I had a few thoughts on the episode that I think I’d like to share. A great deal of those are linked to some of the topics that come up in this episode, particularly the discussion that springs from @CrimsonBehelit’s great question from the other thread.
Firstly, I’d just like to say that I loved this episode. It felt really well balanced between discussing the context of the game (contemporarily and today), the game itself, and contributing original thought, whether about the Nazi Party, the world design, or the game’s narrative. I wanted to focus on the first of those additional points, since it is the only thing I can speak to.
Before we begin, I’d like to flag up that I’m by no means an expert in this field, just a passionate history graduate who recently came off reading Richard J. Evans’ fantastic Third Reich trilogy (The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939, and The Third Reich at War), which I can’t help but wonder if Zacny has ever found the time to read.
I think the constant recycling of Nazis-as-villains that CrimsonBehelit brings out is important. While we have a 70+ year Western history of engaging with Nazis as media figures (from propaganda at the time to post-war depictions of them), many of these portrayals are rooted in other media representations or, as Walker says, contemporary anxieties that are projected onto an ‘other’ regime. The historiography (that is, the history of the history) of Nazi Germany has grown up in more-or-less parallel to this, with intersections along the way, but less cross-contamination than one might hope. There’s a reason why parts of this game, as noted in the episode, feel like they come from Inglorious Basterds, not historical analysis.
Part of this is what Zacny touches on in his response to CrimsonBehelit’s question regarding the Nazi Party’s leadership being ‘fuckups’ ‘at the end of their tether’ (which is a pretty accurate assessment of a lot of them). One of the elements that Evans devotes a great deal of time to in his books is Nazi education policy, which, despite widespread support for the Nazi Party among teachers and doctors, was simplistic and emphasised physical education over traditional scholarly work. Both the curriculum (which included having to spend summers working as free labour for farms) and the Hitler Youth (which encouraged students to resist the discipline of their teachers) encouraged this.
In tertiary education, Nazi influence absolutely transformed the sector. A combination of forced reduction in student numbers, Aryanisation (i.e. forceful expulsion of Jewish faculty), and social pressures saw some sectors (e.g. law) wither away almost entirely while others (e.g. medicine, which included ‘racial hygiene’) saw their proportions rise in an overall declining area. However, even medicine saw its standards drop precipitously, as the quality of secondary education plunged (and professors were forced to pass increasingly poor scripts) and medicine came under pressure to include increasingly dubious psuedo-science (e.g. homeopathy) as legitimate branches of what it did. However, this fact is inconvenient for any alternative-history of Nazi Germany, since it raises substantive questions about the long-term viability of a system performing direly on an educational level.
I only raise this because I think it can be a worthwhile endeavour to, in order to counteract this image of hyper-competency that we see in media, discuss the real Nazi Germany as it was. I’m not an expert (and I’m largely speaking from Evans’ work), but I think, as Zacny taps in this episode, looking at the system in practice truly shatters any illusions one can have about their competence or efficiency.