Staying in Power: Intimidation, Fear, but above all Misiniformation

July 1, 2010

As we explored Berlin I continued to be more and more amazed by the near complete control that the National Socialists held over every aspect of German society. It is not uncommon when examining history to see examples of dictatorships which are able to maintain power by rendering the citizenry incapable of mounting an efficient resistance, but in Nazi Germany Hitler was actually able to engage the citizenry in the very machinery which prevented that resistance. The stories of average citizens reporting their neighbors for harboring Jews and political dissidents were incredibly disturbing, and they were not the only example of the type of control which the National Socialists possessed over German society. How though, were they able to exert such complete control?

Certainly the National Socialists used intimidation as a control tactic, just as many dictatorships throughout history have done. The SA, SS, and Gestapo were all designed precisely to intimidate. From the design of their uniforms to the physical characteristics which were required to serve in these forces they possessed an inherent and deep ability to intimidate those around them. I have no doubt that some Germans became complicit in the crimes of the National Socialists because of this intimidation, however, it is also clear that this intimidation alone cannot account for the level of complicity which was present in Nazi Germany.

A much more significant tactic that the National Socialists used to exert the level of control they were able to exert was fear. They sought at all times to ensure that the citizens of Germany were afraid. Afraid of the Jews, afraid of the West, afraid of Communism, afraid of anything and everything to which the Nazis were opposed. This fear became such a fundamental part of German life that the German people would report their neighbor not out of spite, or because they were intimidated by the Gestapo, but because they were afraid of their neighbor. Afraid that their neighbor sought to undermine the very foundation of Germany society and the values which they believed Germany stood for. But how were the National Socialists able to create this deep of a fear in the citizenry?

They created this fear by becoming masters of misinformation. The National Socialists provide us with an example of a propaganda campaign unmatched in the history of the world. The control that they exerted over the press, over public speech, over the radio and TV were so utterly complete that they could repeat lies over and over without the truth having a single opportunity to be presented to the public. An old adage says that a lie told enough times by enough people will ultimately come to be believed and the Nazis certainly leveraged this adage. Their control of information reached the point that they could effectively tell the public anything they wished and it would be considered to be true. And it is this control that allowed them to create the kind of fear that they needed to not merely remain in power, but to have power over every aspect of German society.


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