History Redux Indeed

If you haven’t read Rachel Alvord’s interview with Dagmar Bazzoni, you can do so here. Bazzoni was born in Austria in 1943 and has some very interesting thoughts on World War 2 and Putin to share. I read through it a few times and the Putin-to-Hitler comparisons reminded me of a movie I saw a few years ago, The Wave (‘Die Welle’ auf Deutsch [Available on Netflix!])

Directed by Dennis Gansel, The Wave is a modern German take on a social experiment that took place in Palo Alto in 1967. Jürgen Vogel plays Herr Wenger, the German stand-in for high school teacher Ron Jones, the man behind the myth. Jones explains in his personal account:

“We were studying Nazi Germany and in the middle of a lecture I was interrupted by the question. How could the German populace claim ignorance of the slaughter of the Jewish people? How could the townspeople, railroad conductors, teachers, doctors, claim they knew nothing about concentration camps and human carnage? How can people who were neighbors and maybe even friends of the Jewish citizen say they weren’t there when it happened? It was a good question. I didn’t know the answer. In as such, as there were several months still to go in the school year and I was already at World War II, I decided to take a week and explore the question.”

The results of this experiment were astounding. Ordinary high school students transformed into the very image of fascism we all know. In the space of a week they became a close-knit secret community, fostered along by slogans like “Strength Through Discipline,” “Strength Through Community,” and “Strength Through Action.” Each day Jones pushed the students a little bit closer to a fuller manifestation of Nazi Germany. Just as the students had fully adopted this new mindset, Ron Jones / “Herr Wenger” do the unthinkable…

The Wave

Herr Wenger addresses his converts

I’ll let you explore how it ends but the crux of the story is riveting. Essentially the experiment shows how easily people can be blindly convinced into detestable acts. It also answers the question to how Germans could willfully claim ignorance of the Nazi acts or even go so far as to deny them. Jones sums up the explanation his students were reticent to believe:

“If our enactment of the Fascist mentality is complete, not one of you will ever admit to being at this final Third Wave rally. Like the Germans, you will have trouble admitting to yourself that you come this far. You will not allow your friends and parents to know that you were willing to give up individual freedom and power for the dictates of order and unseen leaders. You can’t admit to being manipulated. Being a follower. To accepting the Third Wave as a way of life. You won’t admit to participating in this madness. You will keep this day and this rally a secret. It’s a secret I shall share with you.”

 

The teacher discusses autocracy

Doesn’t Herr Wenger bear an odd resemblance to Putin?

The similarities between these movements and Putin are arguable to say the least. Our class, especially the session led by Ulrike Langer (a German news foreign correspondent) last week, and Rachel’s interview raised some discussion of Putin’s following in Russia, and this film is a great visual tool for understanding the possibilities of such a radical following.