History Hour: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hullo, friends, frenemies and followers! I’ve been meaning to post a lot more here — obviously without much tangible result, so from this point onward I’ll be going with the wonderful slogan of #EverythingIsContent! Shocker, I know.

Today’s content: the gigantic historical novel that is William L. Shirer’s masterpiece, the best known history of Nazi Germany, originally published in 1960, just fifteen years after the end of World War II.

Shirer is interesting in that he was if not a player in much of what transpired over the Nazification of Germany, then an observer; an American journalist stationed in Berlin for the early years of Hitler’s rule and for much of the war period as well. His own observations make their way into this sprawling, 1600-page epic and they never seem out of place, never irrelevant or historically inaccurate. William L. Shirer does not seek to be objective and judge this period fairly — and where the bloodstained rise of Nazism is concerned, I’m more than happy to say, “Fuck any pretence at objectivity” — but he does look into so many of the aspects that make possible first the rise, and then the fall, of Hitler’s Reich. If ever you’ve needed proof that collision, rather than causation, defines social order (for more on this topic, read my summary of Caroline Levine’s Forms ), the rise of Nazi Germany is a compelling reading in favour of the former argument.

What did I learn from this novel?

Much of the bloodiest period of history came about thanks to in-fighting, backstabbing, supreme egoism and selfishness that often had nothing to do with Nazis other than giving Hitler and his cronies the kind of possibility every would-be authoritarian regime could only wish for.

Hitler’s charisma is no small thing, and has certainly played its role; but a bigger role by far is the sick personal ambition of men without great skill or talent, and not a whit of understanding. Men like Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher, like dozens of military men from captains to generals, all the way to field marshals. Don’t even get me started on the vast majority of degenerate high-ranking Nazi officers, or at the learned men in universities who, rather than objecting to the destruction of basic scientific principles along with basic human decencies, bowed down and allowed the shrine of knowledge to be raped in such a profane way. Did you know Nazis propagated that much of physical science was untrue, that they twisted principles just because they were discovered by Jewish scientists and researchers? Most of the faculty at universities said nothing, even when they could have. Even when they should have.

I could write four thousand words, forty thousand words and I would barely scratch the gist of this book. It’s good, it’s written really well, and a lot of historians hate it: What more do you need?!

As to the why behind certain historians’ dislike for this massive work of history — I don’t quite know why that is. Perhaps it’s Shirer’s decision not to mask in the slightest his hatred for Nazi ideology. Perhaps it’s the fact that his novel sold so well. But he does not lack for first-hand historical sources — the diaries of so many of the Nazi High Command, as well as many others, most notably that of Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister and Mussolini’s son-in-law. I might look into a translation of Ciano’s diary, in fact, since it’s a fascinating read and shows a side to Italian-German relations that is much more multi-faceted than I ever expected.

I listened to this in audiobook form because…history is easier to consume this way, for me. I absolutely recommend this, and I think any politically conscious citizen of the world could use to see the myriad processes that led to the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany.

Thank you, reader, for your time!

Book Recommendation: The Man in The High Castle

man-in-the-high-castle

It’s been a long time coming, this. Philip K. Dick’s look at an alternate version of the world where the Germans and the Japanese won World War 2 is nothing short of a spectacular example of speculative fiction.

How does he do it? How does Dick create such a mortifying vision of the world such as it never was, but could’ve been? How does he weave the essence of three differing cultures, so at war with each other; how does he navigate with such ease between philosophy and action, art and suspense; how does he spin it all into such captivating narrative?

Such skill as to leave you breathless. I’m not quite certain how to even begin to approach it, but I shall persevere, none the less!

After the war ended and the Axis won, the Japanese and the Nazis divided the USA amongst themselves, with New York acting as de facto headquarters to the Nazis, and San Francisco — of the Japanese.

The Man in The High Castle follows the lives of several very different individuals, often connected by the barest threads. They come from all sides of life — a Jew; a neutral Swede businessman who is more than he appears; a high-ranking Japanese Trade officer in the Pacific States of America, a puppet state of the Japanese Empire; a waitress, and an antiquary shop owner, amongst others.

To say what these characters go through would be to spoil an interesting read, and so I won’t. I will, however, tell you that a great deal of them read a book inside the novel; it’s a little piece of popular fiction called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, whose author writes about an alternate reality where the Axis Powers lost World War 2 in a manner that at first seems similar, yet is wildly different to the way in which our own history unraveled.

Is your head spinning from all the alternate realities yet?

Regardless of the answer, Dick’s depiction of a world thoroughly transformed by the Nazis’ victory is worth your time. Paragraphs like these will chill you to the bones; they will force you to ask yourself questions, to face uncomfortable truths and to dig deeper. Into history, into the present, even into the future.

P.S. Fascinating is Philip K. Dick’s use of the I Ching, the ancient “Book of Changes,” originally Chinese, adopted by the Japanese later down the line, is a book of oracles, used for divination by numerous characters across the book, in order to make decisions. I had never heard about it before–shame on me; nevertheless, it pops up time and time again, oftentimes affecting the choices of important characters.

Even more curious is the fact that Dick actually used the I Ching to aid him in writing the book and its outcome.