Nazism as destruction and self-destruction-SACW

April 28, 2012

South Asia Citizens Wire: April 24, 2012


Two million German soldiers died in the First World War. Yet Hitler declared that “the most precious blood had sacrificed itself joyfully”. In the mid-1930s, Hitler said that he would not hesitate to go to war because of “ten million young men I shall be sending to their death”. Declaring war on September 1, 1939, Hitler asked every German to “lay down his life for his people and country”. If anyone thought he could “evade this national duty, he would perish.” Hitler’s declaration of war contained the essence of Nazism: either die for Germany, or we will kill you.

Historian Michael Geyer notes that the German military’s “machinery of destruction and annihilation” went into high gear at the very moment Hitler and the Nazi leadership knew the war was lost. Casualties peaked at 450,000 in January 1945, when Germany became in the words of Richard Bessel, “the site of the greatest killing frenzy the world has ever seen.”

Despite defeat at Stalingrad, Goebbels in1943 persuaded the German people to embrace “total war”. Insofar as millions of German soldiers were dying on the battlefield, individuals at home likewise were obligated to “bring the hardest sacrifices of blood”. As the carnage reached its climax, Goebbels observed with satisfaction that the German people had “surpassed themselves as a result of the bombing raids, heroically overcoming fear” finally coming together to form a genuine national community.

In his classic, “What is a Nation?” (1882), Ernest Renan explained that love of country is proportional to the “sacrifices to which one has consented and the ills one has suffered.” Nazism represented the apotheosis of national sacrifice, generating suffering and destruction on a monumental scale. In the end, Geyer says, the Third Reich was about “collective death”. The distillation of Nazism, according to Bessel, lay in the “senseless destruction of human life” as Hitler and his cohorts turned Europe into a “sea of blood”.

Building on the case study of Nazi Germany, this volume will explore nationalism in its relationship to warfare and sacrificial death.


General Douglas MacArthur told West Point graduates in 1962 that as soldiers, they were required to practice “the greatest act of religious training: sacrifice”. General John Hackett stated that the essence of a soldier is not to slay, but to “offer oneself to be slain”. “In Blood Sacrifice and the Nation”, Carolyn Marvin says that the irrefutable sign of patriotism is “making one’s body an offering, a sacrifice.”

Soldiers’ sacrificial acts possess profound meaning for society. Babak Rahimi says that their blood bestows “new life on the community.” Marvin theorizes that society “depends upon the death of its own members at the hands of the group;” while Richard Koenigsberg declares that in war the “blood and body of the sacrificed soldier gives rise to the reality of the nation, anchoring belief in material reality.”


Fighting to the last breath on the Eastern Front, most German soldiers continued to believe in the nobility of their struggle because while “individuals die, the Volk lives on”. Nazi Germany represents an extreme case, but the idea that individuals must die so nations may live lies at the heart of Western warfare. The Roman poet Horace declared, “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” What is the nature and meaning of this dynamic that conceives death in battle as a noble act that enhances and valorizes one’s nation? This volume will interrogate and explore the meaning of this idea or fantasy: that in order for a nation to live and flourish, human beings must die.

Questions to consider include, but are not limited to:

The self versus the enemy as sacrificial victim

Warfare as potlatch, or conspicuous destruction

Sacrifice, honor and masculinity


Human bodies and the body politic

Death for one’s comrades: “Greater love hath no man?”

Sacrificial death and memorialization

Nations and the fantasy of immortality

Implications for Critical Security Studies

Hitler stated that the liberal deification of the individual must lead to the destruction of the people; whereas Nazism sought to safeguard the people “if necessary at the expense of the individual”. When Hitler speaks about “the people”, he is not referring to actual human beings, but to an abstract concept, for which he caused the death of millions of Germans and the destruction of German society. How are we to understand an impulse that seeks security for “nations” at the expense of actual human lives? When trying to protect one’s “country”, what is it one seeks to protect?


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