Archives For National Socialism

Thomas Doherty’s 2013 book, ‘Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939’, is a 373 page look into the past ideological make-up of Hollywood.

The book is well referenced, including both footnotes and a lengthy bibliography. The text flows chronologically and stands as essential reading for anyone studying, or wanting to know more about, both Hollywood’s reaction, and involvement, in Europe and America during the 1930’s.

Doherty paints a picture of the Hollywood scene, beginning with a basic introduction to the context and zeitgeist. What emerges is an insight into the things which divided and unified Hollywood. Avoiding a dreary run down of politics and economics, Doherty writes about a vibrant and diverse group of people, who, though continents apart and ideologically separated, forged an ardent opposition to Nazism and Fascism.

One of the main pillars of his book is Doherty’s exposition of the pro-active steps taken in order to counter the rise of anti-Semitism and Fascism. Opposition to Nazism from within the American film industry was an up-and-coming movement, which matured quickly after Hitler’s 1933 election to the Chancellery.

The movement wasn’t free of factionalism and fickle alliances. According to Doherty, shifting loyalties were brought about because of concerns raised with regards to the reach of Nazi propaganda and communism’s covert takeover of the Hollywood entertainment complex. Communists were involved in the Hollywood anti-Nazi League (HANL) movement. Consequently, some individuals within the movement became as much about quietly promoting Communism, as they did resisting Nazism. This narrowed diversity, as new factions split off and other groups, such as traditional Christians, were slowly purged from their place in the HANL movement. As Doherty shows, the biggest challenge for Communists was in maintaining a push towards Communist influence whilst keeping up the movement’s anti-Nazi; anti-Fascist agenda.

Doherty writes:

‘The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League’s rise, dominion and fall offer a case study in the merging of media and politics, celebrity status and social activism, and the ultimately irreconcilable marriage between starry-eyed liberalism and hard-nosed communism in the 1930s’ (p.100)

Hollywood & Hitler’ unpacks this subtle Communist overthrow of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi league. The primary factor for the ousting of Catholics and non-communists was the Spanish Civil war. As Doherty explains, the Spanish Civil had a complex political context. By proxy, Nazi Germany, Italy, and the Soviets were warring against each other.

The Spanish Civil war is a key feature under Doherty’s microscope. This is because it was the first conflict to be filmed, and shown to the public, close enough to real-time. Images flowed from the battlefront and were spilled out onto audiences through cinemas. The skills, process, procedure and art developed during these times, pioneered the way for film makers during World War Two.

Two compromises appear. First was the compromise of neutrality. Hollywood had a strong economic reason for working with the Germans and therefore a majority was against any boycotts of German goods[1]. Hollywood had to maintain neutrality wherever possible, in order to keep from directly enraging the Germans. Subsequently, Hollywood practiced a selective self-censorship of anything which displayed blatant opposition to the Nazis or Nazi ideology.

Second was a compromise of values and unity. One radical splinter of HANL, The Hollywood Popular Front, considered ‘neutrality the moral equivalent of lending aid and comfort to the enemy’ (p.161), such an extreme view alienated balanced reporters and compromised integrity. This was fueled further by a war between propaganda and ‘cinematic neutrality’ (p.171) over how the Spanish Civil war should be reported and retold[2].

Hollywood’s neutrality and its selective self-censorship[3] came under attack. Censorship and propaganda became the battlegrounds. Countering Nazi propaganda in films was an opportunity for the Popular Front to slip in Pro-Communist agitprop.  Simplifying the great length Doherty goes to in order to unpack this: there was an obvious tension between those who desired to push back against the evils of Nazism and those who wanted to do so by pushing the “virtues” of Communism. Not every member of NAHL was as starry-eyed about Communism as the Communists would have liked.

Doherty suggests that the ‘best explanation for the affinity of motion picture artists-actors and screenwriters [“Champaign communists”] especially-to an ideology counter to their economic self-interest [capitalism] was the respectful hearing according to them by the Communist Party of the USA. In Leninist doctrine[4], the artist stood among the vanguard elite, a cadre whose shining example would lead the benighted proletariat into the dawn of revolutionary enlightenment…the artist was the antenna of the revolutionary race-so much the better if he or she was a magnet for publicity and a donor with deep pockets.’ (p.114)

Doherty also points out the inconsistency of Hollywood’s Communists and their anti-Nazism. For example, the Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop-pact with the Nazis caused the Communists in Hollywood to double-down on their anti-Nazi rhetoric. This dilemma didn’t just reveal the façade that hid Communism, but how (with a few exceptions) self-serving their loyalty to the anti-Nazi cause was.

For better or worse, the Hollywood anti-Nazi movement, birthed (the now common) political celebrity[5]. The success of pushing support for ideas and consumer products through well-known and trusted, voices and faces, became common practice. Even if the celebrity didn’t know much about what they were selling, the opportunity to do so was as risky as it was potentially lucrative[6].

In Doherty’s words, HANL resorted to reaching the masses using ‘the same “hypodermic needle” theory of mass communications propounded by Joseph Goebbels: Inject the message into a mass consciousness through repetition, simplicity, and raw emotion.’ (2013, p.106)

The process this followed was to ‘first, gain the individual’s sympathy for what he is about to learn and second, present the material in a way which reaches his or her personal interest and at the same time supplies the necessary facts to sustain the first emotional reaction.’ (ibid)

It wasn’t until later on that Hollywood gained enough room to move on to directly producing films that had an anti-Nazi theme. Worth noting is Doherty’s point on how far Hollywood has shifted since the 1930s. The industry reluctant to criticize Nazism, has built a thriving business[7] on Nazis as the arch-nemesis of all that is good, (and for good reason!).

The Nazis, in the moral universe of Hollywood are the equivalent of pure evil, ‘the Nazi-centric documentary and narrative feature film is cultural currency –rarely dropping in value, always a good investment’ (2013, p.371).

It’s curious, however, that Nazism’s not so distant cousin, Communism, moving freely behind the anti-Nazi platform[8], has largely been given a free ride.

Perhaps this is why Doherty concludes that,

‘The American Communists had never thought of the movie capital as a party mint, but Otto Katz (a communist agent) corrected the oversight. Theodore Draper, the historian of American communism who observed Katz work his magic, described him as “the international Communist huckster par excellence”…Katz sold communism to the wealthy Hollywood magnates by working on their bad social consciences until they were cringing with contrition. The complete religious and metaphysical desert in the mind of many in the motion picture colony made Katz’s game easier’ (pp.103-104).

Hollywood & Hitler’ is balanced and tactful. Doherty draws from a depth of well researched information, and has taken pains to avoid any statements that would lead to the charge of McCarthyism. While Doherty addresses the positive points surrounding the anti-Nazi/anti-fascist movement in Hollywood, he doesn’t gloss over the negatives. ‘Hollywood & Hitler’ is well written, surprising in its relevance and enjoyable to read.

With the increasing visibility of celebrity activists, voicing opinion after opinion against things that Hollywood dislikes and distances itself from, the facts presented by Doherty, prompt the reader to question whether Hollywood has become what it once took a firm stand against. Jim Carry’s recent supportive statements in favour of Socialism, and every Hollywood award ceremony since 2016 being saturated in irrational, venomous hatred for one of their own, American President, Donald Trump, (et.al) force the question: has the institution, which once valiantly fought the dragon, become one?


Notes & References

[1] This was because, ‘American Jews in the motion picture business warned that any boycott of German imports would only rebound to the grief of their kinsmen overseas.’ (p.179)

[2] ‘Like the rest of the Spanish Civil war documentaries, it was less a recruiting device for new converts than a ritual; exhibition for true believers’ (p.171) #greatquote

[3] From both Catholic and Jewish sections of the Entertainment community, see footnote #2 and Doherty’s discussion on the National League of Decency, pp.154 & 155: ‘the watchful eye of the Legion fell increasingly on any glimmer of communist influence in Hollywood Cinema.’

[4] The same is with Nazism. Doherty: ‘Unlike  the American government, whose policy toward creative expression was mainly benign neglect, the Nazis honored intellectuals and artists as avatars of Aryan culture…Talented filmmakers of good stock and reliable opinion were pampered; the rest were persecuted.’ (p.197)

[5] ‘In casting actors as activists, HANL was a farsighted pioneer.’ (p.113)

[6] This may be backfiring on Hollywood, where people, in a technological age start to see through the veneers and question why, who is selling what to whom.

[7] ‘In the digital age, the collection and repackaging of images of the Nazis remains a growth industry, sustaining documentary features, action films, and cable channels.’ (p.371)

[8] The Communist beachhead in Hollywood caused a split it, which created the far-left’s Popular Front, and the Catholic, National League of Decency (formed in 1934).

Doherty, T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939 Columbia University Press

Image credit: Columbia University Press

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Disclaimer: I received no remuneration of any kind for providing this review.

Barmen these then and now

For some time now I have been seriously captivated by the Barmen Declaration and the Confessing Church. I recently had the privilege of recounting how applicable this particular part of modern Church History is to our current, “post-modern” context.

The principle author of the declaration was Karl Barth, who wrote it during a synod in the May of 1934 Barmen, Germany. The Barmen Declaration was agreed upon and signed by members of the ‘Lutheran, reformed and united churches’ (2010:12).

In his 2010 book ‘the Barmen theses then and now’, Eberhard Busch convincingly argues for its continuing relevance, by brilliantly illustrating the significance of the ‘Theological Declaration of Barmen’.

The socio-political context was pre-world war two, Nazi Germany. The Confessing Church was formed in ‘protest against’ (Busch 2010:8) the Nazis and their Nationalist church movement (Nazi sympathisers), who rallied under the nationalist banner ‘German Christians’.

According to Busch, the ‘German Christians’, as an organised majority, did this because the German church in the early 1930s were a community ‘struggling for its identity’ (2010:2).

Consequently a large portion of Christians were easily manipulated by nationalist-socialist ideology (Nazism).

Busch asserts that ‘Hitler’s hidden agenda was that the church should make itself superfluous, so that the state could become absolute ruler’ (2010:1).An example of this was the influence and practice of anti-Semitism, which manifested itself in November 1933, when nationalist-Christian’s decided ‘to purify the gospel ‘’from all Oriental distortion’. The result of this was that ‘they distorted the gospel message’ (2010:24).

The Barmen declaration was a product of protest; it was and still is both a theological and political polemic for these reasons.

Firstly, the Barmen Declaration was a protest against the ‘German Christians’ and their acceptance of the ideology of the State, University and State coercion forcing people into allegiance to it. Secondly, it was a protest against the aggressive policy that had merged the church with the state, by subordinating the church to the state.

Thirdly, the ‘Barmen Declaration’ instructs the church through its confessional language and its contemporary relevance, to deal graciously with people who merge theology with ideology. Busch notes that ‘even when we say ‘’no’’ to their activities, we are still basically saying ‘’yes’’ to them thus loving them’, and all the while doing so firmly without obtrusion (2010:45).

For example:

Barmen thesis one: salvation is through Christ alone.
In context this means that any view which suggests that salvation could come through Hitler is false and therefore is to be rejected. This is because ‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying’ (2010:37)…‘The one word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’ (Busch 2010:23). There are no ways to God, there is only one way and it is from God to us founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ.

Barmen thesis two: is about evangelical ethics. This is to be understood as ‘the one Word having two forms, gospel and law; God’s gift and command’ (2010:37). The ‘basis of evangelical ethics is not a program, not a principle, not a categorical imperative, but rather a person, Jesus Christ’ (Busch 2010:42). God does not ‘require of us the begrudging fulfilment of obligation but rather he expects of us our gratitude for the beneficence we have received’ (2010:44). In context this meant ‘obeying God rather than’ (citing Acts 5:29, p.42) an ideology or the consensus of the mob.

Barmen thesis three: is about the ‘church struggle’ (2010:50) with ‘false doctrine’ (2010:52).This corresponds with the issue of placing ideology over against theology by separating the secular from the sacred. Busch understands this to be primarily about compromise. It means that ‘the church puts itself in jeopardy – whether in its retreat from the world into an interior space to attend to a sacral activity, or in its conforming to the world around it, to which it surrenders’ (2010:52).

Barmen thesis four: concerns the priesthood of all believers. It proposes that the Church is not ‘reduced to its office bearers’ (2010:67) and therefore identified in isolation from the laity. This means that ‘the church cannot rule, and there shall be no ruling within it…to serve others does not mean to wait on them, but rather it means to be free for them, free to stand in support next to them’ (2010:66).

Barmen thesis five: outlines the importance of maintaining the separation between Church and State. This pertains to the importance of the churches commission and mission. It must not be confused with the false division between sacred and secular. For example: ‘the more the church endeavours to be proper church, the better it can invite and encourage the state to be proper state’ (2010:84).

Barmen theses six: the final thesis deals with ‘ecclesial arrogance’ (2010:94). To unpack this Busch differentiates between those who do not reject the word and those who seek to silence it. He rightly accuses those who seek to silence the word of ‘making the gospel an opiate of the people’ (2010:95)…‘sometimes demanding, sometimes smiling, they demand that the Word of God should bless and not disturb the arbitrary acts of humans’ (2010:95). This, Busch writes places the gospel ‘into the service of human interests’ (2010:93).

Finally, one of Busch’s key observations is that the “German Christian movement”:

‘demonstrated just where the church ends up when it begins to conform its own order to the state’s wishes – the outcome is that not only the church’s order but also its message is conformed to those wishes’ (2010:74).

English: German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deu...

With this in mind, the contemporary relevance of Barmen should be clear. Through Barth and many others, God has provided a reliable platform for today’s Church to frame a firm but gracious no, to a growing number of people, who seek to subordinate the Word of God and the church to an ideology.

These include: Nationalism, ecclesial elitism, Islamic fascism, homosexual activism, militant atheism, environmentalism, nihilism and extreme feminism.

It is perhaps fitting to finish with the thunder that sounds out from one of Barth’s rallying cries: ‘let us respond to the world when it wants to make us fearful:

Your lords are leaving, but our Lord is coming’ (cited by Busch 2010:72).

Source:

Busch, E. 2010 the Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A

(Originally published 2nd May, 2013)

GVL Barth Quote CD II_I p_444Written not long after the beginning of World War II, Barth’s statement, ‘that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion’, has clout.

Natural Theology is on Barth’s radar. In part because of nominalism and how it was used to subsume Christians into National Socialism. Natural Theology was a slippery slope, that fed into the notion that the Führer knows best; that those in the Fatherland (State) who showed allegiance to anyone other than the Führer were traitors; or worse, heretics.

There could only be ‘Mien Kampf’, the Führer and his prophets. This is different to the sole claim and uniqueness of God,  ‘attested by God, in His revelation [Covenant and Jesus Christ] by prophets and apostles. This means that all so-called or would-be deities and divinities apart from Him lose their character as gods. The faith and worship offered to them cannot be taken seriously. They fade away as idols and nonentities. And so God’s freedom, majesty and sovereignty shine out in His uniqueness […] The decision is reached that this God who chooses us is God alone, and that all other so-called or would-be gods are not what they claim to be.’ (Barth, p.443)

Present in this section is a direct reference to Barth’s historical context. It might be pessimistic to suggest a connection between his time and our own, but I don’t consider it a stretch.

‘It was no mere fabrication when the Early Church was accused by the world around it of atheism, and it would have been wiser for its apologists not to have defended themselves so keenly against this charge.
There is a real basis for the feeling, current to this day, that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion, its life and richness and peace.
It is bound to be so.
Olympus and Valhalla decrease in population when the message of the God who is the one and only God is really known and believed. The figures of every religious culture are necessarily secularised and recede. They can keep themselves alive only as ideas, symbols and ghosts, and finally as comic figures. And in the end even in this form they sink into oblivion.
No sentence is more dangerous or revolutionary than that God is One and there is no other like Him.
All the permanencies of the world draw their life from ideologies and mythologies, from open or disguised religions, and to this extent from all possible forms of deity and divinity. It was on the truth of the sentence that God is One that the “Third Reich” of Adolf Hitler made shipwreck.
Let this sentence be uttered in such a way that it is heard and grasped, and at once 450 prophets of Ball are always in fear of their lives. There is no more room now for what the recent past called toleration. Beside God there are only His creatures or false gods, and beside faith in Him there are religions only as religions of superstition, error and finally irreligion.
If everything divine is not recognised, sought and honoured as the sole possession of the one God, He is robbed of His honour, and the worship apparently offered to Him is profaned.’
(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/I 1940 p.444)