The Toy Fascist
More from the October 1980 Playboy
LIDDY: ........In the long run, you know, a nation's psychology is far more crucial than its military hardware. My Oriental instructor in the martial arts taught me that the outcome of a battle is decided in the minds of the opponents well before the first blow is struck. We certainly saw that in the France of 1940. The French had more troops, more tanks, more guns than the Germans, more of almost everything except the fanatic and disciplined esprit de corps of the German fighting man. Hitler's secret weapon wasn't the brilliant and imaginative coupling of Panzer and Stuka in concerted ground-air attack; it was the courage of the individual Wehrmacht soldier, each of whom carried blitzkrieg in his breast. Can you imagine what Rommel's Afrika Korps would do with today's volunteer army, the army that "wants to join you," as the recruiting posters said? Jesus, they'd chew us up and spit us out in no time flat. We couldn't fight our way out of a wet paper bag today.
PLAYBOY: The admiration for the German fighting spirit you've just expressed, and your general fascination with all things German, is an underlying leitmotiv of Will, and has assumed sinister overtones in the eyes of some critics, who accuse you of being a closet Nazi sympathizer. Could they be right?
LIDDY: They couldn't be more wrong. It's true that I do admire the mentality of the northern Teutonic races, not only their fighting spirit but also, and equally important, their work ethic and sense of discipline. I find all those values admirable, and have always identified with them. But I have absolutely no sympathy for Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Remember, German history spans thousands of years, and the twelve years of the Third Reich was no more than a historical aberration. One of the many tragic aspects of the holocaust is that the very German virtues I have enumerated -- discipline, efficiency, the ability to subordinate emotion to duty -- were perverted into the organized annihilation of millions of innocent civilians, not only Jews but gypsies and Slavs as well. To me, that is the antithesis of all the things I admire about the German martial spirit, and it is a stain on German honor from which the country will take many years to recover. But in fairness, I can also admire the sheer courage and military genius of German soldiers like Rommel who took no part in such atrocities, and maintained their and their country's honor intact. But for Adolf Hitler and the psychopathic scum in the concentration camps who butchered babies on an assembly line because they were born into the wrong race, I have nothing but contempt.
PLAYBOY: Many of your critics have speculated, nonetheless, that if you'd been born in Germany, you would have made one hell of a Nazi.
LIDDY: What can you really say to something like that? I mean, shit, I'm just as interested in the extraordinarily deep and rich culture of Japan, and equally fascinated by the traditional Bushido code of the samurai warrior. What're they going to say about that? "Oh, Liddy would have flown a Zero at Pearl Harbor"? Come on.
PLAYBOY: If you had been born in Germany and been of fighting age in World War Two, would you have served in Hitler's armies?
LIDDY: Well, that's all extremely hypothetical, of course. Here you are slapping me down in another culture and time and asking how I'd behave. Would I have been conditioned by my society into accepting Hitler as a savior, as our German maid did in the Thirties? I certainly hope not, and, in fact, I suspect just the opposite. I can accept and serve authority I respect, but against authority that I despise. I quickly turn to rebellion, as I did in the slammer when I fought the prison administration tooth and nail. In the case of Germany, you must remember that I'm a political conservative, and I respect tradition and the values of Western culture, and so I think it more likely I would have joined those conservatives and Catholics who tried to overthrow Hitler. Like Carl Goerdeler, or Count von Stauffenberg, the heroic officer who had lost an arm, hand and eye on the Eastern front but returned to almost blow Hitler to smithereens at Rastenburg during the July twentieth plot in 1944. And who, needless to say, was executed by the Gestapo shortly afterward. But yes, like Stauffenberg as well, I'm sure I would have fought for my country, probably in the Luftwaffe or a Panzer division. But it's all sheer speculation, of course. Next you'll be asking where I keep my Iron Cross!
PLAYBOY: If Hitler had abjured anti-Semitism and genocide, could you have supported him?
LIDDY: No. It would have made his regime less loathsome, of course, but he'd still have been a dictator, and Nazi Germany would still have been a totalitarian state. Again, as a conservative, I support the concept of a society that, whenever possible, is voluntary and noncoercive. As I explained when discussing the upheavals of the Sixties, there are times when the state, to preserve that very humane society, must intrude into the privacy and the freedom of the individual, but it should be done as sparingly as possible, and only in response to a clear and present danger to the very stability and security of the society. A totalitarian state, by its very nature, permanently imposes itself as the master of the individual, and thus is inherently abhorrent to me. Some, like Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia, are bloodier than others, but all are ultimately destructive of the human spirit.
PLAYBOY: Your abhorrence of Hitler's genocide certainly sounds sincere, but it only makes your own fascination with the Nazi era more perplexing. For example, if you really loathed everything Hitler stood for, why did you go out of your way to arrange a special screening of Leni Riefenstahl's classic Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, for a group of White House aides?
LIDDY: Well, you've got to understand the background to that. John Ehrlichman and others who had run Nixon's 1968 campaign were always regaling people about what great advance men they'd been, and what giant rallies they'd organized, with balloons going up in the air by the hundreds, and on and on ad nauseum. I got bored hearing about those "mammoth rallies" of theirs that I finally said, "Hey, you guys, you want to see a real rally?" They took the bait and I set up a private screening of Triumph of the Will at the National Archives for the entire White House staff. It really is an impressive film you know, there's no doubt that Riefenstahl's a cinematic genius. Well, about fifteen people attended, and they sat there watching hundreds of thousands of storm troopers marching in mass formations under Albert Speer's spectacular stage management, a vast field of people standing to sing the Horst Wessel Lied at night as giant antiaircraft spotlights beam pillars of light through the clouds overhead, creating a luminous, cathedral-of-stars effect. In short, a really overwhelming display. And finally, when the lights came on, there was a moment of awed silence, and then from the back of a voice breathed reverently, "Jesus! What an advance job!" My point, it seems, was taken.
PLAYBOY: Forgetting for a moment the obvious negative connotations of the word fascism, and keeping in mind your professed detestation of Hitler's genocide, don't you, in fact, embody most of the traditional values of Italian and Spanish fascism, if not of Nazism -- i.e., duty, honor, love of fatherland, military elan and semimystical exaltation of personal and national will and destiny, strong anticommunism, genetic determinism, contempt for the herd, etc.? And, thus, couldn't you be fairly and objectively termed a fascist in that sense?
LIDDY: No, because if you're going to be at all precise and objective in your evaluation of comparative political systems, then fascism refers to a specific political movement that evolved in Italy in the Twenties and was subsequently emulated in various countries in Europe and Latin America. It embodies the concept of blind obedience, the corporate state, dictatorial, centralized one-man rule, and a host of other totalitarian mechanisms and concepts that are all anathema to me. And I certainly don't think that some of the qualities you enumerate, such as duty, honor, love of country and military strength, are exclusive attributes of fascism. Indeed, when I was growing up, they were much praised and universally aspired-to virtues in this country. I hope they will be again. But that certainly does not make me a fascist of any stripe.
PLAYBOY: Why did you sing the Horst Wessel song at the top of your lungs to a black audience in prison?
LIDDY: Because I had become the subject of racial prejudice myself while in the Washington jail, shortly after my initial conviction. I ran a daily gauntlet of racial slurs from the predominantly black prisoners, and even though I had told myself it shouldn't get under my skin, it finally did. I was in deadlock, so I couldn't even challenge to a fight the prisoners who hurled their taunts through the bars. I had my opportunity to strike back one morning when a guard escorted me to the showers. As I walked down the catwalk, a chorus of jeers greeted me: "OK, baby, if you want racist, here's racist!" I knew the words to the Horst Wessel song by heart from childhood, when I'd first heard it from Germany on our family shortwave radio, and I have a fairly strong voice. So when I reached the showers, I burst into full and rousing song, my voice booming through the cell block: Die Fahne hoch!" I sang. "Raise the flag!" As I went on, screaming out my frustration through the echoing tiers of the prison, the jeers and catcalls began to fall off. "Die Reihan dicht geschlossen....." The din gradually silenced, and by the time I reached the second verse of the Horst Wessel song, my voice was the only one that could be heard in the cell block. It was almost eerie, because I'm sure there was not one other man in that prison who understood one word of what I was singing. But they all got the message.
PLAYBOY: That initial hostility you encountered from blacks changed pretty rapidly as you began doing free legal work for black and white prisoners alike, and challenging prison administrators in the courts on questions of prisoners' rights. In fact, you ended up becoming something of a hero to inmates of both races. Did you experience in prison change any of your own racial attitudes?
LIDDY: Not really, because I had always abhorred racial prejudice and bigotry, even though I'm perfectly willing to answer back in kind when I'm on the recieving end, as the incident I just related indicates. But I think racism is one of the most stupid and ultimately wasteful of all human vices, because it denies a man's potential and worth for something as superficial and frivolous as the color of his skin. Throughout my life, I've had good and productive relationships with blacks. I also tend to particularly admire the virtues of the northern races, perhaps out of frustration with my own genetic composition. I have more Irish and Italian genes than German, and my hot Southern blood has always caused me serious problems with my temper, which it took me a long, hard struggle to govern. And I also happen to prefer the Nordic type of woman, as an aesthetic preference. I hardly think that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes can be condemned as a racist pronunciamento! But I also think blacks should take pride in their African ancestry. My God, if I could demonstrate I had some Zulu blood, I sure as hell would be proud of it, because the Zulu warriors were some of the finest fighting men on the face of the earth.
PLAYBOY: Leaving black-white issues aside, throughout your book you express a fascination with genetics and eugenics, even to the point of cold-bloodedly selecting your prospective bride according to the contribution she would make to your "family gene pool." How did she feel about that?
LIDDY: Well, it was not exactly an element I played up in our courtship. But even though it wasn't the most romantic of all considerations, I think it's a valid one, nonetheless. There's a good deal of truth to eugenics as long as you don't carry it to extremes, as we've done in the past with involuntary-sterilization plans and that kind of dangerous scheme, with all its potential for abuse. It had taken me a long time to build myself up from a puny, sickly child, so I wanted my own children to have a running start. That's why I determined that my smartest course was to marry a tall girl of Celtic-Teutonic ancestry who also had a terrific mind. And, as a result, I have five strong, athletic, and bright children. Of course, all those considerations have to be coupled with a mutual emotional compatibility, but they were definite factors in selecting my mate.