If something can happen once, it can happen again. This is the oft-ignored first lesson of history. The second lesson is that humans usually forget lesson number one. Watching the attempted coup unfold at the Capitol building, those two lessons kept working through my mind. Never have I felt like I was living so intensely in history. Maybe you did too.
In 1923, after almost a decade of economic suffering caused by the First World War, Germany was hit by an intense economic shock – hyperinflation, which destroyed middle class savings and raised the cost of a simple loaf of bread to several billion marks.
Into this turmoil stepped a little known agitator named Adolf Hitler – a man considered an embarrassment to his establishment backers but who had a gift for speaking to the people. On November 8, in a Munich beer hall, Hitler assembled a ramshackle collection of his followers – angry extremists dismissed as uneducated buffoons, and right-wing establishment figures who thought they could easily control him – and convinced those gathered to take over the Bavarian state government and march on Berlin to seize power. In a confused, pathetic fiasco, four policemen and 14 others were killed and Hitler slinked away to later be arrested.
Hitler was charged with high treason, but instead of being given a life sentence or executed, a biased judge sentenced him to just five years in prison and a modest fine. He served only 10 months, during which he wrote a book setting out his intention to take power, murder the Jews and revenge Germany’s defeat in 1918 – Mein Kampf. Soon after his release, his party, the Nazi Party, was allowed to re-form, and 10 years later took power legally. Within weeks of becoming Reich chancellor, Hitler arrested and murdered his opponents and abolished democracy – just as he had planned to do back in 1923.