Based on actual performance, Germany was arguably the most dangerous nation of the 20th century, but its imperial adventures did not begin with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., German invaders finished off the ailing Roman Empire. In the eighth century, a loose coalition of German warlords (led by the Franks) organized the Holy Roman Empire in conjunction with the CATHOLIC CHURCH, maintaining its grip on Europe at large until 1806. Prussia was the backbone of German militarism, its officers chiefly responsible for the outbreak of World War I. Defeat in that conflict failed to chasten Germany, and ADOLF HITLER soon employed a mixture of racism and xenophobia to launch his fanatical THIRD REICH. Early German victories in World War II might have been permanent but for Hitler’s insanity and obsessive pursuit of a HOLOCAUST against Jews and other “inferiors.” Defeated once again, Germany was divided after 1945, with the eastern zone under communist control, while the west (under U.S. guidance) restored many “ex”-Nazis to leadership positions. West German chancellor Willy Brandt, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his foreign policies, was forced to resign in 1974 after an East German spy was revealed among his top aides. After the collapse of Communism, Germany’s two halves were reunited in October 1990. Dedicated Nazi watchers warned that the move might be dangerous in light of recent rightwing terrorist incidents that targeted foreigners and racial minorities throughout Germany. Though banned by law, expressions of pro-Nazi sentiment are increasingly common in the German fatherland, with proponents of a FOURTH REICH found among street-prowling skinhead gangs and “better” elements alike.
The collapse of the THIRD REICH in 1945, unfortunately, did not mark the end of FASCISM or NATIONAL SOCIALISM as political ideologies. Thousands of Nazis linked to WAR CRIMES and genocidal actions during the HOLOCAUST escaped prosecution at the end of World War II. Some, like ADOLF EICHMANN and JOSEF MENGELE (and perhaps MARTIN BORMANN), escaped to South America with the aid of ODESSA and other underground networks. Others, including KLAUS BARBIE, were adopted by the U.S. government as anticommunist allies under PROJECT PAPERCLIP. Countless others were simply ignored by postwar German authorities, resuming their normal lives as entrepreneurs, politicians, even police officers and judges. Ambiguous evidence and Russian intransigence raised doubts in many minds as to whether ADOLF HITLER himself had really died in 1945.
Considering the global losses suffered during World War II, it is entirely natural that freedomloving people everywhere should fear the rise of a “Fourth Reich” in Europe (or anywhere else). In the past half-century, those fears have been exacerbated by a variety of trends and events, including:
1. The slow leak of revelations, from the latter 1940s to the present day, exposing war criminals who slipped through the net in 1945, including some who settled in the United States and others who were actively employed by U.S. government agencies.
2. The survival of prewar fascism in “neutral” Spain until 1975, accompanied by the rise of neo-fascist military juntas (most supported, if not created, with U.S. aide) in nations ranging from Greece to Central and South America.
3. The proliferation of neo-fascist groups in Europe from the 1950s onward, including organizations in Germany (where any display of pro-Nazi sympathy remains a criminal offense) that were seemingly sheltered by sympathetic police and prosecutors.
4. Reports from Nazi outposts, such as Chile’s COLONIA DIGNIDAD, where old-school fascists put down roots in the bad old days and have flourished (often with local government protection) ever since.
5. The reunification of Germany in 1990, followed by new waves of neo-Nazi skinhead violence against minorities and increasingly belligerent activity by various far-right political parties.
6. The collapse of Soviet communism in 1991. Though long a goal of anticommunists worldwide, the USSR’s dissolution only exacerbated Russia’s economic crises while clearing the way for organization of neo-fascist groups in the mold of those found throughout Western Europe.
It seems unlikely, at first glance, that Hitler’s Reich will ever rise again, and yet students of history recall the conditions that brought Hitler to power in 1933: economic crises, obsessive fear of “enemy aliens” coupled with demands for “national security” at any cost, erosion of constitutional liberties by crusading leaders, and a final acceptance that “war is the health of the state.” Those problems still exist, and if as some suggest that the would-be “saviors” of the nation have traded their brown shirts and jackboots for thousand-dollar suits, the disguise only makes them more dangerous.