More than anything else, Shirer’s most vivid first impressions of the citizens of the New Germany had to do with the unquestioning loyalty with which many of them supported the Nazis as Hitler rebuilt a formerly defeated, chaotic country. Shirer realized that while in the recesses of their minds lived the fear of the Gestapo and of the possibility of being sent to a concentration camp if they resisted the regime, it seemed that the Nazi terror affected the lives of relatively few Germans. After 1918 the Socialists and Communists had enjoyed considerable support, yet within a year of Nazi rule most of their followers happily kept their political sympathies to themselves—even as Hitler broke the once-strong unions and replaced them with a mock Labor Front. At first the nation’s churches heralded the rise of Hitler as the bringer of a restored moral order. By the time the Catholic archbishop of Munich and the Protestant Martin Niemoeller caught on to Nazi plans to replace Christianity with Teutonic paganism, however, it was too late. And, few Germans protested the savage disenfranchisement and killing of Jews.
Shirer concluded that most Germans did not sense that they were being duped or oppressed by a tyrannical leader. Hitler embodied their deepest hopes for regained national pride and prosperity. While they had known political turmoil for a decade and a half under the idealistic Weimarer democrats, under the Nazis they found an unshakeable stability. After fifteen years of recurrent, unbelievable inflation and unemployment, the Germans seemed willing to pay almost any price for a solid Reichsmark and the promise of full employment. Perhaps most importantly, Hitler offered the masses a break from an unwanted past. In exchange for hard work and the loss of personal freedom, the Nazis guided the nation toward a surrealistic dream of German cultural—if not political—dominance over what many saw as a mediocre world. Under Hitler, the German eagle soared once again.
Perhaps--in the beginning many did not catch on. Still--how can he say something like this:
"Shirer realized that while in the recesses of their minds lived the fear of the Gestapo and of the possibility of being sent to a concentration camp if they resisted the regime, it seemed that the Nazi terror affected the lives of relatively few Germans."
Is he joking? Shirer, it seems to me had too privileged a position, attended too many Hitler rallies, mixed too much with the brass, watched too many women swoon (as he describes in other places).
I have always felt that the average North American and even the British have no idea what is was like to live under a totalitarian regime. They have been blessed and they are blissfully ignorant, not speaking the languages of oppressed people. I also think our new atheists have no clue what it is to live under atheist dictatorships. No clue. When I was a child we saw documentaries every week covering human rights abuses behind the iron curtain, dissidents sent to psychiatric hospitals, learned about people getting shot trying to cross the border... In fact, go to any website chronicling persecutions and human rights abuses in different countries. See what can be learned.
The "fear of the Gestapo and the possibility of being sent to a concentration camp" lives in the "recesses" of one's mind? Do you really think that is possible?-- Such fear becomes the dominant thing in one's mind, it does not exist in the recesses.
I spent one weekend in Communist East Germany. The feeling of oppression was continuously with us, beginning with the hassles and machine guns at the border, to making sure the neighbors did not see things or you might get reported, to never-ending bureaucracy of having everything checked and stamped and checked and stamped again. It was nightmarish. It affected our traveling group physically. When we were back across the border, we felt an incredible sense of relief. Oppression and terror do not live in the recesses of your mind.
If someone is going to shoot you or put you in concentration camp are you going to resist them? Let me see that threat live in the "recess" of your mind. Let me see you go forward boldly. Did we see Shirer do something for the all different groups that were getting harassed and hauled off? No, when he learned that the Gestapo was building a case against him, he left the country. Ah. Was there fear only in the recesses of his mind? I don't mean to blame him. But perhaps he could have understood different parts of the population better.
The ethical dilemmas presented to average people were horribly profound. You will not understand them from Hitler rallies. And you will not get a complete picture from living in Berlin.
I can see what Siemon-Netto means by cliche thinking.