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The Accidental Nazi Tourist

Interesting weekend.

Saturday evening, I stumbled across a DVD of Visconti's 1969 (released USA, 1971) movie "The Damned". I saw it years ago and it was as lurid and engrossing as I remembered it. My worst criticism was more technical than otherwise. I hate the zoom-lens. It always triggers something in me that makes me feel I'm watching a rerun of "McMillan and Wife". Visconti even uses the zoom in the title sequence -- which makes you feel like you are about to see some really cheesy 1970s SF movie.

But. Nevertheless. If you haven't seen the film, it tells the story of the von Essenbeck family (roughly translated: the Krupps) and its increasing entanglement with the rise of the National Socialists in 1930s Germany. We go from just before the Reichstag fire to just after the "Night of the Long Knives" when the pesky S.A. was finally, um, removed from the game.

The next afternoon, Sunday, I discovered in my local Hollywood Video a DVD of the brilliant "Downfall" (Germany, 2004). I rented and watched it immediately. As you will probably recall from the buzz around the time of the Oscars, this story covers the last few days of the Third Reich, taking place (mostly) deep inside the bunker where Hitler made his last stand.

In "The Damned" we see the political and industrial-corporate elite coming together to create and nurture one of the most malignant forces ever to slither onto the stage of human history. The growing ruthlessness of the parties to the struggle, all respectable members of the highest levels of their society, is more or less justified by their obligations not only to the von Essenbeck family, but also to The Glorious German People. In short, only they, the elite, can make Germany into what she is destined to be, and so they are more or less justified in doing anything, and I mean anything, to bring Germany's glorious future to fruition.

In "Downfall" we see how, only a few years later, it all has come crashing down onto to the heads of the aforementioned Glorious German People.

And so here's the interesting thing about this accidental Nazi film festival I inadvertently created for myself this weekend...

We start with the political and industrial-corporate elite taking responsibility for doing what needs to be done to give birth to the Thousand Year Reich. A few years later, we have Hitler and his cronies huddling in their bunker, and we have guys like Speer begging Hitler to abandon Berlin, out of compassion for the common people. The hope is this would spare the ordinary citizens of Berlin a brutal, street-by-street, doorway-by-doorway battle for control of the city. Hitler and his closest advisors will have none of it. They have no compassion for the ordinary citizens of Germany. "After all," we are told a number of times, "they chose this fate for themselves. They failed to live up to our dream of the future. They do not deserve our compassion."

It's not like we haven't seen this same storyline played out over and over again, throughout history. In short, the political and industrial-corporate elite rarely has qualms about donning the mantle of power when they hear the call to duty. They are, after all, the elite. They owe it to the little people.

And when they so totally eff things up that their society is effectively destroyed, neither do they have any qualms about placing the blame squarely where it belongs: anywhere but on themselves.

This is the culture of responsibility. We see it playing out again, right now, in Bush's plummeting poll numbers. The explanation isn't a stupid, incompetent, irresponsible war in Iraq as a purported solution to the problem of religious extremism. The explanation is that the American people don't have the stomach for war.

If you ever imagined -- even for a moment -- that these people were going to acknowledge and maybe even be held responsible for the mess they've made of things, I hope you are finally beginning to recover from your delusion.

No, it's going to be your fault -- just like our failure in Vietnam was your fault. See, here is the historical explanation of the difference between you and the elite of your culture: they are the elite because they deserve to be the elite, and you are a bunch of saps because that's what you deserve to be. And so if things go south, well, whose fault could it possibly be but yours?

I suppose our consolation will be that, in time, history will take note of what idiots these people are. It pretty much always does.

Sadly, though, it seems likely to me that at least some of us won't be alive to see that day.


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