Martin van Creveld: even in Hell, Hitler has news for us

Summary: Hitler in Hell is one of the most important books of the year. As America drifts to fascism, we must understand what happened to Germany. Books like this can help us avoid taking a dark path like they did. It can happen here, in some form.

Hitler in Hell
Available at Amazon.

 

The fall of Germany to fascism was one of the epochal events in western history. Fascism, in its many forms, is endemic to western societies. But Germany, a center of culture and science, should have been the most resistant of nations. How did it fall so far, so fast? These answers might help us prevent this infection from flaring up again.

An ancient adage says that you do not understand a situation unless you can explain how each party saw it. The countless histories of WWII ignore one perspective: Hitler’s. How would he explain his actions? What methods brought him to total rule of the largest nation in Europe and conquests unrivaled since Napoleon?

Based on a stupendous amount of research, Martin van Creveld has given us some answers in his newest book, Hitler in Hell.

“The method I chose was to try to get into his skin, as far as possible, so as to understand what made him tick. …Where there were gaps, I used what knowledge and understanding I thought I had in an attempt to close them. …I tried to understand Hitler’s actions, views, and thoughts as I think he, observing the past and the present from Hell, would have explained them.”

This is the ultimate celebrity bio, the extreme version of a “how to” book. Hitler started with nothing, joined the Nazi party when it was little more than a sewing circle, took command of Germany at the depths of the Great Depression, and led it to the fastest recovery in the world. This book explains how he did it. So much of the 20th century followed paths that he blazed. If only he had stopped there.

The book is important in two senses. First, the tides of fascism are rising again in Europe and America. Screaming Nazi! Nazi! Nazi! probably doesn’t help. It is like a disease. We need to understand it better. Causes, contagion, and cures. History, in the form of Hitler’s words and deeds, is a useful guide.

Second, Hitler’s story is rich with useful lessons about building organizations and changing the course of nations. It is one of the most insightful and practical guides to success I have seen. Seeing events through Hitler’s eyes makes learning from him easier, since Hitler’s monstrous deeds make objective analysis of — let alone learning from — them almost impossible.

Adolf Hitler
A portrait of Chancellor Adolf Hitler painted by B. Jacobs (1933).

How did he do it?

It is a sad commentary on America today is that Hitler looks more like a serious political reformer (albeit a psycho reformer) compared to our own political activists (who seem better suited to run peasants protests and street parties). For example, Hitler built using a demographic group ignored by our political parties.

“A true mass party, one capable of seizing power and, eventually, shaking the world, could only be built by enlisting the lower middle classes. This includes people such as small shop owners, teachers, low-level civil servants and clerks, and salespeople. It was they, not their social superiors, who had the necessary stamina and were ready to make the sacrifices any great struggle requires.”

He forged these people into a weapon. Read this and ask yourself if this could happen in America.

“Here, I want to put it on the record that the SA were not just a band of rowdies. To be sure, they were a rough bunch, addicted to drinking and brawling. They liked beating up people, including Communists, socialists, Jews, and similar swine. Who would begrudge them that pleasure? And how, given their low social origins and the nature of their opponents, could they be anything but what they were? The day-to-day lives of many of them were desperately hard, so much so that, at times, we had to organize soup kitchens for them. No wonder they looked forward to the moment when they could put on their brown shirts and take action. Almost any action. …

“However, there was another side to the SA, which subsequent historians have done their best to deny. Starting at a time when our Party’s prospects looked anything but bright, they joined us and did their duty week after week, month after month, sometimes year after year. All this, for very little pay indeed. Those of them who were employed gave us their leisure hours. Many also brought along their wives, girlfriends, and sisters. They distributed rolls, ran soup kitchens, looked after the men’s uniforms, dressed their wounded, and mourned their dead.

“Dead they had, 86 in 1931 alone, and wounded plenty more. After all, their opponents often gave as good as they got. Under their rough exterior, many of them were idealists. Their contribution to our eventual victory was much greater than that of some others I can think of.”

On the other hand, Hitler had a cold, realistic knowledge of the material he used.

“The idea that the masses are capable of abstract thought is pure illusion. In so far as the propagandists ’ objective is not to enlighten them but to seduce and inspire them, perhaps it is better that way. Their character is feminine; they respond to emotion, not to the intellect.”

Hitler was successful beyond imaging. He attended a meeting of the German Workers Party in September 1919. A week later they invited him to join the party as member #7. At his first public meeting they had 11 people. On 24 February 1920 the party — now the Nazionalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) — held its first mass meeting before 20,000 cheering Germans.

The competition was fierce. “By one count Germany had 73 different völkisch movements, all with programs more or less similar to our own. In Munich alone there were at least 15.”

Hitler burns in Hell

It answers many important questions

Hitler in Hell gives answer to many questions. Was the Nazi party a movement of the Left or Right? Both (extreme politics cannot be fully described using a one-dimensional spectrum). What was Hitler’s relationship with the rich and powerful of Germany? How did Hitler win the trust and support of so many Germans?

The book also gives a fascinating look at WWII, written by one of the top military historians of our time. This alone is worth the price of the book. But the core of book is more relevant to us than the oft told story of the Third Reich’s conquests and eventually defeat.

Trump’s win revealed the hollowness of US politics. Stronger leaders will exploit this. Studying books like this can help us get through what might be some tough times ahead — without the hard ending of Germany.

Other posts about Hitler in Hell

See Martin van Creveld’s Hitler in Hell: the afterlife of a man who changed the West.

Chet Richards reviews “Hitler in Hell”, the most important book of the year.

Also see how Godwin’s Law should force us to remember & fear our shared heritage with Nazi Germany.

Martin van Creveld

About the Author

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.  He has written 24+ books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He’s written one of the seminal books about WWII: Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than ours!).

He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war in the fascinating Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (see the chapters about modern gaming, wargames for the people). His books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to PattonTraining of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of ConflictThe Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to IraqThe Culture of War (my favorite), and More on War (2016).

And perhaps the most important for us is his magnum opus: the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describing the political changes now unfolding before our eyes.

For More Information

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see these posts about fascism, about Adolf Hitlerabout Nazis, and especially these…

  1. Americans trust the military most. 29% are ready for a coup. Ready for fascism?
  2. Why they lose: the Left tells us that Trump is like Hitler.
  3. Edward Luttwak: Why Fascism is the Wave of the Future.
  4. America is mainlining fascism. It won’t end well for us.
The History of Hell
Available at Amazon.

Other great books about Hell

RecommendedThe History of Hell by Alice K. Turner (1995) — The WaPo calls it “a lively popular introduction to views of the other world from ancient Sumer to the present, with a rich concentration on the middle millennium of Hell’s history.” The publisher says it is a “survey of how, over the past four thousand years, religious leaders, artists, writers, and ordinary people in the West have visualized Hell-its location, architecture, purpose, and inhabitants.”

The most entertaining book about Hell: “Don Juan in Hell” from George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman. A unique and fascinating vision of Hell, the opposite of van Creveld’s (in Shaw’s play, the damned enjoy Hell and would find Heaven boring — and vice versa).

John Milton’s story of Hell: Paradise Lost.

A great guidebook to Hell: Dante’s Inferno (illustrated by Dore).

21 thoughts on “Martin van Creveld: even in Hell, Hitler has news for us

  1. Again, a very interesting article Larry.

    My comments:

    ““A true mass party, one capable of seizing power and, eventually, shaking the world, could only be built by enlisting the lower middle classes. This includes people such as small shop owners, teachers, low-level civil servants and clerks, and salespeople. It was they, not their social superiors, who had the necessary stamina and were ready to make the sacrifices any great struggle requires.” = TRUMP’s BASE

    “The idea that the masses are capable of abstract thought is pure illusion. In so far as the propagandists ’ objective is not to enlighten them but to seduce and inspire them, perhaps it is better that way. Their character is feminine; they respond to emotion, not to the intellect.” = BANNON/TRUMP during the election campaign

    However, fortunately the US is not in the same dire economic straits as Germany was in the 1930s so no danger of a fascist takeover. I honestly believe the main bone of contention affecting the US and Europe is illegal economic migration. Let’s take Europe as an example. Before the mass influx of refugees/migrants in 2015 there were rumblings in the EU but nothing like the outright resentment that is felt in some countries now – especially Eastern European ones – towards Brussels’ espousal of an open door migrant policy.

    If you take its disastrous response to the migrant crisis out of the equation, then the growing antipathy to the European Union weakens considerably. I myself am a big fan of European integration, having seen the enormous beneficial effects it has had here in Poland and other former Communist countries where vast infrastructure projects were jointly funded with European Union funding, improvements in education, cultural events etc. etc. In my opinion, people are simply fed up and tired with have foreigners of different cultures and religions being foisted upon them and supported via hard-earned tax dollars and it is this that is driving populism.

    1. Ivan,

      “fortunately the US is not in the same dire economic straits as Germany was in the 1930s so no danger of a fascist takeover.”

      I suggest that you think about that with a bit more imagination. Also, read the post about fascism at the end — esp Edward Luttwak’s “Why Fascism is the Wave of the Future.” Political events can take many forms, many paths. They don’t have to repeat like Bugs Bunny cartoons.

      “TRUMP’s BASE”

      No. Income was not a strong factor determining votes in 2016 (details here). Since the collapse of unions representing lower-income blue collar workers, they are an ignored and low participation group in US elections. Not that most “who voted how” polls ignored economic class — prefering (revealing) to focus instead on the factors that matter to upper class Americans: race, gender, education (example here, by the usually excellent Pew Research).

      “BANNON/TRUMP during the election campaign”

      A fun aspect to every post about propaganda is how people chime in to denounce its use by their political foes — quite blind to its us by their side. We’re all Americans, and so both sides love the swill of politically pleasing lies with equal enthusiasm. Note the left’s (broadly defined) bogus — and increasingly bizarre — stories about super-Putin and his hacking of the election. And their science denial for generations — embrace of repeated doomster stories despite debunking by scientists. Now including, their love of stories debunked by the IPCC and major climate agencies (e.g., hurricanes, methane here and here).

    1. Ivan,

      “Putin allegations will out eventually when Bob Mueller makes his final report.”

      Perhaps, if Mueller has secret information. Which is quite rare in criminal investigations (unlike Perry Mason). For example, in Watergate much of the key info was known to the public long before the hearings.

      “Rust Belt voters and red necks voted for Trump.”

      The “rust belt” is a geographic area. Despite what you might see on TV, it has rich and upper class people in it. I don’t know what you mean by “red necks”. It sounds like a pejorative, like trailer trash, wops, and niggers.

      “Climare change is a reality my friend.”

      Wow. When someone says that the left ignores the “IPCC and major climate agencies”, and you interpret that as denial of climate change shows robot-like indoctrination. But that’s our Left! Often irrational but always doctrinally correct.

    2. Well – Trump supporters – let’s say Rust Belt voters (poor, unemployed, suffering a drugs epidemic and feeling totally abandoned), hillbillies and rednecks i.e. poorer working class whites from the southern states

    3. Ivan,

      “Trump supporters – let’s say Rust Belt voters (poor, unemployed, suffering a drugs epidemic and feeling totally abandoned), hillbillies and rednecks”

      (1) Words have meaning. You don’t get to make up your own definitions. “Redneck” refers to “A poor, rural, white Southern person (of either gender)”. Only a minority are unemployed and/or addicted to drugs. As I said, you are using it as a pejorative. Like Wop and nigger.

      (2) What’s your evidence that unemployed rural southern drug addicts voted for Trump? How many of them are there?

      (3) Your original statement was that “rust belt voters and red necks voted for Trump. Try supporting your claim, not just making more claims.

      Your claim about “rust belt states” is false. Large numbers of their people voted for Hillary. Looking at the core r.b. states, she got 44% of the vote in Ohio 38% in Indiana, 26% in W. Virginia — and Pennsylvania was evenly split (Trump carried it by 0.7%). The larger the state, the more even the vote.

    1. Ivan,

      “your stance in climate change is confusing.”

      Your response below — conflating the IPCC and major climate agencies with climate denial — shows that you are the one that’s confused. “Confused” is being generous. “Bonkers” is more accurate. Try defending your logic.

      “Can’t work out if you believe in it or are a sceptic from your posts.”

      Most of my posts about climate change (including the guest posts by climate scientists) fall into three groups.

      1. Contrasting what extreme wing-nuts on the left and right say vs. what the IPCC and major climate agencies say.
      2. Citing the IPCC and major climate agencies as authorities, providing data and cites of the peer-reviewed literature in support.
      3. Discussing the politics, why American public policy is in gridlock regarding climate change, and ways to break the gridlock.

      the ones I linked to in my comment to you were examples of the first two kinds. These are only confusing to people wearing big big big blinders, processing info only in terms of good and ungood/plus-ungood/double-plus-ungood — with leftist dogma the standard of rightness.

    2. Only way to break the deadlock is 1) to take the politics out of the issue – unlikely to happen 2) get Joe public to think like ROW on the issue – unlikely to happen 3) punish US companies for carbon emissions – may happen 4) Democrat President re-signing Paris climate agreement – may happen.

    3. Ivan,

      I disagree on all points. The first is quite delusional. The last is false. I’ve seen no expert who believes the Paris Agreement would have a sufficient effect; many believe it would have only a small effect (see these quotes by major climate scientists – including James Hanson, one of the best-known).

      Anyone, like yourself, who conflates relying on the IPCC and major climate agencies with climate denial is deeply deluded, and so an unreliable source of anything about the climate policy debate.

      For a more realistic solutions — see this for a first step and the posts at the end for broader analysis of the situation and possible solutions.

  2. I finished reading this book not long ago. I first heard about it here, so I’ll take the opportunity to say thanks. This was well worth reading, and for anyone here who hasn’t done so, you owe it to yourself.

    The guy did things that were morally repugnant, but he also did things that were tactically smart. He had to enlist a broad enough coalition to get into power and actually get things done, and then he had to actually deliver. He had to show tangible results for his supporters. They managed to raise or borrow enough money to be able to do something useful for their supporters, and they actually got something accomplished for the money they spent. Infrastructure was built, demand in the economy was stoked,a and yes, a lot of military hardware got built. (Not nearly enough for what he tried to do with it.) The money wasn’t parted out to a small slice of supporters. He couldn’t have read The Dictator’s Handbook, because it wasn’t written yet, but clearly he had a gut level understanding of the concepts. (Yeah, I read that too.)

    He understood that to win he had to enlist enough people and then deliver for them on some kind of reasonable time scale. None of this is getting done here.

    His account of the war struck me as the kind of self justifications that the man might have engaged in if he’d lived long enough. What I mean by that is that the defense he makes of his military decisions, even when they were wrong, seem credible.

    Would it be fair to say that Germany was just about the only country that got it’s economic policies right during the Depression?

    1. The Many Who Laughed,

      “Would it be fair to say that Germany was just about the only country that got it’s economic policies right during the Depression?”

      It would be a bit of an exaggeration. Germany was the first to get it right. The primary key was to go off the gold standard; the secondary was fiscal stimulus. The explanation of the cure was provided by Keynes in his great The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Unfortunately they was published in 1936. Most nations had figured this out by then thru trial and error.

      For a summary of this history — why gold was an anchor preventing recovery, how going off gold helped, and when each nation went off gold — see this excerpt from the IMF’s “World Economic Outlook of 2002.” Also see “What would a gold-backed currency do to America?” — especialy this graph (industrial production by year; the inflection points are roughly when then nation went off gold).

      https://fabiusmaximus.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/gold.png

       
      For an introduction to this subject:

  3. Ivan, You reveal your bias through your own words. Firstly, the climate always changes, historically because of natural causes exclusively, nowadays partly (some, but by no means all, scientists think) because of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (not carbon) emissions.

    Secondly, there is no evidence from the IPCC or anyone else that “punishing US companies for carbon emissions” (your words, not mine) will have any effect on the climate at all. So why do it?

    Tony.

    1. Anthony,

      “there is no evidence from the IPCC or anyone else that “punishing US companies for carbon emissions” (…will have any effect on the climate at all.”

      Punishing companies sufficiently will reduce their carbon emissions (with some economic effect, depending on the speed of implementation). That will have an effect on the climate. I doubt if there is a climate scientist in the nation who disagrees. The debate is about the magnitude and timing of the resulting effect (about which there is a wide range of estimates).

  4. Larry, You said “That will have an effect on the climate. I doubt if there is a climate scientist in the nation who disagrees.”. This is a rather silly, evidence free statement. I now understand where you are coming from, so we will have to agree to disagree. Bye.

    Tony

  5. “Perhaps, if Mueller has secret information. Which is quite rare in criminal investigations (unlike Perry Mason). For example, in Watergate much of the key info was known to the public long before the hearings.”

    As I understand it, the Mueller investigation is supposed to be a counterintelligence, rather than a criminal investigation, which is a first for an IC. Even Mr Rosenstein, when he announced Mueller’s appointment , said there was no evidence of an actual crime. A counterintelligence investigation, almost by definition, involves secret information. On the other hand, given the extent of the leaks, I assume that any information confirming any sort of election hacking or collusion on Trump’s part would have become public knowledge long ago.

    I agree that there’s no evidence of SuperPutin election hacking. I’m just pointing out that this is hardly a criminal investigation in the usual sense.

    1. The Man,

      “As I understand it, the Mueller investigation is supposed to be a counterintelligence, rather than a criminal investigation”

      Not so, for various reasons.

      (1) The investigation is conducted under the authority of the Attorney General, not Homeland Security.
      (2) There is no distinction between counterintelligence and criminal law. The FBI investigates both, to the extent that the former violates the latter.
      (3) The former has no clear meaning, and is pretty much in the eye of the beholder. Of course, these days that’s also true of criminal acts. We’re all criminals to a DA who wants to get us.
      (4) Like most of these politically-driven crusades, there is no limit to its scope. The leader is hunting a white whale, and goes where he wills in pursuit of it.

      Some reference make this clear.

  6. Double checking I find that, although Rosenstein initially described it as a counterintelligence investigation, it formally became a criminal investigation back in May. My bad. A criminal investigation of no crime anyone can name. Strange days indeed.

    I seem to have initially posted this comment under the wrong thread. My apologies. It’s been a bunch of twelve hour shifts in a row.

    1. The Man,

      “I find that, although Rosenstein initially described it as a counterintelligence investigation, it formally became a criminal investigation back in May.”

      (1) Again, “counter-intel” and “criminal” are NOT exclusive categories.

      (2) The first official news of the investigation that I’ve seen was by then-FBI Director James B. Corney in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on 20 March 2017. His statement also shows the overlapping nature of CI and crime.

      “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.” {Source}

      The AJ order on 17 May 2017 creating a Special Counsel also shows no exclusivity between CI and crime. The SC is investigating both.

      (b) The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Corney in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:

      (i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

      (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

      (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

      (c) If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters. (d) Sections 600.4 through 600. l 0 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations are applicable to the Special Counsel.

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