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One does not find in "The German Catastrophe" any new or specially incisive explanations for what went wrong is Germany, but rather those with which we are most familiar: militarism, political irresponsibility, unemployment, and materialism. But the book is significant in its restatement of these well-known themes, because Professor Meinocke writes as a patriotic and respected German historian who spent the Nazi period in Germany.
The author phrases the catastrophe in explicit and--for a German--uncommon terms. "In the gas chambers of the concentration camps the last breath of Christian feeling for humanity and of the Christian culture of the West was finally extinguished. The Third Reich was not only the greatest misfortune that the German people have suffered in their existence; it was also their greatest shame."
He does not deny that Nazism was a German phenomenon, though he sees other nations susceptible to its appeal. He analyses it as Germany's special and fraudulent resolution of the forces of nationalism and socialism in Europe a formula which demanded the complete sacrifice of the individual to the State. Prussian militarism was primarily responsible for the abrogation of private moral judgment. Yet in stating the universal truism that "a full understanding of the totality of historical existence was lacking in these technicians of war," Meineeke does not discuss the more important factor that in Germany these militarists were given political responsibility. Nor does he, in calling Prussian militarism most blameworthy, explain why Nazism was most popular in southwest Germany.
There are several passages in the book which no one but a German could write or understand. For instance: "The will, which in all these fields, of the good, the true, and the beautiful, serves as the ultimate executive power, owes obedience to Queen Reason, the mistress of all the spiritual forces springing from the whole, moulding, harmonizing, and guiding them."
At the age of 87, Meineeke is Rector of the new Free University of Berlin. His age is one of Germany's tragedies--for it is duplicated by most of the prominent men who are concerned with the revival of Christianity and its respect for human dignity--a return to the idealism of cloche. He asks his country to follow Holland, Sweden, and Switzerland--former great powers which have devoted themselves to the enrichment of world culture. "Today," he writes, "the anger over our humiliation should be turned against those who are to blame for it, against the overweening pride of those who led us to the abyss, and against the lack of judgement of those who subjected themselves to this leadership without any inner protest."
These are sound and positive recommendations. They are encouraging coming from a German of Meineeke's stature. But they are ineffectual unless they convince the youth, who do not remember the Germany which Meineeke and his contemporaries seek to revive.
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