Excerpt from a big book review by William Walter Kay. There was a powerful Greenie movement in the Germany of the 1920s and 30s too. It was called Nazism
Culture wars like real wars have direct hits, collateral damage, and friendly fire. Professor Uekoetter’s The Green and the Brown: a History of Conservation in Nazi Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2006) is an example of friendly fire. The book was written to contain damage caused by growing awareness that Nazism is the forbearer of German environmentalism but it is yet another trove of facts affirming the Nazi-environmentalist connection. German conservationism, and its attendant tendencies and sentiments, was not a distinct social movement separable from German fascism. Parallel to the Gestapo’s nightmarish dragnet ran a green reign of terror of intrusive eco-activism. German conservationism survived World War II. What follows is a critical condensation of Green and Brown.
According to Uekoetter, research on the Nazi-environmentalist connection dates to the 1970s but much of this was “a vicious effort to throw dirt on a worthy cause.” (1) Historians published compilations of quotes showing how Nazism permeated German conservationism. (2) Historians concluded German conservationism was on a direct course toward Nazism. Uekoetter assures us the new thinking amongst the “band of environmental historians working on the Nazi era,” of which he is a member, “is unanimous in its rejection of such a line of reasoning.” (3)
German environmentalists coped with the Nazi-environmental connection with a “tradition of forgetfulness.” (4) Amidst the German public: “interest in the Nazi past of conservation was almost nonexistent.” (5) This changed when the German Environment Minister summoned a conference on the topic in Berlin, 2002. Bielefeld U prof J. Radkau was invited and he brought along a doctoral student: Uekoetter. Radkau and Uekoetter published a book on the conference proceedings; then, to refine the environmentalist line, Uekoetter wrote Green and the Brown in 2006.
As an environmental historian, Uekoetter writes of nature protection “in a sympathetic mode” – bias unconcealed. (6) He is an environmentalist and a protector of the German environmental movement. He refers to the Nazis’ National Conservation Law as “excellent” and “one of the best laws of the time.” (7) Nazi animal rights efforts derived from “noble goals.” (8) He personally finds it: “disheartening to see that conservationists observed few taboos in the rapprochement to the Nazis.” (9) It was also “disheartening” for him to retell how green heroes looked to Himmler for support. (10) For Uekoetter the hydrological regulation of a river is the “destruction” of a river. (11) He has a phobia about “geometric design” in landscape. He dismisses a modern German hydrologist with: “it had not yet occurred to this official that thinking in terms of straight and curvaceous lines might be part of the problem.” The cancellation of a hydro-electric dam was a “happy conclusion.” (12)
Uekoetter was aware he was entering dangerous territory. Too much had been unearthed for German environmentalists to go on pretending Nazism was not part of their heritage or was an insignificant accident of history. (13)
Even before the Berlin conference: “environmentalists, also realized that any discussion of the past would run an enormous risk of being overtly divisive. It is striking that references to the Nazi era were notably rare in the ongoing internal debates. Perhaps lack of knowledge was to blame: the notion of an ‘environmental revolution’ nourished a widespread impression that the environmental movement had no history worth talking about. However environmentalists may also have refrained from meddling with the past because raising the Nazi issue was the discursive equivalent of the ‘nuclear option’: arguing that somebody was standing in line with the Nazis is clearly the ultimate insult in German politics...” (14)
Uekoetter’s band of environmental historians was moved to action because “extreme right-wing parties have made some attempts in Germany to enter the political mainstream in recent years through claiming ecological credentials.” As well, the Nazi-environmentalist connection was: “important to everyone working on international conservation issues, for authoritarian regimes continue to be an unfortunate presence on the global scene. It would be wrong to refrain from conservation work in authoritarians states, but it would be equally wrong to behave like the conservation community during the Nazi era: to simply take advantage of the opportunities that authoritarian regimes offer...” (15)
The main aim of Green and Brown (which it utterly fails to achieve) is revealed thusly: “There is no way – at least no logically consistent way – to tarnish environmentalism in general through a reference to the Nazi era: in fact such an argument constitutes an abuse of history. If you came upon this book hoping to be told that today’s environmentalists are actually Nazis in disguise, then I hope you paid for it before reaching this sentence.” (16)
Uekoetter hopes by having environmentalists plead guilty to the lesser offence of opportunism they can avoid conviction on the graver charge of fascism. His case is framed as follows: “It made no sense to stand up against Nazi policies...you had to leap at opportunities. The German conservation movement acted on the basis of an exceedingly simple political philosophy: any legal provision, and any alliance with the Nazi regime, is fine as long as it helps our cause. Rarely does one get the impression, going through the records and books of the Nazi era, that there was something that the conservationists would not do to push their agenda...It is on this attitude that the rapprochement on the conservation movement to the Nazi regime was based, and it is this attitude that needs to be challenged retrospectively. (17)
Uekoetter is fond of quoting historian R. Dominick from whom we learn that of 18 top German conservationists in 1938, ten were Nazi Party members and one had been refused membership. (18) What Uekoetter neglects to relay is that Dominick concluded 60% of German conservation organization members were card-carrying Nazis. (19) Uekoetter places membership in the conservation movement inside the Third Reich at 5 million. Nazi Party membership was also in the low millions. During MOST of the Third Reich MOST active German conservationists were Nazi Party members and MOST Nazi Party members were active in conservationist organizations. We are not dealing with two camps of men. We are dealing a single fascist/conservationist camp. Uekoetter concedes this on several occasions: “...most members of the conservation community touted nature protection as a quintessential goal of Hermann Goring and Adolf Hitler.” (20) “The “green” and the “brown” were not two camps at a distance...but two groups that shared many convictions and came to work together to a stunning extent...” (21) "All that it took to join the conservation community during the Nazi era was a willingness to cooperate with Nazi authorities – and of course, a readiness to be silent about any points of disagreement. As it turned out, the vast majority of the German conservationists were willing to pay the price.” (22)
Uekoetter is satisfied there was never a “seamless merger” between Nazism and German conservationism. The latter’s regionalism and elitism created “stumbling blocks that inevitably stood in the way of a seamless merger.” (23) And: “Conservationists often came to adopt Nazi rhetoric, but a seamless merger of both sets of ideas never materialized.” (24)
In keeping with his opportunism defence much is made of the fact that many conservationists joined the Nazi Party only after 1933. In 1933 Party membership grew from 850,000 to 2.5 million. (A temporary ban on new members was enacted on May 1, 1933.) (25) But German fascism was a movement. There were many fascistic parties and organizations (Fatherland Party, Steel Helmet, Freedom Party, Thule Society, etc.). In the early 1930s these groups united into the Nazi Party. For many conservationists joining the Nazis was not their intro to fascism....
Green-Brown’s Golden Years 1933-45
In 1933 conservationists welcomed the new regime. They joined the Nazi Party en masse. Their literature proclaimed conservationism as the quintessential Nazi goal. (48) ‘Hitler-Oaks’ were planted in hundreds of towns. (49) Dedicated Nazi E. Gritzbach spouted: “National Socialism is a true nature-protection movement.” A colleague counselled caution: “even the authoritarian government of National Socialism can only gradually come to exorcise the demon that finds its expression in the mistreatment of the landscape.” (50) Conservation advisor W. Lienenkamper, a convinced Nazi, claimed their “First Commandment” to be the “merciless extermination of the utilitarian perspective.” He declared: “Our service needs to be a battle: a battle in words and in writing against ignorance and brutality. Quick intervention if Heimat treasures are under siege. Our work does not tolerate delays, for even a single day can mean destruction beyond remedy.” (51) In 1936 he added: “If Mother Nature is threatened, the true friend of nature does not care about jurisdiction.” (52) A coterminous pamphlet read: “you are worthless as a conservationist if you do not partake with your heart, if you do not act out of love and a deeply held belief in the beauty, in the eternal powers and miracles of our Heimat nature.” (53)
Conservationist author, H. Schwenkel ushered in the Nazi era exclaiming: “the age of purely materialistic design of the landscape...” and “regulated brooks and rivers” was finished. (54) He said rooting German folk character in the land strengthened the case for landscape protection. (55) This echoed Hitler’s directive that: “It is imperative to preserve German landscape, for it is, and always was the ultimate foundation of the power and the strength of the German people.” Hitler intoned: “We will not only create a Germany of power, but also a Germany of beauty.” (56) Schwenkel later added (1938): “the Jew does not know nature protection...Only cultivated man, and almost exclusively Nordic man, develops a completely new relationship with nature” H. Stadler warned Jewish timber merchants had bought “the last of the strong oaks and the last of the beautiful walnut trees” and were exterminating pear trees. (57)
Uekoetter’s book overflows with evidence of an ideological/organizational fusion between German conservationism and Nazism. Examples: “The distance between the conservation community and the Nazis was much smaller in practice than one would expect...cooperation was far too intensive, and far too cordial to be explained by a partial coincidence of goals.” (58)
Much more HERE
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