Nikolaus Wachsmann reviews The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45 (2015) by Nicholas Stargardt in The Guardian.
Most Germans did not want war in 1939. When it came, following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, there was no euphoria and flag-waving, as there had been in 1914, but dejection; the people were downcast, one diarist noted. The mood soon lifted, as the Third Reich overran its neighbours, but most Germans still hoped for a quick conclusion. As Nicholas Stargardt points out in his outstanding history of Germany during the second world war, the Nazi regime was most popular “when it promised peace, prosperity and easy victories”. And yet, German troops continued to fight an ever more protracted battle, with ever more brutality, while the home front held tight. Even when it was clear that all was lost, there was no collapse or uprising, as in 1918. Why?
Stargardt rejects two easy answers: 1) fear of the Nazi's domestic terror apparatus and 2) genuine popular support. He argues:
Despite this lack of national cohesion and the growing war fatigue, Germans kept fighting. Most important, Stargardt suggests, were their feelings of “patriotic defiance”, arising less from fanatical nazism than familial bonds. They had to win the war at any cost, soldiers believed, to protect their loved ones and to make Germany impregnable. [...] Even Germans appalled by the genocidal war waged in their name rallied around their country. Their determination was fuelled by Nazi propaganda, which insisted that this was a defensive war, provoked by Germany’s enemies, and warned that defeat would mean the annihilation of the fatherland. This campaign, based on “strength through fear” (as a British commentator quipped), hit home. As another soldier wrote to his wife just weeks before the final surrender: “If we go to the dogs, then everything goes to the dogs.”
He follows two dozen individual through diaries and letters:
In the context of my current investigation of Miyazaki's The Wind Rises I'm wondering how ordinary Japanese thought about the war.They emerge not as heroic resisters or as cartoon villains, goose-stepping across the pages, but as complex and contradictory human beings – men like the SA volunteer Wilm Hosenfeld, who sheltered several Jews in occupied Poland [...], and still prayed for a German victory. Or Peter Stölten, a would-be painter from Berlin, whose boyish enthusiasm for the war evaporated after his elite tank division was erased, and who sought solace in poetry, expressing his wish to “merge with beauty” (he died inside a burning tank in early 1945).