By Charlie Johnston
Adolf Hitler is a monster unique to modern history. He largely is the answer to the theoretical question of what would happen if a psychotic serial killer gained pre-eminent power over a great nation. Thus, it is often truly said that the first person who brings up Hitler in a political argument loses. Serious people avoid this trap (though there are a lot fewer serious people in high places than once there were). Avoidance, though, leads us away from another very serious and important question: how did a madman like Hitler gain sustained power in the first place? As lunatic as he was, he had had some serious political skills we should pay attention to and beware of. He was simultaneously lunatic and brilliant. It is worth noting that many modern figures have implicitly taken his central insights to heart while using him as an icon of evil.
Here are Hitler’s central political insights that cemented his hold on power:
1) Ordinary statesmen are timid when confronted with resolute willfulness: Hitler spent little time debating (or tolerating debate) over what the best course of action was. He decided what he wanted, took it, and let others debate what to do in the aftermath. Although most of his provocations were obvious, serious statesmen constantly wanted to find a “reasonable” solution rather than actively fight to reverse the offense. Hitler almost always called the tune to which the rest of the world danced.
2) The most brazen lies paralyze resistance IF they are what your antagonists WANT to believe: Hitler had plans for immediate retreat if France resisted his invasion of the Rhineland, for he knew he did not have anywhere near the force to compete for more than a few days, much less prevail. Nazi Germany could have been killed in its cradle if France had resisted. Instead, Hitler barely had to fire a shot. He immediately started speaking publicly about his deep desire and plans for long-term peace in Europe. The degenerate elite classes ate it up. When he targeted Austria for destruction, he did not even worry about what France and England would do. He had already taken their measure. All that was necessary was that he keep repeating his brazen, but soothing, rhetoric. He did – announcing major peace initiatives upon the nearly effortless conquest of Austria. All Europe knew he was targeting Czechoslovakia, but officially pretended to believe his soothing lies. For those more cynical, Hitler privately offered a share of the spoils. During the late summer of 1938, the foreign minister of Poland privately told Hitler what chunks of Czechoslovakian territory his country wanted to ensure it did not complain or give Russia a pathway to resist. His greed deceived him into believing he was a guest at Hitler’s banquet, rather than the next course.
3) Accuse those you target for destruction of the very sort of things you do, in order to peel away support from them: With both Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler issued demands for the protection of ethnic Germans in their territories, which he insisted were necessary to ensure peace – and were a matter of simple justice. Actually, the demands were designed to be impossibly unacceptable to meet, because the purpose of them was to give Hitler an excuse to invade, not to secure rights for anyone or ensure peace. In fact, at one point when Austria was ready to concede to all, Hitler went into a mad fury because that would not provoke the sort of incident he needed to invade – which is all he really wanted. (I thought of this when, over a year ago, Trump offered to normalize three times as many “Dreamers” as Democrats asked for if they would fund the wall. The Democrats turned the deal down). During the critical moments of the crises and after the invasions, Hitler shamelessly accused officials of the two countries of the intransigency that he, himself, had committed. Though everyone knew they were lies, it soothed their consciences. France even reneged on a treaty obligation with Czechoslovakia to defend it in case of invasion. All the nations of Europe desperately grabbed for excuses not to have to go to any real trouble. The invasion of Czechoslovakia was the last time Hitler could have been stopped before sparking a global war: he did not have sufficient troops to cover his western border had France or England chosen to resist him rather than justify their own timidity and outright betrayal of diplomatic obligations.
Once Hitler saw, after the Rhineland, that France and Germany just desperately wanted excuses to see no evil, he was glad to give them those excuses. While these insights paved the way for his objectively weaker power to manipulate the greater ones into submission, he made a fatal miscalculation – and that miscalculation does not do honor to modern establishmentarian statecraft or morality. The illusions that fueled Hitler’s tyrannical aspirations could only be sustained so long as the great powers could be deluded into shirking their honorable commitments to others.
The invasion of Poland did NOT shake the English people into honoring their commitments to others. Rather, it made functionally clear that all of Europe was Hitler’s target – and that if they did not act, they would soon be on the menu. It was only self-interest, not honor, that finally led England to resist the Nazis, and so they chose one of the last honorable men in England to lead them: Winston Churchill.
In an increasingly post-Christian western world, the dishonorable delusions that fueled Hitler’s rise remain predominant among the elite classes and their supposed “smart diplomacy.” Sad that the new definition of smart should be acting ,” to act as weaselly and dishonorable dupes.” I guess since they can’t actually be smart, it soothes them to call themselves such. Hitler would approve.
A professor recently caused a bit of a row when he tried to include the Virgin Mary in the “Me Too” movement. He claimed that Mary did not give consent to God’s plan for her. I am so weary of the smugly Scripturally illiterate venturing to give theological insight to the rest of us.
The whole point of the Annunciation narrative is Mary’s free embrace of God’s will for her. I call it the “pivot of civilization,” the moment when redemption became possible through the “yes” of a created being. After the Archangel Gabriel explained it to her, Mary simply said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word.”
You want to know why millennials are so ignorant? Just look to their professors who know nothing – and are proud of it.
I’m enjoying some classic Christmas movies this season. A few recommendations:
The Bishop’s Wife: I’m speaking of the original from 1942, with Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. This movie was probably my childhood favorite, absolutely magical – and retains its charm after all these years. My favorite scenes are the atheist professor’s wine bottle and the boys’ choir.
White Christmas: A 1954 movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. It was the music that grabbed me when I was a kid, but the story about the general was pretty cool, too.
It’s a Wonderful Life: This 1946 movie by Frank Capra, starring Jimmy Stewart, is so ubiquitous at Christmas time that it is easy to forget how good and fun it really is. The scene that still grabs me is when George Bailey (the Jimmy Stewart character) tells Clarence the Angel that what he really needs is $5,000. Clarence tells him they don’t have money in heaven. Stewart replies, “It comes in pretty handy down here, bub.” Oh, how I can relate to and laugh at that line!
Miracle on 34th Street: My favorite is the 1947 original starring the young Natalie Wood, but the 1994 remake featuring Richard Attenborough as Santa Claus is very good, too. The latter is the rare remake that did not sacrifice the heart of the original to a glib, modern cynicism.
A Christmas Carol: There are a bunch of these. My overall favorite is the Geroge C. Scott made for TV version of 1984. Both Scott’s performance and the musical score were superb. My only criticism is that the Tiny Tim character was way too saccharin and wooden for my taste. The 1951 version starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge has the best Tiny Tim. It is a VERY close second. The only serious movie version I don’t like is the Patrick Stewart version of 1999. It follows Charles Dickens’ novel well, but the script here has no heart at its center. It is empty and unsatisfying to me. The comic take-offs and cartoon versions do not amuse me at all.
The Santa Clause: Tim Allen’s 1994 performance is wonderfully clever and inventive. Marvelous fantasy. I also like his performance in the 2002 follow-up, The Santa Clause 2. It is not just because of Allen’s charming and winning performances, but because of the clever originality of the scripts, as well. As for The Santa Clause 3, the less said the better.
Home Alone: This 1990 film starring the adorably clever McCaulay Culkin is witty, original, and guaranteed to absolutely delight children. At its heart, it carries a profound message about how things are not always as they seem – and carries hope for real solidarity with those we don’t always understand, from a child’s point of view.
Die Hard: There has long been a heated debate over whether this 1988 hit starring Bruce Willis is or is not a Christmas movie. I come down firmly on the side of IS (though admittedly, it is the only genuine Christmas action movie ever made).
A very popular Christmas movie of recent vintage is 2004’s “The Polar Express.” I have several family members who love that movie. I don’t get it at all. I’m sure some of you love it, but it leaves me absolutely cold. To each his own, I suppose.
The thing about the old movies that grabs me most is that, fundamentally, they reflect who we really were at the time. We really did believe and try to live the simple virtues, to care for others and lend a helping hand. Many young people think these are heavily idealized fantasies. Perhaps, but the culture in which they were set was authentic. If young people can internalize that, these could serve as lighthouses drawing us back to better versions of what we, and the world, can be.
The best piece written this year on the secular left’s war on Christmas (which will tolerate anything but serious Christian or Jewish faith) is written by that gifted cultural observer, Dennis Prager – who is an Orthodox Jew. This war does damage to us all. As to what he says, all I have to say is, “Ditto.”
Today the Fed Ex truck brought me a great surprise: Puppy Slippers! I wrote recently that when my kids were little, they asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “Puppy Slippers.” We all laughed, but I never got the puppy slippers. Today I got a beautiful plush pair that I am wearing at this very
moment. They have three major benefits:
1) They are wonderfully plush, comfortable and warm.
2) They scare the cats into behaving around me.
3) They give me something to dog my now-adult kids out over. I called both today to tell them that, at long last, after a quarter century of waiting, I finally have puppy slippers.
The only downside is that whoever sent them did so anonymously. Whichever reader sent them, I thank you with all my heart for giving Santa a little assist!
While I rarely show my administrative access to this page, I found it quite appropriate to inform all of you (my father included) that it was actually his SON who sent the puppy slippers. An elaborate ruse for all to see. I talked with my dad last night (he called to gloat at the kindness of some of his followers and how inept his children were in the puppy slippers department). Sometimes it really is too easy.
Love you Pops! Merry Belated Christmas!
P.S. See attached screen shot for the proof old man.