Why Thousands of Germans Killed Themselves after World War II

April 29 2020

Recently published in English, the German historian Florian Huber’s Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself examines the wave of suicides that swept through the Third Reich immediately before and after its defeat in 1945. Tom Rice writes in his review:

Through diaries, memoirs, and public records, Huber follows ordinary Germans through the Reich’s last days, which were, for many, the last days of their lives. We meet the elderly couples who hung themselves together, the fathers who shot their families before taking their own lives, and the mothers who marched to their fate in icy rivers, dragging their children behind them.

[But] Huber ultimately understates the significance of the German mass suicides. For him, Germans who killed themselves in 1945 did so either to avoid the fate that awaited them at the hands of the Allies—like the citizens fearful of the brutality of Russian soldiers, as was Hitler himself—or to escape the guilt that would overwhelm them once imminent defeat revived their dormant consciences. Whatever the reasons, the sheer number of Germans who chose to take their own lives is remarkable.

To answer the question of why they did it, Rice turns to Hannah Arendt’s observation that “just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ . . . so the law of Hitler’s land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: ‘Thou shalt kill.’”

Mass suicide sprang from [an] inversion of moral imperatives, one that transformed self-harm from a sin into a necessity. In a sense, it was the logical conclusion of the twisted morality that Arendt described: standing face-to-face with the abyss, thousands of Germans followed Nazism’s commandment to kill—one last time. Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself offers important historical insight for any theoretical analysis of Nazism. By cataloguing the self-inflicted carnage of 1945, Huber offers another way of understanding the human cost of political evil.

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Read more at City Journal

More about: Hannah Arendt, Nazism, Suicide, World War II

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy