Background: This article appeared in early March 1945. The German military situation was desperate, with the Russians pouring in from the East and the other Allied forces from the West. Goebbels has nothing convincing to say. He can only repeat his by now old cliches and assert that since losing the war would mean the end of Germany, people may as well die fighting.
The source: Joseph Goebbels, “Unentwegt auf den Steuermann schauen!” Das Reich, #9/4 March 1945.
Look Confidently to the Helmsman!
by Joseph Goebbels
It is only natural that, after five-and-a-half years of war, a general weariness fills the whole world. The long duration of this struggle that spans peoples and continents demands sacrifices of the strength of people’s nerves. That in itself is not a sign of bad morale and behavior. In contrast to 1918 here in Germany, for example, no one demands that the government conclude peace at any price. To the contrary, everyone expects that the coming peace will correspond to the sacrifices the German people have made in this war. We owe it to ourselves, our dead, and our children and grandchildren that this titanic battle for our national life does not lose its deeper significance, but rather leads to the proud results that we all hope for. Nonetheless, to love peace and hope for it is no shame. Aside from a few depraved characters in enemy countries who earn money through the war, people throughout the world think and feel exactly as we do on this matter. Why should we be ashamed to admit that? The only important thing is how peace comes and what its nature will be. Here opinions differ.
What enemy war leaders have brewed up at their conference in Yalta is something we cannot even discuss. Probably no one on the enemy side expects us to pay any attention to the Yalta decisions or even dignify them with an answer. How, for example, would England have responded during the period of our great victories had we made similar presumptuous demands? The British public would have reacted with a storm of anger and outrage, and any English prime minister who responded with anything but contempt would have been deposed within hours. Why should anyone in London be surprised when Germany responds to the Yalta decision in the same way? Surely our behavior throughout the whole course of the war has proven our steadfastness and loyalty to our cause, unsurpassed by any other people on earth. We even believe that we have good reason for the proud conviction that many other peoples would have broken under the burdens that we have carried in this war, and which we always mastered, even if at times by tooth and nail. How often has the enemy side proclaimed that we would collapse today or tomorrow, and how often have their hasty prophesies proven to be lies as the war developed! That is one proof of the fact that the enemy thinks we are weaker and more susceptible than we in fact are. The German people of today is of a different quality that the one the world formerly dealt with, and that will remain so until the end of the war and until our victory.
We owe that to ourselves, since more is at stake in this war than some of us sense or want to believe. Otherwise, why would the enemy side raged against us for six years, suffering the most bloody losses? Their goal is to utterly destroy the Reich and to biologically wipe out the German people. Anyone can easily imagine what that means for ourselves and the German generations that will follow us. The seriousness with which the enemy side takes this devilish plan is clear from their repeated statements and solemn declarations. Were they now and then they display a hint of a concession at a psychologically favorable point of the war for them, it would only be for tactical reasons and intended to deceive us. But they do not even do that. They want everything. There is nothing left for us but to respond to them with the same consistency and with even greater fanaticism. No one can say how and when this war will end. Each German, however, must be sure that it can and will end only with a victory and with our complete self-assertion.
Clearly the question that is most discussed by our people today is how in the present critical stage of the war there can be new chances to change the fortunes of war. But it is equally clear that the public can be given only an imperfect answer to this question. It is of interest not only to us, but also to the enemy side. The worry that the recent Soviet offensive has reduced our military and agricultural capacity such that we can continue the war only for a limited period of time is unfounded. They said the same at the beginning of the enemy’s air offensive against our war industries and transportation system. German energy, German inventiveness, and the enterprising German spirit gave the lie to our enemies’ lies. The same will be true this time.
By the way, we have not given up the areas lost to us because of the Soviet Baranov offensive. We will recapture them. The preparations for that are in full motion, but naturally will require some time before they are completed. We repeat what we have often said before: when one wants to win a war, the main thing is to stay on one’s feet even in critical situations and to fight back when the opportunity comes. That requires absolute self-confidence. That we may never lose, for it is the foundation of our continued fighting and of our very existence when this war is over.
Out self-confidence rests on our past victories, but is also not refuted by our defeats. It is very short-sighted today when the neutral world thinks Bolshevism is more successful than National Socialism. The Soviet Union has more than twice as many people as we do. It possesses a much larger agricultural and armaments potential that has been entirely free from aerial attacks. The Red Army is aided by a large number of Anglo-American divisions on our western and southern flanks. If our condition were as favorable, we would long since have finished off the Soviets. It is easy for them to make progress. But what does that have to do with our self-confidence? The most recent developments of the war confirm that, not refute it. And the Soviet drive into German territory puts them in an enormously precarious situation that opens favorable opportunities for us if we use them properly. These will be decisive for future war developments. The prerequisite is that we do not lose confidence in ourselves. We must be watchful at every moment. Given the enemy’s superiority in matériel, we cannot avoid a strategy of improvisation and must make a virtue of necessity. But here, too, we find ever new strengths within the country. A people of nearly one hundred million can hardly be defeated when it remains determined under all circumstances not to let itself be defeated. Everything depends on this determination. It is needed by the leadership as well as by the entire people.
We must be absolute in our approach to the wear. Given the destructive will of our enemy that hardly needs to be demonstrated since he has all too often revealed it, we have no other choice. The weariness that may now and again affect us must be overcome by everyone through self-discipline. It resembles the weariness of the marathon runner when he has to overcome his last five kilometers. He will never reach the finish line in the same condition he was when he started. And that is not important. It is much more important that during the last minutes he throws aside all physical and spiritual lethargy with superhuman effort, for these are the worst enemy of success. This war is not only a matter of the laurel wreath for our people, but of its entire existence. We would lose if we failed, and he who saved his personal life in such a catastrophe would certainly be worse off than if he had sacrificed his life to hinder it.
The enemy press daily makes clear how much he is waiting for and speculating about us laying down our weapons. He is always telling himself that the war will be easy from now on because we will make it easy for him. That is proof of why we must do the opposite. Germany will win this war if it does not lose it. If our enemies do not succeed in beating us down and forcing the German people under their destructive will, everything favorable to us will follow. That is the absolute prerequisite not only for our success and our future, but also for the success and future of our entire continent and all other peoples. How terrible the world would be if it lost the Reich as a creator of order! It would probably become a hell within a few years. The war would not end, but rather the competing powers of the enemy coalition would continue it using our fathers and sons as soldiers, making our home earth a battleground. The Reich would sink into a condition like that at the end of the Thirty Years War, with this difference: we would have to make the same heavy sacrifice, but not for our own goals, but rather only for the goals of our enemies. There are worse things that what we are now enduring, and they would come automatically if we were to lose our nerve in a careless moment and give up our cause.
One can do almost anything in war, but under no circumstances can one lay down one’s weapons. As long as one still holds them in his hands, one is the master of his own decisions. Even if one has temporarily lost control of events, there is the chance to gain it back. Just as a soldier who throws his weapon away lacks honor, so it is for a people. A weapon gives both the chance to change the course of events, even in seemingly hopeless situations. Without weapons they are defenseless, and have no choice but to raise their hands as the enemy approaches. A soldier does not always know the consequences of that, but our people does. It must know it because the enemy has left to doubt. We should almost be thankful to him for that, for it protects us from weakness. Each of us is clear that we have no other choice but to fight and to survive. Today we have all the necessary resources and chances. True, we do not have all the resources we once had, but that means we have to use our full strength and not fail to do anything that could lead to a change in the fortunes of war. However hard that may be, we must succeed.
We Germans have never had an easy history. Our people does not live under the favorable stars of other peoples. Yet we do not envy them. The difficulties of our national existence have formed our national character that must now prove itself in the midst of a thousand dangers and burdens. This testing brings enormous suffering to our people, but in its final stages we may not lack the corresponding moral attitude — indeed, we must display it. The whole world is weary of war. We are in the last stages of his great battle between peoples. It depends on who first loses his breath and drops our of the battle. The world has more respect and admiration for our endurance than it can express in public. We owe it to ourselves and to them, even if they only partially deserve it, to be ready for the decisive hour when new opportunities can change things in our favor. We do not say that to respond to serious concerns with cheap phrases. The times are too serious for that. We are proud that since the beginning of the war we have spoken only in the national interest, without any personal ambition, only obedient to the facts. We will continue to do so. No power on earth, no misery, no misfortune will make us bend because we fear what people think. We will not say things that will provide temporary relief from the pains of this war, but rather will only make proposals that will lead to the world’s lasting recovery. Our people will understand that; other peoples will have to learn to understand it.
The war’s developments are making giant steps toward the coming great decision. The conditions of 1918 will not repeat themselves, nor will things end that way. Our people will not become defenseless. We Germans are too politically mature for that and we have suffered too much in this war. We must fight for the meaning of this sacrifice. It may not and will not be in vain; we must use our last energy to prevent that. The wild typhoon of this vast drama of the peoples rages over humanity. Its force seems unbroken. Yet everywhere there are signs that it is ebbing. Therefore our slogan is this: chin up, keep standing, do not leap overboard no matter how high the seas for that is certain death, but look with confidence to the helmsman and with united strength toward the goal!
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