How could the Germans in WW II not know they were on the wrong side of history? It genuinely puzzles me. I was watching a WWII documentary tonight and it reminded me of one of the funniest things I've ever seen, which happens to be on this topic (from Mitchell & Webb)...
And it's humorous, but it seems to me there's also a lot of truth to it as well. Obviously it's not just the death's head rings and other paraphernalia, but so many of the obvious policies and practices which I would have thought screamed out a warning to the population that they were becoming the baddies!
- How could those in the military not think it very suspicious and dangerous to swear allegiance to an individual (Hitler) rather than their fellow men or their country? How were the people not thinking, "I don't know about this... This seems a little egotistical and weird. We haven't done this before. It sure seems like a very bad idea."
- Surely the pre-WW II belief that Germany needed vastly more land, lebensraum (living space), implied a significant territorial expansion and war to achieve that end; and while I understand the scarcity of some natural resources (like oil), otherwise Germany was hardly a tiny nation with a population density problem, didn't most people in Germany think, "Well, it'd be nice if we had more land, but we don't really need the extra room *that* much."
- Even if you weren't a diverse multicultural sort of person, and even if you don't know people will be killed as a result, don't you see them rounding up Jews, gypsies, gay people, mentally challenged people, etc. and think, "Hmm, I may not like these people, but this seems a bit much. Should we really be doing this? At the very least isn't it going to make us look bad to the rest of the world?"
- Didn't the German people think it was a bit strange that their nation kept making and then a few months later going against agreements they made with other countries? I know they had their own nuanced view of why the commitments could be ignored, no doubt casting themselves as the innocent parties, but still, they made and then went against quite a lot of agreements in quite a short time, resulting in war with the Czechs, the Poles, the Russians, and ultimately the rest of the world. I would have thought many of them would stop and think, "Gee, everyone sure seems hostile to us all of a sudden. I know Hitler is telling us we are getting screwed over by, but we do seem to be the ones bombing other people's cities, and leading our tanks and troops into their countries, not vice versa. Maybe we are being a little rash in our diplomatic response here."
- Didn't the German people think the SA, the SS, and the Gestapo were kind of unseemly? The SA at the very least was notoriously and blatantly thugish. Wouldn't a lot of people have thought, "Hmm, I'm not sure I can get behind a leader who supports and is supported by these sorts of groups . I think we need someone a little more enlightened."
- And what about the Hitler youth? Only a few parents thought it pretty vile that their children were being so obviously indoctrinated? I get that all children are indoctrinated, in the modern age by cartoons, by the Boy Scouts of America, by their church, by their friends, by their friends' parents, by their nation, by brands, by social media, by..., etc. but still, there was little subtlety going on so far as I can tell in Germany at this time. Wouldn't parents think, "I heard Hans singing a new song he learned today and I'm a little uncomfortable with all the references to Jews and the promise to serve Hitler."
Obviously hindsight is 20/20, and I know a lot of people (though an effective minority) did oppose Hitler, and I get that Germany was coming out of a deep depression following WWI, and I get that Germany is in no way unique here, that any other populace in similar circumstances may have reacted in effectively the same way... but I just find it perpetually shocking that it happened, that all the normal rules most of us imagine exist to govern human behavior and make us better than bad can be somehow suspended and that the German people wouldn't realize, on some level, that in that situation, they were the baddies.
Today Hiroo Onoda died at 91. He is famous for having refused to accept that WWII ended in 1945. He continued to fight the war for 29 more years, living in the jungle, first with a couple of fellow soldiers then alone. He only accepted it when his commanding officer from 1945 personally delivered his stand down orders in 1974. Initially my reaction to the story was the same as most people's, likely similar to the feelings of the Japanese who welcomed him back home as a hero. I was in absolute awe at his unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to honor. If only more people were like that...
But the more I read about his story and began to think of the reality it represented the more I began to feel like everyone was reading the story wrong. During his three decades "fighting" a war that no longer existed he killed as many as 30 locals. He needlessly, senselessly killed almost three dozen fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc. He killed them because he chose to reject reality. Various efforts were made over those thirty years to contact him and convince him the war was over, but he rejected the evidence every time. And so he went on killing innocent people. But not only that, the praise which he roundly receives relates to his commitment to duty, and yet what was he accomplishing? His final orders were supposedly to stay behind and spy on American forces. Surely by any measure he must have done a fantastically rotten job of that. The purpose of spying is to collect and relay information. What information did he collect in 30 years? What information did he relay in 30 years? Presumably almost none. Perhaps initially (for the first year or so) he was somewhat active in collecting information about troop movements, but clearly he had no one to whom to relay it. And simply senselessly evading capture and killing innocent people cannot count as good spying or soldiering. He was simply wasting his life and worse wasting other people's lives, all in the name of some blind, dumb, pig-headed honor. I can't find anything praise worthy in that.
Why wouldn't his honor require him to make contact with his homeland? Why wouldn't his honor require him to return to his homeland for new orders? Why wouldn't his honor force him to realize that he was failing to fulfill his final orders and that he needed to be given new ones? Those sorts of people we do not need.
I began the day impressed with Hiroo Onoda, and ended it disappointed in him. Ah well... So it goes.