Die Welle or How Democratic Societies are not Immune to the Appeal of Fascism
Nowadays, we often hear about Neo-Nazis, about Europe voting for extreme right parties or even the mass shooting perpetrated by Anders Breivik in 2011, in order to “cleanse the Norwegian society”, a moment which definitely took Europe by surprise and challenged the axiom that extremism was a bygone attitude. Nobody expected such an aggressive and violent outburst of Nazi-like terror in one of the most advanced countries in the world. I followed the news very carefully, in order to see how the medical examination would unfold, because if they declared him not sane, then, tragically, the people who created an entire regime based on such provisions – Nazi Germany – would have been acquitted.
Yet, Breivik was not vindicated, instead imprisoned in a place where some people only dream to live. However, the case in point is that he cannot roam free to kill innocent people again, because of his delusion with racial purity. However, the world is safe with him in prison, but not of all people who could do this again. And a very haunting movie – Die Welle (The Wave) – inspired from a real life event proves just that:that in each and every one of us a dictator or extremist lies dormant.
The 2008 motion picture is based on the social experiment devised by the high school teacher Ron Jones in 1967 in Palo Alto, California for his Contemporary World history class when studying Nazi Germany. Jones’ mission was to demonstrate that the appeal of Fascism/Nazism is not only restricted to certain societies, but even to people who believed themselves immune to it and those who built their state on democratic principles. So, he went on to prove just that in the United States of America, a country which was and is often regarded as the epitome of democracy (well the last events from Ferguson would beg to differ, but anyway, you get the point) an autocratic or totalitarian regime could easily become a reality.
So, in the movie entitled Die Welle, a certain high school professor Rainer Wenger is forced to teach a course on autocracy, although he expressed his desire to get one in anarchy, since he is an anarchist. In the autocracy class, Wenger presented the students with lessons about the totalitarian regime of the Third Reich. Wenger was confronted by his students who thought that Nazism was not a problem anymore and that Germany could never become again a totalitarian, terrorist and oppressive state.
So, Wenger embarked on a mission to show his students that extremism and especially far right extremism was still very much a real problem in their society and almost ordered them to call him Herr Wenger whenever they came to class. Also, they were to stand up when answering the questions and to use short and concise language. Moreover, they were to have a dress code which was a uniform that accentuated the conformism and submission to rules:white blouse and black trousers. They also voted for a name Die Welle – The Wave to which Wenger added a wave sign with the hand, very reminiscent of the Heil Hitler sign of the indoctrinated German crowds in the 1930s. Unbeknownst of Wenger, some of the students went out one night and sprayed their logo all over town and even on a cathedral which was being rebuilt.
Of course, Wenger was wise enough to burden them with “glorious” purpose and a sense of belonging to a group. Those who protested and opposed the opinion agreed to by everybody was ignored and even expelled from the group. A student, Karo, even had to switch classes, because neither her colleagues, nor Wenger, nor her boyfriend would listen when she said that the experiment went too far. She was even forbidden to enter a swimming competition by her former colleagues from the autocracy class, because she refused to greet them with the wave sign.
Therefore, Wenger gave Die Welle the premises to grow as a force which replicated in miniature a Fascist party such as NSDAP. They had a common purpose which was viewed the betterment of the society, regardless of the fact that maybe it was not, yet they were manipulated into believing that. The students also felt unique and different from the others which contributed to the feeling of being “something else” than the rest, a better type of people. And this is what Fascism and Nazism preached:that those who adopted their ideology would be better off than those who didn’t and also, the people who wouldn’t accept it would be marginalized to the point of being considered “enemy of the people”. Enemies of the people were whoever the regime saw fit and in Nazi Germany they were Jews. For these regimes to live, some innocent people have to die, so as to get across a point to the masses – people are opposed to their ideology, because they do not understand its benefits and the great future it promises.
And thus, it gets to a point where an ideology is the only truth in a country. That is why Hitler wanted to do away with the Christian Churches and any other traditional institutions which may have had a different vision of life, because they competed with the Nazi “truth”. And it had to be the sole moral compass of the Germans.
Thus, Wenger became the leader of the group and one of the students showed up at his house and offered to be his bodyguard. Even if Rainer refused, he invited the boy inside which made his wife even more upset with him and proceeded to tell him yet again that his experiment went too far and that he had to finish it. Rainer sends his student home and the next day decides to call the experiment to a halt. He ordered the doors to be closed and started talking passionately to the crowd of students when one of them protested. Rainer called him a traitor and asked to be brought to the front. Some students immediately “executed the order” and Wenger told them that this was proof of the fact that the experiment went into a danger zone and it was better to end it at that time than later. However, one student protested and decided to shoot himself, in order to show Wenger how committed he was to the cause. A cause which only existed in their manipulated minds.
Of course, the police came and took Herr Wenger into custody and everything seemed to go back to normal. However, one cannot help but think that hopefully nobody will ever try to prove the appeal of Fascism/Nazism at a far greater level. Again.
So, if you want to be haunted by such a movie and reflect on the ills of a totalitarian regime, go watch the German 2008 movie, Die Welle. Chilling experience.