I have been attempting to read «Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich: A New History» since it came out in 2000. Instead, I’ve read «William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich» twice. Nothing wrong with anything I’ve read of Burleigh’s work; quite the contrary. In fact, it has to do with how big the book is; the first edition is 950-plus pages and weighs a ton and I’ve had hand/wrist problems since, well, 2000. And I have Rise and Fall on Kindle.
But I always thought that Burleigh’s opening paragraph (and all Third Reich histories in general) were always backwards looking; in other words, they were histories. Sure they warned about what could happen if we weren’t careful, but that was all theoretical and probably wouldn’t happen and we put a stop to it in the first place and it couldn’t happen again.
Turns out, how wrong I was. His opening ‘graph was instead prophetic. And how.
“This book is about what happened when sections of the German elites and masses of ordinary people chose to abdicate their individual critical faculties in favour of a politics based on faith, hope, hatred and sentimental collective self-regard for their own race and nation.”
—Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History
The paragraph’s last sentence was actually not as accurate, however:
“It is therefore a very twentieth-century story.”
Yeah, that part? Not so much. But sections of American elites and masses of ordinary people have indeed, just 16 years after the book’s publication, chosen to “abdicate their individual critical faculties” and their “faith, hope, hatred and sentimental collective self-regard for their own race and nation” do in fact rule the day.
The only thing Burleigh couldn’t do is tell us how this particular American very twenty-first (and seventeenth/eightteenth/nineteeth/twentieth) century story will turn out.
We have, after all, already committed genocide against milions of people based on race, segregated millions of people based on race, destroyed democracy in favor of wealth (for a very few) and world domination, and are conducting limitless war without end throughout the world. What else is there? What else can we do from here on out than we haven’t already done before? Isn’t nuclear holocaust the Last American Frontier?
I’ll just stick my nose back in Burleigh’s magnum; the events in it have already happened and the good guys won and put an end to the suspense.