Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark history

I greatly enjoyed Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts.  There are hundreds of reader reviews at the Amazon site and I agree with most of them.  World War II and the rise of Hitler's Nazis is a long, complex and difficult story.  But seen through the eyes of U.S. Ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd and his family (mainly his adventurous daughter), there is lots that is interesting.

It evokes the old question: How could the land of Beethoven and Goethe let itself be seduced by a gang of murderous and thuggish crazies?

Larson mentions this (page 56): "Beneath the surface, however, Germany had undergone a rapid and sweeping revolution that reached deep into the fabric of daily life.  It had occurred quietly and largely out of easy view.  At its core was a government campaign called Gleichschaltung -- meaning 'Coordination' -- to bring citizens, government ministries, universities and cultural and social instiutions in line with National Socialist beliefs and attitudes." 

Timur Kuran has written about preference falsification and we see sycophancy mix with terror and appeals to nationalism, tribalism, and the like in most autocratic states.  Some cite "forcible coordination." 

I liked this movie treatment of the phenomenon in Nazi Germany.  If the population is amenable, the "forcible" aspect is minor.  Larsen's story gets going before the Night of the Long Knives.


"Coordination" is too bland.  "Gleich" means "even" or "same" or "equal".  "Schaltung" means "shift" or even "gear change".  This may be even more sinister than "preference falsification."