|Another timely quote in the vein of the apocryphal Julius Caesar
warning about political leaders who can all too easily send the
citizenry marching eagerly off to war by manufacturing crises that
purportedly threaten national security and making popular appeals to
patriotism. In this case the sentiment expressed is even more
disturbing because it comes not from a venerated figure of antiquity,
but supposedly from a reviled twentieth-century figure associated with
the most chilling example of genocide in human history: Hermann
Goering, Nazi Reichsmarshall and Luftwaffe-Chief.
We may be made
somewhat uneasy by the idea that the head of a classic civilization
recognized 2,000 years ago that the populace could be manipulated into
sacrificing themselves in wars at the whims of their leaders, but we're
outraged (and maybe even scared) at the thought of a fat Nazi fascist
flunky's recognizing and telling us the same thing.
|The notable difference here is that although the Caesar quote
is a latter-day fabrication, the words attributed to Hermann Goering
Goering was one of the highest-ranking Nazis who survived to
be captured and put on trial for war crimes in the city of Nuremberg by
the Allies after the end of World War II . He was found guilty on
charges of "war crimes," "crimes against peace," and "crimes against
humanity" by the Nuremberg tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging.
The sentence could not be carried out, however, because Goering
committed suicide with smuggled cyanide capsules hours before his
execution, scheduled for 15 October 1946.
|The quote cited above does not appear in transcripts of the
Nuremberg trials because although Goering spoke these words during the
course of the proceedings, he did not offer them at his trial. His
comments were made privately to Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking
intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by
the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert
kept a journal of his observations of the proceedings and his
conversations with the prisoners, which he later published in the book
Nuremberg Diary . The quote offered above was part of a conversation
Gilbert held with a dejected Hermann Goering in his cell on the evening
of 18 April 1946, as the trials were halted for a three-day Easter
|Sweating in his cell in the evening, Goering was defensive and
deflated and not very happy over the turn the trial was taking. He said
that he had no control over the actions or the defense of the others,
and that he had never been anti-Semitic himself, had not believed these
atrocities, and that several Jews had offered to testify in his behalf.
If [Hans] Frank [Governor-General of occupied Poland] had known about
atrocities in 1943, he should have come to him and he would have tried
to do something about it. |
He might not have had enough power to change
things in 1943, but if somebody had come to him in 1941 or 1942 he
could have forced a showdown. (I still did not have the desire at this
point to tell him what [SS General Otto] Ohlendorf had said to this:
that Goering had been written off as an effective "moderating"
influence, because of his drug addiction and corruption.) I pointed out
that with his "temperamental utterances," such as preferring the
killing of 200 Jews to the destruction of property, he had hardly set
himself up as champion of minority rights. Goering protested that too
much weight was being put on these temperamental utterances.
Furthermore, he made it clear that he was not defending or glorifying
|Later in the conversation, Gilbert recorded
Goering's observations that the common people can always be manipulated
into supporting and fighting wars by their political leaders:|
|We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to
his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful
for leaders who bring them war and destruction.|
of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would
some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best
that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece.
Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in
England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany.
is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who
determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the
people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a
Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."
|"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy
the people have some say in the matter through their elected
representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare
"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice,
the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is
easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and
denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country
to danger. It works the same way in any country."