Nazi Ideology versus the German High Command

By Schneider, James J. | Army, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Nazi Ideology versus the German High Command


Schneider, James J., Army


Nazi Ideology Versus The German High Command Inside Hitler's High Command. Geoffrey P. Megargee. Foreword by Williamson Murray. University of Kansas Press. 327 pages; photographs; index; $17.95.

Geoffrey Megargee is an applied research scholar at the Center for Holocaust Studies, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. His new book is a thorough examination of the German high command, with a special focus on the German General Staff system, from January 1933 to May 1945, which coincides with Adolph Hitler's accession to power and his ultimate demise. It is the relationship between Hitler and the German high command that makes this book a unique contribution to the historiography of the period.

Megargee provides a systems perspective as he seeks to answer the following essential questions: What was the balance of power within the German high command? How was it established and maintained? What struggles affected this balance and the ability of the high command to function? What was the German core warmaking doctrine? How did these ideas influence the structure and function of the command system? What was the daily routine of the high command as the controlling "brain" of the Wehrmacht? How did the German decision-making process actually work in practice? How did the logistics, personnel management and military intelligence systems fit into the decision-making process? What forces drove structural changes in the high command and how did they arise? What were their effects? How did the power of personality, especially Hitler's, affect the high command and its organizational and functional development? Finally, how did the National Socialist ideology affect the rationality of the high command and General Staff?

Aided by superior German resources, the author successfully addresses these and other questions as well. Most significant, however, is Megargee's handling of the issue of Nazi ideology and its effect on military decision making and problem solving.

It was Voltaire who observed that, if we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities. Nazi ideology so thoroughly and absolutely corrupted the reasoning of the German high command that its rational functioning ceased to exist; by the end of the war the absurd was perceived as reality. Critical thinking and reasoning, the core element in military decision making, had traditionally depended on intellectual courage, integrity, rigor, objectivity and other aspects of rational thinking. Megargee is able to demonstrate that Hitler, as supreme warlord, possessed a political and strategic outlook that was fundamentally irrational and manifest with an unwillingness to change his beliefs in light of new facts and evidence. The erosion of the rationality of the high command emerged as a direct consequence of the military implementation of Hitler's strategy of extinction. …

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