Hitler worked to perfect the master race. He wanted a race of tall, strong, heroically beautiful men and women. He wanted physical perfection; he wanted the ancient philosophers’ physical ideal.
The problem is, ideal perfection would mean uniform perfection. It would mean no diversity. And that isn’t perfection.
Consider, what does the perfect citizen look like? For Hitler, it was the perfect soldier, and the perfect soldier’s mother. Which presents a problem.
Let’s put it in terms most of us understand better. The military is historically linked to athletics; the ancient games of Olympus focused on the skills of the soldier. So what does the perfect athlete look like? Peyton Manning? Mean Joe Green? Emmitt Smith?
But that’s only football. Maybe it would be Michael Jordan. Possibly it is Hakuhō.1)The best sumo wrestler in the world. What about Roger Federer? Or we could consider Arnold Palmer.
Perhaps it was even Nadia Comenici.
This question isn’t trivial. We’ve been looking at the problem of one-size-fits-all in the military, and in the marketplace. A military unit needs different people, and different physiques. Big guys can carry and move heavy equipment, light guys can run, agile guys can fight hand-to-hand, stealthy guys can reconnoiter. If you swap those around, you quickly realize that the ideal body for one job, may be lousy for another.
But then you also need different brains, you need guys who understand electronics, or machinery, or tactics, or survival skills. You also want guys who can innovate, and come up with non-obvious solutions when the shells are screaming in. Fact of the matter is, you may need some guys who aren’t even guys. And with the advent of drones and robots, maybe some of the guys you need aren’t even people.2)And don’t forget the military dogs and the war horses which go back millennia.
Because the same problem applies to identifying the perfect intellect. Hitler also wanted ideal geniuses, which if you think about it, means he wanted uniform geniuses. Hitler wanted his master race to have extraordinary minds – but without thinking for themselves. Putting it that way, we can immediately see that the concept is ridiculous.
The whole point of genius is that it goes new, unexpected places. A team of people lacking in intellectual diversity, who thinks the same way, isn’t going very far, and it’s not going there all that quickly. In the modern world, where competitiveness lasts no longer than your last innovation, teams of identical intellects fall behind.
Put it another way. Which engineer understands the Boeing 747? None of them. An engineer may understand the general overview, but many work-lives were invested in designing all the systems, articulating them, and trouble-shooting them. And many of the necessary engineers, scientists, and designers weren’t even working in the aircraft industry: what Boeing engineer knows how to make the fabric for the seats, the fuel for the jet engines, or the computers for navigation?
Then consider how simple the 747 is when compared with an entire nation. And that brings up the main point.
Who’s the best citizen for the nation?
Today there are many who oppose cultural diversity, those who say that American citizens should not be, say, Muslims. (Or Latinos or Africans or Vietnamese or whomever. As my friend the late Eugen Weber noted, “…could it be that the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals was not mainly about Jews, any more than football is about the ball that gets kicked around?”)
Currently 10% of US doctors are Muslim; if anyone you love had a life-threatening disease or accident in the past couple of decades, chances are very good that they are still alive because of a Muslim. About 7% of US programmers are Muslim; think about that as you read this blog on-line, operate your smart phone, or use your credit card. Then consider that over 6% of teachers and business managers are Muslim, and a lot of our researchers are, as well.
Not a bad showing for a group that only makes up 2.5% of the country.
But Muslims have also been Americans a long time. A Muslim fought at Bunker Hill, and Muslims have served in our nation’s military for the past 240 years. Something to think about on this Memorial Day.
Of course, Muslims are terrorists.
Actually, they aren’t. Overwhelmingly, the acts of terrorism on US soil are committed by white Christians. The fear of Muslims is simple ignorance, intolerance, and racism.
That’s important, because here’s what’s really interesting about Hitler’s master race, and his master racism. As careful as the Nazis were about defining what the master race should be, the real test was what the master race should not be. Every candidate for the master race was carefully assessed, to make sure…
…they weren’t Jewish. In fact, much of the definition of the master race came, not from a definition of what was ‘best’, but one that excluded what they considered to be the ‘worst.’
Face it, Jews have a different religion. They have a different language. They have a different culture.
They look different.
Just like Muslims.
Oh, and the Nazis insisted that the Jews were also working to destroy Germany for religious and nationalist reasons, and were plotting for world control. They were also responsible for communism, exploitive capitalism, and anything and everything that caused the decline of Germany, and of the West.
Which sounds a bit like what people say about Muslims today.
The problem is, the Nazi racism and xenophobia that vaulted Hitler to power, was their eventual undoing.
Failure of the Ideal
While Hitler was trying to conquer the world, and permanently defining to everyone what ‘the best’ was, he drove out and murdered some of the most important scientists, engineers, and thinkers of the 20th century.
I will mention only two of the exiles: Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard. Everyone recognizes the first name; not so many people will recognize the second. Szilard first envisioned the chain reaction.
Years later, Szilard wrote a letter to Einstein. Einstein sent it to FDR. The letter described just what a chain reaction could do in warfare.
And so Leo Szilard, exactly what the master race had declared as ‘the worst,’ was responsible for a technology that could have won the war for the Nazis. But the only way the Germans could have allowed Szilard to contribute, would have meant discarding the very reasons for the war, and everything that brought the Nazis to power.
But the Jewish Szilard was essential to ending the war that attempted to prove, once and for all, who the master race was.
The ideal warriors, the master race, lost. The most diverse and inclusive nation on the planet, the mutts, won the war. And part of that was because they were willing to include and listen to diverse voices.
The Past, The Present
We look at the Nazis of the 1930s & 1940s, and we think they are completely different from Americans of the 2010s. That is a serious mistake; intermixed among our potential leaders today are the same sociopaths and narcissists, and we are every bit as sheepish and summary in our blind allegiances, and our blind prejudices, as the Nazis were. It all comes down to which of our leaders can attract the most followers, and whether they get that power by focusing on the issues, or simply by feeding our angers in order to pit us against one another, and weaken us further.
Because a weakened people are the easiest to lead.
And the real solution is to design a society that understand the importance of diversity, and the essential function it plays as the world becomes more complex. And the only way I can see how to do that, is to reconsider how we design our schools.