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FIGHTING FASCISM: A VETERAN SPEAKS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 25, 2019 at 12:08 am

“We must not make the error of thinking that all those who eat the bread of dictatorship are evil from the first, but they must necessarily become evil….One of the vital lessons we must learn from the German disaster is the ease with which a people can be sucked down into the morass of inaction.”

Thus warns Hans Bernd Gisevius—one of the few survivors of the July 20, 1944 bomb attempt on Adolf Hitler.

A covert opponent of the Nazi regime, he served as a liaison in Zurich between the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and German resistance forces in Germany. 

In 1946, he published his autobiography, To the Bitter End, sharply indicting the Reich and its leaders—many of whom Gisevius had known personally. He also condemned the German people, charging that they pretended ignorance of the atrocities being committed.

Hans Bernd Gisevius at Nuremberg

In his introduction, Gisevius notes: “This book is not intended as a history of the Third Reich. The author has selected a few prominent incidents out of the confusion of contemporaneous events and has attempted to use these as points through which to trace the broad curves of the historical process.”

Almost 75 years after the fall of the Third Reich, Gisevius offers invaluable insights into America’s own foray into Fascistic government under President Donald J. Trump.

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Donald Trump

Even more important, he offers concrete suggestions for successfully resisting a Fascist regime.

Ability to Retain Support:  “We have learned that in the political realm abuses are all ultimately punished. But it takes extraordinarily long for the breach to become apparent. As long as dictatorships can produce ‘successes’ and conceal abuses they remain armored against opposition. The masses will not desert them.” 

Attractiveness of Simplicity: “A favorite name for Hitler was ‘the great simplifier.’ This was apt; in spite of the verbosity and clumsiness of his language, he really possessed an astonishing flair for summarizing complicated matters into brief formulas.” 

Corruption of Spirituality: “The Nazis wanted to lock Christianity into a ghetto, and many Christians believed it was their duty to accept this isolation gladly. [Pastor Martin] Niemoeller knew that it must not be accepted.”

Inefficiency a Hallmark of Dictatorships: “Incredible as it sounds, even the chief of the Wehrmacht was not aware of all the contracts that had been let. He obtained virtually no information from the air force or the navy, and the army provided him with only fragmentary information….

“Hitler approved of this procedure. He did not want any coordinating authority to be able to survey the total situation. He preferred conflicts and rivalries because he thought they would speed the tempo of rearmament.”

Responsibility of the Military: “Undoubtedly a small group of generals were at heart earnestly troubled. These men were conscious of a tremendous responsibility: they felt that no command from above, however unequivocal, could erase their responsibility. In fact there was only a minute group of army officers who were, ‘in principle,’ co-conspirators to the Nazi Terror. Most of the officer corps remained ‘neutral,’ both inwardly and outwardly.

“They were part of that irresponsible group of human beings who always seek a secure life without cares and are allured by the prospect of a career. By their excess of passivity our generals, willy-nilly, consciously or unconsciously, became profiteering participants in the Nazi Revolution.”

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Soldiers saluting Adolf Hitler

The Danger of Accommodating Evil: “Let…individuals fall prey to over-cleverness, opportunism or cowardice and they are irrevokably lost. Passive acceptance, intellectual subservience, or, in religious terms, failure to pray against the evil, may constitute a kind of silent support for authoritarian rule.”

Corruptions of Power: “Within a few weeks, the Party leaders and sub-leaders found themselves in positions of power beyond their wildest dreams….They had no professional training. They knew nothing about law. They did not trust the professional officialdom who worked under them. What could they do but extemporize? They simply dictated, in the firm conviction that their subjects would obey.”

Collective Responsibility: “Once that system [of authoritarian rule] has been installed….there is only one course remaining to each individual and to all individuals collectively: To fight the terrorists with the same courage and tenacity, with the same willingness to take risks, that they employ in wartime under ‘orders’ when they fight the ‘enemy.'” 

* * * * * 

In the classic 1969 Western, The Wild Bunch, there’s a scene where Pike Bishop, the leader of the outlaw gang, and his close friend, Dutch Engstrom, face off.

They’re being chased by a posse led by Deke Thornton, a former gang member—who’s threatened with prison if he doesn’t kill them all. 

“Damn that Deke Thornton to Hell!” shouts Engstrom. 

“What would you do in his place?” replies Bishop. “He gave his word!”

“He gave his word to a railroad!”

“It’s his word!”

“That ain’t what counts,” says Engstrom. “It’s who you give it to!”   

“It’s who you give it to.” Those words must constantly be remembered when making a commitment. The person/cause you serve must be worthy of that service.

Otherwise, such virtues as loyalty and courage become meaningless perversions in service to evil.

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