Book review: What’s behind the rise of Hitler?

“Hitler’s Charisma: Leading millions into the abyss” by Laurence Rees

How can an awkward person, with nothing special to offer, that failed in most of what he do earlier in life, physically unappealing, NOT racist, and just a generally quiet and reserved human being turned into a murderous dictator who can charmed millions of people to rally behind him in his sadistic regime?

This is a terrifying but fascinating book that covers the progression and character development of Adolf Hitler from nobody to one of the most defining persons in history, complete with the supporting context from the incidents that changed his worldview to the people that have influenced him. It tells the stories of the “other side” of the Nazi era, where in a relatively short amount of time the Nazis were able to create several breakthrough in mega structures, in science, in medicine, etc, which contributed to the growing massive support for them many years before the war and before the genocide.

Crucially, the book also analyses the practical psychology of the masses, which shows that in the right environment, at the right circumstance, and with the right tactics a large crowd of people can easily be manipulated.

Now, hate him as much as you want, but there’s no denying that he’s a master in strategy and manipulation. For example, Hitler understood that many of his policies will never be accepted in peace time, such as killing the mentally ill. But when the war have started? He can implement it easily, since “in the context of a life and death struggle for the future of the nation such an action would be readily accepted.”

Another case in point, the Nazi starvation plan in their strategy to weaken the enemy, that surely as horrendous as the gassing of the Jews. This perhaps little-known chapter in history occurred where 600,000 people deliberately left to die in Leningrad due to starvation when Nazi occupied the city between September 1941 – January 1944. This, of course was still a low figure compared with their PLANNED mass starvation of 30 million Soviets.

Now the question is, how can anyone get behind Hitler’s plan to invade the Soviet and conduct such a horrific massacre? The same rhetoric that have since been used in many countries by people who conduct massacres and genocides or want to mobilise the masses: the propaganda that “they” are trying to attack us FIRST, trying to destroy us and kill the women and children, trying to step on our pride, to destroy our economy, etc.

And to that end, the book is really chilling because all of these traits and determining environments can easily be emulated. In fact, it is exactly being repeated in our modern-day politics in different parts of the world. In the spirit of keeping this review purely on the main subject of the book, I will not dwell into political commentary. But just consider these traits of Hitler and see whether it rings any bell:

  • Bogus rhetoric of certain ethnic would destroy them or take their jobs.
  • Have fanatical followers that believed in faith rather than crude facts about him.
  • His hatred of committee meetings and group decisions, and he think that it’s not important to read briefing notes and memos. Instead, relying more on his gut feelings.
  • His constant attacks on lüggenpresse (the lying press), often conduct book burning events (to destroy opposing ideas damaging for Nazi rhetorics), and rely heavily on right-wing radio propaganda.
  • His ability to connect with the feelings, hopes, and desires of millions of his fellow countrymen. The ability to offer his followers a powerful sense of release, including a release from the limitation of conventional restraints. And his ability to stir these emotions for his benefits.
  • Claims that he’s not the aggressor, but that he was acting only in response to a formidable group of enemies, who were growing more dangerous by the day. And that he’s the only person capable to protect the people from these monsters.

Indeed, Hitler is one of the most sadistic and despicable person ever alive, but as that famous Martin Luther King Jr. quotation said, everything he did in Germany were all legal. And his ascendancy to power and massive influence did not occur accidentally either. It is the combination of a damaged environment (hyper inflation due to World War 1 reparations imposed upon them), a bruised national pride, and the quest for something or someone to blame for all of these misfortunes.

And when emotions are high logic often being suppressed. And that’s where Hitler excelled, through his propaganda that stirs the emotions, giving promises to reclaim the national pride (he literally use the slogan make Germany great again), and by giving the people “the face of the enemy”: the outsiders, the non-Aryan, the Jews.