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Did the Nazi crusade reveal something about the European character?

Colin Robinson, an Australian of European family, wrote the following reflections after Mystics of Kali had a discussion about the Nazi period. They were first published in the July 2009 issue of Ferment.

The Nazis are remembered for two forms of massive violence: military aggression against their neighbors, including Poland, France, the Soviet Union; and wholesale killing of minorities within their shortlived empire, especially the Jewish communities of Europe. At the Nuremberg trials which followed the Second World War, these were described, respectively, as crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. 

The two forms of Nazi violence were historically connected. Both reached their peak in the period between the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and the military defeat of the Nazis in 1945.

Motive and disposition

The Nazi movement emerged in a period of crisis. Some of the things that had been happening 

* the First World War, ending in humiliation of Germany through the Versailles treaty

* the rise of the militant European left, including the Communist International; 

* a visible contribution to the militant left had been made by secularized people from Jewish families, including Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg;

* finally, the world had fallen into a huge economic crisis, the Great Depression 

These were the circumstances in which many people in and around Germany were attracted to Hitler's mass movement, which was anti-Versailles, anti-communist and anti-semitic. 

On the other hand, historical circumstances cannot fully explain what the Nazis did. As Jung wrote in 1946,

Naturally there were plenty of reasons - political, social, economic, and historical - to drive the Germans to war, just as there are in the case of common murder. Every murderer has motives enough to spur him on, or the crime would never be committed. But, in addition to all this, a special psychic disposition is needed to bring matters to such a point. 1

The Nazi as crusader

The Nazi as crusader. Not a new idea, but one inherent in much of the material produced by the Nazis themselves. It is inherent, for instance, in Hubert Lanzinger's painting Der Bannerträger, (the Standard Bearer), created around 1935 and reproduced as a postcard around 1938.2 The painting depicts the Führer on horseback, wearing a suit of armour – the full, plate armour characteristic of the late middle ages.  The idea is inherent, also, in a name given by the Nazis to their attack on Russia -- "Operation Barbarossa", after a title of the Frederick I, a crusading German king.

According to Joachim Kahl, a German protestant theologian who became a critic of Christianity, "the German Confessing Church and the Catholic Church both supported the Second World War as a crusade against the godless Bolsheviks."3

The word crusade is relevant to both aspects of the Nazi violence: both the blitzkrieg and the gas chamber. For the original crusades involved not only Christendom marching against the Turkish Empire, but also violence within Europe itself: Christian soldiers killing Jews, and also killing Christian heretics such as the Cathars. Crusades were also carried out against Pagan nations in the Baltic region.

It would, however, be simplistic to equate National Socialism with militant Christianity. As we noted in the last issue of Ferment, there was also a distinctly Pagan current in the Nazi movement. For that matter, even the original crusades seem to have drawn some of their inspiration from elements of Europe's non Christian heritage. It seems significant that the crusading German king Frederick Barbarossa held the title of Holy Roman Emperor. 

"European culture and civilization"

Hitler's statement of 22 June 1941, announcing his invasion of the Soviet Union, in response, so he says, to a long list of Soviet intrigues and provocations…

The Führer describes himself as "a responsible representative of European culture and civilization." He has began  ‘an attack unprecedented in the history of the world in its extent and size' in which Germans were fighting alongside the armed forces of Finland and Romania. The purpose of the alliance is "no longer the protection of the individual nations, rather the safety of Europe, and therefore the salvation of everyone."4

Why am I quoting these words of Hitler's? Not because they seem now, to me, to be a plausible justification for his actions. But rather, because I think they were effectively chosen to seem plausible at the time, not only to Germans, but also to as many people as possible in other parts of Europe. Men from a range of nations in fact volunteered to take part in the eastern campaign – for instance, the Spanish volunteers who formed the Blue Division of the Wehrmacht, the French who formed the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen SS, and those from north-western Europe who formed the Wiking Division.

Europe's heart of darkness

European culture has an old and continuing tendency to imagine a place of danger somewhere outside itself, either in the south or the east or both. In Tolkien's great fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, the free peoples of the west are threatened by an alliance of Easterlings and Southrons, who serve the Dark Lord. In one of Tolkien's non-fiction works, an essay about constructed languages, he expresses a forboding that Europe will be swallowed up by non-Europe.5 In Charles Williams Taliessen through Logres there is the sinister eastern kingdom of P'o L'u. In Dan Simmons' novel Song of Kali, the threatening strangeness is encountered in Calcutta.

In Josef Conrad's classic novella, Heart of Darkness, the place of danger is in Africa, however its tyrannical, unbalanced and unhappy god-king is actually a European. 

As Jung understood, the experience of the Third Reich does little to support the contention that European civilization is on a higher plane than the civilizations of the East. "The world sees Europe as the continent on whose soil the shameful concentration camps grew, just as Europe singles out Germany." 6

The point is not that all Europeans are equally responsible -- that would be an absurd proposition. It's an obvious fact of history that not everybody in Europe backed the Führer... However, if I, as a person of European ancestry, take some measure of pride in cultural and scientific triumphs achieved historically by certain Europeans (from the Parthenon to the Theory of Relativity), then should I not feel a similar measure of shame when I consider the crimes carried out by certain other Europeans -- especially when they were committed not only within Europe, but in Europe's name?

"The primitive European"

"The primitive European" is a phrase used by Jung in a 1946 essay.7 It sounds a little strange -- we are more to used to hearing the word European linked to terms like civilized, civilization etc. Both before and after the Second World War, Jung used a number of images to describe what he saw as primitivity in apparently civilized nations of Europe -- the "blond beast" 8; the bull, 9; the "Aryan bird of prey".10

Reflecting on this area, I recalled the ancient Greek myth of the maiden Europa, from which Europe itself gets its name. In the myth, Europa is a young woman who encounters a great bull, beautifully marked, apparently friendly and docile. She climbs on the animal's back, whereupon it charges wildly into the sea, carrying the helpless girl to a distant place across the waters…

The bull is actually Zeus, chief of the Greek gods, who is passionately attracted to Europa. Zeus, in his usual form, has none of the animal attributes commonly seen in the Egyptian deities. He is entirely anthropomorphic. Yet his form can change, into something entirely animal.

The maiden carried into deep water on the back of the charging bull seems an excellent image of a person or group being carried along by the emotional rush of some huge charismatic campaign. As happened to Europeans as a community, in the age of the crusades…

What about other cultures?

What about cultures or civilizations other than Europe? Don't they also have shadow sides?

No doubt they do. As Mao Zedong once said: "Every nation, big or small, has its strong and weak points." 11

However, as a person of European ancestry, I feel called to give specific attention to the shadow side of my European heritage. It is all too easy for us Europeans to escape from own own shadow by turning our attention to terrible events somewhere else – to Aztec blood sacrifice, Muslim corsairs, cannibalism in the Pacific islands, thuggee and suttee in India, or red guards in China...

In the language of the New Testament, the West needs to attend first to the beam in its own eye, rather than to the motes in the eye of its neighbors.

What does it have to do with Kali?

On one level, Kali represents the shadow, the darkness. On another level, she represents the wholeness that is realized by making the darkness conscious. It is not enough to generalize about darkness. The thing is to make conscious the areas of darkness specific to ourselves, as individuals and as participants in cultures. As a person of European ancestry and upbringing, I need to pay specific attention to the dark side of Europe, expressed in the Nazi period.

1 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Vol 10; RKP, London; 2nd edition, 1970; page 233.

2 http://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/archive/painting-the-standard-bearer/ (accessed 8 June 09)

3 Kahl, Joachim; The Misery of Christianity; Penguin, England, 1971; page 51.

4 http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/hitler4.htm  accessed 8 June 09.

5 Tolkien, J.R.R.; "A Secret Vice"; in his The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays;  George Allen and Unwin, London, 1983; p 198.

6 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Vol 10; page 196.

7 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Vol 10; page 227.

8 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Vol 10; pages 13, 227.

9 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Vol 10; pages 20 to 22.

10 Jung, C.G.; Collected Works, Vol 10; page 89.

11 Mao Zedong; Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung; Bantam Books, NY, 1967; page 101. 

Comment from Sanjay Dey

Monday November 30, 2009

Dear Colin,

As the case always is the way you put the two opposite forces together and shown their similarities is truly creditworthy. The text shows the amount of energy and time taken to make the piece. I will only add that the symbol associated with Hitler's Germany was Swastika. In India every Hindu household will draw the swastika in their pots before giving it to the God. It is a very sacred symbol to us. The thought of Swastika creating a havoc throughout the world is very sadenning. The difference between ours and the German's is that ours is just in the opposite direction of the German's.

Signing off I will only emphasize the need of community for furtherence of peace. Today the whole world is falling apart. The partisanism is plagued over each and every individual. If we have to create a better place to live in we have to remove partisanism from our mind and accept each and every individual with an open arm.



Response from Colin

Wednesday December 2, 2009

Dear Sanjay

The topic of the Swastika came up in a discussion which I had with fellow worshippers earlier this year.


Because of Hitler, the swastika came to have very negative associations for Europeans especially. For instance, the first book I ever read (as a child) about Nazi war-crimes had the title "The Scourge of the Swastika"...

However, there are signs that attitudes are beginning to change, with greater international understanding of what the symbol means to Hindus and to Buddhists. Wikipedia has made an effort to offer objective information about what the Swastika has meant in different places and different times.




Response from Sanjay

Thursday December 3, 2009

Dear Colin,

Kali is a representative of the death & the life at the same time. As if the coin with the heads and tails. Both death & life are the natural systems of human life. If you have a life you will have to embrace death someday. This is also true for any culture & civilization. May it be Indian, Mayan, European, the Chinese,the Americans. There comes a time when the  power of evils becomes the master of the good. In the Nazi case also, the whole German populace went out to embrace the evils without actually knowing what was wrong in it. This feeling was supported by the then superpowers England, France. With the Hilter's army marching towards Romania also England didnt have anything to say. When they finally managed to understand the magnitude of destruction also they sent their soldiers only to be a mere spectator in France. If the US was not involved in the WWII the Allied forces would be in the losers chair.


In recent years also the magnitude of the Talibans and the Al Qaeda movement would not have  come into light if the US didnt take any military action in Afganistan. Also the US would not have done this if there was no 9/11.




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