Could the Internet Have Stopped Hitler?

This is the period, in which Hitler and Brown Shirts looked like bunglers and buffoons, that I think Le Clezio is talking about. So, had the Internet existed and videos of the Beer Hall Putsch been posted on YouTube, would there have been sufficient ridicule to drive Hitler and his gang out of public life forever?

I don't think so. On the contrary, I think just the opposite is true. Even at that young age, Hitler was apparently already a mesmerizing speaker (at least to the German mind). Imagine what he could have done with a popular blog, a constant stream of laudatory YouTube videos, a multi-media website devoted to Mein Kampf, and a vast e-mail list. In fact, I would argue that Hitler would have been more successful in the 1920s, the Nazis attracting new members and donors not just in Bavaria but throughout Europe and even from the American Bund (which otherwise didn't happen for another decade).

But the 1930s, I think, are a very different matter. A little story: As it happens, I was born in a little Bavarian town (at least it was then; now it's a tech business center) called Furstenfeldbruck. My father was a U.S. Air Force officer (and, as I've written before, a spy) and we lived in Munich.

Keep in mind that this was 1954, and Munich looked like a city with more parking lots than people – all of those vacant areas being where the rubble of the bombed city had been bulldozed away. And what I remember is that years later, my mother told me that she used to look out the kitchen window at all of the men waiting at the bus stop each morning and wonder: How many of them were Nazis?


The answer was: a lot of them. But the point is that my mother couldn't tell. There was nobody wearing armbands at that bus station, no one who looked like a guard from nearby Dachau. Even my father's German assistant -- an extraordinary man who had fought on both fronts during the war, worked with U.S. intelligence for 30 years and then, in retirement, devoted his time to helping Serbian refugees -- had once proudly worn the uniform of the Hitler Youth.

Somehow, it was during that interval between when he left Landsberg prison at the end of 1924 and when he was named chancellor of Germany in 1933 that Hitler, despite being the object of ridicule by much of the nation's intellectual and upper-classes, managed to galvanize the entire country behind him, including those men my mother saw standing at the bus stop. He did so with brilliant propaganda, ruthless tactics and appealing to a common scapegoat – the Jews – for all of Germany's problems.

It is during this period that I think the Internet, had it existed, might well have stopped Hitler. Imagine 10,000 blogs and Web sites, all exposing the excesses of the Nazis: breaking leaked information from Hitler's circle, showing cellphone videos of the horrors of the SA purge or Kristallnacht, showing how Hitler's poisonous vision in autobiography and speeches were now unfolding across Germany – and pointing to its obvious conclusion.

Most of all, giving persecuted Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals a voice beyond the increasingly party-controlled media. All of this would have embarrassed Hitler and the Nazis in a very different way than Le Clezio suggests, but it might have been much more effective. In showing the Nazis for the low-rent thugs they were, the Internet might have created enough doubt among the German middle class to take away the votes Hitler needed to take power.

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