I’ve been a World War Two buff for many years – books, movies, documentaries – and recently began reading a major account of that war: “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” by William L. Shiver. First published in 1961, this 1200-page documentary became an international best seller and is still widely considered to be the definitive work on Adolf Hitler.
The Nazi era is now a dark part of history, but sadly, Adolf Hitler’s legacy seems to be re-emerging. Anyone who watches the news these days is aware of how frequently references are made to this nefarious leader. Ideological opponents in media and politics point fingers at each other and say, “Hitler!” or “Nazism!”
Adolf Hitler’s legacy seems to be re-emerging into western culture.
Comparing someone to Adolf Hitler is about as low as one can go. For good reason. Hitler was a plague. His early writings reveal a perverse leadership philosophy which eventually coalesced into the evil strategies of the Nationalist Socialist Party. Brutally executed, they enabled Hitler to leverage control of an entire nation and spread the scourge of Nazism across Europe and North Africa.
“I understood,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “the infamous spiritual terror which this movement exerts, particularly on the bourgeoisie (i.e. his targeted opponents), which is neither morally nor mentally equal to such attacks; at a given sign it unleashes a veritable barrage of lies and slanders against whatever adversary seems most dangerous, until the nerves of the attacked persons break down… This is a tactic based on precise calculation of all human weaknesses, and its result will lead to success with almost mathematical certainty…”
Hitler’s methodology for success: “Spiritual Terror.” Attack your enemies with a “barrage of lies and slander” until their nerves break down. Victory is guaranteed with “almost mathematical certainty.”
“I achieved an equal understanding of the importance of physical terror toward the individual and the masses… For while in the ranks of their supporters the victory achieved seems a triumph of the justice of their own cause, the defeated adversary in most cases despairs of the success of any further resistance.”
His second methodology: “Physical Terror.” Terrorize individuals and the masses ruthlessly until they “despair the success of any further resistance.” While it would be simplistic to attribute Hitler’s success entirely to spiritual and physical terror, the tactic played a key role.
Spiritual terror – we now call it verbal abuse – unfortunately defines much of today’s public discourse. The practice – a very troubling trend in our culture – has a demoralizing effect on society. Politicians, journalists, celebrities, and everyday users of social media no longer engage in a respectful exchange of ideas. We now verbally assassinate each other. In public, we shout or chant opponents down. Online “dialogue” is punctuated with capital letters, explanation points, and vicious, obscenity-laced ridicule. The “art” of respectful conversation is steadily being lost to acerbity and vulgarity.
Television journalist and political commentator Brit Hume recently stated that in fifty years of public life he has never seen anything like it. “We now have a civility crisis,” he declares.
What next? There are only two ways this can go. We either curtail the behavior, stop spewing poison at each other, and return to a more civil dialogue, or American culture will spiral down into physical terror. It is already happening on city streets and college campuses. Even among middle and high school students, bullying has become epidemic, with tragic consequences! Two people cannot shout at each other forever. Either one withdraws wounded, or fists, knives, and guns come out, and people start throwing stuff.
Behavior matters! There is a better way. The Apostle Paul writes, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” (2 Timothy 2:24 NLT). A Proverb wisely declares: “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Another says: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28 NLT).
Hitler’s strategy worked for a time, but ultimately his reign of terror collapsed. Defeating Hitler and his hordes cost allied nations millions of lives, and incalculable suffering. But, the world eventually returned to a more civil existence.
The challenge for our nation today is to heed the warning signs, and determine to change. Christians must lead the way. Our rejection of toxic conversation is the first step in the right direction. Refusal to participate is not cowardice; nor is it acquiescence. It is to repudiate the gutter. For a time, our voice might go unheard. For a while, godlessness might seem to win. Hitler won many battles. He did much damage. But, in the end he was a consummate failure.
The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.
The principal holds true today. Civility, righteousness and justice will prevail. This is the lesson of World War Two. It is the lesson of human history, and it will be the lesson of eternity. Simply put, it is the reality of the rule of God.
A Psalm says it this way: “A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming… I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. (Psalm 37: 11-13; 35-36)
My prayer is that through the storm and until the day of reckoning, God’s people will not waver, but will determinately model hopeful, helpful, and redemptive forms of human communication, as we stand for the Gospel’s grace and truth.