munich. They come to an agreement that Czechoslovakia must cede the Sudeten areas to Germany


August 23: Germany and the Soviet Union sign a non-aggression treaty (the Hitler-Stalin Pact)

September 1: Germany attacks Poland; Great Britain and France declare war on the German Reich two days later

September 17: The Red Army marches into Eastern Poland


April 9: German troops occupy Denmark and Norway

May 10: Germany begins the attack on Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France

June 22: Ceasefire between Germany and France


February 11: The first units of the German Africa Corps arrive in Tripoli

April 6: The campaign against Yugoslavia and Greece begins. Both countries surrender after a few weeks

June 22: Germany attacks the Soviet Union

December 7: Japanese attack on the American naval base Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

December 11: Germany and Italy declare war on the US


July 3: The German-Italian advance in North Africa grinds to a halt at El-Alamein

November 22: The German Sixth Army is surrounded by Soviet troops at Stalingrad


January 3 to February 2: The Sixth Army surrenders

July 10: The Western Allies land in Sicily

November 28 to December 1: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agree, during a conference in Tehran, to divide Germany


June 6: Allied troops land in Normandy (“D-Day”)

June 22: Beginning of the Soviet Summer Offensive. The Red Army crushes the German army group “Mitte”

July 20: Failure of the assassination attempt on Hitler by Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

October 22 to 25: In the largest naval battle ever the US-navy defeats the Japanese fleet in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines

December 16: The last German push begins in the Ardennes and comes to a halt after a few days


January 27: The Red Army liberates the concentration camp Auschwitz

February 4 to 11: Conference of Yalta: Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin agree that France should also become an occupying power in Germany

February 13/14: Allied bomb raids destroy Dresden

April 25: American and Soviet troops meet in Torgau on the Elbe river

April 30: Hitler commits suicide in Berlin

May 7 to 9: The German capitulation is signed in Reims and ratified in Karlshorst in Berlin, ceasefire in Europe

August 6 and August 9: America drops nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima und Nagasaki

September 2: Japan surrenders


Part 5: How Hitler Won Over the German People

Fatal Narcissism

Hitler’s conquest of the masses had the vital consequence, therefore, of extending his autonomy from any possible constraints within other sections of the regime. This helped to ensure that the ideological fixations which Hitler obsessively maintained since the beginning of his political “career” — the “removal” of the Jews and the pursuit of “living space” — were by the later 1930s emerging not simply as distant utopian dreams, but as realizable policy objectives. The process had been promoted at all levels of the regime through a readiness to “work towards the Führer.” But this in itself was a reflection of the dominance that Hitler had so rapidly established after taking over power, then consolidated and extended, backed at crucial stages by the plebiscitary acclamation which the expansion of his popularity had produced.

Finally, there was the impact of the expanded Führer cult on Hitler himself. Some of those in his close proximity later claimed to have detected a change in Hitler around 1935-6. He became, so it was said, more dismissive than earlier of the slightest criticism, more convinced of his own infallibility. His speeches started to develop a more pronounced messianic tone. He saw himself ever more — the tendency had been long implanted in his personality, but was now much exaggerated — as chosen by Providence. When, following the successful Rhineland coup, he remarked, in one of his “election” speeches: “I follow the path assigned to me by Providence with the instinctive sureness of a sleepwalker,” it was more than a piece of campaign rhetoric. Hitler truly believed it. He increasingly felt infallible.

By the mid-1930s, at the latest, the narcissistic trait in his own personality, the extreme flattery and sycophancy that surrounded him, and the immense adulation of the masses that repeatedly stimulated him, combined to magnify the belief that Germany’s destiny lay in his own hands, and that he alone could guide his country to final victory in the ever closer great conflict. “It depends essentially on me, on my being, on my political skills,” he told his generals on the eve of the war. He stressed, as part of this reasoning, “the fact that no one else will ever have the trust of the whole German people as I do. There will never be a man in the future, who has more authority than me. My being is therefore a huge value factor … No one knows how much longer I will live. Therefore, it is better to have the conflict now.”

By this time, August 1939, all sections of the regime, and the masses who had been so jubilant at Hitler’s every “success,” had ensured that their fate was tied to the decisions of the Führer. So it would remain down to 1945. In the wartime years, as seemingly glorious victory gave way to mounting, inexorable calamity, as defeat on defeat inevitably eroded the charismatic basis of his leadership, and as it became plain that he was leading Germany into the abyss, the fateful bonds with Hitler that had been sealed in the “good years” of the 1930s ensured that there was now no way back. The German people, having supported Hitler’s triumphs, were now condemned to suffer the catastrophe into which he had led them.


Part 4: How Hitler Won Over the German People

The ‘Dynamic Hatred’ against Minorities

How many fully swallowed the nauseating personality cult can, of course, never be established. Not a few obviously did. Unctuous letters, doggerel poems and other eulogies, photographs and gifts — including in one case the offer of a sack of potatoes which the Führer apparently liked — poured in, to be dealt with by Hitler’s adjutants. There was a rise in the early years of the Third Reich in the numbers of parents naming their new-born babies Adolf, even though a decree of 1933 had instructed local registry offices to discourage the practice to protect the Führer’s name. Such effusions of the Führer cult were doubtless confined in the main to a fanatical, Nazified minority. But even those able to keep the full excesses of the personality cult at arm’s length nevertheless often accepted at least some parts of Hitler’s positive image.

The national community gained its very definition from those who were excluded from it. Racial discrimination was inevitably, therefore, an inbuilt part of the Nazi interpretation of the concept. Since measures directed at creating “racial purity,” such as the persecution later of homosexuals, Roma and “a-socials,” exploited existing prejudice and were allegedly aimed at strengthening a homogeneous ethnic nation, they buttressed Hitler’s image as the embodiment of the national community. Even more so, the relentless denunciation of the nation’s alleged powerful enemies — Bolshevism, western “plutocracy,” and most prominently the Jews (linked in propaganda with both) — reinforced Hitler’s appeal as the defender of the nation and bulwark against the threats to its survival, whether external or from within.

Though Hitler’s anti-Semitic paranoia was not shared by the vast bulk of the population, it plainly did not weigh heavily enough in the scales on the negative side to outweigh the positive attributes that the majority saw in him. The widely prevalent latent dislike of Jews, even before monopolistic Nazi propaganda got to work to drum in the messages of hatred, could offer no barrier to the “dynamic” hatred present in a sizeable minority — though after 1933 a minority holding power. Much research has illustrated a diversity of attitudes towards the persecution of the Jews (most plainly visible in varied reactions to the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935 and “Kristallnacht” in November 1938). Nevertheless, the Nazis appear to have been successful in establishing, in most people’s eyes, that there was a “Jewish Question”, and in deepening the anti-Jewish feeling at the time that the external threat of imminent war was growing.

An Irrelevant Consideration

When the open violence of Kristallnacht proved unpopular, even within Nazi circles, Hitler took care to distance himself publicly from the pogrom which he himself had commissioned. But, despite extensive disapproval of the methods, there was by now a general feeling that Jews no longer had any place in Germany, and Hitler’s association of Jews with the growing international danger (which he had done more than anyone to foster) strengthened — at least did not weaken — his image as the fanatical defender of his nation’s interests.

Materially, too, many had benefited from the exclusion of Jews from German society, their economic dispossession, and their expulsion. The “boycott movement” which had begun as soon as Hitler became Reich Chancellor and, in waves, had effectively driven Jews out of commercial life, eventually ushering in the “aryanization” program of 1938 that robbed Jews of their possession, operated to the profit of large numbers of Germans. Here, too, many felt reason to be grateful to Hitler. The human cost, paid by an unpopular minority, was for them an irrelevant consideration.

The apparently unending run of successes that Hitler could claim during the “peacetime” years of the Third Reich had a further reinforcing by-product. After 1933, affiliations of the NSDAP could spread their tentacles to almost all sectors of society. Millions of Germans were “organized” by the Nazi Movement in some fashion or another, and in each affiliation it was difficult fully to escape the clammy embrace of the Führer cult. Armies of petty apparatchiks and careerists owed position and advancement to the “system” that Hitler led. The emphasis upon “leadership” and “achievement” invited ruthless competition, played upon everyday ambition and opened up unheard of possibilities, unleashing a vast outpouring of energy in the broad endeavor to promote the vision of national renewal embodied in Hitler himself. Literally or metaphorically, many individuals at every level of the regime operated along the guidelines laid down by Werner Willikens, state secretary in the Prussian Agriculture Ministry in February 1934 when he declared:

“Everyone who has the opportunity to observe it knows that the Führer can hardly dictate from above everything which he intends to eventually accomplish. On the contrary, up till now everyone with a post in the new Germany has worked best when he has, so to speak, cooperated with the Führer.”

Willikens added that it was “the duty of everybody to try to cooperate with the Führer”– a key to how the Third Reich functioned, and to an important bond between “Führer” and society.

Deflated and Isolated

These bonds were not, of course, of uniform strength. Alongside the fanatics were the skeptics and, though they could not express themselves in any meaningful fashion, the dissenters. Nor was it possible to sustain the enthusiasm for Hitler at a constant height. The outpourings of elation at moments of triumph, such as the announcement of the re-militarization of the Rhineland in 1936, were peaks. They subsided again as soon as the gray everyday returned for most people.

Nevertheless, the affective integration which Hitler’s mounting popularity during the first years of the dictatorship undoubtedly created was of immeasurable importance. Whether the adulation of Hitler was genuine or contrived (as it doubtless was in many cases), it had the same function. Millions of Germans who might otherwise have been opposed to, doubtful about, or only marginally committed to the regime and Nazi doctrine were publicly seen to give Hitler their backing. This was crucial to the dynamic of Nazi rule.

At the grass roots, the growth of the Führer cult meant that Hitler could detach himself from policy areas which were unpopular and exploit immense reserves of personal support practically at will. The negative impact, for example, of the “Church struggle” was directed away from Hitler and towards subordinate leaders, such as Goebbels and Rosenberg. When popular morale sagged in the spring of 1936, the Rhineland spectacular, focused directly on Hitler’s “great achievement,” served to re-galvanize support for the regime. The very purpose of the Reichstag “election” of March 29, 1936 was to demonstrate the unity of the people behind Hitler for internal as well as foreign consumption. Not for the last time during the Third Reich, opponents of the regime felt deflated and isolated. And Hitler had the backing he needed for further advancement of his expansionist goals. “The Führer allows the people to demand that he implement the policies he wanted,” was the perceptive insight of one Sopade report.

Deposing Him Was Impossible

The plebiscitary acclamation which Hitler could summon on such occasions massively strengthened his own position against the different groupings within the regime’s power elite. Among the narrower elite of Nazi leaders, Hitler’s immense popularity made him in every respect unchallengeable in his dogmatically held views and in his steerage of policy, even when, by 1938-9 some Nazi leaders, including Göring, were having cold feet about the dangers of embroilment in a war with the western powers.

More important still, Hitler’s popularity made him untouchable for those groupings within the national-conservative power-elite, above all in the Wehrmacht leadership and parts of the Foreign Ministry, where fears of a future disastrous war were leading by 1938 to the first embryonic signs of opposition to the dangerous course of foreign policy. When the western powers played into Hitler’s hands and given him yet another “triumph without bloodshed”, it was plain to the nascent oppositional circles at the end of September 1938, that any move to depose him was impossible (a realization which helped to paralyze the conservative resistance throughout the first, victorious phase of the war).


Part 3: How Hitler Won Over the German People

Vast Approval for Hitler’s Iron Fist

The withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, the Saar plebiscite in 1935, the re-introduction of compulsory military service and announcement of a big new Wehrmacht the same year, the re-militarization of the Rhineland in 1936 and the “Anschluss” or annexation of Austria two years later were all seen as huge national triumphs, openly demonstrating the weakness of the western powers which had lorded it over Germany since the war, and a feat — unimaginable only a few years earlier — solely possible through Hitler’s “genius” as a statesman. Even oppositional circles were forced to concede this, as a Sopade report on the reactions to the introduction of the military conscription in March 1935 illustrates:

“Enormous enthusiasm on March 17. All of Munich was out on the streets. You can force a people to sing, but you can’t force them to sing with that kind of enthusiasm. I experienced the days of 1914 and I can only say, that the declaration of war didn’t make the same impression on me as the reception for Hitler on March 17. … The trust in Hitler’s political talent and honest will is becoming greater, as Hitler has increasingly gained ground amongst the people. He is loved by many.”

The Sudetenland crisis in the summer of 1938, as the threat of war loomed ever larger, posed the first significant challenge to the image, which Hitler had earlier sought to cultivate, of the fanatical defender of Germany’s rights who had restored his country’s standing in the world but had striven to avoid bloodshed. The western powers then, at Munich at the end of September, allowed Hitler one final great triumph in foreign policy — even if it was one which, inwardly, he resented, since he had been set on war over Czechoslovakia.

The resignation, rather than enthusiasm, that greeted war when it finally arrived in September 1939 again shows that Hitler had extended his popular support during the Third Reich’s peacetime years on a false prospectus. Most people wanted the preservation of peace. Hitler had sought war. He effectively admitted the need to mislead the public in a confidential address to representatives of the German press in November 1938, when he remarked:

Unlimited German Conquest

“Circumstances have forced me to almost only speak of peace for decades. It was only through the continued emphasis on the German desire for peace and peaceful intentions that it was possible to give the German people the arms that were always a requirement for the next step.”

For the vast majority of Germans, the restoration of national pride and military strength, the overthrowing of the Versailles Treaty and the expansion of the Reich to incorporate ethnic Germans from Austria and the Sudetenland were goals in themselves. Most could not, or would not, comprehend, that for Hitler and the Nazi leadership they were the prelude to a war of unlimited German conquest.

In addition to his presumed achievements in bolstering Germany’s external standing, Hitler unquestionably won much support through what was taken to be the restoration of “order” at home. Nazi propaganda had been influential in the last, crisis-ridden years of the Weimar Republic, in instilling in much of the population an exaggerated image of criminality, decadence, social disorder and violence (much of which the Nazis themselves had instigated). Once in power, Hitler had much to gain through seeming to represent “people’s justice,” and the “wholesome national sensibility.” His public image was that of the upholder of public morality who would clamp down, wherever he encountered it, on those posing a threat to law and order.

At the end of June 1934, Hitler took what many thought was ruthless but necessary action to crush the leadership of the SA, an increasingly unpopular sector of his own Movement. In his Reichstag speech of 13 July 1934, Hitler took personal responsibility for the murders that had taken place. What had in reality been a brutal, Machiavellian power-political coup was portrayed as a necessary move to crush an imminent internal threat to the nation and to root out corruption and immorality. Hitler emphasized the homosexuality, loose living and extravagant life-style of Ernst Röhm and other SA leaders. Playing on existing, commonly-held prejudice, he was able to override any adherence to fundamental legal principles by claiming to have acted in the national interest as the highest judge of the German people.

Upswing in Support

Instead of condemnation for his authorization of mass murder, he reaped extensive approval for appearing to have acted ruthlessly to eradicate the evils and misdeeds that endangered the nation. “Through his energetic actions the Führer has hugely won over the broad masses, particularly those who had still reacted hesitantly to the Movement; he is not only admired, he is idolized,” was the verdict in one confidential report from within the lower levels of the regime’s bureaucracy. Many other reports echoed the same sentiments. Reports filtering out of Social Democrat oppositional circles — whose main thrust was, naturally, criticism of the regime — acknowledged the upswing in support for Hitler.

According to one report from Bavaria: “In general, it has unfortunately become clear that the people don’t think politically. They think, ‘now Hitler has created order, now things will go forward — the saboteurs who sought to hinder his work have been destroyed.'” A report from Berlin added: “Hitler’s authority is strengthened in the widest circles. Increasingly, one hears people saying: ‘Hitler is cracking down.'”

The view that Hitler had brought order to Germany was one that persisted well into the postwar era. That, despite “mistakes” (presumably those which had brought his country’s ruination through war, and death and destruction to millions) he had “cleaned up” Germany, putting an end to disorder, stamping out criminality, making the streets safe to walk again at night, and improving moral standards, belonged — together with the credit for eradicating mass unemployment and building the motorways — to the lasting elements of the Führer Myth.

Alongside economic recovery, rebuilding military strength and restoring “order,” Hitler gained support by personifying the “positive” values invested in national unity and the “Volksgemeinschaft” or national community. Propaganda incessantly depicted him as the stern but understanding paterfamilias, prepared to sacrifice normal human contentments and to work day and night for no other end than the good of his people. Whatever the frequent criticism of his underlings and the negative image of the “little Hitlers” — the Party functionaries whom people daily encountered and often found wanting — Hitler himself was widely perceived as standing aloof from sectional interests and material concerns, his selflessness contrasting with the greed and corruption of the Party big-wigs.

Goebbels’ published ritual incantations to “our Hitler” each year on his birthday, and the popular photographic books mass produced by Heinrich Hoffmann (each selling in huge numbers) which seemingly revealed the “private” Hitler — “The Hitler Nobody Knows” (1932), “Youth Around Hitler” (1934), “Hitler in his Mountains” (1935) and “Hitler Off Duty” (1937) — all aimed to highlight the “human” side of the Führer and show that his “heroic” qualities arose from the very fact that he was a “man of the people.”


Part 2: How Hitler Won Over the German People

Fertile Terrain Prepared the Way

It was a manufactured consensus, a propaganda construct, with repression of political opponents, “racial enemies” and other outsiders to the proclaimed “national community” as the other side of the coin. The “superman” image of Hitler amounted to the central component of the fabrication. Already before the “takeover of power” it had been the creation of the most modern, hugely successful, political “marketing” strategy of its time, masterminded by Goebbels. And once the monopoly of state control of propaganda fell into Nazi hands in 1933, there was no obstacle in the mass media to the rapid spread of Hitler’s “charismatic” appeal.

But even the slick and sophisticated techniques behind the creation of the Führer Myth would have been ineffective, had not fertile terrain been prepared long before Hitler became Reich Chancellor. Expectations of national salvation were by 1933 widespread, not just among Nazi supporters, and had already become vested in the person of Hitler. By the time that he took power, over 13 million voters had at least partially swallowed the Führer cult, which was more fully embraced by the huge (if fluctuating) mass membership of the Party and its myriad subordinate affiliations. The organizational basis was therefore laid for the wider transmission of the Führer cult.

Given the failure of Weimar democracy and the crisis conditions in which the Hitler government came to power, it was clear that if the new Reich Chancellor could swiftly attain some successes, he would substantially increase his popularity. The scope for the rapid widening of the adulation of Hitler, the winning of “the majority of the majority” who had not voted for him in March 1933 had been laid. The speed with which the Hitler cult now spread has to be seen from this background, as well as from the masterly deployment of propaganda imagery.

There were a number of crucial areas where Hitler could win great support by acting in what seemed to be the national, not partisan party-political, interest, and through converting his image from that of Party to national leader. Even his opponents recognized the growth of his popularity. The exiled Social Democratic organization, the Sopade, based in Prague, acknowledged in April 1938 the widely-held view it had repeatedly echoed, “that Hitler could count on the agreement of the majority of the people on two essential points: 1) he had created jobs and 2) he had made Germany strong.”

Readily Accepted the Acclaim

In the early years of the Third Reich, most people sensed that after the dismal years of hopelessness there was new direction, energy, and dynamism. There was a widespread feeling that finally a government was doing something to get Germany back on her feet. Of course, Hitler, whose knowledge of economics was primitive, had not personally guided the economic recovery in the early years of the Third Reich. The reasons for the rapid revival were complex and varied. If any single individual could be said to have masterminded the recovery, then it was Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank and Reich Minister of Economics. Hitler’s contribution was above all to alter the climate, to build an air of confidence that Germany was being revitalized. But propaganda portrayed the economic upturn as Hitler’s own achievement. He readily accepted the acclaim, and most people thought it was warranted.

It was the first major step towards winning over those who had not supported him in 1933. It seemed undeniable: while other European countries (and America) still suffered drastically from mass unemployment, Hitler had removed the scourge from Germany and ushered in a kind of “economic miracle”. A Sopade report from the Ruhrgebiet in late summer 1934 acknowledged that even “the neutral labor force” largely believed in Hitler, adding: “The ‘work creation’ by which the unemployed had landed in jobs, even if badly paid ones, has greatly impressed them. They believe that Hitler’s ‘quick decision-making’ will lead him one day, if he is ‘properly informed,’ to change taxes in their favor.” On a clandestine visit to Germany from his Norwegian exile in the second half of 1936, Willi Brandt, no less, admitted much the same: that providing work had won the regime support even among those who had once voted for the Left.

Left a Lasting Mark

By 1936, there was full employment. Of course, by now, rearmament, containing grave dangers for the future, was driving the labor market. But few Germans worried much about where the opportunities were work came from. The fact was, where in the past there had been immense misery through mass unemployment, there was now work. That was seen as largely Hitler’s personal achievement. And if image differed from reality, it was the image that left the lasting mark.

That Hitler had rid Germany of mass unemployment and rescued the country from the depths of the depression was seen by many Germans long after the war as a major achievement, whatever disasters had later followed. Good living conditions and full employment were among the positive attributes of Hitler recorded in opinion surveys in the American occupied zone in the late 1940s, while a sample of young Germans in north Germany around a decade later thought Hitler had done much good in abolishing unemployment. As late as the 1970s, Ruhr workers still had positive memories of the peacetime years of the Third Reich, which they associated with full employment and the pleasures of excursions with the Nazi leisure organization, “Kraft durch Freude,” or Strength Through Joy.

The second point singled out by the Sopade as the basis of Hitler’s support was without doubt a key factor. Hitler never ceased to hammer home the humiliation Germany had suffered in defeat in 1918 — allegedly the work of the “November criminals” — and in the Treaty of Versailles signed the following year. The detestation of the Treaty and its perceived unfairness crossed the political spectrum in Germany. The reduction of the army to a mere 100,000 men was the lasting manifestation of national weakness. The bold moves in foreign policy that Hitler undertook to overthrow the shackles of Versailles and reassert Germany’s national strength and prestige were, therefore, guaranteed massive popular support as long as they could be accomplished without bloodshed.

  • Calendar

    • September 2018
      M T W T F S S
      « Mar    
  • Search