Sunday, 7 February 2010
Oh, that my enemy would write a book
I was both surprised and pleased, yes, pleased, to see that Mein Kampf is to be republished in Germany, although those eager to read the word of the Fuhrer will have to wait another five years for the dubious pleasure, until the copyright of the state of Bavaria expires. I was surprised because I had no idea that it was still under a publishing interdict.
Why was I pleased? The answer here is altogether more subtle. To begin with I should say that, so far as I am concerned, the banning of books, books with a political message, no matter how repellent, is always wrong. But more to the point, Mein Kampf is an honest political statement, perhaps the most honest ever written by a politician. One only wishes that it had been taken more seriously at the time. It certainly was during the early days of the Cold War, when Western writers scoured the speeches of communist leaders, gathered and published with such dubious titles as Khrushchev’s Mein Kampf.
Hitler was eventually to recognise how unnecessary, how dangerously gratuitous the book had been as power became a realistic possibility, distancing himself from parts of the message in the early ‘moderate’ days of the Third Reich. He wrote a second book in 1928, this time focusing more directly on his foreign policy aims, which was buried during his days of power, only published after the war with the English title of Hitler’s Secret Book.
You see, for Hitler the spoken was always more important than the written word. It’s virtually impossible to quantify but I would hazard that that while Mein Kampf may have converted thousands- and I do stress may- the speeches converted tens of thousands. Indeed, Mein Kampf is more likely to have discouraged any potential convert by its convoluted and rambling message. If racist and fascist groups promote it today it’s because it’s Hitler’s ‘book’, a kind of icon, not because it has any real political power, any proselytising power.
It was banned in this country for more than twenty years after the Second World War. Republication in 1969, in an edition edited by D. C. Watt, was opposed by all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. It was opposed, I believe, by some Jewish groups. I can understand this. At the time the crimes of the Nazis must still have been raw in a lot of minds. Yes, it was understandable but misguided. Father bought Watt’s edition while he was still at school and has told me that it is the dullest thing he had ever read, duller even than Cicero !
“Oh, that my enemy would write a book”, really is the guiding thread here. Well, he did, and it reveals much more about him than he ever intended, much more about his inner psychosis; reveals more about his intellectual and mental confusion than he could ever have imagined. That is the crucial thing. Publication in England was opposed by Jewish leaders. It’s a sign of how things have moved on, how understanding has grown, that publication in Germany has been backed by Jewish leaders.