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cover of How Green were the Nazis?

"When Green Meets Brown: An Analysis of Overlapping and Contradicting Aspects of Environmentalism and the Nazis"

Book Essay on: Franz- Josef Bruggemeir, Mark Cioc, Thomas Zeller, eds. How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich
(Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005.) 283 pages.
UCSB: HC290.5.E5H682005.

by Karina Lallande, March 19, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1900-1945

UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning
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About Karina Lallande

I am a senior global studies and sociology double major. After graduation I plan on attending law school to focus on environmental and human rights issues. My interest in environmental issues is more than just a future career, it is also a passion. This passion is why I chose to write about environmental policies during the Nazi period. Additionally, after traveling to Germany on three different occasions, I have come to develop a deep sense of appreciation for its amazing landscape and culture.

Abstract (back to top)

The authors of the essays in How Green Were the Nazis? evaluate a number of Nazi policies and practices aimed at nature protection and conservation. The essays that make up this collection focus not only on the development of environmental laws during this era, but also on the implementation and significance of the legislation in a wider context. Based on extensive research, the authors question the extent, motivation, and consequences of environmental laws during Nazi rule. They then explore fascist Germany’s propaganda, ideology, and system of governance. The articles clearly illustrate the overlapping nature of the green and brown agendas, but assert that they are not forces working together. Rather, the Nazi party chose to utilize the eco-movement as a smoke screen for their racist ideologies and violent goals.

Essays reviewed:

  • Closmann, Charles, “Legalizing a Volksgemeinschaft: Nazi Germany’s Reich Nature Protection Law of 1935.” pp. 18-42.
  • Imort, Michael, “Eternal Forest- Eternal Volk: The Rhetoric and Reality of NationalSocialist Forest Policy.” pp. 43-72.
  • Uekotter, Frank, “Polycentrism in Full Swing: Air Pollution Control in Nazi Germany.” pp. 101-128.

Essay (back to top)

“When Green Meets Brown: An Analysis of Overlapping and Contradicting Aspects of Environmentalism and the Nazis”

How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich is a collection of essays evaluating the environmental policies of Nazi Germany. Although the essays examine different aspects of the Nazi party and its ecological programs, they come to common conclusions. In examining the policies and ideologies of the National Socialist government, the essays deduce that while some policies overlapped with conservationists’ and environmental protectionists’ goals, some directly hindered green agendas. The Nazi regime often used environmental policies to further their party propaganda. All of this is to say that the Nazis supported and participated in legislative actions that they believed would assist them in achieving their ideological vision, many of which incidentally coincided with green ideas; however, this was not a priority nor held much importance compared with other issues. This paper examines three essays from the book that I believe to be representative of the overall argument.

Charles Closmann’s article “Legalizing a Volksgemeinschaft: Nazi Germany’s Reich Nature Protection Law of 1935” illustrates the Nazi ideology, coupled with the dedication to natural conservationism, that lies in one of the most important environmental policies of the time. Compared to other industrial countries this policy was wide- ranging and progressive, but at the same time was nothing novel, since the ideas it presented were prevalent within the green movement for some time. Closmann presents the “continuity question: does it even make sense to label the Reich Nature Protection Law […] as National Socialist when it predated 1933 and continued to impact policy after 1945?”(9) Although the ideas were first presented by the environmental movement, the Nazis implemented it, recognizing its importance and transforming it into a law that encompassed more than just local concerns. Along with forward thinking goals, the law also established a centralized authority to handle environmental protection. This was a long- standing goal of conservationists, who soon became discouraged and frustrated as the authority breached much of the law, which they used primarily for propaganda value. The essay goes on to expand on the saturation of the law with Nazi propaganda, like the idea of Blood and Soil, the “Nazis’ belief in a relationship between their alleged superior racial qualities and the German landscape, [which]… created a sinister bond between barbarism and reverence for nature within the Third Reich.”(19) One purpose of this propaganda was to camouflage the promotion of other goals, like racial policies. The Nazis increasingly began to connect nature and race in an effort to further their racist ideology, following poet and Naturalist, Hermann Lons, who stated, “The nature protection movement was a struggle for the preservation of the health of the entire people, a struggle for the power of the nation, for the prosperity of the race.”(26)

The Volksgemeinschaft, people’s community, was yet another tool the Nazis used to intertwine nature and race. The slogan, “the common good takes precedence over the individual good,” was used often, and through it the idea of an ethnically pure society brought up. They went so far as to say, “since the first book of Moses, the Jews do not know nature protection, since God has given to the children of Israel all the plants and animals for their enjoyment.”(32) With the idea already instilled in the German people that their identity was in direct coloration to nature, the statement about the Jews mistreating it was further propaganda to bring about racist and anti- Semitic feelings.

Expanding nature from the romantic and scientific terms of the past to also include cultural terms, the law presented a landscape worthy of protection. Although the laws were passed and the Nazi state encouraged their implementation, the party was not fundamentally committed to the protection of natural areas. “The needs of the army, the demands of Germany’s wartime economy, and major road building projects undermined any possible benefits from Nazi Germany’s Naturschutz legislation.”(19) This is to say that the Nazis never implemented the law on a systematic scale because their goals of exterminating non-Aryans and waging war were a higher priority. While the Nature Protection Law of 1935 introduced many extraordinary ideas, its actions did little to help the environment, as it provided little increase in funding.

The Nazis’ racist policies brought about many contradictions and confusion between what their policies, of the “protection of nature and a lack of regard for conquered peoples”(35) clearly show. Although the Nature Protection Law clearly states that nature conservation and protection was a part of National Socialist ideology, Nazi propaganda illustrated “its willingness to undertake bold and dramatic measures in the interest of creating a racially pure society.”(33)

Closman’s essay shows how the contradictions between Nazi racist ideology and environmental law stunted conservationist efforts, while Frank Uekotter’s article “Polycentrism in Full Swing: Air Pollution Control in Nazi Germany” demonstrates that there was further division within Nazi environmental policymaking. In regard to the issue of air pollution, there was not one Nazi position, but rather three: ideological, tactical, and practical. The ideological “sought a fundamental reorganization of German law; including pollution control laws, to bring them to conformity with the Nazi notion of Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz (common good versus individual good.)”(102) This initiative was unsuccessful in that its impact was limited due to the difficulty of transforming “national interest” from an ideal slogan to a working law. Although there were many proposals to integrate air pollution control laws into Nazi ideology, they were highly ineffective in that “most of them were contradictory, incoherent, and vague.”(106) The tactical approach, which encouraged farmers to be more aggressive with damage claims was also difficult to decree by law and held contradictory rationales. The practical approach, which tried to “mitigate conflicts between war production and pollution laws,”(121) fell short in making the Nazis truly environmentally active, as they often didn’t even take a stance on the issue. All three of the initiatives dealt with the issue of air pollution in the wider context, “the restitution of a German law, the strengthening of the Nazi regime’s legitimacy among farmers, or the development of a war economy.”(121) The environmental issues once again fell into the background, overshadowed by different goals and a lack of cohesiveness. “The key problem was not a lack of legal provisions, it was the negligent enforcement of these provisions.”(113) Part of this lack of enforcement came from the fact that there was no particular agency in charge of air pollution control, and “no one knew who was responsible for air pollution control, but all agreed that it was certainly not themselves.”(113) This made the enforcement that did exist highly unsystematic and often chaotic, as the issues were dealt with on a case-to-case basis. The lack of leadership on the issue, the thought of it having marginal importance, and the absence of a general system of decision making regarding the issue led to Germany not having “a policy on air pollution, but a bureaucratic routine.”(114) This bureaucratic routine made it almost impossible for reform to occur. Additionally, wartime needs undermined all of the bureaucratic efforts to reduce air pollution. Air pollution was not of immediate concern to most, and none of the initiatives of the time understood the key points of implementation and enforcement. The inconsistencies within the air pollution issue reflect the overall German environmental policies, as well as the polycentric character of the Nazi party.

In his essay, “Eternal Forest--Eternal Volk: The Rhetoric and Reality of National Socialist Forest Policy,” Michael Imort restates the point that Nazi policy regarding environmental issues was contradictory, lacked cohesion, and was used as a propaganda tool. Imort writes, “Forestry during the Nazi period was like the forest itself: green on the surface, brown underneath.”(44) This reiterates the claim that Nazi environmental policy was deeply rooted in their overall ideology, and nature was a prime target to be a tool of this ideological propaganda. Nazi articles at the time celebrated the

... supposed natural and eternal bond between forest and Volk with never-ending comparisons of silviculture and politics in general, and Dauerwald forestry and National Socialism in particular (54).

Silviculture, which is made up of a number of techniques including Dauerwald, is the practice of controlling the health, growth, and development of forestry as profitable to the whole, and when viewed in a political sense hints at the Nazi control over the people to achieve what they believed to benefit the Aryan race. This connection between a policy that was thought of as good for Germany and National Socialism put the party in a good light that produced more support for them. Imort cites three reasons that illustrate how Nazi policies were not primarily for ecological reasons, but rather had other motivations and contributing factors, including: “Goring’s personal preference for the idea, the economic circumstances of the early 1930s, and particularly the suggestive potential of the Dauerwald for volkisch propaganda.”(48) The propaganda of Dauerwald was primarily used for the purpose of solidifying racist ideologies. Nazi environmental policies proved to be contradictory in that they were passed but not implemented, often undermined the principles of economic sustainability, and deluded forestry concerns with racial jargon of the Volk. This evidence suggests that both the motives for and effectiveness of Nazi natural conservation and protection laws prove that the Nazis were in fact not green.

While the book tends to focus on the hidden propaganda value of environmental policies, upon reading it I could not help but notice the progress that the German environmental movement made under the Nazis. Since Nazi propaganda strongly influenced the laws and policies in nearly every area, this alone cannot discount their deep interest in nature. Could it possibly be that the Nazis really did believe in the environmental cause as more than just a propaganda tool? Additionally, was Nazi green policy just an inevitable part of history, due to happen under any regime that was in power during the time? How responsible was the Nazi party itself for the environmental changes during and after this era in German history? Was the world ready for an environmental movement? The Soviets, among others, took steps towards nature conservation during this era. Stalin, like the Nazis, saw this as an issue of little importance as is illustrated by the fact that in both instances other government demands quickly pushed environmental concerns aside. This example proves that other countries were making ecological advances at the time, but external factors like war and industrialization hindered that progress.

In How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, the authors set out to explore a question that previously received little attention: Were Nazi policies, practices, and goals concerned with environmental issues? Bringing together essays that discuss various aspects of Nazi environmental acts and law, the authors provide a clear illustration of the intersection between brown ideology and green practices. There are many similarities between the ways of thinking within both groups, but to say there was an “Eco-fascist” movement is a drastic exaggeration. Nazi racist ideology, extreme tendencies, and the often polycentric character of Nazi governance prevented the government from putting environmental policies into a position of making a real difference and being an integral part of Nazi agenda. The essays clearly draw the conclusion to the question, claiming that although the Nazis passed many progressive laws in favor of environmental protection, many of them were contradictory, had little impact, were supplanted by other goals, or were primarily used as propaganda tools. I would have liked to have seen an article addressing the environmental impact of the mass graves and extermination camps that existed in Nazi Germany. Aside from policymaking, a society can have other tremendous affects on the environment, and the Nazi camps are an excellent example. These camps, which scattered the countryside of the Reich, were certainly an issue that concerned the landscape of the nation. Although I felt that that the book could have touched upon the impact of the war upon the environment more, I would highly recommend it. As a person who is concerned with environmental issues I found it deeply interesting, as I believe others who are interested in the environment, Nazi Germany, or history in general would. This book sheds light on issues that have scarcely been explored but hold a vast amount of information and enlightenment.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/x/07)

Reviews of How Green Were the Nazis?

  • John Alexander Williams. “Review of Franz-Josef Bruggemeir, Mark Cioc and Thomas Zeller, eds, How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich," H-German, H-Net Reviews, July, 2006.
    This review examines each of the book’s essays individually to arrive at a conclusion that a passion for environmentalism must be met with a sincere dedication to human rights and social justice. This statement emphasizes the point made in the book that two issues were at play: green policies and fascist ideologies. The reviewer makes clear that the book, while visibly establishing the Nazi use of conservationist ideas was for their own benefit, was not so convincing in its approach towards connecting green thinking to societal values (i.e. racism) in general.
    URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=161541160071201.
  • Olsen, Jonathan, How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and
    Nation in the Third Reich (review.)
    Technology and Culture – Volume 48, Number 1, January 2007, pp. 207-208. This review examines the articles and draws a larger picture of environmentalism, claiming, “environmentalism as a political-belief system has never been value-free and thus has been able to take vastly different political forms.” (208) This connection explains why the Nazi easily integrated ecological concerns with their racism. The author notes that although this subject has become more thought about of late, this book is one of the most thought out and balanced on the topic.

Related Books:

  • Bramwell, Anna, Blood and Soil: Walther Darré and Hitler’s 'Green Party', Bourne End, 1985, and Ecology in the 20th Century: A History, New Haven, 1989.
    Bramwell takes an objective approach to the history of the Nazi party’s environmental policies. In particular, it spotlights the concept of “Blood and Soil,” a term that connected the German people to their land and dominated the German nature efforts. While Bramwell commends the efforts of such green thinkers like Darre, she clearly illustrates the use of the “Blood and Soil” concept as a moral justification for the racist policies the Nazis instituted.
  • Lekan, Thomas M., Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German Identity, 1885–1945. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.
    This book examines the Nazi assertion that national identity and the landscape are connected. Additionally, it makes the point that the conservationist movement in Germany came about with the protest of rapid industrialization and modernization, and only later became a tool of Nazi propaganda. The efforts of the movement were quickly undermined when war mobilization and mass extermination took precedence.
  • Uekoetter, Frank, The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
    Uekoetter takes environmentalism in a lager scale into question, examining it’s roots, evolution, and presence in other areas of the world. Furthermore, the book explores what happened with the conservationist movement after the fall of the Nazi regime, highlighting the alliances that the movements made and the consequences that posed for environmentalists in the post- war world.

Related Web Sites

  • "Ecofascism." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 20 Feb 2007, 10:04 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 5 Mar 2007.
    This site provides definitions, information, quotes, and links on the topic of eco-fascism. It discusses the connection and intersection of ideologies of environmentalism and the fascist movement. It provides examples of the origin of the term “ecofascism” in practice both during the Nazi period and its remnants today.
    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ecofascism&oldid=109523265)
  • Biehl, Janet and Staudenmaier, Peter, Ecofascism: Lessons from the Experience, AK Press, 1995.
    This site is home to writings by two different authors that further discuss the history of environmental policies in Germany, and the use of “ecologism” for political purposes. The articles explain that the history of the ecological movement in 20 th century Germany, as well as other places, has social roots and implications.
  • Ohio University Press book page

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/21/07; last updated: 3/24/07
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