“Hitler's Sacrifice of the German People” &
“Rationality Versus Irrationality”
(Parts III & IV of History and Sacrificial Death)
by Richard A. Koenigsberg

“Hitler's Sacrifice of the German People” & “Rationality Versus Irrationality” appear below. Click here to read the complete paper, History and Sacrificial Death.

"Hitler declared war on September 1, 1939:

As a National Socialist and a German soldier, I enter upon this fight with a stout heart! I ask of every German what I myself am prepared to do at any moment: to be ready to lay down his life for his people and for his country. If anyone thinks that he can evade this national duty, he will perish.

"Hitler does not say he is embarking on a quest to conquer the world. Rather, he asks every German to 'lay down his life' for his country. Anyone who tried to evade the duty to lay down one’s life, would 'perish.'

"In declaring war, Hitler tells everyone what will happen. What he said would happen, eventually did happen. Germans died for Germany and Hitler acted to bring about the death of anyone he imagined refused to die for Germany. In his declaration of war, Hitler articulated the core of Nazi ideology: either die for Germany, or we will kill you."


Another case requiring a psychological perspective is that of Adolf Hitler’s role in the Second World War. Historians have written about Hitler’s determination to avenge Germany’s defeat in the First World War, his wish to gain territory in the Soviet Union, his desire for world conquest, etc. But do we really know why Hitler initiated a world-wide conflagration that resulted in the deaths of 55 million people and destruction of Germany?

In spite of Hitler’s nearly psychotic anti-Semitism, historians often write about his decision to go to war as if it grew out of "rational" considerations. Questions are posed regarding Hitler’s strategies and tactics: Why did he attack the Soviet Union in the midst of Germany’s struggle to defeat Great Britain? Why were British forces allowed to escape at Dunkirk? Why did Hitler gratuitously declare war against the United States? Why did Hitler launch the Final Solution in the midst of war—causing massive diversion of human and material resources?

These kinds of questions grow out of the assumption that Hitler more-or-less knew what he was doing. He sought to achieve certain objectives, but made "mistakes" along the way that prevented him from reaching his goals. In my view, the assumption that Hitler understood why he wished to wage war—and knew what he expected to accomplish by doing so—is unfounded.

In “Analysis of Metaphor” and “Ideology, Perception and Genocide”, I present a method that allows one to perceive the "hidden narratives" that lie beneath the actions of political leaders. I study Hitler’s language—the words, images and metaphors contained within his writings and speeches. One may comprehend what Hitler did by placing close attention to what he said.

Hitler’s words and thoughts on warfare bear an eerie resemblance to the words and thoughts of Saddam Hussein. Like Hussein, Hitler rarely spoke of warfare in terms of winning or "victory." Rather, Hitler’s thinking about war revolved around the idea that individuals are obligated to sacrifice their lives for their nation.

Hitler asserted that any man who loves his people proves it solely by the "sacrifices which he is prepared to make for it." To be "national," Hitler said, was to be willing to act with a "boundless and all-embracing love for the people" and if necessary "to die for it." Giving one’s life for one’s country, Hitler believed, constituted the "crown of sacrifice."

Hitler declared war on September 1, 1939. Speaking before the Reichstag as German planes and troops crossed the Polish borders in a devastating Blitzkrieg, he said:

As a National Socialist and a German soldier, I enter upon this fight with a stout heart! My whole life has been but one continuous struggle for my people, and that whole struggle has been inspired by one single conviction: Faith in my people! I ask of every German what I myself am prepared to do at any moment: to be ready to lay down his life for his people and for his country. If anyone thinks that he can evade this national duty directly or indirectly, he will perish.

Hitler does not begin the Second World War by telling the German people that he is embarking on a quest to conquer the world. Rather, insisting that his fight is inspired by "faith in his people," he asks every German to be willing to: "lay down his life" for his people and country. Hitler goes on to say that if anyone tries to evade this national duty (to lay down one’s life), this person would "perish."

In his declaration of war, Hitler tells everyone what he is going to do—what will happen. What he said he was going to do—eventually is what did happen. The Second World War provided the occasion for the German people to sacrifice their lives for Germany. What’s more, Hitler acted to bring about the death of anyone whom he imagined refused to embrace the sacrificial imperative. The essence of Hitler’s ideology was: die for Germany—or we will kill you.

Hitler’s concept of self-sacrifice for Germany does not differ substantially from the Islamic concept of martyrdom for Allah. Willingness to forfeit one’s life—in each instance—is understood as a way of demonstrating the depth of one’s faith in and devotion to a sacred object. The individual gives witness to the sincerity of his belief by virtue of his willingness to make the "supreme sacrifice."

People become attached to ideologies conceived as absolutes. These ideologies or symbolic objects have names such as "Communism," or "Germany," or "Allah." Collective forms of violence— warfare, genocide and terrorism—come into being when a group (inspired by a leader) seeks to demonstrate its devotion to the ideology or symbolic object with which the group identifies. By killing and dying in the name of a sacred ideology, the group "gives witness" to the significance of its ideology.

Collective acts of violence occur when a group of people seeks to substantiate the omnipotence of a sacred object by compelling other groups or classes of people to bow down or submit to this same sacred object. The purpose of acts of war, genocide and terror is to demonstrate the omnipotent power of the object with which one’s own group is identified. The true believer declares, in effect: "As I worship and bow down to Allah (or to the ideal of communism, or to Germany), so you too will be compelled to worship or bow down to Allah (or to the ideal of communism, or to Germany).


Political scientists tend to analyze behavior from the perspective of a "rational choice" model, imagining that leaders take societies to war based on some sort of calculation. According to this model, nations go to war in order to achieve real objectives. Only later do things go awry, leading to slaughter and chaos.

In Terrorism and Liberalism (2003), Paul Berman observes that—according to the "realist" picture of the world—wars break out because some nation’s desire for wealth, power, and geography "brushes up against some other nation’s equally tangible desire for the same." Critiquing the realist perspective, Berman characterizes violent political movements that have taken place in Iran, Iraq and Algeria as the "politics of slaughter”— slaughter for the sake of sacred devotion, slaughter conducted in a mood of “spiritual loftiness." He compares suicidal violence in the middle-East with the suicidal violence of the Nazis, observing that Nazis were victimizers, but also the "boldest, the greatest and most sublime of death’s victims."

According to the realist way of looking at the world against which Berman argues, it is difficult to imagine that from time to time mass political movements do “get drunk on the idea of slaughter." The realist model proposes that people are bound to behave in "more or less reasonable ways in pursuit of normal and identifiable interests." Thus, it is difficult to conceive that millions or tens of millions of people might end up joining "pathological political movements."

Berman notes that we are willing to acknowledge that individual madmen might step forth, but “surely millions of people are not going to choose death." We hesitate to consider the possibility that millions of people have gone out of their minds and subscribed to a "pathological political tendency." Why do we find it difficult to conceive that entire societies behave in pathological ways?

Based on the magnitude of political violence that has occurred in the Twentieth Century, it's reasonable to suggest that society has been in the throes of some as-yet-undiagnosed disorder. Psychologists have no difficulty characterizing individuals who engage in destructive forms of behavior as pathological or disordered. Why do we hesitate to identify collective forms of destruction as forms of pathology?

In the quiet of a Movie Theater—watching a film depicting the chaos, violence and absurdity that occurs in battle—the thought often comes to mind: "War is insane." Why do people abandon this idea once have they left the Movie Theater? It is time to pursue in a systematic way the hypothesis that collective forms of destruction and self-destruction represent forms of group psychopathology.