Door mux op maandag 29 januari 2007 10:27 - Reacties (3)
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The beauty of Nazi Germany

Today I will talk with you why the Nazis were such a genuinely beautiful political and sociological part of our history. No, this is not sarcastic or anything - I am (excuse the pun) dead serious. In this blog I will try to explain why I think there is a lot of beauty in the national-socialistic era that has since only vaguely been reproduced. One of the most accessible ways to get a feeling for the aesthetics of this time period is the band Von Thronstahl, which I will very shortly analyze at the end of this blog. But first, culture shock

Wait, Nazis are good now?

First of all, no, I don't identify with killing jews or 'Andersdenkenden' and I also have little sympathy for... well, what did the Nazis really do? What did Hitler do? Who was Hitler?

I realize this blog will be read by people all over the world, and I have to preface this with: I am from the Netherlands and I am 27 years old. I am way too young to know or have known more than a handful of people who were even remotely touched by the second world war. I know I have a distant family member who had a little part in the war and emigrated to Australia many years before I was born. My grandparents lived through the war but haven't spoken much if at all about this period - besides, two of my grandparents already died before I had any interest in history.

What I'm getting at here is that we now live in an age where basically nobody alive has any real experience from world war II. The world war is literally history now. We know it from books, from a few films, audio recordings and music. And from our culture. History is written by the winners, and with Nazis being the enemy, they are always portrayed as demonic creatures from hell. So that is what we have learned all our lives. Hitler is a caricature now - mentioning Hitler summons an image of a goat-horned, hoofed arch enemy that can only do evil things. I think this is a big problem in many ways. Let me depart here for a bit to talk about politics.

The social rise of Nazi Germany

I am assuming here that you actually don't have any in-depth knowledge about world war II - from either side of the story (i.e. the Allied Forces and Germany). If you do, tune out here because you probably get the gist of what I am saying here.

Did you ever take a moment to think about how such a thing as a Third Reich can come into being? You and I have probably learned that a political situation like Nazi Germany is a bad destination for a country to end up in. Large swathes of the country's population were rounded up as vermin (literally being called vermin - Untermenschen) and put in work camps and later concentration camps to die. Wrap your head around that: people not being treated like actual human beings, but like garbage. Things you must eradicate. Obviously these people being rounded up were not doing this voluntarily, but the people rounding them up: they were definitely in on the deal. Hell, most people on the streets that knew a jew or homosexual would be inclined to inform the authorities about this. They wanted these people off the streets, they wanted a clean slate, the new beginning of a great new German empire. This requires a large proportion of the country to be on board. Or at least to play along.

Just propaganda doesn't sway people easily. If you would try right now, today, to ask everybody publically to turn in ginger people to be sent to extermination camps, you will probably end up in jail yourself. To get people to this point, you need to have a long-term plan, a vision that slowly evolves over time.

Not just that. You need to have a good incubator: the right political and social environment. Europe (and even then, essentially the entire western world) had just had a double whammy of financial crises and Germany has very recently gone through the political woes of becoming one united country (from being a very fragmented mess of small states). Times were very uncertain for very large parts of the population. Many people felt they had lost their identity when their country had dissolved into this big Germany, and for almost all people they had lost much of not all of their possessions in the crisis. It's not accurate to say that this flat out allowed Hitler to point at gold-hoarding Jews to have caused all the problems in the world, but it certainly helped.

A slippery slope (fallacy?)

So let's pull some very unscientific parallels to the world we live in today. We are in basically the same situation; a bit worse even. We now officially have the worst worldwide recession ever in modern human history. Do you see a clear, simple political way out? Hell no, the politics going on right now are opaque and divisive - no mortal being knows what should be done. Everybody is throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Current Germany tries to meticulously balance the books, the US tries to print some more money, China is hoarding all their resources for themselves. Everybody is trying their own thing, but there is no clear winning strategy as of yet. Now, what if somebody comes along with the kind of charisma that Old Spice guy has and tells you that he has a plan that will unite all of Europe and let us rise again as the world-dominating imperial force that we once were. Our own currency, our own political line, nobody messing with us from the outside. No more subprime mortgages that those no-good banks in America caused the entire world economy to collapse. By the way, did you know that Americans are really fat and really don't do anything good? They're useless humans.

Better get rid of them then, yeah? Let's do that as our first symbolic political move. Americans are no longer granted a visa, and American citizens living in Europe will be deported.

Fuck, that's not a very nice political move. America is still a big world super power, they're pulling their forces from Afghanistan and other places in the world to train them harder. Flexing their muscles. And let's be frank, our European armies really don't stand a chance against them. Better beef up our own armies. By the way, those Chinese are essentially fuelling the American economy with their money import/goods export swap. I don't think we should let chinese people in anymore. They are poisonous to the well-being of our financial system, and they indirectly jeopardize our security by financing American defense.

So.. see where I'm going with this? I'm a bit long-winded, but yeah. This is not an argumentative fallacy, this actually happened. Roughly like this. People's perceptions are changed over time, aggression is evoked, (racist) preconceptions and dormant hate that has already existed for decades or centuries is stirred up, people start living in fear of war. And people get really territorial and patriotic when there's potential fighting involved. They don't know what is going on anymore.

Nazi symbolism

Reality check. You might trick some idiots into actually getting aggressive with this kind of rhetoric, but this alone isn't enough. It doesn't work if you just make people angry or afraid (although the American intelligence agencies are doing a pretty good job right now) - you also need to give people something to fight for. Some image of a brighter future, a better tomorrow. And my god those nazis were good at it. This was das Dritte Reich - the Third Empire. Germany will once again rise from the ashes of Prussia and all the other small Germanic states to become one big empire that dominates Europe and the rest of the world. This planned state will start completely clean, with just Aryan (white, fair-haired, blue-eyed, you know the drill) people, working hard and respecting the hierarchy. Within tens of years we will dominate the economy and be the biggest military power, and we will be able to have our own worldwide imperium much like the Kingdom had at that time (that's Great Britain for you young folk). People understandably really liked this idea. And they would put in the work to get there. Eventually: at all cost. At human cost.

Of course, this information was handed down in spades to the people at the time. This was an age without any form of personalized media, or any diversified broadcast for that matter. You had newspapers (which had at least 1 or 2 day-old news, mind you) and broadcast radio for those young whipper-snappers with a radio. All the newspapers were eventually state-owned, magazines were censored and the radio mostly featured propaganda as well.

And you have to know: people like to be on the winning team. Because that is what propaganda is. If you like watching your favourite sports team win, or hate seeing them lose, that's the same type of response that propaganda tries to tap into. If you hear every day that great things are happening and it's happening at your benefit: of course you'll stand in for it. You'll help. You will understand and follow this vision that is being drilled into your head every day over the ether. Because it clearly works, and it sounds freaking awesome.

So... what's good about this?

This is where I would like to stop talking about politics and go over entirely to aesthetics. I know there is a lot more to say on the subject - and analogies to the current day. Even with modern communication methods I personally think it is still possible to have very effective propaganda. Propaganda that is hard for your average man to decipher. We can still be manipulated at the will of a few people on top of the hierarchy. And I also think that our caricature and currently bad understanding of when this happened before - in Nazi Germany - is a recipe for blind repetition. But I also know that there is some beauty in this all.

Transfer yourself into a propaganda-receptive person in the 1920s or 1930s. You know not even 1% of what people today can know. Totally deprived of information (from the perspective of somebody living in the 21st century) you only know what other people taught you, and what you hear on the radio. This is where I would like to introduce you to a band called Von Thronstahl, which is a (sadly) now dissolved martial-industrial music band which captures the sentiment of the time very well. They have an incredibly aesthetically pleasing style. Here, sample this:

This is the opening track of one of their albums. Here I'd like to go all high school on you and do a proper music lesson. We're going to look at the lyrics. We're going to do a little bit of analysis and see how awesomely this was written. This is better than many of Hitler's own speeches, and those were some really well-written shit.
Slavery... Riot... Riot!
So, the track is called 'Self Defense or Slavery'. This is a contemporary track, they are talking about post-2007 recession Germany (this particular album released in 2009). Their take is: we're being held as slaves of this system. We can keep going on the path we're going now (which as I mentioned before doesn't look particularly bright) and work our butts off for no benefit, or we can stand up to riot. The music is on major chords, it sounds positive. Of course, this implies that the civil war-option is the one yielding quicker and better results. Some notable verses that connect well to what I said before are:
This rotten society at the edge of time/
This globalism with its smell of decline
Truly awesome classic sentence. This vision of a new era, a new dawn. We are 'at the edge of time'. And of course, globalisation is what fucked us over in the first place. This is of course a reference to the American subprime mortgage crisis that caused the financial systems worldwide to turn itself inside out.
forcing tolerance, eroding joy/
there to level and then destroy/
identity, culture, language and roots
And here we have another pearl of militant patriotism. Lots of people have racist tendencies, either because of their own convictions or simply because it's engrained in their families. This is an attempt to turn that around and say that tolerance is being forced upon us, while in fact we know in our hearts that it is true that X person or X population should be openly reviled. The sentences after that work on the idea that especially the EU (European Union) is diluting our identity by letting aliens in.

Besides lyrical references there is a lot of strong musical imagery in VT's music. For instance, Von Thronstahl often use their instruments very literally. This is of course integral to martial music in general: it is percussion- and rhythm-heavy. But they go further. In this song, at the end of the song they use snare drums to very closely resemble (machine) gun fire. The only percussion in the entire song - which only starts after 4:36 - is this snare drum firing off periodically, symbolizing redemption, i.e. the selective killing of 'modern human cattle'. I highly recommend reading (a translated version of) the lyrics, it is incredibly well-written and captures both Christian-Nazi thoughts as well as the accompanying aesthetics.

If you like your music a bit more English, here is the final track of Germanium Metallicum, which understandably is a track that by its very nature of being the closing track builds down the unimpeded sound of martial drums, leaving you with what the artist thinks is the most important thought of the album. The track is very slow and contains only soothing guitar, synths and a little bit of beat-keeping with the occasional verse of spoken or sampled speech. It keeps slowing down until we end up with the sound of 'the rain'. For those of you who don't know, rain and in general relatively wide bandwidth noise is very soothing on the brain and really focuses the attention. Besides, the rain in this song is symbolic for the 'cleansing rain'. Then, about 30 seconds later we get our message of the day:

"Es gibt nur zwei Dingen: Dreckige Menschheit und Einsames Schweigendes Leiden"
(There are only two things: filthy humanity and lonely, silent suffering - this sentence occurs on many of their albums and seems to be one of their core mottos)
"All the animals come out at night. Queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick []. Someday the real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets. Thank god for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk. / Let the tears with the sun go down"
Right at the point where we are most focused, we hear this. I think this is extremely well-crafted music, and it is carried both by the inherent aesthetic of the instruments, as well as the political and historical significance of what is being said. Or maybe more accurately: how it is being said.


I've got one last thing to say about this music before we wrap this blog up. The tracks I'm analyzing here are very much subject to interpretation. Von Thronstahl themselves admit to using Nazi symbolism, but don't intend for this to just be an aesthetic study; it's a contemporary return to militant patriotism in Germany. They wrote this as something that should happen now. What I wrote in this blog is just my interpretation as an accessible piece of Nazi history and an example of how and why things happened in the past so that we can identify this and prevent it from happening in the future. This is much better teaching material than stuffy history books or completely out of context and - for younger people - hard to follow media from the 1920s and 1930s.

I don't sympathize with militant patriotism (like, at all), but man, music like this coupled with some fragments of background information on the time really makes that these lyrics hit me like a brick wall. I'm blown away and I hope that you are as well. This is one of the reasons why I think music is such a great art form.