Ever since I was a kid, I have heard Americans ask, “How could the German people have allowed the Nazi regime to commit its evil acts?”
Well, here’s the answer to that question: The German people had the same warped and distorted concept of patriotism that American statists have today.
The overwhelming majority of German citizens believed that it was their moral duty to come to the unconditional support of their government in time of crisis, especially when the nation went to war. The good citizen didn’t question whether his government was right or wrong. The good citizen placed his trust in the judgment and decisions of his government officials, especially during crisis and war.
That’s what patriotism meant to the German people during the 1930s and 1940s. The good citizen — the one who deferred to authority — was considered the patriot.
What about German citizens who refused to defer to authority, those who had an independent mindset — those who would examine government policies with a critical eye — those who would question, challenge, and object to wrongful government policies? They were considered bad citizens — traitors.
The best example of this phenomenon involves the story of the White Rose, an organization composed predominantly of German college students. If you haven’t seen the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, I highly recommend it. Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Hans, were members of the White Rose.
If you do see the movie, pay particular attention to the trial scene in which the presiding judge, Roland Freisler, comes down hard on the defendants Hans and Sophie Scholl. You’ll notice something apropos to today: Freisler’s mindset is the same as that of American statists today who are condemning Edward Snowden. In Freisler’s mind, the Scholl siblings were bad Germans. They were traitors. Their parents had raised them to be despicable creatures.
What had the Scholl siblings done? What was their “crime”? They had taken a critical look at their own government in the midst of World War II. They had concluded that their own government was in the wrong — that it was engaged in wrongful conduct. Knowing that they were risking their lives or liberty, they violated the law by secretly publishing and distributing a set of pamphlets called “The White Rose,” in which they exhorted the German people to rise up, stop the wrongdoing, and set Germany on a correct path.
They were caught, primarily owing to the Nazi regime’s extensive surveillance system over the German people. A college janitor saw them tossing White Rose pamphlets into the school courtyard and, being the good, little citizen he was, locked the doors and called the Gestapo. Hitler and his cohorts considered him a patriot.