The German Talks Back

A BOOK was handed to me the other day with the remark, “This will infuriate you. It will drive you crazy.” I looked at the title: The German Talks Back, by Heinrich Hauser, with an introduction and footnotes by Hans J. Morgenthau (Holt, $2.50). Aware of the fact that retired Colonels — even retired Lieutenant Colonels must keep an eye cocked on their blood pressure, I received the volume with certain misgivings. Although I do not enjoy that mauve-to-purple complexion popularly ascribed to those pukka sahibs, our retired cousins of the AngloIndian Army, — probably because I have not spent the last forty years before retirement eating nothing but curry and Worcestershire sauce,nevertheless my physicians ruled that I had best read the book in a tepid bath with a cold towel bound about my brow.
It was quite unnecessary. The German Talked Back to a status quo ante pulse. I was not infuriated, but I was a trifle bored and, at times, puzzled.
Mr. Hauser is a refugee from the non-Aryan laws on his wife’s side he is careful to say waiting until 1939 and then hopping, skipping, and jumping to the United States, which gave him protection and asylum until the war’s end. Now he is returning to his native heath and he has written this book in order to make perfectly clear what he thinks about the United States and Germany.
In short, he loathes the former and is deeply distressed over the sorry plight of the latter. Among the features of American life which affect his adrenalin glands are Hollywood and its vicious influence which “has made anti-American propaganda all over the world on a prodigious scale,” the American tourist, “that poor fish” with his “insufferable arrogance,” American business, and, above all, American democracy.
This, he insists, is not democracy at all, but a perversion of the Jeffersonian ideal into a slavish acquiescence with the will of a majority composed almost entirely of the “canaille” (Mr. Dooley, in commenting on the Dreyfus trial, always referred to this element in the body politic as “the Canal”). He says: “. . . all Germans who are not flunkeys will loathe your particular brand of democracy — always have and always will — and . . . you can never make them citizens of a democracy.” This is a typical generalization, not backed up by anything except the author’s opinions and those of his friends, whom he describes as the “intelligentsia.” “Democracy,”Mr. Hauser thinks, “has actually lost the war because the spreading of Communism all over Europe proves once again the power of totalitarian ideology.” Maybe so. Maybe it proves only that there’s something wrong all over Europe.
Germany, he says, tried the centralized monarchy of the Hohenzollerns and ended up in Versailles. Then the Weimar Republic attempted the loathly thing called democracy, and see what happened to the Weimar Republic. Some strong, heady wine was needed, and that was supplied by the vigorous ideology of the National Socialist Party, with the net result that Germany is flat on its back with all four feet in the air.
What is the next move? In what direction will this strong, virile people move to pull themselves out of the pit which they have digged and then achieve their destiny? Alas, he fears that only Communism can offer a program sufficiently hopeful and dynamic to attract a people utterly disillusioned, discouraged, and in despair. Himself, he prefers a return to the discipline of Prussia, which, he believes, “is unalterably the decisive force in Germany’s destiny; . . . the spirit of Prussia implies militant socialism; . . . and we Germans must, in the long run, return to that.”
Prussians, in particular, and many other Germans, he says, are militant, they are socialistic, and — being descended from the Teutonic Knights—they have a deep religious background. The Teutonic Knights, one recalls, were very disagreeable men, who lived under strict discipline and were very religious even when engaged in cutting the throats of their neighbors. The Germans, one gathers, are religious in a strange way.
His weakest chapter deals with “Crime and Punishment.” True, he says, the Germans have produced monsters of cruelty, and the public, through panic, has tacitly acquiesced in their horrible misdeeds. But that does not mean that all of them are monsters of cruelty. Besides, with the denial of the Christian religion, a mentality developed which he compares with that of the Satanism, the Black Masses, the other base heresies of the Middle Ages. If the Allied officials liquidate the monsters, they will tend to put themselves on the same level as the criminals, and moreover they will find themselves totally incapable of punishing the guilty. Their minds are not on the same plane. The Nazi admits no guilt for the things we esteem to be crimes — he sees no wrong in his actions — but he does admit guilt for things which to our thinking are relatively peccadilloes — lukewarmness in Party affairs, failure in discipline, and so on. “In other words, you can strafe. But punish you cannot. In the absence of a common base of moral values, whatever you do with the war criminals will fall short of punishment.” There is something in that.
Mr. Hauser presents a clear picture of confusion. Some of his acid criticisms of the United States seem to me to be true and I agree with them. I lament the conditions he outlines, but it does not make me angry to read about them. Other criticisms I know to be untrue and therefore my “withers are unwrung.” In some respects, I think Mr. Hauser’s animadversions on the German character and the present plight of Germany are stimulating and instructive. But the vice of the book is that it is a book of opinion and not of fact. History is dismissed with a wave of the hand; easy and unsubstantial analogies are presented as indisputable. Mr. Morgenthau, in his admirable footnotes and introduction, quite often feels obliged to bring him up on a sharp curb. The unsubstantialities of geopolitics flavor Mr. Hauser’s thinking in every chapter. It is far from being a scholarly book or even a sound one. It is the bitter thinking of an angry, unhappy man. Nowhere does he begin to understand that the rebuilding of Germany is not as important as preventing another war. The German soldier-prisoner who proudly boasts that Germany will win the Third World War is the true Enemy of Mankind. Mr. Hauser has little to say about him. Perhaps Americans would learn a good deal about Germans by studying Mr. Hauser himself.