Was Hitler Inspired by Lincoln’s Army?

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In my Fall 2010 Independent Review article entitled “The Culture of Violence in the American West: Myth versus Reality,” I noted the creepiness of the fact that General William Tecumseh Sherman referred to the U.S. Army’s twenty-five year campaign of genocide against the Plains Indians, which he was in charge of for the duration, as “the final solution to the Indian problem” (Cited in Michael Fellman, Citizen Sherman, p. 260).  It is creepy because it reminds one of Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” rhetoric.  I did not claim in my article that Hitler literally plagiarized General Sherman or was even familiar with Sherman’s “final solution” rhetoric, but scholarship that has been brought to my attention suggests that he may well have been.

The scholarship is cited in a June 18, 2013 article in the jewishjournal.com Web site by Lia Mandelbaum entitled “Hitler’s Inspiration and Guide: The Native American Holocaust.”  Citing the books Adolf Hitler by John Toland and Hitler’s Rise to Power by David A. Meier, Mandelbaum writes that “it shook me to my core” when she “learned that the genocidal mentality and actions of the U.S. policymakers [from 1862 to 1890] would find similar expression years later when the Nazis, under Hitler, studied the plans of [“The Long Walk of the Navajo”] to design the concentration camps for Jews.”

The “Long Walk of the Navajo,” also known as the Bosque Redondo, was the January 1864 deportation and ethnic cleansing of the Navajo Indians who were forced at gunpoint by the U.S. Army to walk more than 300 miles from their ancestral lands in northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to a concentration camp known as Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico.  This took place in the dead of winter.  Hundreds died along the way of the forced march, including many women, children, and the elderly.  In the succeeding four years the U.S. Army would imprison almost 10,000 Navajo in concentration camps where they lived “under armed guards, in holes in the ground, with extremely scarce rations,” writes Mandelbaum.  At least 3,500 of them died in the camps.

In his book, Adolf Hitler (p. 202), John Toland wrote that “Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history.”  Hitler “admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination – by starvation and even combat – of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”

Hitler was apparently “very interested in the way the Indian population had rapidly declined due to epidemics and starvation when the United States government forced them to live on the reservations.”  And the Nazis did force hundreds of prisoners in their concentration camps on death marches where many of them starved or froze to death.

Adolf Hitler was infatuated in his youth with tales of the American West.  “His favorite game to play outside was cowboys and Indians,” wrote David A. Meier in Hitler’s Rise to Power.  He read 70 of novels about the American  West by the German author Karl May, who “had never been to America” and “invented a hero named Old Shatterhand, a white man who always won his battles with Native Americans.”  Hitler “continued reading [May’s novels] even as Führer,” wrote Mandelbaum, even referring to the Russians as “Redskins” during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and ordering his military commanders to read May’s books.

The U.S. government’s war of genocide against all the Plains Indians, not just the Navajo, would indeed be a “good” example for any psychotic, murderous tyrant like Adolf Hitler.  It was prosecuted by all of Lincoln’s generals, including Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Custer, and various other “Civil War luminaries” such as John Pope, O.O Howard, Nelson Miles, Alfred Terry, E.O.C. Ord, Edward Canby, Benjamin Garrison, and Winfield Scott Hancock, wrote John Marszalek in Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order (p. 380).  Sherman and Sheridan adopted the motto, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” as their armies murdered at least 45,000 Indians from 1864 to 1890, including thousands of women and children (See Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival).  The survivors were placed in concentration camps euphemistically called “reservations,” where many of their descendants remain to this day.

Lincoln’s generals were not shy about announcing their intentions to commit genocide.  John Pope announced that “It is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux . . . .  They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made” (David Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians, p. 87).  “All the Indians will have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers,” General Sherman announced, calling his policy “a racial cleansing of the land” (See Michael Fellman, Citizen Sherman, p. 264).  “Sherman gave [General Phil] Sheridan prior authorization to slaughter as many women and children as well as men Sheridan or his subordinates felt was necessary when they attacked Indian villages,” wrote Fellman (p. 271).

So it is not a stretch to believe that Adolf Hitler, who fancied himself to be a serious student and admirer of U.S. military history from the Lincoln regime to the end of the nineteenth century, would have been “inspired” by Lincoln’s maniacal, murderous, genocidal generals like Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Custer, as the historians John Toland and David A. Meier maintain.  Indeed, Hitler was a rabid admirer of Lincoln’s compulsion to destroy state sovereignty and of the military tactics (i.e. waging total war on civilians) that he employed to achieve it.  On page 566  of the 1999 Mariner/Houghton Mifflin edition of Mein Kampf Hitler repeated Lincoln’s historically false and absurd argument from his first inaugural address that the states were never sovereign.   “The individual states of the American union . . .  could not have possessed any state sovereignty of their own,” wrote Hitler, paraphrasing Lincoln.  He did this to make his own case for the abolition of states’ rights or federalism in Germany and the creation of a centralized, monopolistic state.

The arguments in favor of states’ rights that were being made in Germany, wrote Hitler, were “propagated by the Jews” and should therefore be dismissed.  “The mischief of individual federated states . . . must cease,” the dictator bellowed.  “A rule basic for us National Socialists,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “is derived: A powerful national Reich.”  The only real difference between this statement and Lincoln’s theory of the American union is that Hitler referred to a “national Reich” whereas Lincoln, ever the master of slick political rhetoric, called the same thing “the mystic chords of union.”

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