Monthly Archives: September 2013

Women and war / blood sacrifice / crucified soldiers

Below are extracts from papers that appear on the Ideologies of War website—please click the links to read the entire paper .

On August 30, 1914, Admiral Charles Fitzgerald deputized 30 women in Folkstone to hand out white feathers to men not in uniform. The purpose of this gesture was to shame "every young ‘slacker’ found loafing about," and to remind those "deaf or indifferent to their country’s need" that British soldiers are "fighting and dying across the channel.” Fitzgerald’s warned the men of Folkstone that there is a "danger awaiting them far more terrible than anything they can meet in battle," for if they were found "idling and loafing to-morrow" they would be publicly humiliated by a lady with a white feather.

A poster designed for the mayor of London put the same message bluntly. Addressing "The Young Women of London," the mayor asked: "Is your ‘Best Boy’ wearing Khaki? If not, don’t YOU THINK he should be? If he does not think that you and your country are worth fighting for—do you think he is worthy of you? Don’t pity the girl who is alone—her young man is probably a soldier fighting for her and her country—and for You. If your young man neglects his duty to his King and Country, the time may come when he will Neglect You. Think it over—then ask him to JOIN THE ARMY TO-DAY!"

The battles at Gallipoli (1915) during the First World War are often seen to represent the moment of independence for the Australian nation, offering a chance for its true national character to emerge. Despite its Federation in 1901, Australia had not yet succeeded in producing a unique identity. Ken Inglis: "The altar had not yet been stained with crimson as every rallying center of a nation should be." After the huge loss of life at Gallipoli, Australia’s hopes of a national identity born of blood and sacrifice were realized.

The idea that sacredness and power are born from a willingness to die are fundamental to the ideology of sacrifice. The sacrificial victims embody the entire group collective. Thus, the horrors of Gallipoli are made noble, and acts of slaughter are neither murder nor suicide.

During the First World War, Walter Flex felt that death in war made life meaningful, even if that life was devoid of meaning until the moment of sacrifice. Modern war became an extraordinary event that enabled men to reach for higher things.

The quest for "higher things" separated the front-line soldier from those leading ordinary lives. War was considered a cosmic process. Within this process, the cult of the fallen occupied a central position. In war cemeteries and war monuments, the abstract became concrete and could be touched and worshipped.
The cult of the fallen assimilated the basic themes of Christianity. The exclamation "Now we are made sacred" implied an analogy of the sacrifice in war to the passion and resurrection of Christ. The war, according to Walter Flex, was the Last Supper: one of the chief revelations through which Christ illuminates the world. The sacrificial death of the best of our people, he continued, is only a "repetition of the passion of Christ."

Some of you may not be aware of our Ideologies of War website—the research arm of Library of Social Science. Ideologies of War represents a resource for scholars, bringing together significant papers, book chapters, book excerpts, photographs and videos focusing on the sources and meanings of collective forms of violence.

We hope you will take time to explore this website and read some of the writings that appear there. Among the nearly 100 resources:

Roger Griffin

Paul Kahn

Richard A. Koenigsberg

Carolyn Marvin

Ivan Strenski

Brian Victoria

Recently, we presented a “Call for a Review Essay” for the following titles:

Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death (Mark S. Schantz)

Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War (Alan Kramer)

We are in the process of selecting reviewers.

More broadly in the next weeks, we will move toward interrogating the sacrificial logic that generates episodes of collective slaughter, as well as the commemorative processes that come into being after (and during) war.

We are creating a special bibliography page on the First World War, and commemoration.

These resources are for our book reviewers, but also for all readers of the Library of Social Science Newsletter, and especially for those of you who wish to join us in interrogating the sources and meanings of collective forms of violence—in order to awaken from the nightmare of history.

Best regards,

PS: To provide a sense of the articles that appear on the Bibliography page for the First World War and Commemoration, we have provided extracts/summaries of three papers, each of which may be read in full by clicking through to the links.

Review of "The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier"

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Modern Mourning,
and the Reinvention of the Mystical Body

Wittman, L.The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Modern Mourning, and the Reinvention of the Mystical Body. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 464 pp. $85.00 U.S. (pb.) ISBN 1442643390. Review by Roger Griffin.

Laura Wittman’s quest to unpack the meaning of major state memorials to an anonymous military victim of the First World War in Britain, France, Italy and the US leads to the history of the state planning of the tombs—and study of the rhetoric and ritual they generated. She examines novels, poetry, photography, religious iconography and contemporary testimonies to document how secularization and disenchantment have eroded the cosmological foundations of funerary rituals.

Working with case studies and sources, Wittman collates the conflicting ‘receptions’ of the tombs and their incorporation into the collective psyche. She explores their impact upon national consciousness—swollen with pride rather than diminished by the war’s human cost and bottomless grief generated by its futility and mind-numbing destructiveness.

Conventional historians tempted to dismiss her approach as ‘culturalism’ might lack the will or intellectual stamina to read past the introduction. But those who sense the crucial role played by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier— shaping the convulsions of the human spirit wrought by the cataclysm of the war and catastrophe of modernity’s unfolding—will find the effort demanded worthwhile.

Wittman is utterly absorbed by her subject, driven by an urge not just to record ‘the facts’ surrounding national projects to commemorate the war dead en masse through an anonymous victim or empty tomb, but to interpret what they signify. Read sympathetically, the mythic space contrived by the tomb’s architecture and ritual becomes a portal through which—almost a century after the events—we can still engage key issues arising from the ‘Great War’.

The war marked a profound caesura in the linear temporality and optimistic narrative of progress inherited from the Enlightenment, setting in train the Russian Revolution, disappearance of four empires, birth of new countries (some of them by the Caesarean section demanded by savage peace treaties), a lethal flu’ pandemic, and radical economic, social and political upheavals unique to each country. Cumulatively, these traumatic events created a climate of profound existential anxiety even in the victorious nations, engendering despair and anomie—alongside new forms of hope in a transformed future and secular millennialism.

The project of the tomb can be seen as a grotesque exercise in state hypocrisy and euphemism, perpetuating the myth relentlessly exposed by the poetry of Robert Owen—that to die for the nation was still ‘Dulce et decorum’ (sweet and fitting). The public response to these contrived manifestations of ‘political religion’ showed that the tombs reified authentic but inarticulate collective longings—to make sense of incomprehensible mass death and mechanized slaughter, and somehow transfigure the oceanic suffering and trauma into a rite of passage to a new age.

The monuments’ cold stone or marble with their promise of immortality can thus be seen as signifying the unconscious bid to transcend the collapse of reality’s self-evident solidity and purpose captured in T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland in the section Unreal City:

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.

Reading these lines in the context of the war memorials highlights the deeper psychological import of the word ‘defeat’, from the French ‘défaite’, which, like the Italian ‘disfatta’, derive from the verb for ‘undo’.

At the same time, the tombs give aesthetic expression to the need of modern man for redemptive myths despite, or maybe because of, the ‘death of God’. They marked yet another point where the modern West collectively expressed the existential dissatisfaction and intimations of nihilism—and hence the concomitant longing to return to the ancestral state of mythic consciousness that had given rise to the first burial ceremonies. This longing was diagnosed by Friedrich Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy:

And now mythless man stands there, eternally hungry, in the midst of all past ages, rummaging around and digging as he looks for roots, even if he has to shovel for them in the most remote ancient times. What is revealed in the immense historical need of this dissatisfied modern culture, the gathering up of countless other cultures, the consuming desire to know, if not the loss of myth, the loss of the mythic homeland, of the mythic maternal womb?

Seen in terms of mythic responses to the threat of nihilism, the tombs of the Unknown Warrior signal the onset of two decades in which superficially modernized currents of mythopoeia were drawn from deep cultural wells. They were poured into forms of secular apocalypticism familiar as ‘political ideologies’—for which ‘civilized’ Europeans will within little over a decade again be killing and dying in their millions.

Already in Russia the myth of the Bolshevik Revolution—as the act of creative destruction needed to usher in a new age of socialism—was finding affective resonance within broad swathes of Russians, infusing them with enthusiasm for a vast experiment with the nature of society, history and humanity itself. These mythic energies would soon animate the mass support for Fascism, Nazism and both sides in the Spanish Civil War—before exploding into the violence of the Second World War—fuelled from outside Europe by the Japanese variant of ultranationalism based on the emperor cult.

The tombs highlight how anomie following the Armistice of 1918 was at fever pitch, within both victorious and defeated nations. Nationalism filled the spiritual vacuum for millions, and nationalists created new ritual ceremonies and spaces that could transmute a sense of loss and decay into hope and redemption. The modern state conceived as an embodied ‘people’ took up the role once performed by the Church—as orchestrator and choreographer of mass emotion.

The evidence Wittman collates from Italy, France, Britain and the US shows that—even in purportedly rational, liberal countries upholding the values of Enlightenment—it was not democracy or socialism, but a dangerously Romantic, organic, almost tribal form of nationalism that created powerful forms of political religion. This elemental force—having fuelled hostilities for four years—was more akin to the driving force of the Aztecs than to anything in the works of J. S. Mill.

It was a religion of state and people capable of papering over cracks between official Christianity, and a modern sense of absurdity and bottomless contingency; between humanistic values that insisted on respect for all human life, and the anonymity and obscenity of death mass produced by modern warfare; between official rationales given for the war, and the reality of its utter pointlessness.

Wittman’s book throws into relief two key dilemmas arising from the nature of modernity, inhabited by human beings whose cosmological needs and ritual reflexes are still those of the Stone Age. What does the ‘eternity’ or ‘perpetual presence’ celebrated in the symbology and ceremonies of the tombs mean in the absence of a theologically conceived immortality? What can ‘sacrifice’ mean in an age where there is no metaphysical basis for a sense of the sacred or sanctity?

Laurence Binyon’s poem The Fallen, whose lines are solemnly repeated every Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in London, expresses the concept of eternity offered by the political religion of nationalism forged by the hecatombs of the battle fields, even though they were written in 1914:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

And here is the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge’s blatant attempt to pervert Christianity into a rationalization of the death of Irish volunteers at Gallipoli—in lines that combine the topoi of both sacrifice and the eternity of the fallen in a celebration of nationalism:

Who said that such an emprise could be vain?
Were they not one with Christ Who strove and died?
Let Ireland weep but not for sorrow.
Weep that by her sons a land is sanctified
For Christ Arisen, and angels once again
Come back like exile birds to guard their sleep.

The banality of the nationalist ethos that dictated these lines and created the tombs is thrown into stark relief by Owen’s profoundly humanistic dramatization of the absurdity of the mutual slaughter of the trenches in Strange Meeting. Here the talk is not of eternity or sacrifice, but of how the war cut short lives (his one of over 9 million), some of which were destined to reveal the only true eternity and sanctity of life possible in a post-Nietzschean secularized world.

These, he suggests, are achieved by plunging to the depths of a shared humanity and emerging into the light with vitalistic acts of compassion beyond race or nation, acts that acquire a peculiar beauty which cannot be sculpted into stone.

Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

A few lines earlier Owen has presaged the age of yet more bloody conflict engendered by those who, discontent with the world left by the war, find their blood boiling for new utopias:

Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek
from progress.

The tomb of the unknown warrior drew its cleansing water not from a restored humanism, but from the toxic wells of nationalism blended with Christianity, which within 20 years would be eclipsed by the ideological equivalents of cholera: Nazism and Japanese Imperialism.

Wittman’s book can help researchers in historical studies come to grips with the profound liminality of the inter-war period wherever modernity was striking home, and the terrible events ideologically fuelled by the need for new mythic certainties and dimly articulated collective hopes for redemption.

Roger Griffin


Roger GriffinRoger Griffin is professor in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of over 100 publications—and is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Fascism. Read more about him on Wikipedia.

Suicide Warriors

Douglas Haig was the British General who planned and executed the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, 1916. Visiting the battlefield on March 31, 1917, Haig reflected (De Groot, 1989) upon the hundreds of thousands of British casualties:

Credit must be paid to the splendid young officers who were able time and time again to attack these tremendous positions…To many it meant certain death, and all must have known that before they started.

A young German soldier

A young German soldier

Modris Eksteins observes that the “victimized crowd of attackers” moving into no man’s land has become the “supreme image” of the First World War. Attackers moved forward, usually without seeking cover, and were “mowed down in rows, with the mechanical efficiency of a scythe, like so many blades of grass.”

A German machine-gunner wrote of his experience of a British attack on the first day of the Somme: “We were surprised to see them walking. The officers went in front. When we started firing, we just had to load and reload. They went down in the hundreds. You didn’t have to aim, we just fired into them.”

The experience of this machine-gunner was not unusual; it was the norm. John Buchan described the first day of the offensive at the Somme in his pamphlet, The Battle of the Somme (1916):

The British moved forward in line after line, dressed as if on parade; not a man wavered or broke ranks; but minute by minute the ordered lines melted away under the deluge of high explosives, shrapnel, rifle, and machine-gun fire. The troops shed their blood like water for the liberty of the world.

Contemplating the nature of “heroic death,” Haig cited a speech by the Moghul Emperor Babur to his troops on March 16, 1527 (De Groot, 1989) which, he said, “is curiously appropriate now”:

The most high God has been propitious to us: If we fall in the field, we die the death of martyrs. If we survive, we rise victorious the avengers of the cause of God.

This, Haig claimed, is the “root matter of the present war.”

Like Muslim warriors who died for Allah, British soldiers died for Great Britain. Hopefully, England would rise victorious. If not, the soldiers would have died “the death of martyrs.”

What is the difference between the Islamic warrior who died for Allah and the British soldier who died for God and country in the First World War? The magnitude of slaughter. In his report of August 22, 1919—Features of the War—Haig summarized British casualties, stating that they were “no larger than to be expected.” The total British casualties in all theaters of war, killed, wounded, missing and prisoners—including native troops—are approximately three million (3,076,388).

British casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme were 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded—probably more casualties suffered by any army in any war on any single day. Clare Tisdale wrote about her experiences as a nurse working at a casualty clearing station during the battle:

We practically never stopped. I was up for seventeen nights before I had a night in bed. A lot of the boys had legs blown off, or hastily amputated at the front-line. These boys were the ones who were in the greatest pain, and I very often used to have to hold the stump up in the ambulance for the whole journey, so that it wouldn’t bump on the stretcher.

The worse case I saw – and it still haunts me – was of a man being carried past us. It was at night, and in the dim light I thought that his face was covered with a black cloth. But as he came nearer, I was horrified to realize that the whole lower half of his face had been completely blown off and what had appeared to be a black cloth was a huge gaping hole. It was the only time I nearly fainted.

Horrific experiences like those reported by Nurse Tisdale occurred millions of times during the First World War. Historians don’t focus on the dead and mutilated human bodies as much as they do upon the political machinations that led to and continued the war. Despite its massive destructiveness and wastefulness, many historians write about the war as if it was about rational “interests”: the “great powers in contention” (Michael Vlahos, personal correspondence), struggling for dominance.

Given the volume of research and number of books written about the First World War, do we really understand why it occurred and kept going? One of the best historians of the war—Jay Winters—concludes his magnificent video series (The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century, 1996) with humility—in a tone of baffled bewilderment. Summing up, he says: “The war solved no problems. Its effects, both immediate and indirect, were either negative or disastrous. Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading, confused in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example in European history of meaningless conflict.”

The First World War was not generated as a form of primitive aggression, but was undertaken in the name of “civilization.” People died and killed in the name of—for the sake of—their societies. Lives were sacrificed to entities with names such as “France” and “Germany” and “Great Britain.” These “symbolic objects” justified slaughter and made it seem meaningful.

We have not adequately interrogated the slaughter that occurred in the First World War: this monumental episode of destruction and self-destruction. Why did Generals persist in deploying a futile battle strategy that resulted in the deaths of millions of human beings?

We turn our eyes away. We don’t want to encounter the reality of what occurred: What human societies did to human beings: the massive, pathological destruction that was generated by civilization. In the face of such horror, historians lose their resolve: “The Generals were stupid and incompetent.” “They underestimated the effectiveness of the machine-gun.”

Arriving home from the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, President Woodrow Wilson set about the task of convincing the Congress to ratify the treaty and to approve American participation in the League of Nations. Wilson toured the country to canvass support in favor of both the treaty and the League, giving one of his final addresses as President in support of the League in Pueblo, Colorado, on Sept. 15, 1919.

He spoke to his audience about “our pledges to the men that lie dead in France.” Americans went over there, he said, not to prove the prowess of America, but to ensure that “there never was such a war again.” His “clients,” Wilson said, were the next generation of children. He wanted to “redeem his pledge” that they should “not be sent on a similar errand.”

Wilson told his audience that again and again during his tour of the United States, mothers who lost their sons in France came up to him, took his hand, and while shedding tears said, “God bless you, Mr. President.” Why, he asks, should these ladies ask God to bless him? It was he that created the situation that led to the death of their sons, who ordered their sons overseas and consented to them being put in battle lines where “death was certain.”

Where death was certain! As General Haig put it: soldiers who attacked at battles like the Somme “knew before they started” that their actions meant “certain death.” Why this willingness—on the part of men like Wilson, Haig and numerous other national leaders—to put young men in situations where death was a certainty?

Haig claimed that three million British casualties were worth the cost because the issues involved in the “stupendous struggle” were “far greater than those concerned in any war in recent history. Civilization itself was at stake.”

Why, Wilson asks, did the mothers of young men who died in the First World War weep upon his hand and “call down the blessings of God upon me?” Because they agreed that their boys had died for something that “vastly transcends any of the immediate and palpable objects of the war.” These men were “crusaders.” By virtue of their sacrifices—giving the “gift of their life”—these men “saved the liberty of the world.”

As Islamic warriors died for Allah and British soldiers sacrificed their lives for civilization, so did American soldiers die in order to “save the liberty of the world.”

But Germany also fought the First World War in the name of civilization. In his study, God, Germany and Britain in the Great War (1989), Arlie Hoover conveys how Germans conceived of their superiority. One pastor explained that the German nation surpassed every nation in “extolling the command of duty.” As compared with the British who practiced the “sin of materialism,” Germany embraced idealistic values. For the German, nothing was greater than heroism: the willingness to “lay down one’s life for one’s brother.”

Hitler in Mein Kampf (1925) stated that the most precious blood in the First World War had “sacrificed itself joyfully” in the faith that it was “preserving the independence and freedom of the fatherland.” More than once, Hitler said, thousands and thousands of young Germans had stepped forward to “sacrifice their young lives freely and joyfully on the altar of the beloved fatherland.”

One can say Allah or the British Empire or the spirit of France or the German fatherland or the liberty of the world. What is the nature of this relationship linking sacrificial death and devotion to the sacred ideals of civilization?

We have yet to understand the massive political violence that characterized the Twentieth Century. History books record what occurred—but are unable to explain why. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we have failed to interrogate the central variables that generated slaughter. Terms like “civilization” and “society” and “the country” are taken for granted.

The objects or entities to which these terms refer are present within each episode of political violence. However, we don’t analyze these objects or entities. They are accepted and embraced as constituting the essence of reality. Political history is dominated by reified entities endowed with a will—and possessing the capacity to act. It is Great Britain that performs acts of violence, or France, or Germany or America.

Many people feel that dying and killing in the name of Allah makes no sense. Suicide bombings seem fantastic. Allah is just a word to us—an empty construct. Why would human beings die and kill in the name of “Allah”?

However, when we discuss people dying and killing in the name of “France,” “Germany” or “Great Britain”—this seems to make perfect sense. To this day, we believe in the reality of these entities. We don’t understand the First World War—from which 20th Century political history descends—because we have not interrogated our relationship to the objects in whose names slaughter occurs.

Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph.D
Director, Library of Social Science

Library of Social Science Book Reviews

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Library of Social Science Book Reviews has been initiated in order to identify outstanding scholarly books and bring them to the attention of scholars, students and thinking people everywhere. We aspire to provide a space of freedom for the presentation and development of significant ideas. We will publish substantial review essays that critically engage and develop the author’s arguments and their implications.

Books will be selected based on their quality and ability to generate change both in the scholarly community and wider society. We will engage in scholarship across a range of disciplines including: political psychology, social theory, anthropology, political science, and twentieth century history. We especially wish to review books that address the sources and meanings of collective forms of violence that take the form of warfare, genocide and terrorism.

The rise of postmodern relativism brought the assumption that each author produces a work that is valid only within a particular discursive community. In our view, scholars should not be circumscribed by their discursive context. We believe that the pursuit of truth is still a primary objective of intellectual activity—and that one individual’s insights can build upon those of others in a collaborative and cumulative process. We seek to develop a community of people who see the possibility of moving towards a degree of consensus on core issues—through collegiality and the disinterested pursuit of knowledge.

The Library of Social Science is positioning itself as a challenge to entrenched ideologies—widening a field of vision that has been obstructed by a penchant for insular specialization. Our reviewers seek to develop new perspectives and theories on the relationship between history, culture, ideology and psychology—that may yield startling insights.

Guided by the academic interests of its founder, Dr. Richard Koenigsberg, Library of Social Science has been contributing to its community by sharing knowledge and advancing human understanding of the social world for several decades. We have helped numerous scholars share their views with the world by promoting their writings through our Ideologies of War website and the Library of Social Science Newsletter, which reaches 65,000 scholars in the United States and around the world.

For the past 40 years, Dr. Koenigsberg has been researching the psychological sources of war and genocide. He is the author of highly acclaimed books such as Hitler’s Ideology: A Study in Psychoanalytic Sociology and Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War, and has lectured extensively throughout the United States.

We have invited a group of dynamic scholars to join us in this endeavor. Some are established authorities in their fields. Others are young scholars seeking a space to convey their insights. We hope that Our Reviewers will have the drive and courage to pursue new ideas—wherever they may lead.

Call for review essay: World War II and the Holocaust

Books such as Hitler’s Ideology (Koenigsberg, 1975), The Nazi Doctors (Lifton, 1986), Racial Hygiene (Proctor, 1988) and The Racial State (Burleigh, 1991) established that the Final Solution was rooted in a biological fantasy: Jews were conceived as a “disease within the body of the people” that had to be removed or destroyed if Germany was to survive.

Mineau’s SS Thinking and the Holocaust extends our understanding of the impact of this biological fantasy, demonstrating that war against the Soviet Union – like the Holocaust – was undertaken to destroy the source of a disease that Hitler and other Nazis imagined was acting to bring about the demise of Western civilization. Mineau suggests that the Holocaust and the war against Russia – Operation Barbarossa – were two sides of the same coin.

The Nazis embraced and embarked upon their “Final Solution” with a sense of righteousness. Heinrich Himmler famously declared at a meeting of SS Major-Generals on October 4, 1943, that the Nazi leadership had “the moral right, the duty, to destroy this people that wanted to destroy us.”

Why did the Nazis believe that it was necessary to destroy the Jews? What was the logic of mass-murder? Mineau says that everything began with the idea of the German Volk, the immortal German community: the “blood flow that comes from eternity and leads to eternity.”

Hitler explained to his people, “you are nothing, your nation is everything.” The Volk, Mineau says, was the focus of “ontological value,” as compared to the individual. The Volk transcended empirical existence. One SS author expounded: “Fight for the future of your blood! You are immortal in your Volk.”

What was the Jew? The Jew represented that which acted to destroy the Volk. The Volk could be eternal – provided it cared for its existence. What threatened the being of the Volk – worked toward its destruction – was the Jew. SS thinking conceived the very existence of Jewry, Mineau points out, as a “lethal bacteria threatening the Volk’s body with decay and ruin.”

How are we to understand Hitler’s “foreign policy”? Why did he attack the Soviet Union in the midst of the Battle of Britain? From a strategic perspective, it would have made sense for Germany to have completed the war in the West – conquered Great Britain – and then turn to Russia.

Andreas Hillgruber shows (1981) that – from the beginning of his career – Hitler was intent upon destroying the source of “Jewish Bolshevism” in the Soviet Union. Hitler feared the “inundation by disease bacilli which at the moment have their breeding ground in Russia” (in Hitler’s Second Book, 1928/2006). The conquest of Russia, Hillgruber says, was for Hitler inextricably linked with the extermination of these “bacilli.”

Indeed, Hillgruber says, the racist component of Hitler’s thought was so closely interwoven with the central political element of his program, the conquest of European Russia, that “Russia’s defeat and the extermination of the Jews were – in theory and later in practice – inseparable for him.”

The focus of SS Thinking and the Holocaust is to establish the important point that Germany’s war against the Soviet Union originated and was carried out in the name of a biological ideology. And that the objective of this war was identical to that of the Holocaust: to exterminate “Jewish Bolshevik bacteria.”

The intended war against the Soviet Union was officially discussed by Hitler on March 30, 1941, during a speech to top Wehrmacht commanders. Hitler made it clear that his intent was to eliminate ideological enemies. General Franz Halder noted the essentials:

Clash of two ideologies. Crushing denunciation of Bolshevism, identified with asocial criminality … A Communist is no comrade before or after the battle. This is a war of extermination … War against Russia: Extermination of the Bolshevist commissars and the Communist intelligentsia … We must fight against the poison of disintegration. Commissars and GPU men are criminals and must be dealt with as such … This war will be very different from the war in the West. … Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their personal scruples.

War against the Soviet Union, Mineau suggests, was absolute or total because what was at stake was not a “particular pool of resources,” but “Truth” and “The Good” – about which no compromise was possible. The ultimate good consisted of “preserving the body politic or Volk against threats understood in terms of disease.” Politics sought to achieve “social hygiene.”

Operation Barbarossa, Mineau says, was the ultimate fulfillment of the Nazi ideology of health, a “large-scale and multifaceted sanitary operation in the sick and evil world of Untermenschen.” Barbarossa was the Nazi’s attempt at “eliminating threats and sources of disease, the most lethal one being Jewry.” Confronted with the pervasiveness of biological evil, Nazism was the “politics of hypochondria.”

Mineau concludes that Barbarossa would be no ordinary military operation because it was to be “grounded on ideology as makeshift biology.” The Holocaust “would be and was intended to be an essential dimension in the upcoming war.” The war against Russia was a dimension of the Holocaust, and the Holocaust was a form of war. Each (or both) may be understood as a “single gigantic sanitary operation,” an “anti-biotic operation” whose purpose was to “control the spread of an infectious disease, which lay in the existence of the Jewish people.”

Of course, Jews were not bacteria, and the threat they posed to civilization was located in the mind of Hitler and the Nazis. The war against the Soviet Union was based upon a fantasy, one that was acted upon – and caused the death of tens of millions of people.

Richard A. Koenigsberg, Ph.D
Director, Library of Social Science

We seek scholars who will write a review essay building upon Mineau’s ideas.

Please read our Mission Statement and Parameters of a Library of Social Science Book Review (both directly below), then reply to Orion Anderson, telling me why you would like to review SS Thinking and the Holocaust.

Review essays that are published will be distributed to over 65,000 people around the world who read the Library of Social Science Newsletter. With each review published, LSS will promote and sell a book authored by the reviewer and/or will publicize an author event, lecture, etc.

Respond by email to:

Parameters of a Library of Social Science Book Review Essay

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Call for a Reviewer: Dying for a Sacred Ideal

Dear Colleague,

As the Twentieth Century drew to a close, it seemed we had reached the end of history and that John Lennon’s prophecy of “nothing to kill and die for” was coming true. September 11, 2001, reminded us that some groups continue to embrace dying and killing in the name of a political idea.

Many reacted to the suicide bombings with shock and amazement—as if such happenings were unique in the annals of human history. Mark S. Schantz’s Awaiting the Heavenly Country reminds us that sacrificial dying and killing is not foreign to American culture.

Schantz seeks to understand the Civil War, a momentous struggle that took the lives of 623,026 human beings and resulted in 1,084,453 casualties. Battles often took the form of organized massacre—men advancing to their deaths through close rifle fire. “Suicidal charges,” Schantz says, “punctuated the war from start to finish.” Men slaughtered each other with a zeal we “still grope to comprehend.”

The focus of Awaiting the Heavenly Country is Schantz’s hypothesis that it was religious values—Americans’ idea of heaven—that allowed the carnage to continue for four years (1861-1865). Americans who came to fight the Civil War, Schantz says, believed that a “heavenly eternity of transcendent beauty awaited them beyond the grave.”

This idea of heaven, according to Schantz, was not an “ethereal, dreamy state of the soul or a billowy universe of specified dimensions.” Rather, Americans conceived of paradise as a material place—a land in which the dead would be resurrected: “Individual bodies and souls would be perfected and the relations of family friendship restored.”

Schantz cites an 1857 book by Sarah Gould, The Guardian Angels, or Friends in Heaven. “We believe paradise to be our fatherland,” Gould wrote. “Why should we not haste and fly to see our home and greet our parents.” In heaven, she insisted, the departed would find “the glorious choir of the Apostles” and the “innumerable company of the martyrs, crowned on account of their victories in the conflict of suffering.”

If this sounds familiar, it is not because we are conversant with 19th Century Christian culture. Rather, the vision of heaven that Schantz conveys bears a striking similarity to the idea of paradise that allows Jihadists to kill and to sacrifice their lives:

Qur’an (9:111) – “Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth.”

Qur’an (3:169-170) – “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord; They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve.”

Those who fight for the cause of Allah—who slay and are slain—are not dead. Rather, martyrs find sustenance and bliss in the garden of Paradise.

Schantz comments briefly on the relationship between Civil War soldiers and Islamic jihadists, asking us to think about how ideas of a heavenly paradise “fold into the political behavior of suicide bombers in various parts of the world.” This contemporary example illuminates Schantz’s study of the Civil War, showing how “ethereal assumptions about the nature of eternity can influence the nitty-gritty world of politics.”

Michael Vlahos develops this idea more deeply in Fighting Identity. Citing a paper by Samuel Watson, Vlahos discusses the battle motivation and behavior of Southern soldiers:

At Fredericksburg some felt that they were “almost in heaven, and could hardly suppress their exultant religious shouts amid the loudest roar and din of the conflict…and the palpable peril of their own lives.” Upon receiving a wound, one man was virtually blinded by faith: “I was not only unafraid to die, but death seemed to me a welcome messenger. Immediately there came over my soul such a burst of the glories of heaven, such a foretaste of its joys, as I have never before experienced. The New Jerusalem seemed to rise before me. I was totally unconscious of any tie that bound me to earth.”

Vlahos poses a question about the relationship between these Civil War soldiers and Islamic radicals: “Was their sacrifice so different from Taliban who ambush American soldiers? Are they not armed as well with the sure foreknowledge of their death?” He concludes that the nonstate actors we face—the terrorists, insurgents and radicals—”fight and die like those men in blue and gray at Fredericksburg.”

Writing about suicide terrorism in the New York Review of Books, Christian Caryl observes that the “ethos of wartime heroism is perhaps not all that different from the forces that drive the suicide bomber.” In the Western World, the greatest hero is the soldier who has “died for his country.”

One can say “dying for Allah” or “dying for one’s country.” The object or entity in the name of which the individual sacrifices his or her life differs, but perhaps the dynamic is the same.

We find it difficult to understand sacrificial death in the name of an ideal that we do not embrace (e.g., “Allah”), but do not find it difficult to understand sacrificial dying in the name of our own ideal (e.g., “preserving the union”). The behavior of suicide bombers is sometimes described as incomprehensible. Yet we embrace and valorize the Civil War with its suicidal attacks (even though the magnitude of slaughter was far, far greater).

One may posit a “law of sacrifice”: an ideal becomes real to the extent that the members of a society are willking to kill and die for it. Sacrificial death functions to validate or verify an idea: that for which we die and kill is true.

We invite reviewers to begin with Schantz’s text—and then to interrogate the theme of the relationship between collective forms of violence and devotion to a sacred ideal.

Please join us in our project investigating the psychic and cultural roots of societal violence.

Best regards,
Richard Koenigsberg