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Did Hitlerism Die With Hitler? Hitler meant what he said

Omer Bartov

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Hitler's Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf
Adolf Hitler
Edited by Gerhard L. Weinberg
Enigma Books, 293 pp., $32

Adolf Hitler's so-called second book was not published in his lifetime. Written, as Gerhard Weinberg convincingly speculates, in late June and early July 1928, the book's publication was postponed because Mein Kampf, Hitler's first massive text, was selling very badly and could hardly stand competition with another publication by the same author. Later, after Hitler was appointed chancellor and Mein Kampf became one of the greatest (and allegedly most unread) best-sellers of all times, the second book was apparently seen as disclosing his foreign policy plans too explicitly to allow publication. It was locked away, only to be discovered by Weinberg in 1958. Published in German three years later, the second book came out in a pirated and unreliable English edition in 1962. It is only now that the public can read this text in an authoritative translation, accompanied by extensive and updated notes by Weinberg.

Must we read another ranting book by Hitler? This book is certainly as close to the heart of darkness as a book can be. But it should have been read in its time, and it should be read now. It was an explicit warning to the world of what could be expected from the Führer of what was to become for twelve terrible years the Third Reich. When Hitler wrote it, no one could tell whether his plans and fantasies would ever be transformed into reality. Much of what Hitler put together in this book could already be found in Mein Kampf, if anyone had bothered to read it, and other ideas were expressed unambiguously in his speeches. Yet it was difficult to believe that anyone in his right mind would try to translate such rhetoric into policy. It was generally thought that in power Hitler would be constrained by the realities of diplomacy, the limits of Germany's power, the national interests of the Reich, and the military, economic, and political partners with whom he had to make policy. 

Today we know that this was a fatal misunderstanding, rooted more in wishful thinking than in the kind of realism on which contemporary observers prided themselves and expected would eventually keep Hitler, too, in his place. Today we know that Hitler said precisely what he meant to say. We can also note, with the benefit of hindsight, that Hitler was neither insane, nor irrational, nor a fool. Several decades ago A.J.P. Taylor wrote that Hitler may have been mad or criminal as far as his plans and policies for world conquest and genocide were concerned, but in the conduct of his diplomacy in the 1930s he acted very much like everyone else, seizing opportunities and moving gradually toward the goals he had set himself. Reading this second book, I tend to agree. Hitler's rhetoric here is not more empty-headed than that of many of his contemporaries; his use of clichés hardly exceeds what one encountered in the newspapers; his knowledge of history, his psychological observations, his criticism of his rivals, are in many respects typical of his place and time. 

But of course Hitler was about much more than this. He was also a pathological mass murderer who caused the death of millions and the destruction of Europe, and so it is important to know that he did precisely what he promised to do. For we still do not seem to have learned a simple crucial lesson that Hitler taught us more definitively than anyone else in history: some people, some regimes, some ideologies, some political programs, and, yes, some religious groups, must be taken at their word. Some people mean what they say, and say what they will do, and do what they said. 

Most liberal-minded, optimistic, well-meaning people are loath to believe this. They would rather think that fanaticism is merely an "epiphenomenal" façade for politics, that opinions can be changed, that everyone can be corrected and improved. In many cases, this is true--but not in all cases, and not in the most dangerous ones. There are those who practice what they preach and are proud of it. They view those who act otherwise, who compromise and pull back from ultimate conclusions, as opportunists, as weaklings, as targets to be easily conquered and subdued by their own greater determination, hardness, and ruthlessness. When they say they will kill you, they will kill you--if you do not kill them first. 

Read the entire article on The New Republic website.

Posted: 2/24/04

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