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On German autism: Michael Geyer, “Restaurative Elites, German Society and the Nazi Pur-

suit of War,” in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: Comparison and Contrast, ed. Richard
Bessel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 134“64; Gerd Koenen, “Zwischen Anti-
bolschewismus und ˜Ostorientierung™: Kontinuitaten und Diskontinuitaten,” in Strukturmerk-
¨ ¨
male der deutschen Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Anselm Doering-Manteuffel (Munich:
R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2006), 241“52. On parallel, but separate military development, see
Mary R. Habeck, Storm of Steel: The Development of Armor Doctrine in Germany and the
Soviet Union, 1919“1939 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003). On Soviet isolationism,
see Raymond A. Bauer, Alex Inkeles, and Clyde Kluckhohn, How the Soviet System Works:
Cultural, Psychological, and Social Themes (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), 26;
Stephen Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and
London: University of California Press, 1995), 225; Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism:
Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York and Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1999), 5.
The former, very useful term and concept was coined, in the context of the American Civil

and Indian wars, by Charles Royster; see Charles Royster, The Destructive War: William
Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (New York: Random House,
1991). The latter, more problematic term can be found in Martin Shaw, War and Genocide:
Organized Killing in Modern Society (Cambridge: Polity Press in association with Blackwell,
A similar case is argued, albeit for October 1942, by MacGregor Knox, “1 October 1942:

Adolf Hitler, Wehrmacht Of¬cer Policy, and Social Revolution,” The Historical Journal 43,
no. 3 (2000): 801“25.
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

process as “barbarization.”18 Rather than denoting sheer lethality (escalation)
or extermination (radicalization), “barbarization” captures the mythical or, as
it were, “barbarian” understanding of a war locked in a state of exception, in
which each side ¬ghts (or insists they must ¬ght) until one side is utterly and
completely subjugated, incapable of renewing itself on its own devices. The
victor survives as “the last man standing”; the vanquished is not only dead,
but also ravished. We should note in passing that this barbaric “ideology” is a
persistent potential of modern, Western war.19
Third, useful as these distinctions may be, they do not capture the fundamen-
tally asymmetric nature of the conduct of war between the two combatants.
Seen as a totality, the war in the “East” started with a rapid-¬re escalation
of unrestraint on the German side (in which practice surpassed ideology) and
was countered by a distinct radicalization and barbarization in the context
of defense measures by the Soviets, which in turn triggered a radicalization
and barbarization process on the side of the aggressor. The all-out defen-
sive war of the Soviets in response to the German onslaught mobilized the
entire nation and was fought on an interior and an exterior front. It was
fought as a civil or, in view of the French precedent in 1792/3, as a national-
revolutionary war, as an upheaval of the nation to wipe out its interior and
exterior enemies. The German equivalent became fully apparent in 1941“2,
when German warfare was recalibrated into a war of extermination “ also
a war against interior and exterior enemies but single-mindedly focused on
eradicating them with the Holocaust serving as its aggressive prong and the
utter despoliation of the people and the territory of the Soviet Union as its
regressive or retreating one. In the German, as in the Russian, case we need
to remember that 1941 was just a beginning. The war reached its zenith in
Fourth, the corollary of both escalation and radicalization on a subjec-
tive and psychological level was a process of “brutalization,” a term that is
most appropriate for describing and analyzing the “passions of war” to use
Clausewitzian terminology. Soldiers on both sides committed extraordinary
atrocities and the likelihood of their doing so increased with their sense of
impunity and just cause, such as revenge. Beyond a sizable core of what we
call cadres of totalitarian violence, who were prepared for and ideologically
committed to this kind of brutalized conduct, the majority of soldiers and
of¬cers were drawn into and out of acts of brutalization, largely dependent on
time and place. Hate propaganda, word of mouth, and experience interacted to
incite slaughter and atrocity, a compulsion to destroy, ravage, and kill.
Again asymmetry prevails. On the German side even the passions of war
were driven, more often than not, by cold calculation and the deliberate, and

George Kassimeris, ed., The Barbarization of Warfare (New York: New York University Press,

David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon™s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know

It (Boston: Houghton Mif¬‚in, 2007) calls this same phenomenon “total war.”
States of Exception 351

ef¬cacious, use of extreme unrestraint. Anger, fear, and rage of individual
soldiers were a subsidiary to this calculus.20 An extreme level of discipline
prevailed, and was demanded, in the midst of utter destruction “ certainly in
terms of self-image, but also in practice. On the Soviet side, by contrast, the
passions of war were systematically unleashed, coupled with brutal coercion
against one™s own, as this turned out to be the most successful means to make
peasant soldiers ¬ght and die for a regime which only a decade earlier had
declared all-out war on this same majority of the population. Alas, these pas-
sions, once unleashed, could not be stopped, when it mattered politically, in
1944“5. Soviet soldiers went on a rampage when prudence dictated restraint
by a victor who had long abandoned its initial, irrational, and utterly panicked
call for an all-out war of extermination.

when practice exceeds expectation: operation barbarossa
Preparations for the war against the Soviet Union commenced on 31 July 1940
with Hitler™s order “to ¬nish off Russia” amidst wider strategic deliberations
concerning the continuation of war.21 Directive 21, of 18 December 1940,
established the goal of the military operation: to envelop and destroy the vast
majority of Soviet forces “in a quick campaign” while preventing their retreat
by way of deep penetration. With the Red Army annihilated, a new defense
perimeter against “Asian Russia” would be established along a general line
reaching from Arkhangel™sk to the river Volga.22 Although there were cau-
tionary voices, the goal seemed attainable, because the Red Army appeared ill
equipped and badly trained, and the Soviet Union was expected to fall apart
once the Communist regime was destroyed.23

An interesting case of German self-perception that sets calculated institutional terror against

savage, social terror is Jonathan E. Gumz, “Wehrmacht Perceptions of Mass Violence in Croatia,
1941“1942,” Historical Journal 44, no. 4 (2001): 1015“38.
The following is greatly indebted to Jurgen Forster, whose work on Barbarossa may well be
¨ ¨

considered the Urtext of all subsequent studies on Barbarossa. While the English translation
of the 10-volume series is solid, we prefer the German edition. Jurgen Forster, “Unternehmen
¨ ¨
˜Barbarossa™ als Eroberungs- und Vernichtungskrieg,” in Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite
Weltkrieg, Vol. 4: Der Angriff auf die Sowjetunion, eds. Horst Boog et al. (Stuttgart: Deutsche
Verlags-Anstalt, 1983), 498“538; id., “Die Sicherung des ˜Lebensraumes,™” in Der Angriff auf
die Sowjetunion; id., “˜Verbrecherische Befehle,™” in Kriegsverbrechen im 20. Jahrhundert,
eds. Wolfram Wette and Gerd R. Ueberschar (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,
2001), 137“51.
Gerd R. Ueberschar and Wolfram Wette, “Unternehmen Barbarossa”: Der deutsche Uberfall

auf die Sowjetunion, 1941: Berichte, Analysen, Dokumente (Paderborn: F. Schoningh, ¨
1984),18“22; Hamburger Institut fur Sozialforschung, ed., Verbrechen der Wehrmacht: Dimen-
sionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941“1944, Ausstellungskatalog (Hamburg: Hamburger Edi-
tion, 2002), 39“41, with the ¬rst three pages.
Jurgen Forster, “Hitlers Wendung nach Osten: Die deutsche Kriegspolitik 1940“1941,” in
¨ ¨

Zwei Wege nach Moskau: Vom Hitler-Stalin-Pakt zum “Unternehmen Barbarossa,” ed. Bernd
Wegner (Munich; Zurich: Piper, 1991), 113“32.
Mark Edele and Michael Geyer

The rationale for aggression was strategic: Control of the Russian space and
its resources made Germany “invulnerable” in an age of global power.24 The
goal was not occupation, certainly not liberation, but imperial and colonial
conquest “ the “securing and ruthless exploitation of the land” and settlement
in choice areas.25 Expectation dictated a war without regard for the enemy.
Instead of peace there would be subjugation. By the same token, the Nazi and
military leadership agreed that Operation Barbarossa would be war in a new
key.26 This was to be war against a fanatical regime whose agents counted on
subversion and treachery and held society in an iron grip. Such wars had for
a long time been the staple of nationalist myth, which made war into a heroic
life-and-death struggle between races.27 But it was World War I that set the
mold, forming the experience that haunted the Nazis™ and the Wehrmacht™s
leadership in their preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union. In their
view Operation Barbarossa was, at one and the same time, an eminently “just
war” that ascertained the sovereignty and well-being of the German people in
a hostile world and a highly unconventional war.28 Much could be learned
from the past, and especially the German military leadership did not step out
of tradition lightly. But there was also a sense that this war would break the
Three initiatives in particular established the ground rules for the conduct
of war. First, war would be fought as a combined strategic operation with
a military, a security, and an economic component. To this end, a division of
labor “ typically haphazard, but overall effective “ was worked out between the
Wehrmacht, Himmler™s security forces, and an economic apparatus (to which
we should add the civilian occupation apparatus). What matters is less the
division between the military, security, and political and economic institutions
than the shared preparation for the destruction on the Soviet regime and its
roots in society and the instant wholesale pillage of people and territory. There
was agreement not only on the principle (that enemy groups within the civilian
populations must be destroyed), but also on the substance (that Jews and
Bolsheviks were the agents of the regime to be annihilated).29 Further, it was
understood that German requests for provisions were to be satis¬ed before

Andreas Hillgruber, Hitlers Strategie; Politik und Kriegfuhrung, 1940“1941 (Frankfurt am

Main: Bernard & Graefe Verlag fur Wehrwesen, 1965).
Andreas Hillgruber, “Die ˜Endlosung™ und das deutsche Ostimperium als Kernstuck des
¨ ¨

rassenideologischen Programms des Nationalsozialismus,” Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte
20 (1972): 133“53.
As mentioned, Poland served as precedent. Alexander B. Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland:

Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003).
Richard Bessel, Nazism and War (New York: Modern Library, 2004); Felix-Lothar Kroll,

Utopie als Ideologie: Geschichtsdenken und politisches Handeln im Dritten Reich (Paderborn:
Schoningh Verlag, 1998).
Birgit Kletzin, Europa aus Rasse und Raum: Die nationalsozialistische Idee der neuen Ordnung

(Munster: Lit, 2000); Jurgen Forster, “Hitlers Entscheidung fur den Krieg gegen die Sowjetu-
¨ ¨ ¨ ¨
nion,” in Der Angriff auf Die Sowjetunion, 27“68.
Jurgen Forster, “Wehrmacht, Krieg und Holocaust,” in Die Wehrmacht: Mythos und Realitat,
¨ ¨

eds. Rolf-Dieter Muller and Erich Volkmann (Munich: Beck, 1999), 948“63.
States of Exception 353

those of the occupied.30 The debate on these preparations remains unsettled,
but the basic fact is that the German leadership prepared a war against an
entire society, attacking with the purpose of destroying the regime and killing its
agents in order to exploit what was expected to be inchoate masses “ the human
and natural resources of the Soviet territory. The utter disregard for Soviet
human life was built into the combined operation to subdue the Soviet Union.
The second thrust of preparations focused on generating the “ruthlessness”
necessary for ¬ghting a treacherous enemy. Soldiers were to be made ready to
¬ght “ not only an enemy army and society, but so-called fanatics and criminals
amidst the enemy. Propaganda about the Soviet regime grotesquely played
up Jewish-Bolshevik cadres and thus contributed to the everyday brutality
of the war.31 But the German military had never really banked on images
and motivations and did not do so in this case either.32 Instead, they granted
preventative immunity for criminal conduct in the pursuit of war and, because
war making targeted the civilian population, impunity also pertained to the
“treatment of the local population.”33 The Decree on the Exercise of Military
Jurisdiction put “military necessity over a consideration what is lawful.”34
The power of de¬nition rested entirely with the commanding of¬cer, who was
also called upon to ascertain military discipline. The purpose was to create an
armed force that was at one and the same time unrestrained in pursuit of its
goals and a uniquely disciplined instrument in their conduct. The combination
of sheer destructiveness and extreme discipline remained tenuous, but much as
we might emphasize bloodlust or the compulsion to kill (“Shoot every Russian
that looks askance”),35 the cold rage of disciplined annihilation was the order
of the day and de¬ned German warfare.36 No doubt, the latter also served as
cover for individual and group brutalization.
The third strand of war preparations authorized targeted murder. The
Decree for the Treatment of Political Commissars, the famous Commissar

Christian Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde: Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in

Weissrussland 1941 bis 1944, 2nd ed. (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2000); Klaus Jochen
Arnold, Die Wehrmacht und die Besatzungspolitik in den besetzten Gebieten der Sowjetu-
nion: Kriegfuhrung und Radikalisierung im “Unternehmen Barbarossa” (Berlin: Duncker &
Humblot, 2004).
Forster, “Unternehmen “Barbarossa” als Eroberungs- und Vernichtungskrieg.” 440“7.

Michael Geyer, “Vom massenhaften Totungshandeln, oder: Wie die Deutschen das Krieg-

Machen lernten,” in Massenhaftes Toten: Kriege und Genozide im 20. Jahrhundert, eds. Peter


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