Was Goering right?


Commander-in Chief of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s right-hand man, Hermann Goering was convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremburg after the war.  During the trial he explained his political philosophy to his lawyer.


Naturally the common people don’t want war, but after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along . . . Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.  This is easy.  All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in every country.


Goering was a psychopath and mass murderer, but was he right?  His claim that democracy was no effective barrier for leaders who have decided on war, provided they went about their business in the right way, does appear all too credible after the Iraq war.  Democracy was meant to be a new way of organising society that recognised that all men are created equal in respect of their rights, that society was after all formed of individuals in order to obtain the necessary security and other benefits that could only arise from efficient organisation and cooperation. The citizens were supposed to have the real power, which they delegated by way of voting for their chosen representatives, so that they might then be able to get on with their lives. Such a democracy could not be led by the nose by charismatic leaders – this was the main danger that democracy had been invented to avoid.  The people are too well aware of the lessons of history to allow that to happen.


Or are they?  The contempt for ‘the people’ expressed by Goering may not have been unique to the fat Reichsmarschal.  Manipulation of public attitudes by leaders of democracies who, lawyer-like, put forward only one side of a case because they believe they know best – an attitude that does not sit well with democracy – is certainly possible, as has been proved by recent events.

Readers may recollect their belief that the invasion of Iraq would be impossible in our modern, democratic times, and how that complacent belief was shattered.  Many of us feel that after the mistakes of invading Afghanistan, and then Iraq, now amply revealed, it would surely be impossible to ‘drag the people along’ to a war against Iran.   The war in Afghanistan, with the stated objective of capturing Bin Laden, was as ridiculous, as John Pilger pointed out, as bombing Sicily to get rid of the mafia.  In fact, the terrorist could long ago have been handed over, as the ruling Taliban had offered to give him up to an international court of justice, an offer the US administration refused in favour of military action.  The 2003 war against Iraq needs no comment here.

How democratic are our democracies? Despite a public rejection of his policies that has resulted in lost Republican control of both houses of parliament, the draft-dodging ‘war president’ Bush is contemplating sending an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq for ‘one last push’ for victory.  In the US, the president has this disproportionate, dictatorial power. 

Can we prove Goering wrong?