Monday, February 10, 2003


Most of what most people think they know about Nazi Germany is wrong. For instance: It was mainly Britain and America that defeated Hitler. Right? Wrong! 80% of German military casualties were on the Eastern front (i.e. fighting Russia). The Western allies were a sideshow. And I have often pointed to the historical evidence showing that Hitler was a Leftist rather than a Rightist. But wait! There's more:

The idea that Hitler's Germany was a nation of bureaucratized automatons under a single iron rule exists only in the popular imagination. Any comprehensive history of das dritte Reich (e.g. Shirer, 1964; Bullock, 1964) will tell you that power was if anything excessively decentralized and unfocused under Hitler. Hitler's immense popularity and respect in the country gave him ultimate authority but he exercised it only in a desultory and general way -- leaving most decisions and all administration to his subordinates. And he deliberately gave his subordinates overlapping jurisdictions so that they continually had to compete with one-another for power. Power in Nazi Germany was policentric, not centralized.

And nor were his subordinates rigid automations. Contrary to the Hollywood
stereotype, the Nazi armies were far from being filled with rigid bunglers. Their remarkable initial successes against overwhelming odds (Dupuy, 1986) should alone suggest that but see also Singer & Wooton (1976) and Hughes (1986). Both on the home front and in the field Hitler's Germany can be shown to be flexible and improvisational rather than rigid and formal.

Hitler's closest friend and the person he spent most time with was Albert Speer yet when allied bombers destroyed a building containing most of the records of his armaments ministry, Speer rejoiced at the loss. He welcomed the opportunity to make a new start. He was innovative rather than rigid (Singer & Wooton, 1976). And that was also true of Hitler's generals. It was only their flexibility and creative thinking that enabled them to achieve so much against numerically much superior odds. The example of Rommel is of course well known but a better example is in fact Manstein -- architect of the Blitzkrieg on France. At the outset of the French campaign, Manstein faced heavily entrenched French and allied forces that were in no way inferior to the German forces but his bold and innovative Panzer-led strike through the Ardennes outflanked the French forces and routed them completely. And later in Russia, Manstein destroyed two Russian armies even AFTER Stalingrad. So even Hitler's Germany was very much a nation that allowed much scope for creative individualism -- as long as you did not threaten the overall power structure, of course.

The innovative nature of Nazi Germany can also of course be seen in the large number of previously unknown weapons systems that it deployed -- cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, radar and jet aircraft. The Focke company also produced the first workable helicopter -- though it was not used militarily.

So Hitler's Germany was in fact much more individualistic and decentralized than is generally realized.

Bullock, A. (1964) Hitler: A study in tyranny N.Y.: Harper
Dupuy, T.N. (1986) Mythos or verity? The quantified judgment model and German combat effectiveness. Military Affairs 50(4), 204-210.
Hughes, D.J. (1986) Abuses of German military history. Military Review, 66(12), 67-76.
Shirer, W.L. (1964) The rise and fall of the Third Reich London: Pan
Singer, E.A. & Wooton, L.M. (1976) The triumph and failure of Albert Speer's administrative genius: Implications for current management theory and practice. Journal of Applied Behavioral Research, 12, 79-103.


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