A puzzle from the years after World War 2

I have recently put an article about the Second World War on our TimeMap of World History. It’s in a pretty raw state at the moment – it hasn’t even been proof ready yet. But I am pleased that it’s up. The modern world is not yet well covered by the encyclopedia part of the TimeMap, but I am gradually plugging the gaps – and World War 2 was a pretty major gap!

Having written this article, and having therefore been thinking quite a lot about the period of the war, I was interested in reading something in today’s newspaper. It was in an obituary about a British historian, Denis Smith, who specialised in the study of modern Italy. In some of his books  he sought, as the obituary writer says, to explain the “strange death of Liberal Italy”.

Now, that may be a fascinating subject. After all, Italy was unified as a result of the Risorgimento, a widespread movement led by some of the best-known liberals of the day, men such as Mazzini and Cavour. However, that’s not what struck me. It was the phrase, “the strange death of….”; and there is something that has always puzzled me about an episode in the Second World War – or at least it’s immediate aftermath.

Two puzzles

For, even at the end of the war, with all the terrible disasters it had unleashed on Germany, its catastrophic destruction of German life and property, the German people retained their loyalty to Hitler. If there had been a general election in 1945, by all accounts he would have won hands down. They had seen how his policies had brought such tragedy to them, yet they continued to believe in him.

This is all very strange. But then, human beings are very strange.

But there’s something else very strange, and I’ve not found any book or article that really deals satisfactorily with it.  This is that, within a few years, the Germans had sloughed off their former Nazism. I don’t know how long this process took, and I know the Allies ran a de-Nazification programme in the country – but I know next to nothing about all this. And yet, the outcome seems to be clear: just a very few years after the war, the Germans were voting en masse for liberal parties and supporting the creation of one of the most liberal societies in the world.

So, if any of my readers could point me to something I could read about it, I would be very grateful.

Back to the now, I am working on a series of articles to cover what has been a gaping hole in our coverage – the USA, Canada and the Native Americans. And by the way, I haven’t forgotten you Australians!

Peter Britton