24 Juni 2006

Inside Hermann's Head

The following, I realize, has been excerpted by numerous blogs over the past few years, but as one of the greatest expressions of pure, blunt cynicism of all time it never grows stale. Hermann Goering was the head of the Luftwaffe (air force) of the Third Reich and one of the most cunning Nazis. A flying ace during World War I, Goering had become addicted to painkillers, and by the eve of World War II had gained over 100 pounds and bought an enormous estate which he named Karinhall, after his Swedish wife. Goering took to wearing all kinds of outlandish outfits (though he was not a cross dresser, as urban legends would have it) and toting around a bejewelled sceptre. Unlike many others among the Nazi brass, Goering had not risen from complete obscurity and he never let the others forget it. Although his influence with Hitler gradually declined during the course of the war, Goering was nonetheless the ranking defendant at the first and most famous of the Nuremburg trials in 1946. Although convicted, Goerging cheated the hangman by ingesting a smuggled cyanide capsule. During the trial, he was interviewed by a Germanophone U.S. Army psychiatrist, Gustave Gilbert, who recalled the following conversation:

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Granted, these interesting little historical factoids are litte more than that; certainly they're utterly irrelevant to any of our concerns today. Of course you can't wage war without Congress declaring it, and in this country it is the duty of every patriotic citizen to criticize the government.