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Were Nazis the Environmentalists of Their Day?

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Stu. Always remember: It’s polite and important to begin conversations with questions that aren’t controversial.

Luckily, I’m both polite and important. So, were Nazi’s environmentalists?

Nazis were a lot of things. Sure, they were most famous for their murderous tendencies, but in many ways, they were also the environmentalists of the day. Now, that does not mean today’s environmentalists are racist, want to kill all the Jews or want to bring back the mustache that only Hitler and Michael Jordan could pull off. (And if you’re one of the eight people who needed to hear that disclaimer, screw you for wasting our last 15 seconds.)

The overpopulation scare of the 1960s and 70s shared a large part of its concern with Hitler. Both movements were obsessed with the idea that they could not produce enough food to feed the increasing numbers of people.

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” as environmental legend / "crazy person" Paul Ehrlich put it.

Of course, it’s not as plausible to find new space to grow food when you’re talking about the whole planet. Hitler only cared about Germans, and could solve this problem by gaining living space to the east. The book, Hitler: Ascent quotes Mein Kampf’s first volume, noting Hitler’s belief that “The new Reich would have to . . . conquer with the German sword the soil that the German plough would till in order to provide our people with their daily bread.”

Hitler’s desire for living space was specifically “to secure adequate food supplies for the German people.” How important was living space? “Hitler’s two most important goals: the destruction of “Jewish Bolshevism” and the conquest of “living space in the east.”

Despite all the tactical flexibility and political maneuverability he was to show later in his career, Hitler always insisted on these two goals with dogmatic rigidity.” The BBC wrote about the movement that influenced Hitler, including the “growing concern about the allegedly negative effects of industrialisation and urbanisation. There was also a belief in the virtues of agrarian society” and the panic over “Germany’s limited resources of food and raw materials.”

The only thing keeping those quotes off of a Prius bumper sticker is that they’re too long. The environmentalists of the day certainly noticed the Nazis' green efforts. German conservationist Wilhelm Lienenkamper wrote that the Nazis “refuse all kinds of compromise and demand strict, literal fulfillment. . . . Those refusing the call of sacrifice are under attack, and rightly so.”

Sounds like something you’d hear about those evil climate deniers today.

The book, The Green and the Brown by environmental professor Frank Ukoetter, dives into the debate as to why environmentalists were so enthralled with Nazis --- much of it was an ability to overlook the nastiness of the regime to get their desired outcomes. But, the similarities to modern day environmentalism are unmistakeable as Ukoetter sums up nicely --- the “lion’s share of conservationist publications between 1933 and 1945 could be printed again today without raising eyebrows.”

The Nazi policy of Dauerwald, or “Eternal Forest” was a nationwide, top down, sustainable forestry program that was a passion project of one Hermann Goring. Long before he sampled the sweet taste of cyanide, he said quote: “Only by the complete subjection of the individual to the service of the whole can the perpetuity of the community be assured. Eternal forest and eternal nation are ideas that are indissolubly linked.”

Does that sound right-wing to you?

For many of today's environmentalists, the Nazi "Eternal Forest" program is as impressive as a yummy glass of luke-warm Kombucha.

“Ironically, then we might conclude that it was the Nazis who pioneered the application of ecologically aware forestry in Germany. But is this assessment correct?” The book rightly points out that when war ramped up, the Nazis clearly prioritized the military over the trees, but “I would argue that this policy left a long-term legacy for the German forest that was ecologically beneficial.”

Jonah Goldberg also outlined the regime's similarities when it came to these areas, in his book Liberal Fascism: “Heinrich Himmler was a certified animal rights activist and aggressive promoter of “natural healing.”

Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, championed homeopathy and herbal remedies. Hitler and his advisers dedicated hours of their time to discussions of the need to move the entire nation to vegetarianism as a response to the unhealthiness promoted by capitalism. A Hitler Youth manual proclaimed, “Nutrition is not a private matter!”

Organic food was inextricably linked to what the Nazis then described --- as the left does today --- as “social justice issues.” The one environmental issue you don’t see Hitler concerned about was global warming. Which is odd, considering the earth warmed about 0.7 degrees celsius between 1910-1940, just slightly less than the entire amount of warming that has occurred in the last century.

I guess the world had more pressing issues to deal with back then.

Of course, for those eight annoying people waving their fists at the screen, this again doesn’t mean that Al Gore is actually just a somewhat well-preserved Adolf Hitler. Nazis were environmentalists, but they also believed in terrible things like killing all the Jews, and massive government control of every aspect of your life.

For today’s environmentalists --- to quote the Meat Loaf --- 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

So to review:

  • The environmentalists of the second half of the 20th century sound a lot like the Nazis of the first half of the 20th century.
  • The Nazi conservationism combined with all the government power needed to implement extreme sacrifice and regulation, won over the environmentalists of the day, and still impresses many.

 

And I didn’t talk too much about Hitler’s well-known vegetarianism, partially because it may not be completely true. According to the Telegraph, “Although he referred to meat broth as “corpse tea,” he was not fastidious about declining meat. Dione Lucas, his cook before the war, claimed that he was a fan of stuffed pigeon and he was also known to be partial to Bavarian sausages and the occasional slice of ham.”

The worst part about this is that I’m a vegetarian that does not eat stuffed pigeon --- technically making me more extreme than Adolf Hitler.

I think I’ll keep that one off the resume.

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