Reducing Overpopulation


There are too many people in this world, and they’re ruining it. A population of more than 7 billion when 2 billion would be a much better balance. If you had the power, wouldn’t you want to reduce the numbers to make it more pleasant for the rest of us? Fortunately, there are people working on the problem.

One strategy is to threaten North Korea. That government is certainly brutal and undemocratic, but it also has nuclear weapons and missiles that could possibly deliver them to our own shores. Even if they didn’t manage that, their resistance to a military attack would destroy South Korea, and probably Japan. This strategy might be enough in itself to significantly lower population, but there are others in place too, providing insurance.

Another strategy is too antagonize Middle Eastern countries. Progress has already been made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The real coup would be to begin a war with Iran which would also have the advantage of being profitable for American weapons companies and others supplying the military. Propaganda against Muslims helps advance this strategy.

At home, initiatives to reduce funding to Social Security and Medicare, police and fire fighters, as well as to education, will result in plenty of deaths, and cripple the economy too, providing fewer well-trained workers to take jobs requiring extensive training. Refusal to regulate guns, or at least to enforce already existing regulations is a relatively minor contribution, but may be considered a worthwhile example.

More effective contributions are made by tax schedules that one-sidedly benefit wealthy people and corporations, and by pollution. Pollution undermines the health of the lower classes before anyone else, and lack of health care prevents them from effectively complaining about their situation. Recent legislation makes polluting more legal A much quieter way of reducing population than employing military action. The same applies to preventing them from amassing enough wealth to challenge the status quo. Part of this strategy is to discourage them from voting through suppression and gerrymandering.

Another strategy, in which great progress has been made, is the use of drugs. We’ve recently seen a pharmaceutical company formulate a pain medication called OxyContin, which it aggressively advertised as being highly effective without being addictive. When patients with chronic pain discovered this was not the case, they also discovered that heroin was cheaper than the prescription drug. Overdoses have risen to nearly equal deaths in auto accidents yearly. That’s not counting deaths from overuse of tobacco and alcohol. These have been with us much longer, of course, but given enough time deaths from illegal drugs may catch up. As long as there’s demand, there will be suppliers, a basic axiom of capitalism.

Another strategy is to weaken the central government. Considerable progress has been made here too, to the point that a private army for the president is being suggested. Can private corporate armies be far behind? That could lead to a civil war, which would probably be the most effective way to reduce population in this country, at least, and would be gratifying to some, just as it was in our previous Civil War, and in World War I. War encourages inventiveness, and we now have many ways of killing large numbers of people at once. We only need  appropriate excuses, and propagandists are quite adept at manufacturing those.

We can thank our current government for encouraging legislation that in turn will encourage population reduction, and also for repealing regulations that reduce the efficiency of population reduction. Perhaps the answer is to repeal ALL regulations. Anything to enhance efficiency in this area.




A biography of Vladimir Lenin shows his face on the cover looking very intense, even satanic. Conservatively inclined people will tell you he WAS satanic, maybe even literally. People more likely to sympathize with Communism (especially Soviet biographers) have often thought of him as a sort of Communist saint who would never have condoned the monstrous behavior of Joseph Stalin. Dmitri Volkonogov, the author who was granted access to archives in the former Soviet Union unavailable to most previous biographers, sees Lenin as more satanic than not.

Volkonogov says he himself was originally a Stalinist, and gradually became disenchanted and rejected Bolshevik totalitarianism, and confesses that giving up his view of Lenin was the last step in that process.

How did Lenin reach the position from which he could influence so many and inspire such different interpretations? It began with his older brother, Alexander, whose complicity in a plot to assassinate the Tsar, for which he was executed That must have made Lenin think about why Alexander had done it. Could his motivation have been as simple as revenge? To begin with, probably so.

Shaping his path was the times. Radicalism had become popular in Russia as many began to feel that the government was unjust and inefficient. Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s novel, What is to be Done turned him away from liberalism (which he condemned for compromising) and towards fanaticism, probably fitting comfortably with his anger over his brother. This seems to have been the first book he read which influenced his politics, well before he read Marx. Anger predisposed him to favor coercion and violence well before he could inflict those things on anyone. He could condemn the violence and coercion of the Tsarist government, but applied more extreme coercion himself when he came to power. Unwillingness to compromise hindered his ability to eventually run a government that could be supported by many different groups. He could control the Bolshevik faction, but no more than that until 1917.

Another influence was Sergei Nechaev, who had advocated terrorism as a revolutionary tactic (and been condemned for it by Marx and Engels), and who had served as model for for the main character of Dostoievsky’s The Possessed. The novel was based on a murder of a student by Nechaev, who was a conspiratorial revolutionary who favored overthrowing and exterminating authorities. Lenin condemned him too, says Volkonogov, but willingly used his methods whenever convenient.

Why did revolutionaries have such extreme ideas in Russia? Tsarism was an authoritarian form of government without the sort of checks and balances a democracy has. In addition, 19th century capitalism didn’t have a good record in its treatment of employees. Factory workers crowded into big cities, living in slums where they were subject to deprivation and disease. Dostoievsky’s novel Crime and Punishment gives a picture of the hard lives of the period.

But Lenin never experienced the plight of the urban poor. Though his great-grandfather had been a serf, his mother’s family were nobility, and his father (who died relatively young) was in charge of education in the city where Lenin grew up. After he died, Lenin’s mother received a fairly generous pension. Lenin practiced as a lawyer for less than two years, got bored with it (and didn’t make much money), and never worked for wages again. His mother supported him for much of his life, and so did the Russian Socialist Party, which he joined in his twenties, sometimes through legal contributions made to the party, sometimes by illegal ones. He was always, says Volkonogov, concerned with money, but always had enough to travel at will through Europe (where he spent most of his life after a term of imprisonment in Siberia) and living comfortably. Never having been poor himself, he lacked sympathy for anyone except professional revolutionaries like himself.

It’s interesting that, as Volkonogov observes, he aged rapidly after attaining power through the Bolshevik coup. That’s because he’d never had political power before, and relatively little responsibility. He loved traveling and taking vacations, which makes his behavior similar to (though not exactly parallel) Adolph Hitler, who notoriously had a hard time concentrating on work for long.

He also, according to Viktor Chernov, leader of the Socialist Revolutionary party, “…did not value the creative search for truth, he had no respect for the convictions of others, no feeling for the freedom that is integral to any individual spiritual creativity. On the contrary, he was open to the purely Asiatic idea of making the press, speech, the rostrum, even thought itself, the monopoly of a single party which he raised to the rank of a ruling caste.”

Lenin’s innovation to Marxist theory was to organize a revolutionary elite to start revolution in the name of the laboring class (proletariat). As it turned out, it was this revolutionary elite that became Lenin’s constituency. While his Bolshevik party was most popular after the spontaneous revolution in February 1917, which caused the Tsar to abdicate, that popularity didn’t endure through the Bolshevik seizure of power and the civil war. Another of Lenin’s innovations was to organize a state with only one legal political party. That party survived because it violently repressed anyone who disagreed with it.

In the 1930s Nikolai Bukharin, who had been one of the powers in the party, married a much younger wife. After he was purged (tortured into confessing being a spy and other unlikely things) his wife was sent to the gulag. One of the other prisoners hated her because she was a Communist. This was strange for her because Bukharin’s wife had never met anyone who WASN’T a Communist. After only about twenty years the Communist elite had become totally isolated from ordinary Russian life.

So why did Lenin even begin a revolution if he wasn’t going to listen to the workers he claimed to represent? Volkonogov’s answer is hunger for power.

When I began reading about the revolution in Russia the narrative would say a little about the time between the spontaneous uprising that led to the Tsar’s abdication in early 1917 and the coup the Bolsheviks pulled off that October. It was mentioned that Lenin and his associates had ridden in a sealed train through World War I Germany, but it didn’t occur to me to ask how that came about.

The answer is the First World War. The war was too much for the Tsarist system, which began coming apart. Casualties were unprecedented and workers weren’t getting enough to eat, which prompted them to strike, as the only way they might gain any power to change things and survive. That’s why people rebelled and the Tsar abdicated. But the war continued, and Germany wanted Russia out of the war. They sent Lenin to Russia to get Russia to sign a separate peace, and supplied him immense amounts of money for propaganda. The plan worked better than the Germans probably had ever envisioned.

The Germans picked Lenin because he was totally against the First World War, and wanted it to be a Russian civil war instead, which would give him the chance of taking power. Not exactly a common sort of patriotism.He hadn’t foreseen the February revolution; he wanted to get to Russia to take the revolution over, and the Germans wanted him to do exactly that, to take Russia out of the war.  He wanted to start a revolution which he thought would rapidly spread over the whole world and create a utopia. The Germans wanted him to do exactly that (surmising that any government he set up couldn’t possibly last). A fortunate confluence of interests, which the Communists covered up. I never heard of German complicity in the Russian revolution until the last decade or so.

What Lenin was doing was against Marxist theory, which said that Russian society was too primitive to transition into socialism. So he can only have instigated the October coup to obtain power. That would explain the direction Communist Russia took. It would explain the Communist refusal to share power with any other political party (other than with one faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, for a short time), to create a totalitarian tyranny even worse than Czarist Russia had been, and to imprison and/or kill anyone they considered an enemy.

They didn’t treat industrial workers, their supposed constituency, particularly well, but it was peasants especially they treated as enemies, requisitioning so much of the grain they produced that they created an artificial famine that killed millions. That was during the civil war. Even worse was collectivization, when peasants were forced to live and work together en masse, and forced to give up their property. Even before this the Communists had been punishing, if not killing, the kulaks, or rich peasants who were supposedly taking advantage of the others. Another way of looking at it was that the rich peasants were the ones who worked most efficiently and productively–and were punished for it. Before World War I Russia had been a net exporter of grain. They continued to export it after the Communist takeover, but at the expense of the peasants.

The Communist regime was extreme, but the things they did weren’t totally unprecedented. Catholics and Protestants had fought the bitterly destructive Thirty Years War in the 17th century over their respective beliefs. European settlers in America tried to enslave the inhabitants when they weren’t trying to exterminate them. They did similar things in Africa, Asia, and Australia as well, killing millions to exploit the natural resources of those colonies. And Europe enthusiastically persecuted the Jews, culminating in the Holocaust. As bad as Soviet Russia was from the beginning, others had done similar things, often in the name of high ideals.

Volkogonov asks how revolutionaries like Lenin justified the gigantic social experiment Soviet Russia became. He might also ask about the abrupt introduction of technology with the Industrial Revolution, which created a higher standard of living than almost anyone had ever known (for those who could afford it), while also destroying the livelihoods of people in traditional industries. Some people used to throw their wooden shoes (sabots) into factory machinery, from which we get the word sabotage. Until the 19th century most people farmed, and were self-supporting. By the end of the century, and well into the 20th century, many farmers were forced out of their farms and into factories to support themselves and their families. For some (perhaps immigrants especially), factories were an appreciated opportunity. Others disliked the way they were treated there (long work hours and poor pay in dangerous working conditions), and began to organize strikes and unions. The way industries reacted to strikes may not have been as extreme as the behavior of the Soviets, but one wonders how they justified maiming and killing their employees.

The Communists had no patent on violence, but theirs was highlighted more than American and western European violence. John Wayne’s comment that our ancestors were perfectly justified in taking the land of Native Americans because they weren’t doing anything with it is a good example of the attitude of our ancestors towards violence against anyone they didn’t happen to like. So are American interventions into the affairs of other countries, which we would never allow to happen to us.

On the whole, it’s amazing the USSR was able to last as long as it did. Many people, including the Socialist parties in other countries, condemned their violence and intolerance of other points of view. I think they must have managed to inspire a lot of people with their vision, though by the end of World War II that faith must have been wearing thin for many.

Joseph Stalin surpassed Lenin in monstrous deeds, partly because he stayed in power considerably longer. But Lenin had set the pattern, and Lenin seems to have had charisma that attracted many to him.

After Lenin had a series of strokes he could no longer function as a politician, and died about two years later unable to care for himself or talk. The Party elite decided to mummify his body as a sort of holy relic to inspire Communist believers. They also mummified his ideas, which were fanatically narrow to begin with.

Russia managed to survive World War II in spite of having to do most of the fighting. When Stalin died millions of people must have been relieved. But, having made Lenin an icon, the government couldn’t question anything he had done,  nor right the wrongs he had commited. Khrushchev denounced the actions of Stalin (many of which he’d been complicit in), but didn’t dare touch the Lenin idol. That’s why the USSR collapsed about 25 years ago. Hardly anyone could believe in it anymore. When Mikhail Gorbachev instigated Russia looking at its past too many crimes were uncovered. ` The Communist form of government could no longer be justified, and the government fell with almost no violence, surprisingly. Those in power couldn’t justify violent repression. Lenin and Stalin must have turned over in their graves.

But Communism isn’t the only form of government that has justified use of violence to repress anyone opposing it. It’s been more extremely brutal (or obviously brutal) than many others, but force is the basis for any government. Future governments may or may not follow the Communist ideology, or be as openly brutal. A case can be made that tyrannies will (or maybe already are) following the pattern of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which citizens didn’t even notice their degradation. That kind of tyranny is even more difficult to resist.

How many people would be willing to give up a high standard of living for the good of their country, or the rest of the world? In this country, at least, we’re very attached to our comforts, even with evidence that our comfortable lives are destroying the ecology that keeps us all alive.

Even the obvious wrong-doing of Communism was hard for some to admit. Much more subtle wrong-doing will continue to be defended by many only willing to see one side of the question. People who benefit from wrong-doing rarely condemn it. If revenge was what Vladimir Lenin desired, he got it. Too bad his revenge victimized so many people, as did the vengeance of many others. Much of the history of the world is the history of ideologues persecuting anyone disagreeing with them. I don’t think the ideologues are going away.



The Vietnam Documentary


Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary about Vietnam is impressive, but various people have criticized it. A number of criticisms seem valid.

One is that, with all the many interviews in the film, only a very few explored the experience of the peasants, particularly of South Vietnam, whose experience of the war was long and arduous. The film concentrated mostly on the view of soldiers–American, North Vietnamese, and South Vietnamese. One article noted that most soldiers served only for short periods, and didn’t stay in one place. Peasants, who didn’t have the luxury of moving (unless they left for a city to eke out a living in that environment), had to stay in one place and deal with soldiers of different allegiances, not to mention artillery, Agent Orange, etc. That gave a much different perspective, which arguably wasn’t represented in the movie.

Another criticism is that the broader perspective of Southeast Asia was hardly mentioned. The fall of the Cambodian government, due largely to bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail in eastern Cambodia and Laos, prompted the ascendancy of the Khmer Rouge and their genocidal behavior. And while the presence of drugs in Vietnam, and the habits many soldiers brought back to the USA was mentioned, what wasn’t was that the CIA was largely controlling the trade in heroin, the opium being grown in the Golden Triangle, where, according to a NY Times article, some Chinese warlords settled after the Communists took over mainland China. The CIA, according to this article, has been involved in the drug trade since the Korean War.

The documentary hinted that the US had financial interests in Vietnam when it showed a clip of Richard Nixon explaining the Domino Theory and mentioning Vietnam’s nearness to Malaysia, from which we obtain rubber and tin, but never really talked about any financial motives for the American side of the war. Of course those who built military bases, military equipment and armaments must have made plenty of money, but there’s the question of whether there were natural resources we wanted from the country. I don’t know what they might have been, but won’t exclude the possibility.

Most of the reason for the war seems to have been ideological: The United States didn’t want any more successful Communist countries. There’s some debate about the situation, but briefly, the Communists under Ho Chi Minh had largely taken the country over by the end of World War II and wanted to remain independent. They had been a French colony, and the French returned after the war, trying to take the country back. The United States supported them in this, even though (most notably) President Eisenhower didn’t think the war winnable, and neither did Senator John F. Kennedy, an obscure figure at that time who later became president and committed the country to a larger military presence.

A friend, critiquing my previous post, defined the dynamic of our involvement as showing small left-wing countries who weren’t doing what we wanted that we could ruin them without suffering any great damage ourselves. Of course we DID suffer damage because of the war, but nothing like what the Vietnamese (both North and South) suffered. They lost 1-3 million people, many of them civilians, suffered ecological damage from substances like Agent Orange, and continuing problems from unexploded mines and artillery shells. The war also suddenly changed traditional patterns of life, often not for the better, as peasants who were displaced to cities often had to turn to prostitution and other corrupting practices to survive. A good many children of American soldiers were born to Vietnamese women, and probably weren’t well accepted. The USA lost 58,000 soldiers compared to millions of soldiers and civilians, and no damage to our land. Our damage was moral and psychological, primarily.

That’s not to minimize the suffering of our veterans, many of whom were physically and psychologically wounded. It’s only that far fewer of them were so badly damaged than the Vietnamese. That being so, US officials could see the costs of the war as acceptable, a “win” compared to Vietnam’s situation. That may have made us more willing to invade other small countries. The most notorious of these have been Iraq and Afghanistan, but there have been many others that we ordinary citizens have heard little about.

Much of the damage suffered by the USA has been division between people who found the war horrible and immoral, and other people who thought it justified and supported it more or less uncritically. Those divisions continue, and continue to cause distrust between people of different political beliefs, and between many people and their government. Many Americans thought their government would never lie to them. Few believe that any longer.

As my friend put it, it’s not accurate to talk about our involvement in Vietnam as a mistake that was based on good intentions. Our intention was intimidation. We made our point to other small countries, and then withdrew when it no longer suited us to fight. President Nixon had promised President Thieu that we would continue to supply the South Vietnamese army, but we didn’t. That’s at least partly because Nixon had his own problems with Watergate at the time, but things might not have been greatly different if he hadn’t. We never really cared about the Vietnamese, and when the war became too inconvenient, we abandoned them.

That was a moral mistake. I think it may have been a strategic mistake too. If we had been willing to help former colonies become independent we might never have had to have a Cold War with Communist Russia and China. According to the documentary, Ho Chi Minh became a Communist because of Lenin’s writings on colonialism. The USA didn’t have to accept the role the Communists cast us in. After all, we fought a revolutionary war ourselves, and left behind our colonial past. We could have conceivably had a hegemony based on friendship instead of power, where we persuaded various countries to do what we wanted instead of all but destroying some, and more or less forcibly meddling in the internal affairs of others.

Instead, we took on the role of the foremost colonial power, previously Great Britain (though other colonizers behaved no less viciously, only on a smaller scale), and repressed any small country whose behavior we didn’t like.

At one time, much of the world looked up to us. After the past seventy years I think fewer do, and we’ve managed to make ourselves hated in much of the world. We didn’t have to do that.




The first episode of Ken Burns’s series on Vietnam came on last night. I was pretty fascinated at details of the history, but not too surprised at the general outline. I wasn’t around when the war began, but became aware of it in the early sixties, when it began alarming a number of adults around me.

By now I think it’s generally accepted that Vietnam was a bad mistake for our country to make, which didn’t stop us from making it again. One of the talking heads in the movie says that it was part of the end of colonialism, which in retrospect seems pretty obvious, but at the time was confused with the problem of Communism, about which there was a wave of paranoia. The movie quotes a letter Ho Chi Minh sent to President Eisenhower, saying that the Vietnamese wanted the same things Americans did, and that he shouldn’t take the Communist aspect of Vietnam’s politics too seriously.

It’s curious that Eisenhower’s diary is quoted as saying he didn’t believe a war could be won in that theater, but he assisted the French, who were trying to get their colony back, anyway. First he sent supplies, then helped pay for the war, eventually up to 80% of the cost. After the battle of Dien Bien Phu the French left entirely, and the USA stayed on.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu is an example of how the Vietnamese were underestimated by their Western opponents. The French commander, says the movie, set the battle up on purpose to destroy the North Vietnamese army (Vietnam had separated into north and south at this time), but the commander set up the base in a valley, and apparently didn’t even try to keep the Vietnamese from taking a superior position in the surrounding hills. The army managed to put numerous artillery pieces in place and camouflage them. By the end of the battle, the French had lost 8,000 out of 11,000 troops, and the commander had committed suicide. The Vietnamese had lost three times that number, but realized they could beat anyone trying to reconquer their country.

The situations aren’t exactly parallel, but that battle reminds me of what the Russians did to beat the Germans in World War II. It wasn’t just that the USSR was a huge country, and inhospitable, but that the Russians were willing to suffer immense numbers of casualties to win. Besides Vietnam being a small country, the situation differed in the Vietnamese fighting a primarily guerrilla war, though that was also an important part of the war in Russia. But the Russians fought many more conventional battles than the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese only committed to conventional fighting when they were sure they could win.

John F. Kennedy was in Vietnam in 1951 and didn’t buy the story the French were peddling about their ability to subdue the rebels. He told constituents later that unless the USA could convince the people there that we were as interested in justice and their independence as they, we wouldn’t be able to prevail against them. At some point, he changed his mind, and the first episode didn’t clearly explain why.

Ho Chi Minh was portrayed in the first episode as being determined, but relatively moderate. Others in the politburo were more radical, ruthlessly purging opponents, even people who had fought with the Viet Minh. Burns points out, though, that they were no more brutal than the French.

In the 1950s, when the USA became involved in the war, there was considerable paranoia about Communism, and it’s quite true that Communists often didn’t behave very nicely. Our country entered the war to try to make sure that Communism didn’t spread further into Southeast Asia from China. We had already fought in Korea (where China assisted the North Koreans at great cost), and were unable to salvage more than a draw. So there was some legitimate concern, but there was also not enough thought about an important question: why would any country be attracted to Communism?

It took over in Russia because the Czarist government became ineffective. It wasn’t what most probably wanted, but the Bolsheviks managed to impose themselves.

In China it was because of ineffective government too, as well as a legacy of colonialism. Foreigners, including the USA, had been meddling in the affairs of the country, and few people liked that. In Vietnam it was very simply colonialism: the French had invaded the country and put the natives to work without much respect for their wishes or abilities. Since our country too has a history of being a colony and rebelling so we could manage our own affairs, it’s a question why we couldn’t understand and assist another country who wanted exactly the same thing as we. A question, but not a very mysterious one.

Burns gives us a clue in the first episode, in which he has a clip of Richard Nixon trying to explain the domino theory. China is just to the north of the countries of the peninsula, North Vietnam has a Communist government, there’s concern about Laos and Cambodia too, and if they fall, Malaya, with its tin and rubber would be at risk. Nixon may not have meant to say it, but that gives the game away: we want raw materials and cheap labor from those countries, and it’s more convenient for them to be dominated by a Western nation.

Vietnam was divided into north and south largely because Russia and China didn’t want to fight anyone at that time. Without the backing of those countries, Vietnam couldn’t fight, so Ho Chi Minh had to agree to the division. The French and whoever didn’t like the Communists had to leave the north, and the Viet Minh were to leave the south. Ngo Dinh Diem, who was from the north, became the president of the south. Like Ho Chi Minh, he hated the French, but he also hated the Communists, who had put him in prison and killed two of his relatives by burying them alive. When he took over he became adept at maneuvering the USA, which knew that if a promised election were held, Ho Chi Minh would win. Because Ho was a Communist, our country was stuck with Diem, and we wanted to set up a “legitimate” government in the south, and not have Communists dominate the whole country. But the South Vietnamese weren’t happy with that. There were radicals left there to oppose the Diem government, and they were being badly treated, so the North decided to do everything they could to help get rid of Diem.

That’s about where the first episode stopped. The USA in the mid to late fifties has been supplying the South Vietnamese army and sending military advisers there, but hasn’t yet begun sending troops in any number. Burns points out that the advisers are getting the South Vietnamese army ready for conventional warfare, but that North Vietnam has no interest in fighting a conventional war.

I was reminded of a newsletter I used to receive in my early teens. I don’t recall the name or author of it, but I remember him drawing (not with great facility) cartoons of Jesus looking sad. He also pointed out that the United States has been more inclined to support dictatorships than democracies in its history, in contrast to our own history and stated ideals. Vietnam was the first war in which those practices came back to bite us. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.

Liberals vs Fascists


It was between 25 and 30 years ago that one of my acquaintances told me he thought Adolph Hitler was a liberal. I was totally taken aback, and didn’t say anything because I didn’t know WHAT to say. Now I think that opinion comes from propaganda, but a lot of people would disagree.

What can be pointed to as liberal in what Hitler did? Innovation in propaganda? Even if that’s valid, he was greatly influenced in that department by American advertising. What else is there?

Many people blame most of the bad things that happened in the past century or so on liberalism. I disagree. Of course liberals are as guilty of failing to live up to their ideals as anyone, and I think that failure is probably responsible for much dislike, but I subscribe to psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich’s view of the political spectrum: that it relates to sexual health, and that there are both conservative and liberal extremists whose behavior is very similar, and whom Reich considered to be sexually unhealthy.

His view was that since sex is a very sensitive subject for most people, children are often trained to repress sexual feelings. Repression isn’t just a mental or emotional thing, but is manifested physically in chronically clenched muscles which physically hold sexual feelings in. Nobody can totally repress such feelings, but when their muscles are chronically tight in large parts of the body the sexual feelings that are able to escape have some sadism to them. Sexually repressed people are those who foment the most violence, Reich thought, and devised methods of treatment to help people feel more comfortable with their sexuality.

One of these methods was to manually loosen the muscles of various parts of the body. He had some notable success with those methods, as did Dr. Ellsworth Baker, one of his students. Unfortunately, publicity about his methods was often negative, so few if any practice his treatment now.

In the last few decades it’s become popular in some circles to blame liberals for all extremism, which isn’t exactly an objective view. It has been liberals who have worked for civil rights of all kinds, and rarely conservatives. The people who lynched black people in the 19th and 20th century weren’t liberals. They were people using violence to prevent another group claiming its rights. Conservatism is usually defending the status quo, or trying to return us to a golden age. Liberals (at their best) work for a golden age in the future. Their version doesn’t usually include violence–unless it’s by extremists.

Communism as practiced in Russia (and later elsewhere) was certainly extreme. Many people identify it with socialism; actually, it was only the most extreme form of socialism. After all, socialism can’t be THAT bad. It has worked very well for wealthy people, as witness the bail-outs of the banks and other industries after the 2008 recession. In other words, from the conservative point of view, if Robin Hood takes from the poor and gives to the rich, that’s fine. It’s only the opposite that’s evil.

We’re seeing this distorted view lately with the “alt-left” being blamed for the violence at Charlottesville and other places. As one of my Facebook friends told me, when people come to protests carrying baseball bats and dressed in protective gear, they’re obviously looking for violence. I pointed out to him that this included the right-wingers who had also shown up for the protest, at least in Charlottesville.

This raises a question: do conservatives believe in the right to defend one’s self? For everybody? Or only for some? There was already some question whether conservatives would be comfortable with black people openly carrying guns as some whites do. I haven’t viewed any videos of the Charlottesville protests, and haven’t read anything much about other such recent events, but one article quoted people from Charlottesville who attended without weapons or other protection and were conducting themselves nonviolently as giving credit to “alt-left” people who stood with them as preventing them from being killed or badly hurt. Of course the right-wing propaganda makers portray them as starting the trouble, but the nonviolent protesters there deny that. Considering also that when people speak of terrorists in this country they usually mean Muslims, even though right-wingers have allegedly committed more terrorist attacks, I get the distinct impression that violence by one end of the political spectrum is considered perfectly fine, while violence by the other is to be condemned.

There’s plenty more propaganda like that. One article says an antifa organization advertised for protesters, especially young women. I hope that’s not true, but whether or not, it suggests that lefties are less sincere than righties. Though I don’t see being sincerely violent and racist as being a particularly good thing.

Another says that antifa are organized and have plans for a revolution. The irony of this one is being put out by As if THEY aren’t organized and calling for some kind of revolution.

I hear now that antifa is now officially considered a “gang”, at least in California, where they (or some of them) have allegedly indulged in violence and looting. I HOPE this means that only violent antifa members will be prosecuted, and that right-wing violence will also be stringently policed. Propagandists are trying to prevent the latter, though.

But if the antifa, “alt-left”, or anyone else tries to keep neoNazis, white supremacists, or anyone else from speaking their minds, as they have the constitutional right to do, they’ll be playing right into the hands of the right-wing bigots who would gladly do the same to them. That’s a rather foolish strategy, possibly being pursued by people unable to predict long-term consequences.

There are a lot of us who don’t like fascism, and want to do what we can to prevent it at a time when it seems a large minority (including some in high office) want to encourage it. But to be effective, we have to be smart. Fighting them violently will only turn us into the equivalent of them, which propagandists are already trying to say we are. Let’s behave better than that.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was effective in large part because they planned carefully and were STRICTLY nonviolent. That meant their protesters often got maimed or killed, but it made clear who they were and who their tormentors were. Maybe that’s what we liberals (and especially WHITE liberals) need to do.




Like much of my generation, I was thrilled by rock & roll, beginning in my case with the Beatles. It was an amazing musical time. Maybe it’s like that for everyone when they discover music, but it still seems different to me. Music was coming from all over the place and cross-fertilizing, getting more complex and exciting all the time.

In the late 1960s I began to be disappointed. After Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band I liked what the Beatles were doing less, partly because I had left high school, left home, was working for a living, and was pretty depressed about it. Bob Dylan also changed radically in a way I didn’t like.

There were other bands coming along, though, a great explosion  of them, so I remained a musical addict for some years more. But eventually I lost interest in contemporary popular music. Part of it was because of new styles, metal, disco, punk, and eventually rap, none of which I liked much. But I think part of it too was that the musicians I had loved got decadent.

At the time I thought drugs like marijuana and LSD were a good idea, or at least not bad. That may have been naive, but I wasn’t naive enough to think that speed, cocaine, heroin, barbituarites, or too much alcohol were a good idea, and not only did I begin hearing more about those, but the music started to be less good too. A book, Live at the Fillmore East and West informs me that there was even more over-indulgence in that period than I’d known. Lots of alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. With all this seems to have gone a lot of very egotistical behavior. Not very inspiring. It seems as if when musicians became successful they also graduated to harder and more addictive drugs. It’s disappointing to think so many heroes of my youth were so insecure–at least that’s what I presume it was.

Of course, I started picking up addictive behaviors too, though most of them were legal, unlike a lot of my musical heroes. I smoked marijuana, for a short time took (what I was told) was LSD and mescaline, but took very little else that was illegal. I began smoking cigarettes (to learn how to smoke marijuana), and that became habitual, lasting some forty-seven years. I also started drinking, and for several years drank like an alcoholic. After awhile I got tired of being hung over all the time, and began losing my tolerance (that may have been because I had Hepatitis C, unbeknownst to me), and began drinking less. And my very first addictive behavior had been reading, beginning from the time I learned, and continuing to this day.

I think it’s pretty clear to most of us that addictions usually have to do with pain. Sometimes it’s physical pain. I think even more often it’s emotional pain. We don’t want to fully experience that, so we run away from it. An interview I listened to yesterday suggested that meditation is a good way to approach emotional pain, not that it’s an easy fix–it still takes a lot of effort–but it’s a method of looking at pain objectively in which one focuses not so much on the pain as its characteristics and where it comes from. But it’s always tempting not to try to do anything effective about it, and just keep running. It’s certainly not a problem I’ve solved to any extent, even at my advanced age.

There’s always been drug abuse in this country’s history, especially if you count, alcohol, coffee, and cigarettes. There was an explosion of illegal drug abuse beginning sometime in my youth. Exactly when it began is debatable. It really got going among white people in the late sixties, but it had become a plague in Harlem about 1950, when heroin hit town. Now heroin is no longer an urban phenomenon. It’s a plague in rural America too. Overprescription is frequently blamed for the latest manifestation, but I think the main temptation for addictive drugs is hopelessness.

There are some objective reasons for hopelessness in this country, as well as reasons that are more subjective. Many of us grow up unhappy with our parents, with school, or many other things. But we shouldn’t ignore objective reasons too.

One is financial. In my early life I didn’t find it hard to support myself ( I also didn’t have a wife or children), but for people much younger than me this was much less true. I won’t try to go into the reasons for the financial instability of many, but only say it’s a major reason for lack of hope.

Along with financial instability, rapid cultural changes of all kinds have had a bad effect on people. Divorce has broken up a lot of families, which has caused economic and other kinds of instability. Do children feel more neglected now than they did a couple of generations ago? I don’t know, but fewer families have both parents now. And not only is there neglect, but other forms of abuse. Those kinds of problems generate feelings that many people try to deal with by self-medicating.

So do problems like bipolar disorder. I don’t know if disorders like this, ADD, and ADHD are more frequent now than they were before the diagnoses were formulated, but in any case, the medications are available, so the temptation is always there. As long as we have drugs they’re going to get used, unless our culture changes tremendously.

Heroin took over Harlem for awhile, and spread across the country, because people’s lives in ghettos like those were not very happy, and drug use was an acceptable way out. It still is, no matter how people preach about it. The only way to end drug abuse, as far as I can see, is to get to the roots of it in each individual case, which would be very difficult and inconvenient. People adopt addictive behaviors often because they feel unloved. Loving them effectively would take a tremendous effort that many people don’t want to make. And since we live in a capitalist society, as long as there’s a market for addictive things (drugs or other) there will be someone to supply them. If you’re selling things you have to consider addiction as part of your market strategy. If people can’t get along without your product, you’ll have a steady income.

It’s a shame this is how we live. It’s not how humans were meant to live, and getting really caught up in addiction can make us less than human. But our addiction as a society isn’t just to drugs, but to our whole lifestyle that is destroying the natural world that allows us to live. It’s a shame we live the way we do, that drugs destroyed the music and many of the musicians we’ve all loved, and that most of us don’t have the courage to turn away from that. But that’s dwarfed by the way in which we’re destroying not only our individual worlds, but the great world around us too. And it’s much easier to just go with the flow than to actually do anything effective about it.


Explaining Hitler


Explaining Hitler is the title of a book by Ron Rosenbaum. The cover of it shows a picture of Adolph Hitler as a two year old. It’s a reminder that he was once as innocent as any other baby. Why did he grow up to be one of the most monstrous murderers of the 20th century (though Stalin and Mao arguably killed more)? Hundreds if not thousands of books have been written trying to explain why he hated so bitterly and turned to genocide as the way to right what he believed to be wrongs. There are all kinds of different views on the matter. Some deny the Holocaust, some deny that Hitler caused it, others try to apportion the blame. The book tries to take an objective look at the variety of views, none of which has been accepted as definitive. Probably none can be.

Hitler was strange. Pretty much everyone agrees on that. His strangeness may have been part of his appeal, which seems to have been pretty overwhelming, not only during his lifetime, but still. Why else would so many people continue to write about him and argue about the validity of their views? Why else would some continue to idolize him?

Part of his strangeness is his background. His paternal grandmother had a baby at age 42 without any husband, and she didn’t volunteer a name for the father. She was a maid, and rumor had it she’d worked for a Jewish family and been impregnated by the son of her employer (who would have been twenty or more years younger). But there wasn’t any such Jewish family in the area. Jews had been forbidden to live in that part of Austria, though some traders may have traveled there.

Some years later she married a man named Hiedler. He might have been the father of her baby, whom she named Alois. Alois eventually changed his name from Schiklgruber to Hitler (a slight spelling change from Hiedler), but waited until he was forty to do so. Why wait so long, and why change it at all?

Maybe he thought Hitler sounded better, and didn’t suggest the isolated area around Döllersheim in eastern Austria that he came from, which seems to have been inhabited by the Austrian equivalent of poor white trash. Interestingly, after Hitler united Austria and Germany the area of Döllersheim was used for artillery practice, effectively destroying the church in which the birth of Hitler’s father was registered. We don’t know if Hitler personally ordered this, but he may have. Hitler is also quoted as saying to a nephew who was trying to get money from him after he attained power in Germany that, “No one can know where I come from”. What was he trying to hide? Possible Jewish blood? Or something else?

Another aspect of his strangeness was that just as his paternal grandmother had supposedly worked as a maid, his mother (who was related to his father) had served his father as a maid while Alois’ first wife was dying, and had become sexually involved with him then, marrying him several years later. She supposedly always called him “Uncle”.

Adolph Hitler became sexually involved with his own niece, who was working for him as a maid, making it three generations of that pattern. After he became prosperous in the mid-1920s he hired his half-sister and niece to keep his Munich apartment clean. After he acquired the Berghof on a nearby mountain he had his half-sister stay there while his niece stayed with him in Munich. It was potentially catastrophic when she was discovered shot to death in her room in the apartment. No one knows exactly what happened. Hitler may have shot her, he may have told someone else to do it, or she may have shot herself. But her body having been found in his apartment made sexual and murder scandal quite likely. The incident was successfully covered up, but just why the young woman died has been a matter of debate since.

We know that Hitler was jealous of her, didn’t like her going out, and that they’d argued about her desire to go to Vienna. Whether that was enough to prompt the death is debatable. One suggestion that later emerged was that Hitler practiced a sexual perversion in which he had Geli squat naked above him and urinate (or possibly defecate). We don’t know if that is true either, and Rosenbaum sees the suggestion as a way of seeing Hitler as so completely strange that he was unrelated to ordinary people. None of us could possibly have done what he did because we ordinary people aren’t perverted. The allegation rests on the word of Otto Strasser, whose brother had been murdered by Hitler, so there’s reason for doubt. Whether or not the alleged perversion affected Geli so strongly that she committed suicide, most of the other women he got involved with attempted suicide. Because of him? Or because he was attracted to women prone to suicide attempts?

Psychohistorian Robert Waite sees Hitler’s relationship with his niece, as well as his having only one testicle (“Hitler had only one left ball…”),  as basis for diagnosing him as a borderline personality, the sort of person who does dangerous and dramatic things. The diagnosis may or may not have been accurate, but Waite thinks the missing testicle is very significant, and we don’t know if it’s true. One doctor who examined him said he was normal in that respect.

It’s true that, as Waite pointed out,  Hitler didn’t always seem to want to win the war he later started: he could have destroyed the British army at Dunkirk, but halted his troops for two or three days instead. And after Pearl Harbor he declared war on the United States, committing himself to a two-front war that he had vowed to avoid and excusing Franklin Roosevelt from having to persuade the USA to go to war against Germany. Not only that, but he rerouted trains that should have taken supplies to the Eastern Front to deliver Jews to the death camps instead.That’s not enough to make Hitler a madman, exactly, though. Hubris may be enough to explain that and his behavior when the Russians began getting the better of his troops, and he refused to let them retreat.

But questions remain, and are hard to answer. Was Hitler sincere in his desire to kill the Jews, or was he just an opportunist? Did he believe killing them was right to do? If he did, why is he quoted in the book recording his table talk during the war as commenting (to Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler) on the “rumors” about exterminating the Jews, when they were “merely parking them in swamps”, though they deserved to be exterminated?

And whether he was sincere or not, what caused him to want to do that? Was it simply that Jews (and others) cost too much to feed? Did he do it because he was a sexual pervert? Or was it (as has been suggested) that a billy goat took a bite out of his penis? That  a Jewish doctor took care of his mother during her fatal illness? Or that he caught syphilis from a Jewish prostitute?

Let’s consider some of the different interpretations of what he did.

Perhaps the earliest attempt to understand Hitler was by reporters of the Munich Post, which early decided he was bad news and tracked his behavior and that of his party members. Not just the street violence by the SA, Hitler’s private army, which often enough resulted in injuries and deaths, but the question of Hitler’s ability to live a comfortable lifestyle without visible means of support, and the sexual improprieties of some of his followers, including Ernst Röhm, head of the SA, who was notoriously homosexual.

They also covered the death of Geli Rabaul and the political murders the Nazis began committing in the last two years before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. As determined as they were, and as assiduously as they documented Hitler’s crimes, not enough people paid attention. Once he achieved power the paper was shut down and any of the reporters who were unable to leave the country in time were sent to concentration camps or murdered.

Fritz Gerlich was another journalist who did the same. He had been a rightwing nationalist like Hitler, and might have supported him, but when Hitler asked him for support, he asked Hitler to promise not to mistreat von Kahr, the politician he supported and not to try a putsch. Hitler promised, then did attempt a putsch (sudden revolution) and arrested von Kahr during the course of it. Gerlich could never trust Hitler again. He started his own paper, but he and the Munich Post both denounced Hitler as a counterfeiter who lied about what he wanted, who he was, and especially about the myth that Germany had only lost the First World War because it was stabbed in the back by politicians and financiers, which meant JEWISH politicians and financiers. This was more comfortable to believe than that Germany had lost the war.

Gerlich in particular was able to get under Hitler’s skin. In a piece he published in 1932 he analyzed Hitler’s nose according to the racial characteristics that Hitler endorsed, saying that it wasn’t a Nordic nose, but looked much more Mongolian, and Mongolian mixed with other races. This was a way of pointing out that Hitler looked very little like his supposed blonde- haired blue eyed Aryan ideal.

The racist stereotypes that Hitler supported also stated that real Aryans loved freedom and thought for themselves. This obviously contradicted what the Nazis were advocating, that Germans selflessly dedicate themselves to following their Fuhrer’s direction, and Gerlich commented that this too was, according to racist views, much more Mongolian than Aryan.

Just two years later a book was published in Germany lauding Genghis Khan for being willing to commit mass murder in building a state, the largest continental empire ever known. Hitler may or may not have read this book, but he absorbed the ideas from somewhere, because he gave his SS troops a pep talk just before the invasion of Poland, urging them to kill without mercy in order to secure the “living room” (lebensraum) that Germany needed. He told them to be like the Mongols because Stalin’s Mongols would have no mercy on them if they lost. Gerlich was somehow able to intuit what Hitler was thinking, and he was soon killed by the Nazis for his insight.

The problem with any one interpretation of Hitler is that there is almost always evidence to contradict it. During World War II the Allies compiled as much information about him as they could, and one part of it purports to be information proving Hitler never had sex, while another part says he had too much of it. Both can’t be true–maybe neither are.

Rosenbaum says there are a number of legends of evidence hidden, sometimes in Switzerland, sometimes known to one person who died or was killed before being able to tell it. One is the story that Fritz Gerlich managed to publish a pamphlet accusing Hitler of murdering Geli Rabaul. If it ever existed, it hasn’t come to light. Another says that the doctor who treated Hitler for hysterical blindness at Pasewalk at the very end of World War I deposited his case history in a bank in Switzerland, but entrusted no one with the information of how to retrieve it. Did this happen? Is the information still there?

Rosenbaum also mentions a story in the Hearst newspapers using Alois Hitler Jr as a source. In it, Alois says he’s the son of a cousin of Hitler’s father, when actually he’s Hitler’s older half-brother of the same father. Rosenbaum points to this as the kind of petty criminal outlook characterizing the Hitler family. Hitler was always very concerned about his image, and protecting it. We’re unlikely to find any more previously unknown evidence, and it’s questionable that any one thing could explain his actions anyway.

Since the war there have been further interpretations made. One interpreter, David Irving, lived in England during the war, and didn’t find information given by the Allies persuasive. He came to believe that, because no order signed by Hitler authorizing the Holocaust had been found, that it had all been the work of his underlings–until he came across papers written by Adolph Eichmann after the war referring to that order being received by Himmler. Rosenbaum reports that Irving says he thought, “Oops, how do I explain THIS away?”

He managed to find a way. He managed to meet a number of old Nazis, whom he respected for their intelligence and accomplishments, and their views of Hitler influenced him.

Perhaps the most important of these was Christa Schroeder, who had been Hitler’s secretary. Rosenbaum recounts a story he says rang true to him that Schroeder told Irving.

During the Night of Long Knives in 1934 Hitler purged the Nazi party, primarily of Ernst Röhm, who may have wanted authority over the German army, or parts of it, and whom the army cordially detested. Hitler also had other enemies and dissidents murdered at the time.

Christa Schroeder accompanied him to the SA barracks in Bavaria, where he arrested Röhm and other SA leaders. Afterwards they flew back to Berlin, where Schroeder got something to eat, and Hitler disappeared. When she saw him again he told her he had just had a shower and was now as clean (probably meaning as innocent) as a baby.

Franz Kafka, the famous writer, has often been credited with predicting the sinister bureaucracy the Nazis employed, writing stories like “In the Penal Colony” and The Trial. Perhaps amusingly, an American GI in 1946 visited Hitler’s Munich apartment in which Geli Rabaul had died, and found a lawyer named Kafka living there.

But there are deeper connections than that. Dr. Eduard Bloch, who cared for Hitler’s mother during her terminal illness of breast cancer, used iodoform  to pack her wound. Rudolph Binion argued that Bloch had used too much iodoform, causing Klara Hitler great pain without any good effect. Hitler later compared the Jews to “abscesses” on the body of the nation, which played into his fantasy of himself as “Dr. Hitler” purifying the German people.

Of course this is another one- explanation theory, which makes it dubious, as does Hitler’s documented gratitude to Dr. Bloch. But yet another Kafka enters the story, a nephew of Dr. Bloch, who deeply loved and respected him, and resented Binion’s theory, saying there’s no way any one Jew was responsible for the Holocaust. He, another respected scholar, followed Binion around and heckled him wherever he spoke, and said he would never stop.

Claud Lanzmann, who created the 9 1/2 hour documentary Shoah. took a different approach, from a concentration camp guard who reportedly told a prisoner, “There is no why here.” His rationale seems to have been that trying to understand such horror inevitably leads one to excusing it, which is at least a questionable idea, and which led Lanzmann to attack anyone who disobeyed that commandment and others, even survivors of the death camps. While there is some virtue in denying that understanding all inevitably means forgiving all, Lanzmann himself apparently behaved as tyrannically as the Nazis in denying others the right to their opinions.

One of the people he attacked was Dr. Louis Micheels, himself a survivor of the camps, who insisted, there MUST be a why. He and his fiance had been sent to the camps, where they were separated. Both survived, but didn’t marry each other. They stayed in touch, though, and in the 80s she appeared in a Dutch documentary about the period. Also appearing was a Dr. Munch, who had refused to be a “selector” choosing which Jews would immediately perish when they arrived at the camp (Auschwitz, in this case). He was the only one of the Nazi doctors to be acquitted in a war crimes trial, at least partly because many survivors were grateful to him, even though he hadn’t resisted the brutal system in other ways. Though Micheels thought the film was flawed, he also thought it raised important questions, and invited Lanzmann to see and discuss it. Lanzmann accepted the invitation, then denounced the movie and Micheels for “revisionism”, which apparently means Micheels was trying to excuse the Nazi crimes. Rather unlikely for an Auschwitz survivor.

One possibly valid question is how the Jews could still believe in God after the Holocaust. If the Jews were still the Chosen People, how could God have refrained from intervening. Dr. Yehuda Bauer says that God can’t possibly be all-powerful and just too; if he’s all-powerful, he’s Satan; if he’s just, he must want to intervene, but not be powerful enough to make a difference. Of course there are still Jewish believers, whether or not they’ve thought the issue through as thoroughly as Bauer. Or are we (the whole world, rather than just the Jewish world) supposed to take the Holocaust as a moral lesson for which we should be grateful? Thus, the question is less whether God is dead than whether he has responsibility for, or complicity in, Hitler’s “radical evil”, a more satisfying formulation than his being, or the Holocaust’s being, the product of blind forces no human can withstand. As one commentator put it,, “No Hitler, no Holocaust.” That does seem to be valid.

Emil Fackenheim was struck by the idea expressed by some people he met that we all have a “Hitler within”, an idea he strongly disagreed with. He saw Hitler’s evil as so radical that it couldn’t be found in ordinary human nature. For this reason, he didn’t speak about Hitler or the Nazis for twenty years, until the Six Day War in 1967 between Israel and a coalition of Arab States. He feared a second Holocaust, and decided he must say SOMETHING. He decided he needed to add to the 613 rules of worship and behavior of Orthodox Judaism, so he added: “Jews are forbidden to allow posthumous victories to Hitler.”

He, like Lanzmann, saw a danger in explanations of Hitler. Too much empathy could lead to excusing him. So he recommended use of empathy to understand Hitler, but a resistance to any temptation to explain away his evil. So not allowing Hitler posthumous victories means not only opposing anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism, but not refusing to believe in God anymore because of the Holocaust, when one could hardly be blamed for believing that God had failed to hold up his end of the bargain.

George Steiner, the novelist, wrote a novel entitled, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. This has Hitler escaping Germany to South America, being tracked down and forced to defend himself at a trial conducted in the wild. According to Rosenbaum, even some of Steiner’s supporters believe that he let A.H. get away from him, and Steiner had to wonder himself after seeing his character in a dramatization of his novel, and hearing him applauded.

Steiner said that he had already known he had to be careful with the Hitler character, and had vowed not to let his work be translated into Hebrew or German. The Word is very powerful, and can be very destructive. One of Steiner’s earliest memories was of the voice of Hitler on the radio, and of having to flee. His family made it safely to America (on the last ship from Genoa), and as he grew up his father’s dream for him was to return to Europe because if he didn’t, Hitler would have won a victory. Europe would be Judenrein (Jew-free). His father felt the same as Fackenheim.

Steiner became fascinated with Hitler. He knew Hitler and the philosopher Wittgenstein had both gone to secondary school in Linz, and must have at least seen each other in passing, as there was only two year’s difference in their ages. He thought that when Hitler was in Vienna he must also have passed people like Freud and Mahler on the street, and asked that as many photos of the period as possible be searched to see if they could be found together. He mentions that Karl Kraus, a very popular literary satirist in Vienna in 1909 said, “Soon in Europe they will make gloves of human skin.” He sees Franz Kafka too as having either conjured up the concentration camp world, or intuited its coming. The fascination of the best and worst aspects of European civilization existing together, some of them in the same city where they could potentially interact as individuals, and be inseparable. The highest and lowest intermingled.

There’s a photo of Hitler in 1919 standing on a street corner in pouring rain, unnoticed by anyone. As each year progresses he’s noticed by more and more people, which Steiner ascribes to the power of his words, which he compares to Martin Luther’s. This was the proximate inspiration of the novel, part of which wrote itself as he sat down to it.

The climax of the novel is when Hitler is being tried in the jungle when the people who tracked him down are unable to bring him back to civilization. At the end of the trial he speaks, saying that his mission had been to eradicate the people who had brought the idea of conscience into the world which, and whose religion had engendered Christianity and Islam, which had crippled the world with unnecessary suffering. A kind of reprise to Dostoievsky’s Grand Inquisitor. The idea that the religious ideas of the Jews had asked too much of humanity, and had a malignant effect on them. He compares what the Nazis did to what had been done earlier by the Belgians in the Congo, the concentration camps invented in the Boer war in South Africa, and the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. “We were not the worst,” he says. He adds that in a sense he is savior of the Jews because his war on them made it possible to return to Palestine and found the state of Israel.

Did Steiner somehow reveal Hitler’s actual thoughts? Are the thoughts and words attributed to him in the novel so potent that they can convert others into anti-Semitism and what goes with it? Steiner didn’t think so. He thought they were questions that needed to be answered, perhaps first and foremost by Jews. Rosenbaum asked him if the Jews shouldn’t have conceptualized self-transcendence. Should they have apologized for it?

Steiner answers, no. That they would have done better to demand it more of themselves than of other people (which certainly applies to Christians and others as well), but that it would indeed be a very good thing if humans learned to love each other as themselves. Some do, some have, but these are rare. And humans hate being told they must be better. They are likely to hate anyone who tells them that, especially if the teller isn’t clearly better themselves.

This seems a sophisticated way of blaming the victim. However, Steiner goes even further. He believes the Jews as victims were the occasion for lowering the bar of humanity, showing just how bestial humans could be, and that the difference between the Holocaust and previous massacres was ontological: Jews were murdered not because of what they had done, but because they existed. Those who performed this obscenity became worse than beasts. In his willingness to look at the implications of the Hitler of his novel, and what his Hitler says, Steiner is playing with fire, says Rosenbaum. The obscenity that was applied to the Jews can also be applied to any other group.

Other voices shift the blame elsewhere. Daniel Goldhagen blames the German people as a whole for accepting the propaganda of the anti-Semitic press of the late 19th and early 20th century, and being all to willing to murder Jews when they were asked to. This assertion is answered by George Steiner, who says that the Germans may have been the LEAST anti-Semitic of the European countries. Had the Holocaust started in France, he says, it could have been much worse. Also worse seem to have been Austria and eastern European countries. It’s possible to see the passivity with which the Jews refused to fight back in Germany as a love for the country that had allowed them to assimilate and achieve. Anti-Semitic as it may have been, it was better than other countries. All of which is not to absolve Germans or anyone else of the Holocaust.

Hyum Maccoby blames Christianity, and with some reason. Blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus begins in the New Testament and continues for almost 2,000 years. Once Christians achieved political power in the 4th century CE they began persecuting other Christians for heresy, pagans, and (of course) Jews. Persecution was relatively mild at first, but one landmark of change was at the beginning of the First Crusade when the collected crusaders decided to massacre the local Jews.

From then on persecution became more severe. Jews were expelled from England. They were forcibly converted in Spain, children being kidnapped from their parents to be brought up Christian, parents sometime killing their children to prevent it. Eventually some willingly converted, but then practiced rituals of Judaism at home. When this was discovered it set off the Spanish Inquisition in a burst of paranoia, which led to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain too, where they had lived peaceably with Christians and Muslims for much of the previous 700 years. The next step was putting them in ghettos. Some eventually left the ghettos and tried to assimilate, but were still resented. Hitler, at least in some respects, was the culmination of all this history.

And the ostensible cause is darkly ironic. We celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, the appointed sacrifice, then blame the Jews for doing the dirty work from which we all supposedly benefit. On top of that, the more you hate Jews  the more you are saved yourself because you can’t be implicated in the crime of killing Jesus. Just as hating Jews means you couldn’t possibly be one.

Rosenbaum recalls medieval “debates” in which a Christian would debate a Jew as to which religion has the truth. Of course the debates were fixed. Christians had to win. The best Jews could do was try to maintain their dignity in a discussion they had no interest in.

Maccoby sees St Paul as perhaps the originator of Christian anti-Semitism since he purged early Christianity of Jewish law, converting gentiles and telling them they didn’t need to be circumcised  or follow the dietary laws. When the gospels were written (somewhat later than Paul’s epistles to the churches he founded) the story of Judas became prominent as the archetype of betrayal, and considered by many to be the archetypal Jew. What many fail to consider is that Jesus must have been a singularly poor judge of character to make Judas a disciple in the first place, if Judas actually was as portrayed. But this portrayal of Judas and the Jews for 1800 years made the Holocaust possible. Maccoby thinks Christianity would be (and would have been) better served by concentrating on Jesus’s life rather than his death.

There’s yet another interpretation of Hitler and what he did, a “mystical” one. In The Spear of Destiny Trevor Ravenscroft said that Hitler, during his sojourn in Vienna as a young man, had found ways to expand his consciousness and had found a spear which had belonged to one of the Holy Roman emperors in a museum, where he was observed by another young man, a student of the occultist Rudolf Steiner, who saw how much he coveted the spear.

Ravenscroft’s thesis, which I don’t assert the truth of, but which fascinated me when I encountered his book more than forty years ago, was that the spear was the one which had been thrust into the side of Jesus when he was on the cross. Jesus’s blood had made the spear a formidable magical implement, so that anyone who possessed the spear would make history on the world stage.

One possessor of the spear was the emperor Constantine, who made Christianity legal in the Roman empire, giving it political power which eventually made it the national religion and banished paganism. Another was Frederick Barbarossa, one of the outstanding Holy Roman emperors. Hitler wanted it too. But in his process of expanding his consciousness he took mescaline, which Ravenscroft interpreted as black magic, especially when used for the purpose of accumulating political power. In doing so he allowed the spirit of the AntiChrist to possess him, which seems a cogent explanation of his behavior–if you can believe in the AntiChrist. It’s not hard to think of his behavior as figuratively demonic, though I think Ravenscroft belives it to be LITERALLY so.  I neither include nor exclude this possibility.

The final view the book deals with is that of Lucy S. Dawidowicz, who doesn’t see Hitler as ever being hesitant about the Holocaust, but cunningly making it seem as if he was. She sees him as an actor, but not as an actor who is merely an opportunist, but an actor who creates a persona that affords him deniability. She sees him doing this through “esoteric” language that his inner circle would understand, but others would not. He is a criminal not only in small ways, but on a grand scale, and protects himself with a counterfeit persona which seems still to convince some today.

She comes to this conclusion from what he says in Mein Kampf  about being in the sanitarium in Pasewalk, where he was treated after being gassed and apparently suffering a case of hysterical blindness, perhaps brought on by the news of Germany’s surrender to the Allies after a naval rebellion and a revolution had forced the abdication of the emperor. She quotes him as saying, “There is no making pacts with Jews; there can only be the hard either-or.” 

This is when Dawidowicz believes he made the decision, though she adds that he may have made it as late as 1924 when he was writing Mein Kampf. She also thinks he decided to conceal his ambition from all but his inner circle. Extermination on such a scale isn’t a goal to advertise. If she’s correct, he concealed his goal very well. Most historians think he gradually became more radical in what he was willing to do as he acquired more power, so that he didn’t REALLY decide on extermination until 1941 when that became more convenient than continuing to feed them. That’s probably a good model for the murders committed by Stalin and Mao: they were willing to commit them, but murder wasn’t their goal from the beginning.

Hitler did make remarks about hanging Jews from every lamp post, or that having gassed thousands of them in 1918 might have prevented German defeat, but most people didn’t take that too seriously. Dawidowicz points out that just after the war Hitler was still attached to the military, who liked what he was saying, but didn’t want him speaking too plainly. So he used code words: “usurers”, “profiteers’, “exploiters”, all descriptions that had been applied to the Jews before.

As Rosenbaum says, Dawidowicz doesn’t have solid proof that Hitler had decided what he was going to do so early, but neither can anyone else prove that he hadn’t. Hitler is quoted in a speech from 1937 to a Nazi party group in which he says that everyone knows their goal, but that he will do whatever he can to maneuver the enemy into a corner from which he can’t fight back.

She gives several indications of how he concealed his direction of events. He gave no order for Kristallnacht, the nationwide pogrom against the Jews in 1938, but when Himmler tried to get Goebbels to stop instigating the violence, Hitler prevented him.

In January 1939 Hitler made a speech saying that if the Jews started a war it would be their destruction. In September 1939 he spoke declaring war on Poland. This speech stands out because it was one in which he never mentioned Jews. But no less than four times in the next three years he referred to the September speech as the one in which he had threatened the Jews. Dawidowicz takes this as meaning that extermination was the REAL reason for starting the war, and that Hitler “slipped” in thinking he had threatened the Jews in September rather than January.

And she says the threat is also linked with laughter. In several speeches Hitler says the Jews have laughed at him, but that they are laughing no longer. It’s pretty hard to imagine Jews laughing at him in the late 1930s, let alone the 40s. The laughter is really Hitler’s. The extermination of Jewish laughter is the extermination of Jews.

Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper believed that Hitler was “convinced of his own rectitude”. That he was doing something right and appropriate, but that doesn’t fit this kind of laughter. This laughter is, as Rosenbaum puts it, from someone who RELISHES what he’s doing, and the illicit nature of it. While he liked to picture himself as Dr. Hitler destroying a life-threatening infection, he was enjoying what he did in a way that actual doctors don’t. Killing bacteria isn’t something they take personally. Killing Jews was something Hitler DID take personally.

According to Milton Himmelfarb, abstract historic forces didn’t compel Hitler to kill Jews: he did it because he wanted to, and perhaps he saw what he did as an ironic form of art, like the motto at the entrance to the death camps: Arbeit Macht Frei. Work makes freedom. A last good joke on the Jews before they died. Perhaps, Rosenbaum suggests, it’s easier for us to believe that Hitler was some kind of freak, insane or perverted, an opportunist who believed in nothing, and only killed Jews because it was convenient. Instead, this picture is of Hitler who knows his own malignance and delights in it.

Emil Fackenheim called Hitler “an eruption of demonism into history”. That could be seen as justifying the idea that he was possessed by the spirit of the Antichrist. Doesn’t that explain his actions as well as anything? Of course there have been mass murderers in the past, and Stalin was already responsible for the death of millions by the time Hitler came to power. Can we explain either of them by any abuse they suffered as children? Or did they simply have a predilection for evil and a genius for getting into position to exercise it?

But it does seem better to say Hitler was as consciously evil as it’s possible for a human to be, and not liberate his memory from responsibility for what he did and caused. That would be, as Fackenheim said, allowing Hitler a posthumous victory.