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War and Patriotism

March 22, 2009

During the Second World War, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring was one of the topmost leaders of the Nazi party. He was also Hitler’s designated successor and the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (Air-force). After Germany lost the war, Goring was captured by the Allies and was put on trial, at Nuremberg, for committing war-crimes and crimes against humanity. He was subsequently sentenced to death but committed suicide a day before he was to be hanged.

 

Courtesy : Wikimedia

Courtesy : Wikimedia

During the proceedings of the Nuremberg trials, Goring had several conversations with an Allied intelligence officer and psychologist named Gustave Gilbert. Based on the trial and his conversations with the german prisoners  at the trials Gilbert later published his book called Nuremberg Diary .

The following conversation between Gilbert and Goring taken from the book (pages 278-279) is an insightful observation into the human psyche and demostrates how we, the common citizens, are always manipulated by leaders to fight wars for them.

 

 

Goering: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece.

Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

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

Goering: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

 

 

 Not that I have any admiration for the Nazis or Goring, but it is a very insightful observation and so very true. Recent world history is proof of it’s veracity. George W. Bush and his war-mongering administration used the exact same strategy to wage war against Iraq even though there was no proof of an imminent threat from Saddam. They also tried their best to use this strategy against Iran and probably would have gone to war , had it not been for the unpopularity of the adminstration, the crashing economy and the resources of the armed forces which were spread thin due to the wars in Iraq and Afganistan.

However note that his insight is not only true for nations but for communities as well.  In India, when we observe the leaders of BJP and RSS spew anti-muslim hatred under the excuse of “hinduism is under attack” or muslim leaders give anti-India (read anti-hindu government) slogans claiming that Islam and muslims are under attack, I wonder how much of that threat is perceived and how much of it is real ? How much of it is political ploy to amass more power and how much of it is a real sense of concern?

 How many sheep need to be sacrificed in the holy fire of religion and communal hatred by the selfish leaders for their own selfish ends, before the sheep come to their senses and realize that they had been taken for a ride all along?

Will they ever ?

But then again who am I to point this out ? I am just another secular, pacifistic atheist and hence an unpatriotic and immoral non-Indian.

 

 

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2009 7:24 pm

    Nice post.

  2. March 22, 2009 8:35 pm

    > I am just another secular,
    > pacifistic atheist and hence
    > an unpatriotic and immoral
    > non-Indian

    You’re not the only one, and there are probably more of us lurking in the woodwork! Good blog, enjoy it quite a bit.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 22, 2009 9:04 pm

      @Uzza and Ludwig

      Thanks.

  3. March 23, 2009 12:18 am

    “All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
    We hear this being said in their speeches and on their blogs all the time. It works.
    😦

  4. Chirag Chamoli permalink
    March 23, 2009 2:31 am

    “All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

    Well unfortunately this works really well in India 😦

  5. nitwitnastik permalink*
    March 23, 2009 7:16 am

    @IHM and Chirag

    Yep, I agree. Its probably good that we haven’t done it on pakistan as it would have been even more disastrous for India.

  6. March 23, 2009 8:33 am

    Thank you for this post! Just when I needed something like this!

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 23, 2009 9:29 am

      @Siddharth

      U r welcome.

  7. March 23, 2009 9:49 am

    Good one dude!

    Goering was still wrong though.
    “Goering: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

    It works the same in any country alright, but the scale, spread and more importantly longevity of such ultra right wing jingoism differs substantially under authoritarian rule and democracy. No?

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      March 23, 2009 12:51 pm

      @Aniket

      Thanks.

      I don’t think Goring was speaking about the scale, spread or longetivity of war either. Yes, the scale, spread or longetivity maybe more under authoritarian regimes than democratic countries (although I don’t think I can make a sweeping statement about it since some of the longest wars were fought by democratic countries. America is a poster child in that regards) but the fact that any of the these govts can be taken to war without much effort is I guess what goring was referring to.

      If you look at the vietnam war or the 2nd gulf war/iraq war which were some of the longest wars fought by the US, they were started without any widescale threat of war to america. The gulf of tonkin incident which started the vietnam war was an extremely small scale naval engagement with the vietnamese forces, which started a widescale war ultimately leading to the deaths of thousands of soldiers.

      Also remember it doesn’t take much to change the democratic nature of the country to an authoritarian regime – as we saw in India during the emergency, in pakistan under it’s various generals or even in America e.g. the korean war which wasn’t declared by congress…also GW Bush rallied the country for war under the false pretense of an imminent attack by Iraq and Iraq having weapons of mass destruction etc . . The fact that he could start a war inspite of the objection from the UN, attest to the fact that leaders can wage war with other nations on almost a whim.

  8. March 23, 2009 9:34 pm

    Good post NitwitNastik.

    I agreed with everything until I came across your comment to Aniket. I’m not sure I fully agree with your view that democracies can be easily and readily hoodwinked.

    Bush is a good example of manufactured public opinion. But its also true that he rode an existing public sentiment of fear and rage (emanating from 9/11). To say that this can be easily brought about is unrealistic. Bill Clinton was railing in one of his State of Union address about the threat that Iraq posed under Saddam. I clearly recall his words (“If we don’t take Saddam out now, we will spend more in time and treasure taking him out later”). But he could not muster the popular sentiment that would countenance a war of choice. 9/11 changed that and we need to acknowledge it.

    I fully agree that 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq – but it created the fear, anxiety and need to show muscular prowess which Bush & Co co-opted for their own goals.

    My point is that democracies are vulnerable to deception – but democracies have mechanisms for self-correction.

    The other thing that you mentioned is that “The fact that GWB could start a war despite UN’s objection…..”. Quite frankly I find this without merit. The UN should not be treated as some holy cow.

    The Balkan war was not blessed by the UN but I have yet to find commentators calling it an “illegal” war. When was the last time the UN approved of a war? I know you will say “1990 Gulf War (Desert Storm)”. Can you think of any others? Right now Darfur is being ransacked, raped and pillaged. Has the UN declared war on Sudanese militia? China was inducted into the Security council with Veto power AFTER its invasion of India in 1965.

    In short, the UN don’t impress me.

  9. nitwitnastik permalink*
    March 23, 2009 11:38 pm

    @holydude

    Welcome back. Long time no see. 🙂

    “Bush is a good example of manufactured public opinion. But its also true that he rode an existing public sentiment of fear and rage (emanating from 9/11). To say that this can be easily brought about is unrealistic.”

    Ok maybe the word “easy” is bothering you and I agree that it is a problem with semantics but maybe we should think about it again.

    How easy was it for Bush to go to war with Iraq? I would say relatively easy given that there wasn’t any imminent threat from saddam and the evidence was entirely manufactured. Yes he was riding a public opinion of rage and fear but who is to say that public opinion can be influenced without any pretext (no matter how false it is).I am sure if the economy had been better and bush’s approval rate higher bush would have used it against Iran too.

    Hitler did the same thing. Remember Hitler was democratically elected and was riding an anti-semitic public sentiment. Would he have succeeded without such public sentiment. I doubt it, no matter how much he would’ve tried. Also how easy was it for Lyndon johnson to change public opinion over a small naval conflict. Pretty easy wouldn’t you say given the scale of the gulf of tonkin incident. So I don’t think it is unrealistic to think that democratic govts are somehow impervious to manipulation or too difficult to influence. Maybe slightly more difficult but not entirely so.

    I think all you need is good pretext (imagined or real) to change public opinion. If the pretext is good then it doesn’t matter whether the govt is democratic or autocratic. It can be influenced relatively easily.The reason Clinton failed and Bush succeeded was that the pretext was not strong enough for Clinton or at least clinton wasn’t good at convincing the public about it.

    As for self correction, yes I agree with you that democracies are better equipped for self- correction but a lot of times that is only after substantial damage has already been done. The vietnam war and the last 7/8 years of US history are good examples to show that self-correcting actions don’t always come into effect till the train has already left the station.

    Btw, I think we are missing the point of the original post. By quoting Goring what I was trying to point out is that the leaders can manipulate the people to follow their lead if they want to, irrespective of the nature of govt. The question of “degree” or “how tough it would be” was not what I was alluding to.

  10. Arvee permalink
    April 5, 2009 11:34 am

    Wow, I too needed to hear some deep insight such as the one by Goering. Sometimes – maybe it is just my paranoia – the whole country seems like something out of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Sidetracking off the topic a little bit, I am also reminded of something said by astronomer Carl Sagan (these were not his exact words)
    “In politics, the highest rewards go to people who assure you that everything is all right, that what they have been telling you is true. In science, the highest rewards go to people who logically destroy what is accepted as truth.”

    • nitwitnastik permalink
      April 5, 2009 12:01 pm

      Arvee Welcome. Thanks for sharing the quote by Sagan. very true.

  11. April 8, 2009 2:36 pm

    Came across this . Thought I’d share with you folks.

    Real Patriots Question Authority.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      April 8, 2009 3:09 pm

      Thanks Holydude. Thats a very important point not everyone understands.

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