Sunday, February 20, 2011

Policy: Get Rid of Surplus People

In the years leading up to the First World War, German society was infused with the idea that diverse problems such as unemployment, urban planning and food supply would be best resolved by getting rid of spare people. This was not a Nazi idea - the Nazis hadn't been invented yet - nor was it particularly controversial; people of most political persuasions agreed on the principle. It was only many years later, in the 1990s, that a generation of young German historians looked back at the documentation and discovered that there had been a widely accepted conceptual infrastructure which was then used by the Nazis; since most people had accepted the idea, the Nazi policies encountered less resistance than they otherwise might have, and found more willing accomplices than they should have. The single best book on this was by Goetz Aly and Susanne Heim, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction, originally published in German as Vordenker der Vernichtung..

Exactly a century later, there is a different rising power which is using similar ideas in formulating policies: China. See for example the idea that if there's congestion or pollution in Beijing the solution must be to deport hundreds of thousands of people.

Now I'm not saying the Chinese are proto-Nazis, though the mainstream German intellectuals of 1911 would mostly have been horrified to hear where they were headed. History never precisely repeats itself, anyway. But nor does it end, or have permanent happy endings, or learn from the past.


Silke said...

and these days the same Götz Aly is envisaging a revival of benign Ottoman hegemony for Israel as a solution to all problems

Steven Zoraster said...

"The First World War, An Agrarian Interpretation" by Avner Offer. Mostly about pre-war British food importation, which allowed economic specialization on manufacturing. And tied the food exporting Dominians to Britain.

Germany had its own pre-war food concerns: How to get potatoes grown in the east to western Germany by boat, in the face of a British blockade. Also, Germany was a major international trading nation and feared a British blockade for that reason.

Solution for the Germans: The Schielffen plan. Bet the farm on a quick victory. There were other factors in that strategy, but Offer is the first to point out the food connection to me. Also, a war takes care of excess population.

Sometimes wonder if that war would have gone better for Germany if Austria-Hungary was neutral, and sold excess food to Germany.

Sorry to take these comments so far afield.

Steven Zoraster

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Anonymous said...

But it weren't the Germans who came up with that. Hitler admired the Americans and their solution to get rid of poeople who were in their way on their way to "Go West" the american equivalent of Hitler's living space

Silke said...

weren't at the time Americans mostly of German background?

seriously arguments like that are IMHO just plain silly.

Yes there was a certain Zeitgeist that in some countries just evaporated as it deserved to be replaced by another one which also evaporated once it's time had come. But there was one country which brew a deadly "medicine" out of the stuff, just at the time when it probably had already gone into decline.

Anonymous said...

"weren't at the time Americans mostly of German background?"

Yes they were 1000% German and only German.I myself think the Hutu militias in Ruanda were Germans too

Don't worry Silke!
I have no intention of taking away your Reich its well-erned title which you defend so jealously

Bryan said...

Silke's right, there was a huge German population in the US (not German-heritage, but German-speaking and really German), but they were mostly peasants and laborers.

The Americans who were enamored of eugenics were wealthy and educated WASPs.