By Charles Landis
In 1951, Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism which is considered the most important book written on the subject in the 20th century. In 1963, after attending the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Israel for Nazi war crimes, she wrote a book about him and coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” Her thesis was the evil of Nazism under Hitler and communism in Russia under Stalin, did not happen because of the fanaticism of one dominating man but by ordinary people blindly following orders (or propaganda as of Joseph Goebbels).
While I was familiar with Arendt, I did not understand the importance until, while living in Geneva, a German friend who worked in a Swiss bank, invited me to visit his family’s home in a small village near the Zurich border.
My friend’s father had been a general in WW II and fought on both Eastern and Western fronts in both WWI and WW II . After the War, he was taken to Fort Dix for interrogation where he learned English.
Shortly after arrival, the General took me outside and pointed at a massive chimney on the side of the house which was embossed with a giant Russian white bear. He pointed at the bear and emphatically insisted that WW II was really all about the Versailles settlement after WW I, Russia, and communism. The General grew up in Silesia and was raised in the Prussian military and cultural tradition; a soldier who only followed orders and knew nothing of atrocities.
That evening I was invited to meet the mayor at the local beer hall attached to the mayor’s home. Here I was introduced to a man who offered me a ride to Heidelberg which I intended to visit the next day. While driving through the Black Forest, the man explained he also had learned English at Fort Dix where he had been taken for interrogation after the War. The reason, he said, was because he was in the SS and in charge of the special security unit that guarded Hitler. I asked him to tell me about Hitler and he responded that “Hitler was good old man” and that all the bad things that were done were done by the bad people around him, not ordered by Hitler. Note. In the years since, studies have been done that show there are no written orders given by Hitler to do all the horrendous things that were done. Hitler simply made it clear what he thought and others gave orders believing what Hitler thought was as orders and penalties would be severe for failure to do. Ordinary people followed blindly.
After arrival in Heidelberg, I met a young Jewish couple from Brooklyn who were returning from Israel after working for a year on a Kibbutz (a collective farm). We decided to have a beer at a cave near the University where I had heard students gathered. Note. Heidelberg University was the Nazi university during the Nazi reign. Upon descending into the cave via a spiral stair case into several candlelit rooms, we were invited to join a half dozen students; all tall, blond, and Nordic looking, which contrasted sharply with my black bearded Jewish friend who looked much like an orthodox Rabbi. Shortly, the conversation turned to whether what happened under Hitler could happen again. My Jewish friends said they believed the cultural history of the German people argued against and what happened under Hitler was that a criminal element had taken over the government and Nazism would never happen again. Th e students said yes, it could and in any country and referenced Hanna Arendt and her book The” Origins of Totalitarianism. ”
Over the years I have often reflected on those conversations and my own experience before that visit to Germany when I was assigned as a young 2nd lieutenant to a special mission activity under Headquarters Command at what is now Joint Base Andrews. Initially, I worked at what was then called Suitland Hall, which sounded like a private girls school, but was in fact headquarters of OSI (Office of Special Investigations). At this time, pursuant to an executive order of President Truman in 1947, a requirement was established requiring everyone working for the federal government to report the names of all organizations they were a member of or attended meetings of. These were checked against lists of organizations considered subversive by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the Department of Justice. If there was a match, a background check was ordered and visits were made to the subject’s neighbors homes and inquires made of neighbors and associates to assess loyalty.
On the HCUA list was the church I belonged to and the United World Federalists, a world peace advocacy group which a friend had invited me to one of their meetings. Under the executive order, anyone could accuse you of being subversive, you could be relieved of duty or discharged, and you would never know what the charge was or who made it. I was then assigned to a special operations group at Andrews as a adjutant to the group commander with a top secret clearance. The commanding General instituted a program which required officers to arrange invitation to subordinates’ homes during a social occasion for purpose of getting to know family members, neighbors, and friends of subordinates to assess loyalty. While I was under an order, required to obey, and not question, I protested as violation of constitutional rights. The order was subsequently suspended. Why did everyone else follow blindly?
As Arendt says totalitarianism/
Today, the left considers conservatives and Republicans authoritarian/totalitarian fascist Nazis and white supremist. The more convincing argument is the Democrat Socialist Party is where the threat of authoritarianism/ totalitarianism. Is most evident.
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s masterful minister of propaganda said, if you repeat a big lie over and over again, people will believe it, and “think of the press as a great keyboard the government can play.” This is what the MSN does 24-7. Think also of the lefts suppression of free speech on college campuses, in news reporting, and the intolerance of any opinions other than what fits the narrative of the left. Think of the cancel culture and the efforts to rewrite our history and destroy monuments thereto. Think of all the free stuff they promise and people will blindly follow.
Above all, think of the fundamental changes in or governance the Democrat Socialists strive: control of both houses of Congress that will permit adding two more Democrat states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, with 4 more senators and control for 50 years; elimination of the electoral college and of protection of minorities by reduction of rural areas to fly over; and, think of packing the Supreme Court, which would give one party control of all branches government and a one party country.
Yes, Hannah Arendt was right. The promise of the Democrat Socialist Party will lead to a totalitarian regime wrought by ordinary people persuaded by propaganda and the banality of evil. Res Publica.