Historic Gigster – A Lesson from Hitler: Divisive Speech is a Loser’s Proposition
I don’t often start a blog post with a foreword, but when speaking about Hitler, this is almost required. It is always hard to write about a person so despised as Hitler, who’s name is synonymous with the worst of mankind’s crimes. It is troubling to admit that there is a lesson to be learned from anything he achieved. However, history is about learning from the past so that we may avoid the mistakes that came before. Below, I will talk about one such lesson that we can learn from Hitler’s speeches. It is by no means an endorsement of anything the man has done, it is merely a point of reference to learn something so that we may try not to repeat it.
Hitler, a Great Speaker?
It is said that Hitler was a great speaker; that he could move people to follow him into war. In his message he made scapegoats out of Jews, those with disabilities, Slavs, communists, intellectuals, and political opponents. He spoke of these people living among the Germans as enemies of the state who were working with foreign governments to undermine it. They were a corrupting influence of lesser “races” of people. They were to be placed in detention centers and labor camps so as to be separated from the Germans.
It was his vision for Germany. Not only did it lead to unconscionable acts, but it drove the country into wars it could not possibly win. In the end, Hitler’s Germany was utterly defeated and he committed suicide rather than face the reality of his mistakes. That he made a crucial mistake in his speeches was never uttered while he was alive, but history has a way to bring these things to light and this is what we are after.
While Hitler’s speeches did manage to move the German people, the essence of these speeches was overly divisive, negative, and alarmist. Yes, such speeches can move people to action, but the fact that it excludes large segments of the people through scapegoating is a foundation for failure.
Hitler may have justified the need to cull the masses so that the German people would be purer, and he may have believed that this would allow Germany to defeat “lesser” enemies in greater numbers. Another explanation is that Hitler was just a simple racist. There is evidence on both sides of this debate, but regardless of the reasoning, Hitler’s speeches maintained the scapegoating throughout his reign, even in the last three years when the tide was really turning against him. The numbers were against him, yet he maintained the vision to the bitter end.
Any general worth his medals will know that, in the middle of a war, the last thing one should do is to splinter one’s forces. Success comes from being able to rally people to one’s side and grow one’s numbers more than the enemy’s. It was Hitler’s critical mistake, a mistake he never corrected, despite the mounting evidence against his vision for Germany.
Aside from the theoretical aspect and this being a simple numbers game, it is also completely impractical. By segregating, isolating and ultimately exterminating so many people, Hitler also lost the intellectual capital he needed to win the war. So many great teachers, doctors, scientists, economists, and yes, even military minds, were either eliminated or managed to flee to the Allies. Those who managed to escape helped build the war machine to defeat him. The longer the war would drag on, the more certain his defeat, yet he never saw it coming.
Perhaps it is the case that once a divisive vision has been laid out, straying from that path becomes more difficult over time. Perhaps this is true, but that reinforces the critical need not to adopt such a vision in the first place. History has shown time and time again that it is those generals who are able to build the largest coalitions who succeed. This is why divisive speech is a loser’s proposition – it may win an upcoming battle or two, but it will never win the war.
It is puzzling that with all the resources at his disposal, that Hitler could not or would not see this critical mistake, a mistake he made from the beginning and never relented on until the end. Not lacking a decent education or means, certainly he could have learned from history. He could have known that Russia could draw on huge numbers of troops and vast resources of land as it did with Napoleon, or that England would always be out of reach because of its coalition of colonies, or that Ancient Rome’s greatness was built largely on its alliances. Perhaps he did know, but as we know now, he willfully ignored it.
Yet, what is even more puzzling is that despite all these examples from history, the drive to scapegoat and divide is still very much alive in speakers today. Certainly you would think that today, with all the resources available to them, that leaders today would know better and work to unite people.
Perhaps they do know, perhaps they willfully ignore it, but we also know that it is still losing proposition in the end.
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