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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Holocaust Memorial Day

Ideology Loses

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I recently finished reading a fascinating book about World War II - that terrible conflict that destroyed at least fifty million lives - and it casts a different light on the known facts regarding that struggle. Its basic thesis is that the two greatest ideologues in that war - Hitler and Stalin - eventually lost the war because of their rigid ideologies which overwhelmed pragmatism and common sense.

I do not mention any sense of morality or human feeling in this analysis, for neither of them had any such sense or feeling. By the end of the twentieth century, Germany was pacified, shrunken in size and ambition but still prosperous, united and successful. It was not to be the thousand year Reich that demanded lebensraum and killed millions on the basis of hateful racial superiority theories.

Stalin’s Soviet Union emerged as the apparent victor from the war putting a third of Europe under its rule and Communist system. But it was a pyrrhic and illusionary victory. By the end of the century, the Soviet Union had disappeared and Russia reverted to a much more contracted and constricted state.

Communism had lost all intellectual and practical allure and Stalin himself went from being the great hero of the Soviet Union to being one of the greatest butchers of humans in the history of civilization. Both villains were driven by their ideologies and the belief that their will and terror tactics would make the world conform to their plans and ideals.

As I mentioned above, since neither man had any sense of morality and scruples, it is not so shocking that between them they were responsible for almost fifty million people being killed in Europe and the Mediterranean areas of the world in a little more than five years.

Hitler’s ideology was pure and simple. He believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race and the destruction of others whom he saw as being sub-human, especially the Jews. His two cardinal mistakes in the war stemmed from his ideology. He invaded Russia because he needed its territory for lebensraum and he wished to destroy its Jews and enslave its Slavic population.

He embarked Germany upon a two-front war that it could not possibly, in the long run, win. He pursued the extermination of the Jews unhesitatingly even when this policy was at the expense of his successful prosecution of the war itself. The Soviet Union had to collapse like a house of cards because he willed it to be that way.

He changed his mind dozens of times on critical personnel and military issues and even contradicted his own previous orders, but his loyalty to his ideology never wavered. Until his suicide, he was still convinced that he was right and that the war was lost because the German people (who had sacrificed so much for his rantings and ideas) were not worthy of his leadership.

His second cardinal error was in declaring war on the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was under no obligation to do so but his ideology that a country dominated in his words "by blacks and Jews" had no right to exist and promulgate "mongrel races." He believed the future would be an Aryan world order. Millions would yet perish until the war finally ended but those two errors of Hitler, driven by his rigid ideology, sealed the doom of Germany and Naziism.

Stalin was also an ideologue - and an amoral and wicked one at that. Communism was the wave of the future and Marx and Lenin had guaranteed its success and world triumph. The state was everything, the proletariat was the dictator, but the individual counted for nothing.

There was no army in the Second World War, even that of Japan, who was as wasteful of the lives of its own soldiers as the Soviet Union. Stalin was aware of the opposition to Communism in the Soviet Union. He was cognizant of the discontent in the population caused by the fact that the promised workers’ paradise had not yet arrived, even after coercion and terrorization of the population into forced Communist correctness.

Again, Stalin’s ideology overrode common sense and practical planning. So all of the alleged territorial and economic gains occasioned by being a victor in World War II were frittered away on the altar of ideology. In our current contest with the Palestinians we should also be careful of ideologies, both pacifist and aggressive, which may not stand up to the test of practicality and reality. Ideology per se is usually a loser in human conflicts.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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