Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

Who Were the Patriots and Traitors in Nazi Germany?

by

Ever since I was a kid, I have heard Americans ask, “How could the German people have allowed the Nazi regime to commit its evil acts?”

Well, here’s the answer to that question: The German people had the same warped and distorted concept of patriotism that American statists have today.

The overwhelming majority of German citizens believed that it was their moral duty to come to the unconditional support of their government in time of crisis, especially when the nation went to war. The good citizen didn’t question whether his government was right or wrong. The good citizen placed his trust in the judgment and decisions of his government officials, especially during crisis and war.

That’s what patriotism meant to the German people during the 1930s and 1940s. The good citizen — the one who deferred to authority — was considered the patriot.

What about German citizens who refused to defer to authority, those who had an independent mindset — those who would examine government policies with a critical eye — those who would question, challenge, and object to wrongful government policies? They were considered bad citizens — traitors.

The best example of this phenomenon involves the story of the White Rose, an organization composed predominantly of German college students. If you haven’t seen the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, I highly recommend it. Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Hans, were members of the White Rose.

If you do see the movie, pay particular attention to the trial scene in which the presiding judge, Roland Freisler, comes down hard on the defendants Hans and Sophie Scholl. You’ll notice something apropos to today: Freisler’s mindset is the same as that of American statists today who are condemning Edward Snowden. In Freisler’s mind, the Scholl siblings were bad Germans. They were traitors. Their parents had raised them to be despicable creatures.

What had the Scholl siblings done? What was their “crime”? They had taken a critical look at their own government in the midst of World War II. They had concluded that their own government was in the wrong — that it was engaged in wrongful conduct. Knowing that they were risking their lives or liberty, they violated the law by secretly publishing and distributing a set of pamphlets called “The White Rose,” in which they exhorted the German people to rise up, stop the wrongdoing, and set Germany on a correct path.

They were caught, primarily owing to the Nazi regime’s extensive surveillance system over the German people. A college janitor saw them tossing White Rose pamphlets into the school courtyard and, being the good, little citizen he was, locked the doors and called the Gestapo. Hitler and his cohorts considered him a patriot.

Not surprisingly, Hans and Sophie Scholl were quickly convicted and executed at the guillotine for treason. After all, the law is the law and citizens are expected to obey the law, as American statists never cease to remind us in the case of Edward Snowden.

By the way, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Scholl trial did not take place in the regular German courts. After the terrorist attack on the Reichstag, and after some of the accused in that terrorism case had been acquitted, Hitler established a special tribunal called “The People’s Court” to try terrorism cases and treason cases. Its purpose? To ensure that no more accused terrorists and traitors got acquitted.

Another interesting World War II movie is Downfall, which is about Hitler’s last days in his Berlin bunker. The movie revolves around his young secretary Traudl Junge. At the end of the movie, the real Traudl Junge is shown making a statement. She points out that when she accepted the job as Hitler’s secretary, the last thing on her mind was that she was doing anything wrong.

After all, Junge embraced the same concept of patriotism that most other Germans embraced — the same type that American statists today embrace. Her job, as a good German citizen, was to come to the support of her government, especially during crises and war.

But Junge pointed out in Downfall that when she learned about the Scholl siblings after the war, she realized that she should have been asking the same types of questions that Hans and Sophie Scholl had asked. When she learned about Hans and Sophie Scholl, her concept of patriotism changed.

Today, American statists are condemning Edward Snowden for breaking the law and violating his oath as a government subcontractor to keep secret from the American people the massive surveillance scheme that the national-security state has secretly imposed on Americans and on much of the rest of the world. Statists are saying that Snowden is a bad citizen and a bad person. They’re calling him a traitor. They saying that he needs to be put on trial, perhaps even before the national-security state’s special tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay.

Where does conscience play into the American statist’s concept of patriotism and treason? For the statist, conscience must be subordinated to the needs of the national-security state. All that matters to the statist is the undying loyalty that national-security state employees, contractors, and subcontractors (and American citizens) owe to the national-security state apparatus and to their oath to protect its secrets.

For the statist, the national-security state is everything. It is god. It is daddy. It is big brother. Everything else, including conscience, must be subordinated to “national security” and to the national-security state’s oaths, laws, rules, and regulations.

The battle lines are forming in the case of Edward Snowden.

On the one side are the statists, for whom patriotism means an unconditional pledge of allegiance to the national-security state and its deep and dark nefarious secrets involving grave infringements on liberty and privacy.

On the other side are the libertarians and a few liberals and conservatives, for whom conscience and freedom reign supreme.

Time will tell which side wins out. Time will tell which direction America heads in.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.