After visiting a reunified Germany, I began to wonder how such intelligent, organized, proper people could have fallen for the myth of Hitler. So I decided to read this book. And although the book doesn''t specifically address this issue, even sixty years later, it provides...
After visiting a reunified Germany, I began to wonder how such intelligent, organized, proper people could have fallen for the myth of Hitler. So I decided to read this book. And although the book doesn''t specifically address this issue, even sixty years later, it provides insights into the ways a population (and the world) can be hoodwinked. As such, it also provides a stark warning to the 21st century about leadership, charisma, propaganda (the control of the media), courage, and critical thinking.
Shirer, unlike so many of today''s "journalistic" books, provides a narrative that is probably 90 percent objective. Throughout the book, Shirer bases his reporting on sources captured after the Nazi defeat. These include memoranda, entries from personal diaries, and even some one-on-one interviews with former Nazis. You can see the era''s bias such as those against homosexuals (often referred to as "perverts") come into play, but given WHEN the book was written, this is not unexpected nor does it diminish the significance of the report. When Shirer expressed a personal opinion, like those from his diary, he made it blatantly clear that these were his impressions. So what I appreciated most about this book is that Shirer cited almost everything he wrote about (I wish they had used letters or numbers for the chapter endnotes instead of asterisks in the Kindle edition) and often included exact verbiage (translated from German, of course) from the documents he reviewed.
While his coverage of the Fuhrer and his growing megalomania is frightening enough, I found that his reporting on Joseph Goebbels'' role in creating an atmosphere of belief in the Nazis in Germany the most frightening--and foreboding--of all. Goebbels understood from the getgo that people believe what they want to believe, and he used this understanding effectively. Goebbels controlled ALL media, all messaging, all symbolism for the Reich. As a media professional myself, I was stunned at his ability, as early as the 1930s, to understand the power of popular media. Not only did he use thuggery to silence opposing views, but his media savvy in movie-making, radio broadcasts, timing, event-staging, and even bunting were used to inspire a demoralized population into believing or at least not contradicting the unthinkable. He successfully usurped music, philosophy, and even religion to create a mass delusion among the German people. In my opinion, this may have been one of the main reasons a decent population eventually was caught up in the whole hegemony of Hitler. Certainly, there are other important contributing factors--the economy, a weak government, the depression, etc.--but Goebbels leveraged all of this things to create the big lie that others, particularly the Jews and the Slavs--were responsible for the fate of Germany. To me, this insight has the most relevance for today when Hollywood creates its own version of history, where "journalists" have no problem slanting news (on both sides of the aisle) to their point of view, where politicians have no problems with telling people what they want to hear, and where both political parties have stooped to a level of name-calling and dehumanization of the other. These were tactics that were found in the political milieu of Nazi Germany. While we have not reached that level, it is important to understand just exactly what and how Goebbels created a societal belief that supported the war machine and extermination of so many innocent people. And part of that media message was always terror and intimidation.
Besides this insight, Shirer provides us with personal glimpses into some of the key players of the Reich. He documents how "fateful" incidents impacted the decisions of the combatants'' strategic decisions and the outcome of the war. The book is long and detailed but provides a good look at this unfortunate time in history. While most of the "greatest generation" have long since left this world, this book reminds us of the circumstances that created the twelve horrific years of the Third Reich. It is vital that we remember those years and the lessons learned from World War II. Unfortunately, I think many people will think the sheer volume of this book is overwhelming. But once into the book, I think readers will find it hard to put down. I know I did.