Background: Goebbels wrote quickly, but carefully. He almost always always avoided making promises that he might later regret. As a result, when books of his essays and speeches were printed a year or more afterwards he rarely had to omit material. Ernest K. Bramsted’s Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda 1925-1945 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1965) has an interesting appendix titled “What Goebbels Left Out: Some Significant Omissions in His Wartime Books.” He notes that this essay was not reprinted. By the time the collection titled Der steile Aufstieg appeared in fall 1943, the war situation had deteriorated and Goebbels may have considered that this essay was a bit too optimistic. Among other things, he talks of U-boat successes. By the time this article appeared, the Allies had made enormous progress in dealing with the threat and by the time the book appeared, there was much less good news about them. On the other hand, Goebbels may just have thought it wasn’t one of his best efforts.
The source: Joseph Goebbels, “Wo stehen wir?” Das Reich, 2 May 1943.
Where Do We Stand?
by Joseph Goebbels
It is often difficult, if not impossible, to provide a so-called overview of major political or military developments. A situation does not simply exist, but rather is constantly changing. The factors involved can hardly be exactly stated, neither by lay people nor even trained experts in the field. A military leadership generally knows what it wants and what it can do, but there are a variety of factors outside its control. It can only presume what the enemy wants and can only guess at what it is capable of. Informed circles attempting to evaluate the material factors in a given military situation have to make estimates most of the time. The only certainty is the strength of will one has and the willingness to use it. That is what is important when want wants to properly understand the war situation at a given time.
Our leadership’s great military successes were in the first two-thirds of this war. They threw all the hopes and ideas about the war we had at its beginning into the shadows. We were worried about Saarbrücken and the Rhine. We faced the Maginot Line and our flanks in the North and Southeast were entirely exposed. In our wildest dreams we would not have dared to imagine that we would capture rivers, regions, and cities that we today see as our obvious possessions. If we compare our situation then with today, no one will dare say that our military leadership has not achieved every imaginable military success. The opposite is true for our enemy. England, for example, began this war with an absolutely secure position based on its world-wide Empire. It is no longer in that position. If Great Britain currently has military successes of greater or lesser significance at the war’s edges, they have but limited importance. In absolute terms England has suffered only losses. It will have to make a strong recovery to win back even part of the enormous losses to its imperial possessions. Our successes, on the other hand, are decisive for the war effort, whereas our occasional setbacks are not decisive for the war effort, and have only limited significance.
One cannot overlook this in evaluating the general war situation. If the war ended suddenly today, we would have ten times as many trump cards in hand as even the most optimistic optimist expected at the beginning. England would have many more losses and defeats than even the most pessimistic pessimist on its side could have feared at the beginning. If the English have the courage to believe in their final victory after such modest successes of limited, not absolute, significance, how much more reason do we have to believe! Most of Europe is in our hands. We have the advantage of interior lines. Enormous fortifications on all threatened borders give us operative freedom in the East that leaves open all possible offensives. The British air war is outbalanced materially two or three times by our U-boat war. We are giving them a reply that is partially adequate today, and the final reply will come one day. Our military leadership has difficulties here and there on the periphery. That has to do with the wide distances from its center. The center itself is in no danger. What gives the English the courage to hope for a defeat of the Axis powers? We are almost undefeatable, unless we give up the battle without reason. There can be no talk of that, which is clear to anyone on the enemy side.
We have this psychological disadvantage: the military successes that free our back are further in the past than the enemy’s peripheral successes and are therefore more easily forgotten. One has to look back at the war’s beginning in order to have a halfway objective picture of its previous course. One may not compare our most favorable position in fall 1942 with our most unfavorable position in the winter of 1943. Instead, one must compare the war’s beginning with its current situation. Then one will come to the persuasive conclusion that the Axis powers have had far more military successes in the last three-and-a-half years than they would have dared to imagine in September 1939.
True, Kharkov changed hands twice last winter, to give one example. But who even thought about Kharkov at the beginning of the war? Were we not worried about our basic territorial integrity, about whole provinces in the West, perhaps thinking that they could become war theaters? One is spoiled by a long series of victories, making one psychologically more susceptible to certain setbacks in the general war situation. If one wanted to take the trouble to compare what England, the USA, and the Soviet Union have lost in this war with what we have lost, one will reach the surprising conclusion that our losses are acceptable setbacks in a series of constantly growing victories, whereas the enemy side has been decisively hit in its most basic territorial and raw material resources.
It shows a pitiable short-sightedness if our enemy tries to turn this situation to their favor. Their leading circles naturally do not believe that in any way. Their bombastic manner of portraying the overall war situation and the resulting conclusions are a clever combination of deception and bluff aimed at us. Should they attempt to act consistently with their apparent certainty of success, our confidence in victory will prove otherwise, even if they occasionally manage to impress a few backward apolitical elements. Our people’s healthy political instincts cannot be fooled by such methods. We Germans know well enough that at the present state of the war everything depends on our inner balance and that we can in no way be turned from our clear course.
That applies to the constant rumors spread by the enemy that we have made peace feelers here or there through neutral nations, which they proudly claim were rejected with contempt. Here the wish is father to the thought. We cannot imagine what would make us prematurely end a war of such decisive historical significance since we are certain that it would be forced upon us anew within a few years, when now when we have the best possible chances of total victory. The fairy tale that time is working for the enemy is not believed any longer even in the enemy camp. The wearing down of the spiritual and physical strength of a people over the course of a long war affects friend and foe to the same degree, and indeed to a much greater extend for the enemy of for us, since we have the most important elements of its military resources in our hands. Even serious military observers on the other side think it impossible that the European continent could be overrun. We have every imaginable trump in our hands; we need only to arm ourselves with patience and wait for the proper moment to play them. We never had as many trumps before the takeover of power as we have today to use to win final victory. We succeeded back then because the leaders of the movement and its members had the vital strength of will that today fills our entire people.
That is the main thing. Weak spirits are often inclined to break off a conflict prematurely that is hurrying to its critical and decisive moment, waiting for a better day. The reasons they advance often sound wise, but it is the false wisdom of those, as Clausewitz said, who only want to escape danger. That is true here. We cannot escape danger. It is in the middle of the road that leads to victory. The more courageously we face it, the more surely we will overcome it. We have no reason to be of fearful heart. The blow that struck us last winter did not defeat us, but only made us awake and alert. What could still happen that we need to fear! Both front and homeland today present a picture of total war-readiness. The enemy may try every means to confuse our spirits and to talk us into seeing the war in a way that corresponds only to his wishful thinking. but his efforts will fail before the healthy political instincts of our people. We know exactly where we stand, but also where we still must go. Neither of those things can be maintained by the peoples on the enemy’s side.
We certainly face new bottlenecks nearly every day in this fourth year of war. As the poet says, one day we lack the wine, the next day the bottle. Each week brings new burdens and worries that sometimes seem to tower above us. What else did one expect from war? It devours the strength of people as well as natural reserves. That, however, is true for both warring parties. Here, too, it is a matter of distinguishing the essential from the nonessential and that which is decisive for the war from that which is a result of the war. Naturally, no one may believe that the burdens of the war will decline over time in one area or another. They can only increase. But it also speeds up developments that would otherwise take a long time. In contract to the First World War our military successes so far in this war have given us positions that the enemy simply is not in a position to win back, given the state of things. The enemy knows that well. If they say something different it is only for agitational reasons, both to give themselves courage and deceive the neutral public on the one hand and to confuse us and break our military spirit, which they cannot overcome militarily.
We must arm ourselves against that by every means. No argument by the enemy’s military leadership may find a place in our heart, whether directed at our humanitarianism, our sentimentality, or our fears. It is already suspicious enough that the other side is openly discussing whether and how one could break our morale through agitation. The English-American air war is aimed solely and entirely at this end. The powerful defensive front that we maintain throughout Europe and that gives us operational freedom in the East cannot be broken from the outside. The only way they can weaken it is from the inside, and it does not need saying that this may never happen, nor will it ever happen.
The most eloquent proof of that is the sacrifices of a people brave and experienced in warfare, undergoing very hard tests, but as developments show emerging only stronger and more resolute. In the middle of the spring of 1943, the German people and its allies are ready and determined to withstand its great national trial with every material and spiritual resource, emerging victoriously whatever happens, never willing to become unsure of its natural strengths or let itself be confused. Should new major decisions be required of the peoples waging war, we have without doubt by far the best start. Enemy boasts do not change that. They are not worth the paper they are printed on.
To our deep satisfaction, letters from the front tell us that this thinking and attitude is passionately shared by our soldiers. They have deeper insight into our military opportunities than does the homeland. From their own experiences and knowledge they know what we can win if we stand firm, and what we would lose if we mistrusted our own strength. It would be to the homeland’s deepest shame if the front had to teach it the nature, methods, and aims of the war. Instead, it must be an example of endurance, toughness, sacrifice, and fortitude of heart.
If someone asks us “Where do we stand?” we can only answer: We stand where we could not even have hoped three years ago. Our fronts span a whole continent that trusts in our protection. Our historical mission is to give it a new order. We have all the prerequisites to do that. The springboard is in the best possible position for us. One day we will will have to stand on it to jump over the hurdles. The more courageously we cross the zone of uncertainty, the surer is the certainty of great victory.
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