In retrospect, I find it shocking that, during World War II, Americans submitted without resistance to a kind of government-imposed serfdom that transformed our habits and our hearts. We have always prided ourselves on being independent, rebellious, even irreverent in the face of authority. In our mythology, we celebrate the defiant eccentric, the rebel, the nut in the Frank Capra movie who thumbs his nose at Edward Arnold and sticks out his tongue at supercilious old ladies.
Indeed, we believed in those years that the Germans were a servile people who longed for an authoritative “father figure” to tell them how to behave and what to think. First the Kaiser. Then Hitler. The pattern was clear.
Albert Speer—who wrote a highly significant history of Hitler’s Germany (Inside the Third Reich)—became the Nazi Party’s chief architect and later the minister for armaments production. In the latter capacity, he advised the Führer to halt the production of goods for civilian consumption and divert the entire economy to the manufacture of weapons—rifles, tanks, planes. The all-powerful dictator—who could send millions to the ovens with a few strokes of his pen—trembled at such an audacious suggestion.
If he did that, he told Speer, he would lose the affection of the people. Thus did Nazi Germany continue to produce Volkswagens...