Yawn. The fog here in Milwaukee was as thick this morning as I've ever seen it, hiding even the bulk of the McCormick dorm across the street from me, but it has been clearing dramatically in the last fifteen minutes. Thought I ought to share that.
Utterly unrelated to my dissertation, my current free reading has me quite riveted over meals or during breaks. I was struck by some of Thomas Merton's comments in his journal as he was reading the American foreign correspondent William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, which won the National Book Award back in 1961, as well as by Merton's scathing poem "Chant to be used in Processions around a site with Furnaces" and his sobering essay "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann" from Raids on the Unspeakable, which was part of my Lenten reading this year. So I picked up the massive Rise and Fall, and it's utterly captivating in its horror.
I had picked up a lot of this history over the years, but I've never read such an extended account of the rise of Nazism. I'm amazed by the power of one man – no matter the extent of his talent for public speaking and his skill for organization – to so bewitch a people. I am particularly amazed at the irony of being able to so effectively sell an entire nation the ideology that they are a Master Race while at the same time you utterly enslave and defile them. Or worse, persuade them to defile themselves. I find myself wondering whether that ever occurred to Hitler – who, if he believed in anything, believed in "racial" concepts of humanity and in the utter racial superiority of his German "Aryans" – and yet at the same time so distrusted, abused, terrified and degraded the entire German people, creating in them a far more slavish mentality than in those people the Nazis conquered militarily. I cannot think of any greater argument against his ideas of a racial superiority than the utter debasement to which he reduced his people. Yet I imagine that in his lust for control and in his dreams of conquest, he never could see the extent to which he was even his own evil ideology's worst nightmare.