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February 20, 2003

From Our Comment Section: Timothy Burke makes an observation that seems worth, well, highlighting:
Unfortunately, the people who remember the lessons of fractured opposition to fascism in the 1930s usually seem to forget that it was the pathological inability of the far left to defend the admittedly flawed and compromised Weimar democracy against fascism that was so costly. They were so caught up in the need to go out and have a macho fistfight with a fascist in the streets and they ignored the more subtle battles inside the houses, the churches, the companies, the civil society as a whole. Because that might have taken compromise and persuasion, a willingness to listen sympathetically to someone besides the labor unions that were the core of the Weimar left’s support.
I can think of a few people, all of them well-meaning and some of them friends of mine, upon whose forehead I’d like to emboss those remarks. With all due loving kindness, of course.

A duly licensed practitioner of the historical arts, Burke also adds:

History is a good teacher, but if you just go looking for the lessons you want, I promise you that you will always find them, and learn very little in the process.
[08:20 PM]
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Comments on From Our Comment Section::

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2003, 03:45 PM:

I've been spending a little time reading Donald Kagan's account of the pre-WW2 years in "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace."

It is a good supplement to Mr. Burke's comments, in that Kagan documents how left-liberalish Weimar politicians themselves -- specifically Stresemann and Rathenau -- made the first quite successful major dents in the spirit of a Versailles treaty intended to keep France safe and Germany down.

France's loss of nerve in the Rhineland 1936 crisis -- arguably Hitler's key pre-war roll of the dice -- was not sudden; it followed repeated betrayals by (ahem) Great Britain and the United States, both of whom mistakenly believed or desperately wished to believe that Germany was reconciled to its post WW1 status.

That's only to say there were both international and intra-German failures to blame for the rise of Hitler, and the coming of World War 2.

Stephanie Zvan ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2003, 11:59 AM:

It does make me wonder sometimes how many of us really want to live in a democracy. We're willing to accept the freedoms we get and the nominative participation in and responsibility for our governance. But how many of us are willing to accept that every fellow citizen has (in theory) and should have the same voice and the same vote we have? How many of us are willing to recognize that everyone has the same rights to be listened to, informed, and respectfully engaged in dialog about the course of the country?

Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2003, 08:27 PM:
Thomas Nephew wrote: "It is a good supplement to Mr. Burke's comments, in that Kagan documents how left-liberalish Weimar politicians themselves -- specifically Stresemann and Rathenau -- made the first quite successful major dents in the spirit of a Versailles treaty intended to keep France safe and Germany down."

Umm. Left-liberalish?

Stresemann was a co-founder of the right-wing DVP (Deutsche Volkspartei). I don't know why one would call him "left-liberalish". (Not that the above doesn't make much sense to me at a whole, either; Versailles, especially its economic aspects, was one of the major factors that destabilized the republic internally and fueled the right-wing extremists. And the safeguarding of the safety interests of France was among Stresemann's top priorities -- cf. Locarno -- as part of his long-term plan of having a peaceful, internationally integrated and respected Germany.)

The whole issue of party politics in the Weimar Republic is an awfully complicated issue, though. I'll see if I can write more on this topic later.

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2003, 02:13 AM:

You're right, I was wrong: Stresemann's party was classified as "liberal" by some nomenclatures of the day, but wouldn't be today. FWIW as a Democrat, I didn't mean to impugn left wing politics per se, and wish I'd written "centrist" or "moderate," given a spectrum ranging from Nazis to Communists.

Stresemann's concern for France and peace may be doubted, given some canny features of the Locarno treaty, Stresemann's refusal to extend it to Eastern Europe, and secret German rearmament via Russian manufacturing on Stresemann's watch. Kagan argues

...it is important to observe that by the end of the ... 1920s, Germany was essentially free of the checks imposed on it by the Versailles Treaty, was rearming with modern weapons and training officers and their men in modern tactics, and was already restored to leadership in industrial power.
Even worse mistakes would come in the 1930s against Hitler, eg, letting him reoccupy the Rhineland, and abandoning Czechoslovakia at Munich. But the process began in the 1920s.

Returning to Patrick's and Tim's comments: Kagan's point is similar to Burke's "failure to defend", just transferred to France's nominal allies abroad, rather than the Weimar Republic's nominal allies within Germany.