You are on page 1of 5

Bernstein 1 Nicole Bernstein CAS 137H Professor Henderson 9 October 2012 “Proclamation to the German Nation:” The Deception

of Adolph Hitler On the night of February 1, 1933, a country—ravaged by war, unrest, and poverty for fourteen years—tunes its radios in to the voice of the man that promises it salvation. Disillusioned and disappointed by their government, the people eagerly await a new era, but are skeptical of the ability of a new leader to perpetuate any kind of meaningful change. Despite this jaded attitude, there is also the unrelenting spark of hope that remains even through years of economic depression and hardship. This hope leaves the citizens malleable, for they want to believe—need to believe—that their new leader can save their country, and make it the great power it once was. And so, when this man’s voice travels over the radio to the homes of thousands of civilians, they are easily persuaded of his greatness, of his ability to lead their country. They are swept up by his ideas of peace and unity: concepts that had become foreign to them during their years of hardship. And this is how Adolph Hitler successfully begins his rise to power. In the “Proclamation to the German Nation,” Adolph Hitler’s first speech as Chancellor of Germany, the soon-to-be dictator takes advantage of the pliable state of his audience. Using a

combination of rhetorical strategies designed to manipulate listeners, Hitler overcomes the skepticism of the German people, instead turning their bitterness and anger to a common enemy: communism. His pathos-infused speech serves to both praise his audience and terrify them—a combination which subtly intimates that Hitler himself is the only leader who can save Germany. Most importantly, Hitler provides hope for the future of Germany, and a concrete pathway out of the darkness of war—under his leadership, of course. Hitler’s pathos-driven rhetoric takes his malleable audience on a veritable roller-

Bernstein 2 coaster ride—from despair, to hope, to fear—which allows him to ingrain himself into the German society as their leader and savior. Firstly, and most importantly, Hitler establishes his ethos with the audience, contrasting himself with Germany’s previous leaders in order to make himself appear more peaceful, and therefore the cure to the conflict-filled years under his predecessors. Noting his disgust with the war and its effect upon the German people, Hitler also subtly implies that innocent Germans were deceived by their own countrymen. Not only does this serve to remind his audience of the true culprit in the situation—the men who caused Germany’s loss of power—but it also creates an idea of “us and them,” and therefore the idea that Hitler himself is an “us:” he is here, speaking before his fellow citizens, because he too has been betrayed and disappointed. The German people, weary of economic depression and social unrest, are eager to be done with the legacy of the previous fourteen years, and readily support this man who labels himself as the contrast to his predecessor. In another jab, Hitler compares his new government to that of the previous leader, noting that, “It did not ruin the German nation for fourteen years, but now it will lead the nation back to health” (Hitler 3). This statement puts forth the idea of sacrifice: Hitler is using his time, his energy, and his dedication to fix a problem that he had no hand in creating. To the audience, this shows that he will be the exact opposite of their previous leader: he will not sacrifice the wellbeing of the citizens to achieve his personal goals; in fact, he will do just the reverse. With this ethos in place, the audience is thus able to connect more easily with Hitler as he describes his plan for the future. As Hitler was not elected to his position by a majority vote, he relies mostly on pathos-driven claims to convince his audience of his own integral importance to the country’s survival. In a series of three carefully chosen arguments, he carries the listener through an emotional rollercoaster, breaking them down and discouraging them, before reminding the audience that—with his help—Germany can once again be prosperous.

Bernstein 3 To ensure that his listeners completely understand the devastation that has been brought upon Germany for the past fourteen years, Hitler contrasts the country’s current situation to that of its golden years, before the destruction of the war. He notes that, while once Germany was honorable, free, and one of the most powerful nations in the world, it has lost its spirit and its will, as well as its political place. Using references to family, culture, and faith, Hitler attempts to connect with the common man, so as to make himself relatable to the majority of the country. His laments go so far as to note that “the Almighty has withheld his blessing from our people” (Hitler 1). This statement connects deeply with the listeners, as the love of their God and their creator is the most horrible thing to lose: it shows the true disgraceful state of Germany. Additionally, throughout the entire speech, there is the constant idea of lost unity. Germany is no longer the powerhouse it once was: there is a distance and a lack of trust between the government and its citizens that prevents forward progress. Even the citizens themselves have lost touch with their neighbors and their families because of the strains of poverty and war. This description of the country allows the audience—who, over fourteen years of hardship have become used to poverty as the norm—to realize how far they have fallen. Hitler’s pathos-filled laments about the state of Germany outline more acutely the hole that the country has fallen into, leaving the listeners despairing and self-pitying. Then, to appear as the savior of Germany and its people, Hitler provides his audience with a spark of hope. For Hitler’s purpose in reminding his audience of their poverty and depression was not to belittle them or to blame them for their country’s loss of power; it was to provide himself with the ability to build them back up, to congratulate them on their previous achievements, and to encourage them to change their future by joining with him. Not once does Hitler insinuate that the fault lies with the citizens for Germany’s downfall: he blames those who formerly held leadership positions for betraying and deceiving the average man. This strategy shows the audience that Hitler is on their side, that he cares about what happens to the factory workers, the impoverished, and the middle class. Hitler

Bernstein 4 then proceeds to outline a concrete plan for improving the German nation, filled with specific promises and deadlines which insinuate that Hitler is not just using empty rhetoric to manipulate his listeners. He is more than just words. Again, the all-encompassing idea of unity is prevalent: Germany will once again become one, strong, uncompromising nation. These promises also make the citizens feel purposeful, as Hitler asks for their participation in achieving his goals. His request for the aid of all German people makes his audience feel trusted: they appreciate that Hitler does not see them as weak, and unable to help themselves. This combination of pathos-related rhetorical strategies allows Hitler to give his audience a concrete purpose, as well as a unity in that purpose as they will be working together with their neighbors and fellow Germans to achieve a better country. As of yet, however, Hitler has not established a concrete reason as to why this betterment of Germany must be carried out under his leadership, and his leadership alone. While he has gained the trust of the audience by providing them with hope for the future, he has not secured his own position as the man who will lead them to success. To do this, Hitler makes use of the well-known maxim— summarized by author Michael Crichton—that “social control is best managed through fear” (Crichton). He puts forth the idea that communism is Germany’s biggest enemy, and strikes fear into the hearts of his listeners to ensure that they realize the extent of its terrorism. He compares the last fourteen years of suffering to what would occur if bolshevism invaded Germany, noting that the entire country would be completely demolished should communism be allowed to enter its borders. This fear of destruction and Hitler’s warning of “the storm to come” leaves listeners lost and confused, especially due to the already weak state of the country. Their fear increases their desire to be led, to be told exactly what to do by a strong leader who presents an image of calm and control. Because of the ethos that Hitler has created throughout his speech, it is logical for listeners to fill his face into the blank space where their leader should be. This idea of control through fear cements Hitler’s position as a leader of the German people.

Bernstein 5 While Hitler’s rhetoric in the “Proclamation to the German Nation” is extremely well planned and executed, the most integral part of his speech is his ability to understand the state of his audience, and how to use that state to his own benefit. The pathetic arguments that Hitler employs would not have been so successful had the audience been stronger, and not run-down from fourteen years of conflict and poverty. But, as it is, Hitler uses the malleability of his audience to manipulate their opinions of him, and to portray himself as an invaluable asset to Germany in its time of need. As we see in retrospect time and time again when we study the World War II era, the German desire for unity —and their willingness to jump on the bandwagon—leads to their own manipulation, and lets a dictator get away with unimaginable atrocities. This speech is just the first of many in which Adolph Hitler uses clever rhetoric to control his audience, leading to devastating consequences.

Works Cited Crichton, Michael. State of Fear. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Print. Hitler, Adolph. “Proclamation to the German Nation.” Berlin. 1 Feb. 1933. Print. Speech transcript.