Sunday, 29 April 2018

Book Review - Inside Hitler's Bunker by Joachim Fest

Inside Hitler's Bunker : the last days of the Third Reich by Joachim Fest

Translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo

London: Pan, 2005 (Originally published 2004)    ISBN 0330431706

Is this the definitive book about the last few weeks at the heart of Nazi Germany? Perhaps so. Joachim Fest has gathered together information to present the chaotic and mad last days of Hitler's life, as Nazi Germany's final collapse happened above him as the Soviet Army subjected Berlin to its final torture and execution.

Fest has described day-by-day the last three weeks of Hitler's life, and ipso facto the life of the Third Reich, with all the insanity that was entailed in that, and has also posed some historical-philosophical questions on why it had to be that way.

The story of the final weeks in the Bunker is well-known, and Inside Hitler's Bunker adds to Hugh Trevor-Roper's classic The Last Days of Hitler with information that has come to light since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Where this book is interesting is in Fest's thinking about why it had to end as it did. His theory is that the Fuhrer always had, if not a death wish, a desire to destroy. This desire led him, and by extension the Nazis, to always have an enemy to destroy, and when the enemies began to prevail, he moved his desires onto the German people, wishing them to be exterminated as they had proved themselves the "weaker" race.

Fest uses as evidence for his theories the fact that Hitler always sought out enemies to destroy, and when the Germans had taken over other countries he ensured that peace was never made with the populace - an example is the Ukraine, where the population was initially inclined to side with the Nazis, before their depredations turned the people against them.

The desire to crush his enemies became twisted into a desire for Germany to die in flames as they lost the War. Fest mentions that several times Hitler had the potential opportunity to come to terms with enemies during the War, but spurned them all. His infamous "Nero" order - which was in the main ignored - showed him to be completely without feeling for "his" people. In fact Fest shows that much of the last few weeks of Hitler's life was the story of him sacrificing everything for his own glory, initially in an effort to turn the War around, and when the final realisation of defeat had set in, in an effort to have the most Wagnerian of endings that he could.

These musings are worth considering, and while not explaining completely the insanity that was Hitler's reign, add to the picture of how such a disaster could come about.

If you want to know what happened in the bunker, this is probably the best book to read.


Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Book Review - The Water Dreamers by Michael Cathcart

The Water Dreamers : the remarkable history of our dry continent by Michael Cathcart

Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2009            ISBN 9781921520648

This is a book with a very interesting premise, which in some ways doesn't quite live up to the claim of the title, but is still well worth reading.

Much more and much less than a history of White Australia's interaction with water in Australia, Cathcart has also written about how the British (and others) took possession of the country through their imaginings of what it might be, and how those imaginings have been rebuffed by the country itself.

Starting with the arrival of the First Fleet, Cathcart shows how a people used to copious rain and riverflows struggled with the erratic nature of Australia's rainfall and water catchments. He delves further into the literature of early Australia than others have to show that some of the received knowledge  that we thought we knew about what early White Australia thought of water and the interior may not be actually what we think we know.

Apart from Sturt, most early explorers soon realised that there was no great river, lake or sea in the centre of the continent. This did not stop them from over-estimating the carrying capacity of the water that was available, encouraging pastoralists to venture too far inland, and destroying many watercourses in their search for reliable water.

Cathcart chronicles two differing schools of thought that developed regarding the "Dead Heart", or "Red Heart", depending on the view taken. The centre of Australia was either a place of despair and death with no possibility of permanent settlement, or a potential food bowl and living place for millions, after man's hand was run over the countryside to provide it with water.

Cathcart chronicles much of the work and literature of the "water boosters" as he calls them, including the strange "Lemurian" literature, a kind of pulp fiction that spoke of lost tribes and ancient seas around which the "Dead Heart" was once civilized. Ever one for facts rather than fantasy, he pops the bubbles of those who would generate a history of the continent through their words, rather than from the actuality of water, or lack of it. As he writes in his introduction his book "is an investigation that returns again and again to one overwhelming fact. In Australia, the success or failure of settlement has been largely determined by rainfall."

As still happens all too often in this country, those that talk sense, such as Griffith Taylor, were hounded until he left. Taylor's commentary, that much of Australia is too dry to settle in the way that politicians hoped to, still holds up today. Cathcart pricks the "populate or perish" bubble as well - why would the "teeming Asian hordes" want to take a desert country - they are hardly going to parachute into the Western Desert and invade from the inside out...

The book finishes with a short section on the current policy of trading water rights, which, as Cathcart points out, has its own problems as a vehicle to rehabilitate our depleted rivers and wetlands.

With copious footnotes and bibliography, The Water Dreamers is an interesting viewpoint of Australia's history, and worth reading.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell