war

George Orwell Reviews Hitler’s Mein Kampf


“Suppose that Hitler’s programme could be put into effect. What he envisages, a hundred years hence, is a continuous state if 250 million Germans with plenty of “living room” (i.e. stretching to Afhanistan or somewhere thereabouts), a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder. How was it that he was able to put this monstrous vision across? It is easy to say that at one stage of his career he was financed by the heavy industrialists, who saw in him the man who would smash the Socialists and Communists. They would not have backed him, however, if he had not talked a great movement into existence already. Again, the situation in Germany, with its seven million unemployed, was obviously favorable for demagogues. But Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of Mein Kampf, and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches….The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photograph–and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of the Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate, the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon. One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to. The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films that one sees turn upon some such theme.”

– George Orwell, excerpt from his review of Mein Kampf, 1940

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While Mein Kampf is a dramatic representation of Hitler’s personal history, Orwell’s review has less to do with the merit of the text and more to do with Hitler’s faulty perspectives and the disfunctionality of the National Socialist ideal. Written sometime around the declaration of war by Britain, this article is mostly reflective in nature, making for a haunting read in light of the horrors of the War and the revelations of the Halocaust.

Orwell’s insight into Hitler’s appeal to a nation in Germany’s situation is perhaps one of the most clarifying responses to a question that would echo throughout the world in the decades following the War. We all shake our head and wonder simply, “How is this possible?” Orwell’s pre-war insight is the closest thing to an answer I’ve seen, and in reality it implies a thousand factors.

Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” came out around the same time that Orwell wrote this piece, and it too gives insight for modern generations to realize the troubling situations that many men foresaw. Chaplin himself said that if he had known the full extent of the lengths to which Hitler was going, he never would have made the iconic anti-Nazi film. I wonder what further insights Orwell would have added to his review a decade after its publication.

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Further Reading

Wendell Berry On The Cold War

What C.S. Lewis Knew Before WWII

We Are All War Memorials

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John Adams And The Freedom To Cultivate


“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

– John Adams, 2nd President of The United States Of America, from a letter to his wife, Abigail.

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I had heard and read this quote multiple times in the past few months, and I must admit that it is a simple yet inspiring concept to consider. I find it immensely potent but I am also immediately caught by how overly simplistic it is without any qualifications. It’s a beautiful thing to see a culture mature in standard to the point of producing great symphonies, great artistic centers, great movements of creative revolution. But can a generation stand on these works alone?

No. Every generation needs to maintain students of politics, war, economics, philosophy, mathematics, etc. While greater levels of cultural stability do bring a wider spectrum of what pursuits are available, leaving political and philosophical thought to our elders makes for bad art and, eventually, a crumbling nation.

A people who cannot be bothered to cultivate anything beyond their individual pursuits is a people who won’t notice when everything is falling apart. A people who consume through networking when they should be pouring into small communities is a people that won’t notice or take action when the wheels come off. We need proactive and continued connectedness throughout generations.

That’s why I use the phrase “Freedom To Cultivate.” While we often think of freedom to pursue happiness or freedom of speech as opportunities to get ahead as individuals, what a community, a culture, and a country really need is people who pursue cultivation. We have the freedom to build into local communities. To educate one another. To pour ourselves into making changes in the live of neighbors, families, and entire communities. Our freedom is, in reality, always going to require as much concerted effort as John Adams considered his own responsibility to carry. We have an ever growing freedom that automatically requires more willingness to serve, or it will crumble.

John Adams seemed to realize this. Check out the quote from the same man below.

“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit
suicide.”

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Further Reading

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

War Makes Good Art

Wendell Berry On The Cold War And His Children