Saturday, March 10, 2007

They Thought They Were Free

So a lazy Saturday morning, the first in-season weekend without football (at least any that I care about) in living memory. Amy, Martin, and I are going shopping soon, then off to Luke's 100-day birthday party.

This morning I woke up around 7 a.m. and finally finished one of the books I'm reading, "They Thought They Were Free," by Milton Mayer. Subtitled "The Germans, 1933-1945," it's about how and why 'decent Germans' became Nazis. Mayer interviewed ten Germans from K(C)ronenberg, Germany about their lives under Nazi rule. With two big swastikas on the front and back covers, I'll be glad to not have to carry it onto the subway anymore!

The book was released in 1955, and so it's had a long time to build a deserved reputation as worth reading and worth grappling with. From this remove, some of the most interesting insights (or at least theses) come from Mayer's observations about life in Germany, 1933-1939, and life in the United States in the early 1950s. This was pre-Godwin's Law, which enabled Mayer to un-selfconsciously make some unsettling comparisons. But as I'm writing post-Godwin's, I'll leave most of them to the book itself. I did dog ear a few interesting passages, which I'll note below. A very worthwhile read.

- P. 154: In comparison to the Social Democrats, "'There was one thing you had to say for the Bolsheviks,' said the Nazi Fanatiker Schwenke. 'Their "No" wasn't a three-quarters "Yes."'"

- P. 246: Quoting a convict acquaintance, "'I'll tell you what's wrong with the indeterminate sentence. If you tell me to pick up a big rock and carry it, and I say, "Where to?" and you say, "To that pile over there," and the pile is a mile, or two miles, or five miles away... I can pick it up and carry it. But if I say, "were to?" and you say, "Until I tell you to put it down," why, I can't budge it. ... I am just too po' to tote it.'"

- P. 299: "If any occupation ever had a chance of succeeding, it should have been the American Occupation of western Germany. As occupations went, it was probably the most benign in history... That the Occupation did fail... is now clear, I think, to anyone who does not define peace as order and democracy as balloting. It failed because it was an occupation, and no occupation has a chance of succeeding."

- P. 311: On remilitarizing the Germans (an understandably unpopular notion among Germans after the war): "'The Germans are great fighters,' said Senator Thomas of Oklahoma in late 1949. 'If the United States gets into a war, we shall need fighters.'"



Anonymous said...

Mom says - you should have put a book cover on that book. What were you thinking taking that on the subway??

Anonymous said...

I read a book about nazis too - it was called raiders of the lost ark and i watched it on telly! A vengeful god smote most of them with a laser, and one got sliced up by a propeller.

Bill said...

how come most nazis in the movies speak with a british accent?

Anonymous said...

why you're right! the nazis in star wars were british too! cursed albion aryans!