Monday, January 23, 2012

William L Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" Reissued

William L. Shirer was an American journalist in Berlin from 1933 to 1941.  He witnessed first hand the arise of Nazism in Germany and reported on it.  The website Traces describes him this way:
One of the most recognized U.S. Americans to visit Nazi Germany, William Shirer perhaps shed more light on the events that led to Hitler’s ascendancy and German involvement in World War II than anyone else from the United States. Although closely watched in Germany, Shirer managed to convey much in his reporting by using subtle phrasing, suggestive tones of voice or U.S. slang unfamiliar to German censors trained only in formal British English. Having lived in Paris and familiar with Central Europe from his days with the Chicago Tribune, Shirer became one of the most respected U.S. journalists in wartime Europe.
Shirer later wrote a book, "Berlin Diary" in which he described prewar events in Germany and his visceral reactions to them.  Attending the Nuremberg rally (see above photo), Shirer described it this way:
Hitler shouted at them through the microphone, his words echoing across the hushed field from the loud-speakers. And there, in the flood-lit night, jammed together like sardines, in one mass formation, the little men of Germany who have made Nazism possible achieved the highest state of being the Germanic man knows: the shedding of their individual souls and minds—with the personal responsibilities and doubts and problems—until under the mystic lights and at the sound of the magic words of the Austrian they were merged completely in the Germanic herd.
Later, in 1960, he wrote his life's work, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."  This latter book is considered one of the most important histories of Nazi Germany, of what happened there and why.   Smithsonian Magazine sets the stage:
Why had Germany, long one of the most ostensibly civilized, highly educated societies on earth, transformed itself into an instrument that turned a continent into a charnel house? Why had Germany delivered itself over to the raving exterminationist dictates of one man, the man Shirer refers to disdainfully as a “vagabond”? Why did the world allow a “tramp,” a Chaplinesque figure whose 1923 beer hall putsch was a comic fiasco, to become a genocidal Führer whose rule spanned a continent and threatened to last a thousand years?

Why? William Shirer offered a 1,250-page answer.
When I was a freshman in college in the early 1960's, "Rise and Fall" was highly touted by scholars and college professors, and was recommended reading.  I took a look at it, decided it was way too thick to hold my attention, and quickly returned it to its shelf in the bookstore of San Jose City College.

Now, years later, I get to rectify my mistake.  The book has been reissued, and I have purchased the Kindle edition of both "Rise and Fall" and "Berlin  Diary" from, and plan to read both books, beginning with the latter.  Why these books are important in the 21st century is explained in Smithsonian Magazine:
In Shirer one can see an evolution: If in Berlin Diary his emphasis on the Germanic character is visceral, in The Rise and Fall his critique is ideological. Other authors have sought to chronicle the war or to explain Hitler, but Shirer made it his mission to take on the entire might and scope of the Reich, the fusion of people and state that Hitler forged. In The Rise and Fall he searches for a deeper “why”: Was the Third Reich a unique, one-time phenomenon, or do humans possess some ever-present receptivity to the appeal of primal, herd-like hatred?
The herd-like instinct was clearly not a one-time phenomenon.  We have seen it before Hitler (the Jacobins of the French Revolution) and we have seen it afterwards (in Mao's Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution, and even the current "Occupy Wall Street" goons who seem incapable of rational thought).

Group-think almost always leads to disaster, particularly in politics.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Read it myself and part of Berlin Diary. Shirer was an excellent writer