Why Germans supported Hitler to the end and why Russians may do the same with Putin

Russian neo-Cossack paramilitaries pose by a Putin monument in St. Petersburg, Russia

Russian neo-Cossack paramilitaries pose by a Putin monument in St. Petersburg, Russia 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

Nicholas Stargardt “The German War” (Basic Books, 2015)In a recent book review essay in the New York Review of Books, military historian Max Hastings cites a passage from Nicholas Stargardt’s “The German War” (Basic Books, 2015) to explain why Germans continued to “close ranks around Hitler” even after it became obvious that their country was going to lose the war.

The argument Stargardt offers and that Hastings finds persuasive is this: If Germans lost the war, they knew that “retribution must follow” and that this retribution “seemed likely to be annihilatory.” Consequently, Stargardt says, faced with the prospect of defeat,

“Neither Nazism nor the war itself could be rejected, because Germans envisaged their own defeat in existential terms. The worse their war went, the more obviously ‘defensive’ it became. Far from leading to collapse, successive crises acted as catalysts of radical transformation… Major disasters like Stalingrad and Hamburg did indeed lead to a catastrophic fall in the regime’s popularity, but they did not in themselves call patriotic commitment into question.”

[This quotation is given in Hastings’ “Why the Germans Closed Ranks around Hitler,” New York Review of Books, October 22, 2015, p. 29.]

Stargardt’s insight may be instructive for analyzing what is happening and is likely to happen in Russia today under Vladimir Putin in three ways.

  • First, it explains why the Kremlin increasingly casts the struggle between Russia and the West now in apocalyptic terms, talking about supposed Western plans to dismember Russia.
  • Second, it explains why many Russians even those opposed to Putin’s policies will continue to express support for him as the symbol of their statehood. It is not just that Russian liberalism “ends at Ukraine.” Russian liberalism may end at the thought that Russia itself is at stake. (On this, see Aleksey Shiropayev‘s article in Russian here).
  • And third, it explains why despite all the challenges he now faces or more precisely because of those challenges as he and his propagandists define them, Putin may be able to retain support far longer than many expect – and do so by playing this apocalyptic card, as dangerous as that ultimately is for Russia and the world. Indeed, it may even explain some of the outrages his regime commits.


Edited by: A. N.

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  • Randall Cook

    What a pair of costumed clowns……

    • Dirk Smith

      The pooch is smarter than the fat thugs in Halloween costumes.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    This analysis is far too simple. Key contributors to the German fight to the finish were the “Unconditional Surrender” policy announced at Casablanca and the Morgenthau plan. Goebbels had a field day with the Morgenthau plan, it made even the most optimistic Germans realize they had nothing to lose by fighting to the finish. Their country would be destroyed anyway, whether they surrendered or not.
    In marked contrast there is no western declaration similar to either the Casablanca declaration of “Unconditional surrender” or the Morgenthau plan concerning Dwarfstan. There is no plan to invade and dismember Dwarfstan, destroy its industries etc etc.
    There is no analogy here. If Dwarfstan does, indeed, disintegrate it will be a disintegration fully of its own making.

  • Alex P

    Is this article hyperbole or is this for real? Because this such weak and fang-less propaganda its laughable at best. To compare the people who basically single handedly defeated Nazi Germany to Nazi Germany is a bit of a stretch. Write some articles talking about where Hitler got all his genocidal ideas to begin with. Oh wait didnt ge get all those ideas from the Boer concentration camps in South Africa and the genocide of the Native Americans in America? Oh yes, thats right….

    but you guys go ahead and keep plowing the brain dead heads of your zombie demographic.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      First, the USSR did NOT defeat Germany single-handed. Without the UK, USA and Canada as allies the USSR would undoubtedy have been defeated.
      As to where Adolf got his genocidal ideas from, from several sources…… including the NKVD- the NKVD and its predecessors Cheka, GPU and OGPU had been executing tens of thousands for years as the mass graves all over the USSR prove: Bykivnia, Kurapaty, Butovo, Rzhevsky to name but a few, as well as using prisoners en masse as slave labourers. Do the Belomorkanal and Dalstroi, for example, ring a bell? There was close cooperation between Gestapo and NKVD between 23/8/1939 and 22/6/1941- the NKVD happily handed Jews and German Communists over to the Gestapo and they closely cooperated in persecuting the Poles. There were already gas chambers in the Gulag at Vorkuta in 1938, a year before Himmler started Aktion T4.