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The judiciary cooperated by imposing light sentences on right-wing traitors and heavy ones on far lesser offenders from the Left; thus Hitler served a ludicrously brief sentence for his attempted putsch in the early 1920s, a crime for which, had he been a Social Democrat, he would have spent decades in jail, if he had not been executed.
And so on, and so on. That is why I watch with despair both Right and Left in American public life as they destroy any chance of good government or good public policy by their uncompromising insistence on ideological purity. Buying into absurdly rigid dogma sets merely because one's thoughtgroup insists on it makes the individual stupider and the group more dangerous to everyone.
The Germans of the 1920s and 1930s were no less and no more human than Americans today, or than people of any culture or any nation.
While different cultures choose from different menus of available stupidities and evils, they are all dining from the same underlying list of ingredients, and the meals that result have a numbing sameness in every era of the world.
The lies, hatreds and relentless evil of the Nazis are no less obvious in Muslim extremists today, yet intellectuals in Europe and America embrace the hate-filled rhetoric and actions of terrorist groups exactly the way that Nazi sympathizers saw the "justice" in Nazi claims and actions right up to, and even after, the German invasion of Poland, though atrocities were already plainly visible in their actions in Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Deliberate stupidity is the only possible explanation for the way that Poland cheerfully joined Germany in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, the Poles gleefully seizing their piece of the broken nation – even though it was obvious to everyone that Germany would do the same to Poland, whose "Polish corridor" had once been an integral part of Germany.
Then, when Poland was about to be dismembered, Russian joined in the conquest of Poland even though it was obvious (especially to those who had read Hitler's Mein Kampf) that it was only a matter of time before Hitler turned to attack the USSR.
In both cases, Poland and Russia willingly helped Hitler destroy another country which, had they instead helped it to survive, could have made it much harder for Hitler to invade and conquer them.
Thus do nations behave against their own obvious self-interest, inventing specious reasons why they should behave very badly.
Another lesson is that war is not the ultimate evil. Had France and Britain taken military action when Germany occupied the Rhineland and Saar, or when Germany forced itself on Austria, or when Germany threatened to invade the impregnable defenses of Czechoslovakia; had they even taken immediate action when Hitler invaded Poland, Hitler's armies would have been crushed, and whether or not his generals removed him by coup, World War II, as we experienced its horrors, would not have happened.
In other words, sometimes a small war, fought when the enemy is weaker and disunited, is better than endless deferment of a war that the enemy is determined to fight, for such delay, especially when accompanied by unilateral disarmament, invariably leads to much more terrible struggles later.
And there were few citizens of the captive countries under Nazi rule who would not have declared, with all the fervor of their hearts, that it would have been better to have lost many thousands of soldiers on the battlefield in the effort to prevent Nazi rule.
Being ruled by evil is worse than dying and killing in the cause of freedom, of defense of home and family.
The problem is that, because we cannot see the future, those who are wilfully blind to the openly stated intentions of aggressive enemies are able to pretend to themselves that their "peaceful" actions are not, in fact, a foolish and cowardly postponement of war, or a decision to be ruled by evil.
Contrary to myth, it does not take two to tango, when the dance in question is war. If one side wants war, then the other side has only two choices – to fight back, or to surrender. Deciding not to fight in such circumstances is surrender.
In 1960 and 1961, when The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich sold millions of copies and was widely read, when the memory of World War II was still fresh and our country was led by the people who had sacrificed to win the bitter struggle to destroy Nazism, these lessons were obvious and clear.
But today, I am 61, and am among the youngest of those who learned that history and remember it today. I see the generation after me – and a good many of my own – believing lies and propaganda no less obvious and no less pernicious than the lies believed by the German people and by the people who appeased or admired the Nazis.
I see us make heroes out of idiots, causes out of lies, while often vilifying the few who have the vision, courageand wisdom to lead us in defense of our freedoms.
Because others fought for those freedoms, we do not know how easily they can be lost; because we ignorant Americans do not know about life in countries without freedom, we make ourselves weak against our real enemies, while condemning people within our own society whose offenses are trivial or imaginary.
In case you are among those who agree with me that there is no subject of study more important to the citizens of a free nation than history, let me point out a few interesting and valuable books.
Jack Beatty, The Lost History of 1914: Reconsidering the Year the Great War Began.
This book will come out in paperback next February with a revised and improved subtitle: Why the Great War Was Not Inevitable. But I'm glad I'm reading it now, as Veterans Day approaches; remember that Nov. 11 is commemorated as the day of the armistice that ended World War I.
Often World War I is spoken of as if the arms race and system of alliances in the years leading up to 1914 made it impossible to avert war.
This fits in with the frequently stated belief that history is the result of great forces. And the great book Guns, Germs, and Steel makes a sound case for the fact that great empires and civilizations can only arise where, geographically and culturally, they are possible.
Yet within those "movements of great forces," there are still individual decisions and actions that determine whether a nation will go to war or remain at peace, whether they will behave aggressively or cooperatively.
We take it for granted now, for instance, that France and Britain acted cooperatively in the years after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; but for centuries beforehand they had been bitter rivals, with much blood shed in nearly constant warfare. Someone made the decisions necessary to change that relationship.
Beatty points out, with a useful level of detail, exactly why the Great War, as World War I was called until it was reignited by Hitler in 1939, did not have to take place, and was in fact caused by the decisions of individuals who had complete freedom to choose otherwise....continued on page 3