The author of the book "How Could This Happen," attempts to disavow us of the notion that because of the racist extremism that allowed the holocaust to occur, we must conclude that man is basically evil. Dan McMillan does this primarily by not allowing us to "throw our hands up in the air" at the complexities that led to one of the world's greatest moral disasters. Giving us instead, a cogent, cleanly-written narrative that, while not everywhere convincing, does nevertheless give us the outlines of a testable theory that could explain both why and how the holocaust occurred.
The shorter version of the author's theory is that it took an impossible combinations of dangerous ideas, ruined people, and unimaginable bad luck to make this catastrophe happen.
In the longer version, he pulls all of these improbable variables together into a powerful analytic narrative that solves the puzzle of the historical circumstances that caused the rise of Nazi Germany and the holocaust that followed in its wake.
In this longer version, German history plays a dominant role, as the author shows us how the holocaust occurred above all else because Germany did not become a democracy before its own 1918 socialist inspired revolution. This revolution not only gave Germany's rightwing ruling elite the upper hand, but also the motive and the opportunity to fight a long battle against democratic reforms and against their greatest fear of all, a Communist revolution similar to what had just occurred a year earlier in Russia.
In this battle -- fought as much against democratic reforms as against the fear of a Communist revolution -- the rightwing ruling clique used anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism as their primary weapons of choice. Jews were made the scapegoats for all of Germany's problems -- from the lost of WW-I, to fomenting the socialist led revolution of 1918, to keeping class antagonism alive; to, most of all, being over-represented in the professions and the culture of German society. This palpable and deeply rooted race-based hatred for Jews, even more so than its turbulent history and its fear of Communism, set the table for the arrival of the diminutive Austrian Corporal, Adolph Hitler -- the most extreme racist and anti-Semite of them all.
Against all odds, this most unattractive of political characters gained the backing of rightwing cliques in the upper class and wrested power from an anarchic series of weak autocratic regimes pulled together by Otto von Bismarck. By 1934, Hitler had become the sole holder of German power and legitimacy.
Two important milestones in Hitler's intellectual growth and preparation for leadership was the honing of his oratorical skills in the coffee houses of Munich and Berlin, and the adoption of his own manifesto, "Mein Kampt," written while he was in jail. Importantly, we discover here that "Mein Kampt," parroted in toto the themes written by a member of the ultra rightwing Pan-German society, named Heinrich Class. Class called his book "If I were Emperor."
In his manifesto (of everything Germans held dear at the time), Class rhapsodized about German racial superiority; its need to unify around a charismatic leader and around a kind of tribal loyalty that would be more precious than loyalty to family. Class' tract also called for a robust and muscular German nationalism and militarism that would wipe away the shame of the Versailles Treaty and would at the same time befit Germany's new superior status on the world stage, allowing it to acquire colonies and expand its territories to provide the much needed additional living space. But above all else, Class' manifesto vilified Jews as being genetic and morally inferior traitors who were destructive to German unity, and thus at the very least, were unworthy of German citizenship, and at most, should be banished from German lands -- or worse yet, completely done away with.
At the same time, reaching its high water mark in the decades leading up to WW-II, an intellectual movement was introduced to Hitler by America called "Scientific Racism." Grossly misreading Darwin's theory of Evolution, its culmination was the American Eugenics program, which, like Heinrich Class' Manifesto, was used by Hitler as a template for inventing a new sociobiological policy to go along with his ideology of nationalism and racism. It called for culling the world of inferior beings and designating them as unworthy of life.
Shadows of Hitler's fear of Communism as well as his program for "weeding out the unfit" because they represented a costly "dead weight" on society, can still be seen today as a not too well-hidden twice-removed subtext of all of the Republican Party's domestic social programs.
The Hitler adaptation of these ideas claimed that Jews were genetically inferior -- hard-wired at birth to be destructive -- and thus morally and biologically "unfit" to be Germans as well as undeserving of life. Rather paradoxically, he made this claim at the same time that most Germans hated Jews because they were perceived as too successful and over-represented in German media, and in German professional and cultural life. Which raises the interesting question of how Jews could be both unfit and inferior at the same time that they were perceived to be the most successful professional ethnic group in Germany?
Then, given his utter lack of competence, came Hitler's stunning almost magical string of successes that bound even the most skeptical Germans to him and his racist ideology. By bringing Germany out of the depression in only four years; reversing the humiliating Versailles Treaty; unifying all Germans around a charismatic leader and around the idea of "the volk;" building up one of the world's most formidable military machine in world history, and using it to overrun Europe in less than a year, Hitler earned the undying fealty of all but a dwindling fraction of the German population. Germans could now forget that they lost two million in WW-I.
By the beginning of 1941, the only elements in the Hitler/Class agenda for attaining German biological superiority that had not yet been fulfilled was taking over Russia, and ridding German society of the "much-reviled Jew."
With all of Germany's solidarity centered on completing this last perhaps most important of the Hitler/Class agenda items, Hitler allowed his plans for a "final Solution of the Jewish problem" to "leak" to the proper members of his staff. And they, as always, "working toward the leader," behind a wall of secrecy, "read Hitler's mind," and intuited what had to be done; and then with minimal verbal orders and instructions, they set about the business of proactively completing Hitler's agenda. With or without explicit orders, Hitler's henchmen got the machinery for industrialized murder up and running, ready to roll towards genocide. Had the Russians not stopped Hitler in his tracks, the world today would be a very different place in which to live.
Summary and Analysis
From this point onwards, the author structures his narrative arguments in such a way that even though he later denied it, he nevertheless seemed to try subtly to pin the responsibility for the holocaust on the German people collectively -- rather than on the criminal Hitler government and his henchmen -- where arguably the responsibility justifiably should have been laid.