At Nuremberg, April 18th, 1946
Saturday, 8 Mar 2003. His last days, and his thoughts on the war. By Charles Mauch.
Hermann Göring, Nazi Reichmarshall and Luftwaffe-Chief was a reviled twentieth-century figure associated with the most chilling example of genocide in human history. Göring was one of the highest-ranking Nazis who survived to be captured and put on trial for war crimes in the city of Nuremberg by the Allies after the end of World War II. He was found guilty on charges of “war crimes,” “crimes against peace,” and “crimes against humanity” by the Nuremberg tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence could not be carried out, however, because Göring committed suicide with smuggled cyanide capsules hours before his execution, scheduled for 15 October 1946.
Görings last days were spent with Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert kept a journal of his observations of the proceedings and his conversations with the prisoners, which he later published in the book Nuremberg Diary.
During the conversation, Gilbert recorded Göring’s observations that the common people can always be manipulated into supporting and fighting wars by their political leaders:
We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.
“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Göring shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. 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, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”
“There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”
“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”