In the summer of 1946, having cross-examined many of the leading Nazis at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, David Maxwell Fyfe wrote this article reflecting on the systematic flaws of Hitler’s regime for his Liverpool constituents.
It is not unusual, although extremely irritating, to meet people who say
“ I quite agree with you that the Nazis were ruthless brutes but they did get results –they were extremely efficient.”
The danger of such a viewpoint is obvious. It is out of such superficial lack of faith culminating in temporary fits of depression that nations have lost their democratic government and succumbed to some sort of tyranny. It is therefore not without value to study this criticism and to probe its basis in fact.
I myself believe that it is profoundly untrue, and that the more one examines the results of the Nazis’ system and of the expression of Nazi ideology in practise, the more convinced one becomes that the system is bad in itself and has inevitably led to blunders as well as crimes.
…I must emphasize how fortunate the Nazis were in the circumstances of their coming into power. Two things primarily contributed – the world slump of 1930 lighting up the opposition to the Versailles Treaty, and the failure of Parliamentary government in Germany… These circumstances gave Hitlerism the most favourable start…. They had organised that the’ Fuehrer principle’ of implicit obedience to orders coming down the scale from Hitler was supported by their special machinery which at one time had a strength of nearly 6 million, for enforcing speed of government, delation, absence of free thought and speech, internal suppression, external trained and calculated force.
…I am well aware that there used to be criticism during the war of the British system of government by committees and discussion. It was said to lead to a waste of time, to a difficulty in getting decisions and an elaborate system of appeals which were not fitted to the conduct of urgent affairs.
Every government, whether democratic or totalitarian must administer the country through a series of what we call ministries or government departments, and the Germans rather significantly term ‘agencies’… For any efficient government there must be a liaison between departments at all levels. This is carried out by an informal interchange of views and in Britain is an important reality. I believe there was much more in Nazi Germany than was ever admitted, but the effect of the famous Fuehrer Decree No 1, whose result was the effect that nothing be mentioned except to a person directly concerned with the matter in question, was to discourage such liaison as far as could be done.
When one leaves the departmental level these divergencies become sharp and acute. In Britain new proposals are brought before a committee of the cabinet and fully discussed. They are then placed on the agenda of the cabinet and discussed… Finally… it is open to criticism in parliament.
Under the Nazi system there was no effective committee… the Reichs cabinet soon ceased to meet and Parliament – the Reichstag – was a rubber stamp. Under the Fuehrer principle, each minister was directly responsible to Hitler… after 1937, and during the whole of the war, the German cabinet never met at all. The decisions as to Germany’s policy in all fields were taken at the Chancellory or Hitler’s HQs… It followed inevitably from this set up that a ‘yes’ man should become the chief of the O.K.W and that the open door to action should be an acceptance of Hitler’s wishes…
The modern world is too complicated to be run without references to a number of experiences and points of view. There is a superficial attraction in the picture of the strong man relentlessly pursuing his aims uninfluenced and never deflected by the views of others. When, however, he has got the people round him into the state when they are afraid to give their views, they are also afraid to give full information, and without full information the discovery of the best plan is impossible. We all suffer from wishful thinking, but a tyrant also suffers from wishful lack of thought. He will not listen to facts from those whose opinions do not coincide with his own…
When the leadership of a country has been reduced to this state it is confessed that it lacks inspiration. It is equally evident that it lacks efficiency…
Free discussion and criticism give to the minds and hearts of men not only that sinewy strength which produced the British asset of the extra week when others were exhausted. They produce also the moments of clear vision and the retention of moral judgement which are still more necessary to the position of the world.