Indoctrination and the Need for a Cause

Part of the St Antony’s Series book series


The war against the Soviet Union was described by the leaders of the Third Reich as a ‘Weltanschauungskrieg’, that is, a war of ideologies. In seeking the causes for the barbarisation of German troops on the Eastern Front it is therefore essential to examine the role played by political indoctrination among the combat elements of the army during the war. To what extent did National Socialist ideology motivate the individual soldier both in fighting the Red Army and in carrying out acts of brutality against POWs, partisans and civilians? Was there an essential difference between the war in the East and other fronts or other wars? In short, was this also an ideological, almost religious war from the point of view of the individuals at the front, and can this be seen as one of the major factors contributing to its ferocity and brutality?


German People Nazi Party German Army Educational Officer German Soldier 
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  1. 1.
    BA-MA RH26–12/227, 1.5.40, which adds that since the beginning of the war over 20 000 radios had been sent to the troops at the front ‘from donations and former Jewish ownership’. See also E. Kris and H. Speier, German Radio Propaganda (New York, 1944); P. M. Taylor, ‘Propaganda in International Politics, 1919–39’, in K. R. M. Short (ed.), Film & Radio Propaganda in World War II (Knoxville, 1983) pp. 29–32; R. Taylor, ‘Gocbbels and the Function of Propaganda’, in Welch, Nazi Propaganda, pp. 39–40; Zeman, Nazi Propaganda, pp. 51–2: by 1939 some 3 500 000 Volksempfänger had been sold and 70 per cent of all German households owned a wireless set-the highest percentage anywhere in the world.Google Scholar
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    BA-MA RH26–12/89, 26.6.43. The same officer stressed, however, that ‘The bombing terror creates a great mental strain’: Ibid. On Hitler’s indifference to the bombing, see H. Trevor-Roper (eel.), The Goebbels Diaries, 2nd edn (London, 1979) p. 18; and his (ed.), Hitler’s Table Talk, 2nd edn (London, 1973) pp. 668–9; also A. Speer, Inside the Third Reich, 6th edn (London, 1979) pp. 408–9.Google Scholar
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    Propaganda and criminality among the Western allies were, of course, not completely absent; studying them, however, only further emphasises the difference between them and the Eastern Front. See, on propaganda, M. Balfour, Propaganda in War (London, 1979) and I. McLaine, Ministry of Morale (London, 1979); on discipline, morale and patriotism, Ellis, The Sharp End, pp. 212–66, 314–57; on Allied brutality, A. M. de Zayas, Die Wehrmacht-Untersuchungsstelle, 3rd edn (München, 1980); on Allied failure to bomb death camps, W. Z. Laqueiu, The Terrible Secret, 2nd edn (Harmondsworth: Middlesex, 1982) and D. S. Weiman, ‘Why was Auschwitz not Bombed?’, Zmanim, II (in the Hebrew language, 1981). As for the SS, it has indeed been pointed out recently that it served as ‘an alibi of a nation’, most of all, it would seem to me, regarding the Wehrmacht who could blame everything on the ‘black coats’. See R. L. Koehl, The Black Corps (Madison, 1983) p. 245.Google Scholar
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  21. 135.
    Religious and pseudo-religious or ideological fanaticism have played an important role in motivating soldiers throughout history, both in Europe and in numerous others civilizations. Sec, for example, J. A. Aho, Religious Mythology and the Art of War (Westport, 1981); P. H. Merkl and N. Smart (eds), Religion and Politics in the Modern World (New York, 1983); and a highly original and interesting theory on the relationship between religion and violence, in R. Girard, Violence and the Sacred, 2nd edn (Baltimore, 1979).Google Scholar
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    Last Letters from Stalingrad (London, 1956) pp. 27–8. Also see A. Werth, The Year of Stalingrad (London, 1946). The need of the professional soldier, and particularly the German officer corps of the new Wehrmacht, to find a set of ideological principles as to ‘why we fight’ is analysed in M. Janowitz, The Professional Soldier (New York, 1960) pp. 401–3. Further on this point, see M. D. Feld, ‘Professionalism, Nationalism and the Alienation of the Military’, in J. van Doom (ed.). Armed Forces and Society (The Hague, 1968) pp. 55–70; and J. van Doom, ‘Political Change and the Control of the Military’, in J. van Doom (ed.), Military Profession and Military Regimes (The Hague, 1969) pp. 11–31.Google Scholar
  23. 140.
    Needhatn, Belief, p. 53. On the impact of the changing vocabulary in Nazi Germany as an essential aspect of the conversion of the population to National Socialism and the Fuhrer-Myth, see, apart from Klem-pcrer’s work, also C. Horning Vom ‘ Abstammungsnachweis’ zum ‘Zuchtwart’, Vokabular des Nationalsozialismtis (Berlin, 1964). Very revealing is the chapter ‘Ich Glaube an Ihm’, in Klemperer, Sprache, pp. 115–32.Google Scholar

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© Omer Bartov 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PrincetonUSA

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