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The Good, the Bad, and the Fuhrer
Rarely will anyone agree to the statement “Hitler was good,” but a well-informed and analytical person will dignify the validity of “Hitler was good for Germany.” As hard as it may be to believe, Hitler had Germany’s best interests at heart. His sole desire and only goal as leader was the betterment of his country. Aside from the loss of the war, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime had a positive effect on Germany for the short term.
Before any claims can be made, the issue of Adolf Hitler’s “evilness” must be addressed in all its complexity. Although an irrelevant counterargument when speaking of Hitler’s leadership and how he improved Germany, his initiation of the Holocaust is difficult to ignore. Very easily is Hitler deemed “cruel,” but we fail to first scrutinize our own behavior before we point fingers at Hitler. Adolf Hitler led the extermination of some six million Jews during his reign in Germany. Unnecessary? Yes. Evil? Certainly. Now, where lies our right in judging this matter? In 1935, Jews lost their citizenship in Germany. Although they had to pay a fine if they wished to do this, they were encouraged to leave the country (Trueman, “Jews in Nazi Germany”). Coincidentally enough, the United States of America, the world’s open-armed “melting pot,” tightened immigration control laws at this time (Harris). But let us not stop here. When Germany was going through difficult times, the government needed to psychologically satisfy its citizens by means of a scapegoat. As a result, the Jewish population was blamed and sent to concentration camps. When Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese in 1941, the government needed to psychologically satisfy its citizens by means of a scapegoat. As a result, the Japanese-American population was blamed and sent to internment camps. Of course, America’s actions were not nearly as severe as Germany’s, but we cannot take on the role of the innocent and fall into the all-too-common judgment that “Hitler was a bad man.” Now that we have managed to prevent this “moral” cul-de-sac from enveloping our eyes, let us instead look at Hitler’s policies and strategies as German fuehrer, and then deem whether he was an effective leader.
Hitler’s first positive effect on Germany came as a result of his encouraging speeches. When he first took office as chancellor in 1933, the German people were disheartened and glum. Nazism was on the rise for several reasons; Germany had lost the Great War, and was blamed for the struggle; the country was recovering from unstable political institutions and experiencing catastrophic economic times (Fischer 260). Morale was low; the people’s hopes were crushed, and their faith was lost. They needed a strong leader to guide them--and, true enough, as Hitler rose to power, their ambitions followed suit. Captivating and charismatic, his speeches helped the people rebuild their dreams and convinced the nation to create a new vision. With promises of success, confidence was boosted and spirits were renewed.
In the mid-1920s, the nation experienced its version of the American Great Depression. The German economy was suffering and experiencing hyperinflation; the value of the currency dropped dramatically. Times were tough, but Hitler had plans. According to Chris Trueman’s Nazi workforce website, unemployment figures fell from six million to a little over 300,000 from 1933 to 1939. There is, of course, a tiny caveat before believing this miraculous change. Women were not included in the statistics, as they were encouraged to stay at home to raise the children and perform other household duties. Jews lost their citizenship in 1935, so the statistics did not involve them, either.
The statistics may be a bit skewed because these two groups were disregarded. Even so, there is no doubt that many jobs were created. In 1935, Hitler began the open rearmament of Germany. This created an unfathomable number of jobs. Bombs, guns, tanks, planes needed to be built, thus creating numerous factory jobs. In addition, army clothes needed to be weaved and technology needed to improve. The notion that rearmament caused a shortage of raw material stands true, but this only led to the research--and development--of synthetics. In addition to the scientific benefits of this, this helped to lessen imports--further aiding the German economy (Fischer 376). The sole act of militarization created many jobs, but it is not where Hitler’s ideas stopped.
Hitler supervised the construction of the Autobahn, a key road from Frankfurt to Darmstadt, which become a major means of transportation. Its construction alone employed around 210,000 people (Noakes and Pridham 383). After this, Hitler noticed--and solved--another problem; there were not enough affordable cars for families to fill the Autobahn. Similar to Hoover’s promise of “a chicken in every pot” several years before him, Hitler wanted German families to have an affordable car. As a result, he met up with Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, and together they designed the Volkswagen Beetle--a five-seat automobile which could be driven on the newly-constructed Autobahn. Furthermore, this idea of a major link between cities was so effective, that the United States of America adopted it in 1956 and planned to build the interstate highway system (Trueman, “The Nazis”).
To give the economy a further boost, the Nazi regime allocated one billion Reichskmarks for the promotion of national jobs. These jobs were not simply work for the sake of work, but useful positions for the betterment of the nation a whole. As outlined by authors Noakes and Pridham, the plan included below-grounds work, the improvement and repair of buildings, and the installation of gas, water, and electricity for the population.
In addition to the economy, the healthy growth of the population was taken into deep consideration. From Nazi ideology stemmed the need of a large and physically superior population. In order to have a boom in birth rates, the Nazi regime criminalized all acts that discouraged healthy reproduction, such as prostitution. The concern over population growth did not stop here, however. The government did not only encourage couples to have children--it offered financial help. Marriage loans, child subsidies, and generous family allowances were available (Fischer 354). The government also instructed women on how to care for themselves and avoid things that might harm the fetus. In addition, prenatal and postnatal clinics were there to ensure the healthy development of the mother and baby. Furthermore, single mothers who could not work were provided with tax relief.
The other aspect of a healthy population was being physically fit. At the time, many Germans were convinced of a superior Nazi “germ plasm,” or genetic material. They did everything possible to keep it “uncorrupted” to produce strong and healthy offspring. In order for this to happen, they had to keep themselves healthy (Proctor). Hitler promoted this idea strongly, and tried to keep the population as healthy as possible. This was incorporated into the schooling system. A few years into the Nazi regime, the hours of physical education required in school weekly rose from three to five. The youth was treated in a military-like manner, trained to act as obedient soldiers. The schooling system included specializations in science, modern languages, and the classics (Fischer 347). This produced a promising youth with much potential.
Moving on to the Nazi regime’s infamous scientific research and experimentation, we must look past another point once again; while the notion that many “immoral” and “unethical” studies were lead by Nazi Germany may hold true, we must concede that there were certain benefits. Yes, gassing lung cancer patients to study the effects is cruel. Yes, vivisections require a certain loss of ethic. We cannot, however, deem the results of the research any less useful. According to Dave Cutlip, a history teacher of sixteen years, much valuable scientific information was discovered by the Nazis and their methodology. “They were leaders in science and promoted health and well-being,” Cutlip said in an interview. Hitler recognized the usefulness of experimentation, and allowed his scientists to do what was necessary. The result of this was breakthroughs in science and much-needed information in medicine. The following actions that took place will never be compensated for or even justified, but let us in the very least admit that they did have advantages to them.
Known as “experimental epidemiology,” this method of experimenting was pioneered by the Nazi scientists (Proctor). Through their extensive studies, they were able to find carcinogens and see the damage caused by materials such as asbestos. Because of these studies, Germany was one of the first countries to recognize and work against severe diseases like mesothelioma. Way ahead of their time, they discovered the damaging effect of smoking on lungs. As a result of this study, smoking was banned in Germany.
One method Hitler abused science was by euthanizing the mentally and physically disabled. Looking back at Nazi ideology, though, it is clear why Hitler did this. He wanted a superior race, and the only way it could be achieved was by the elimination of the “weak links” to allow the passage of strong genes. Since Hitler is associated with much of the cruel application of science, we are once again forced to remind ourselves that the Nazi regime was not the only one to euthanize and sterilize. In the first thirty years of the 19th century, “several countries and half of all the American states adopted ‘eugenic sterilization’ laws to prevent ‘imbeciles’ and some physically or mentally deformed people from reproducing, in attempts to interrupt the passage of undesirable traits to future generations” (Shachtman 33). Again, Hitler authorized certain cruel actions of his scientists, but his country and army reaped positive benefits.
Further into scientific research, the Third Reich brought Germany to the top as far as warfare and weapons are concerned. “…Germany was developing bacterial warfare; poison gases; flame throwers; the combination of gliding bombs with aerial torpedoes and pilot less aircraft; long-range guns and rockets; new torpedoes; mines and submarines; and magnetic guns” (Shachtman 89). Eventually, the Germans had at their command “the world’s only heavy-water factory and thousands of tons of uranium ore…” (Shachtman 123). Because of a desire for advancement, much of what we know about radiation and synthetics was started by the Nazis (Cutlip).
Of course, the fact that Hitler lost the war cannot be avoided. As great of an influence he and his government had on Germany, he was not the greatest military strategist. Instead of making allies with countries such as Poland and France, he invaded. Instead of using troops for battle, he appointed them as guards in concentration camps. Many things should have been done differently, but we cannot change them. We must instead focus on what was done right, and admit that it brought Germany to the top of the eastern hemisphere.
Now, we are left with this: can we overlook the already irrelevant argument of Hitler’s “immorality?” Can we step out of our comfort zone for a moment, and look at the facts logically instead of emotionally as we as human beings are used to doing? Twelve years, a booming economy, promising youth, and powerful country later, can we still say Hitler was “bad” for Germany? Many things cannot be denied about the fuehrer, and his great leadership of Germany is one of them; “After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things--terrible, yes--but great” (Ollivander).
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