In “The Anatomy Of Human Destructiveness,” Erich Fromm writes that Hitler himself considered his greatest asset to be his unbending will. The reason I mention this is on May 10, 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Western Europe. After remilitarizing the Rhineland, absorbing Austria, annexing the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia through a plebiscite, and after sweeping through Poland in just 27 days, Hitler issued the order for the domination of Western Europe. Even with 122 infantry divisions, 3,500 tanks, and 5000 warplanes, Hitler still attributed his expansionist efforts to his will.
Psychologists claim the will is the human faculty responsible for choice and voluntary actions. It is also the part of us that initiates certain behaviors and enables one to complete specific tasks. In ethics, there is a moral responsibility to the will, usually determined by the outcome or consequences of an action or completed task. There also are many types of human will, such as the rational and irrational wills, the iron and weak wills, effective and defective wills, merciful and cruel wills, and intelligent and stupefied wills.
Fromm believed that at first glance, Hitler indeed seemed like someone with extraordinary willpower. But Fromm likened Hitler to a strong-willed six-year old who was unable to make compromises and threw tantrums when frustrated. He believed individuals, such as Hitler, who decided a course and pursued it with unwavering determination even in the midst of defeat and disaster, like the Battle of Britain and then Stalingrad, had a defective sense of reality. It was Hitler’s will that was the ultimate reality. Anything else was unreal.
Because of this, Hitler held superficial beliefs about Europe. He believed someday Britain and France would join his cause to establish a Third Reich. He also had little knowledge of the United States. Hitler thought America was filled with too many conflicts and would dare not enter a war. In truth, his will lacked reality and objectivity. Like other misguided leaders of the past, Hitler selectively picked reports that fitted with his own preconceived ideas about the world. He paid no attention to contradictory news or reports.
The blending of Hitler’s defective will with his defective sense of reality led Germany on a course toward catastrophe. As Fromm writes, Hitler was a gambler, gambling with the lives of Germans. It was not his strong-will that made him appear successful, but simply a lust for destructive power, even if it meant complete annihilation for him and his nation. Despite all of this, though, he was sane enough to pursue his aims purposefully. Hitler and Germany were victorious and triumphant, at least for a while.
But according to Fromm, the intensely destructive leader, and a nation that follows, will show a front of kindliness, courtesy, love of family, of children, and of animals. They will speak of grandiose ideals, like freedom, liberty, justice, and equality. It is naïve to believe a destructive man and nation is easily recognizable, for they are not. Hitler was no genius, and his talents were not unique. Neither was Germany superior. What was unique was the sociopolitical situation in which both Hitler and Germany could rise.
If there are hundreds of Hitlers among us who would come forth if their historical hour arrived, as Fromm believed, then are there dozens of secular and holy Reichs longing to follow such a leader and reign supreme by dominating the world? Sixty years later, thinking back to the initial phase of the Global War on Terror that included the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and when considering the ongoing militarization of the Middle East and parts of Asia, this question must be asked and reflected upon.
Remember when it was common to hear how then-President George W. Bush’s greatest character trait was his will and decisiveness. Actually, “The will of the United States cannot be shaken by 9-11 and suicide bombers…” was one of his favorite quotes too. But Bush’s will, and America’s, have met reality in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only did he gamble with tens of thousands of American lives, but also with millions of lives in the Middle East and Asia.
Sadly, and like Adolf Hitler, did George W. Bush and his advisors confuse their collective will with a passion to control and dominate the world? Was it this that relentlessly drove them to seek and impose their own realizations onto others? And like Adolf Hitler (and many of us), once George W. Bush decided to pursue a course of action, did he become so determined to complete the task that he disregarded self-reflection and self-correction?
It is obvious the imposed realizations of the Global War on Terror have turned out to be fatal and catastrophic. But then seldom do the imperial wills of leaders, and nations that follow them, represent, let alone better, the social, political and economic realities around the globe. Other than a few German and American subversives, and the pacifist and war-resisting naysayers – which every republic has, it seems iron-wills, backed only by militarism and war, will endeavor to be triumphant.
From the Reichstag Fire to the attack on the Pentagon, from the Fatherland to Homeland Security, from blitzkrieg to Rapid Reactionary Forces, from the Ministry of Truth to the U.S. Military-Corporate Media, from the Enabling Acts to Executive Privilege, from the Third Reich to American Exceptionalism, when will irrational, defective, stupefied, and cruel wills be rejected? For Germany, and on this day in 1940, it was already too late to recognize Hitler’s true faces – the faces, that is, of hatred, destructiveness, and a lust for world domination. Is it too late for the United States?