Eric Zuesse: Why History Matters (About Hitler's Failure to Distinguish Between History & Myth)

Roundup: Talking About History

[Eric Zuesse, winner of the Mencken Award for investigative reporting, is the author most recently of Iraq War, from Delphic Press, and the e-book, WHY the Holocaust Happened: Its Religious Cause & Scholarly Cover-Up, from Dell Publishing Co., Crown Publishing Co., The New York Times, Reason magazine, and others have published his earlier works.]

In my (2000) book WHY the Holocaust Happened, I argued that the Holocaust would not have happened if Adolf Hitler had not wanted it to happen (this not being a controversial position) and that the reason Hitler wanted it to happen is that he concluded, in 1919, as indicated in Werner Maser's (1973) Hitler's Letters and Notes, that he believed in "The Bible--Monumental History of Mankind," and that, on that mistaken basis, Hitler took literally such biblical passages as John 8:44, where Jesus allegedly said that Jews are the children of Satan. (Hitler in 1919 was sketching an outline for an ambitious book he never wrote, The Germanic Revolution--Volume I. He was going to base this book upon "The Bible--Monumental History of Mankind." He outlined in these notes the theory behind the Holocaust yet to come.) I argued there that without this belief that the Bible was a book of "history" instead of myth, the Holocaust would never have happened (this being a very controversial position indeed). On December 18, 1926, Hitler told a group of followers, "The teachings of Christ have laid the foundations for the battle against Jews as the enemy of Mankind; the work that Christ began, I shall finish." My book documented the development of Hitler's understanding of the Bible, which, I argued, led him to aim for the ultimate extermination of all Jews, as a Christian.

History matters because, as this example indicates, mistaking myth or false "history," for real history, can make the difference between life and death for millions of people. I argued that this was what happened which produced the Holocaust.

Some historians have told me that they agree personally that Hitler was a biblical literalist, but that they would never wish to be associated publicly with endorsing that position, because doing so might encourage the large numbers of Christian fundamentalists to think that the Holocaust was justified. My response to those historians has always been that the proper way to deal with that problem is not to cover up and distort history, as they have done (such as via their asserting that Hitler wasn't "really" a believing Christian), but instead to set forth the evidence that what fundamentalists take to be a book of "history" (the Bible) as Hitler believed, is not that, but is rather a mixture of numerous falsehoods with truths, so that the problem behind the Holocaust was that it was based on falsehoods, and not that Hitler was some kind of non-Christian. My answer has always been that so long as truth is of only secondary interest to historians, the historical profession itself is corrupted, and that the real danger to the profession is not that it will stand for truths which might encourage another Holocaust, but that the profession places a price of any sort on truth, which, to any authentically scientific profession of history, can only be priceless.

If we do not teach truth without regard for consequences, then the lies which give rise to such things as genocides can only replicate themselves time and time again in the future as in the past, and there will be no way by means of which mankind will ever become able to transcend religious or other types of myths.

History is the basic social science, because the data for all of the social sciences come from history and from nothing else than history. If these data are corrupted by falsehoods--as was the case in the mind of Adolf Hitler--then no genuinely scientific social sciences are even possible. If the data are corrupted, then all that we can ever have are social myths, never authentic social sciences. And the Holocaust showed the dangers of that.

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