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Causes of World War Ii

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Nationalism and WWII Germany
Alex Grausnick

Charles de Gaulle, the French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II, once said; “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism is when hate for people other than your own comes first.” After the German nation was first formed and nationalism began to grow in Germany in the late 19th centuryas, they could have no idea that it would come to be one of the focal points behind the world’s deadliest and most disturbing war almost 30 years later. Nationalism was an extremely strong and popular idea in the 1920s and 30s because Germany was simply looking for something to believe in after its defeat in WWI and the problems in the Treaty of Versailles. But how did the idea of nationalism come to be behind the Germans in WWII? There were countless reasons, but it mainly came down to one individual; a man named Adolf Hitler. The nationalist idea came about, at least in part, due to Hitler’s now infamous hate for the Jewish people that ended in the slaughtering of more than 6 million of them when he was in charge of the country, which became more important than the love of their own people, just as de Gaulle said. Let us begin with the one who exploited the nationalist German citizens the most during the 1930s; a man named Adolf Hitler. What movements did he represent? He became an extreme German nationalist and he despised the Austrian Empire which he thought was dominated by anti-German forces and was a paradise for Jews. The idea of nationalism was growing stronger and stronger as Hitler began to gain his power, and after 1918 and after the collapse of the monarchies, nationalism became a revolutionary force. In short, it was the end of the First World War, and the Germans had just lost in humiliating fashion. The German people claimed that their so-called German democracy was the reason why they lost the First World War and the embarrassment of the Treaty in Versailles, in which the Germans were required to pay millions in reparation payments. There also was the issue of all the weak policies that had been in place in Germany for decades before, which some felt led up to their crushing defeat. However, it was not only Hitler that embraced these nationalistic views, although he was the most infamous individual to do so. So what was the nationalism that Hitler supported and why was that such a better option than what had been in place in Germany for centuries? The nationalism that Hitler supported was a claim against the injustices of Versailles, which created such terrible conditions such as unemployment. As was stated earlier, the German people seemed to support this idea of nationalism while at the same time putting down their former system of democracy. German thinkers in the past had put down democracy as something that was completely un-German, while true German democracy was identified with Hitler's leader principle. But where did this idea of nationalism come from that replaced the seemingly non-German idea of democracy? There were social problems, the people’s community that the workers were now a part of, and the new leaders who preached this idea came from humble origins. Not only did Hitler exploit the nationalist feelings that were harboring in the German people, but some individuals blame what was being taught in the schools to the children of the generation that came to be under Hitler. The neglect of southern Germany in the schools teaching political studies is something that some hold at least partly responsible for an assumption that schools throughout Germany taught a uniform picture of history characterized by an aggressive nationalism. Also influencing some understandings of the history of the German education system have been exaggerated views of social control; individuals who supported this view claimed that the aim of schools was a manipulation in the interest of alleviating the power structure. And yet another view about the German political education system was that it instilled a German ideology, characterized by mystical anti-modernism, a romantic celebration of nature and rural life, and anti-Semitism. This view claimed that these schools that were dominated by this ideology formed the center and not the fringe of German education and because of this it had certain views that allowed it to anticipate the later educational program of National Socialism. The reason why these lessons in the German schools were so important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was because these were the individuals who were going to vote for Hitler as he began his campaign in the 1930s to become the leader of the country and get them back to the economic and general positive vibes that they had felt before World War I and the depression in the 1920s. Whether or not what was taught in the German schools had a very large impact on the nationalist ideas is not perfectly clear, the idea was clearly more powerful than what was engrained in the citizens before the outbreak of World War I. But why were these nationalist ideas so popular with the German people compared to the ideas that had already been brewing in people for years? Radical nationalism was not a precise ideology, but instead a set of assumptions put together into a particular political style. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of these radical nationalists was that they did not hesitate to judge the government or use the organizations as a device against the government rather than purely a force. The activists shared the desire to use nationalism as a unifying element between the two groups; unfortunately, however, they could not agree on how this could be applied in reality. The issue is that it was not completely clear who the radical nationalist diehards were in the scenario. A survey of the positions of responsibility in the German Defense League, for example, on a national and local level, confirms the presence of countless notables, and in many cases, they came from upper-middle class families with traditions of service, learning and prestige. Although they were not satisfied with the political practice that was established by the government, they still hoped to preserve the power of rank, privilege, and wealth; and what they sought from the patriotic societies was a popular mandate rather than populist influence. It is certainly possible that economic growth and social mobility combined to produce a greater number of notables than the number of places that were available for in the established networks of patrician politics. In short, the nationalists did not wish to take away the traditional system, but instead they wanted to adopt it to their own needs. This is the match that was the most important in the history of the country; the existence of nationalism along with the strong belief on an individual basis as well. But how did these two different ideologies work with each other when it seems as though they may not be the best pair? In the eighteenth century and beyond, nationalism coexisted with the sovereign individual and patriotism was thought to support the existence of the network of personal relationships. The speed of time and the emphasis upon respectability spiritualized the ideal of friendship, and certainly this made it easier for nationalism to claim dominance over personal relationships. These definitions were only a short step from Fichte's assertion, as he told the German nation in his speeches (1808) that true love is never fixed upon the merely transitory, but must rest in the eternal. Individualism was projected from each man on to the nation as a whole; just as the world was made up of nations, each with its own individuality that should be respected by all other nations and individuals. Every individual was equal, each had their own place in society, and people simply did not believe in the domination of one nation over others. However, how exactly did this idea of nationalism conform to the idea of war, especially in World War II? The concept war disease became an idea of war health; and the continual struggle in which some are accustomed to symbolize life, which is war against war – a negation of negation, has received in its own content that against which it fights? Unquestionably such an uproar of the intellect and imagination is to be traced to romanticism, strongly sensualist and materialistic, which was called decadence. Decadence ignored and wounded many delicate sentiments, and even soiled and corrupted many pure affections, contaminating them with libido and sadism. So, in conclusion, how did nationalism come about and why did it stick in certain individual’s minds during the 1930s leading up to World War II? Nationalism has been around for centuries, but very rarely has it been as intense as it was in certain individuals during the 1920s and 1930s in Germany. This was mainly due to one individual who would come to rule the country with an unprecedented hatred for the Jewish race in Europe; Adolf Hitler. Germany was in ruins after the First World War, and had struggled to regain its power both economically and as a nation of individuals who were looking for something to believe in. Adolf Hitler eliminated his competitors, and left the voters one choice for their new leader; himself. As the leader, his views rubbed off on some of the individuals who were following and supporting him; not only because they wanted to believe in him, but also because this is what they had been taught in school when they were younger. What they learned stuck with them throughout their lives, especially when their new leader had the same principles. One key piece of this idea of nationalism for the German people was that they were able to keep their belief in themselves as an individual also. The idea was that the nation was formed through individuals, and people can still believe in the individual as long as they still believed in the nation as a whole. The idea of nationalism went well with the idea of war, and when Hitler told the Germans that he could dig them out of this post-World War I hole, they ate it up. Little did they know that this nationalist idea would lead to the deadliest and most disgusting war the world has ever seen, and we have yet to see anything worse in the 70 years since. Nationalism was one, if not the main, cause behind the Germans entering World War II, and it led to absolute and total destruction. What else is new?

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