“The ancient empires fall. The dark skinned peoples fade, and even the demons of antiquity gasp their last…but above all stands the Aryan barbarian. White-skinned, cold-eyed, dominant. The supreme fighting man of the Earth.”
Robert E. Howard, “Wings in the Night”
This quote is used at a Youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upSOO8rjHrw#t=15) entitled “He-Man=Nazi.”
The “Robert E. Howard was a Nazi” argument seems to appear with some regularity. Screeds equating heroism to fascism by Hans Joachim Alpers and Sam Lundwall being classic examples. Luckily we have Godwin’s Law which is the first one to use the Nazi or Hitler analogy loses the argument.
Robert E. Howard’s life did overlap the first years of the rise of Adolph Hitler and the German Worker’s Nationalist Socialist Party dominance. Howard’s first mention of the Nazis was in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft in June 1933:
“Nor have we ever banned or burned books, as the ‘civilized’ Nazis are now doing in ‘civilized Germany.”
Howard’s mention of the Nazis is full of sarcasm so he was not impressed with Hitler’s new found power.
In Fall 1933, Howard had this to say to H. P. Lovecraft:
“You say that Germany is not typical of Western civilization. Why not? Wherein is Germany less civilized than England? It see to be a
characteristic among civilized people, that each advocate maintains that his is the only true civilization. I have heard an intellectual declare that Germany was the only truly civilized country in the world. You make out a logical, sensible and in many ways unanswerable case for English civilization; but the German, the Russian, the Italian, the Japanese each presents arguments in favor of his particular civilization just as logical, sensible, and unanswerable.”
Robert E. Howard was not a Germanophile You get the sense that he viewed the Germans as something somewhat different if not alien. He did have a grudging respect for the Germans in Texas:
“They are thrifty, prudent, law-abiding, and attend to their own business.”
He might have respected them but you get the sense he did not particularly like Germans.
He mentioned that when WWI broke out, he was for Great Britain and France. He might have had a sense that Germany was willing to break Western civilization in its quest for dominance. German historian Fritz Fischer laid out the thesis that Germany was responsible for WWI. German planners had dreams of a German empire that encompassed “Mitte Europa” and “Mittl Afrika.” The incorporation of Russian, Austrian territory, Belgium, the Netherlands, Alsace-Lorain in Europe. Belgian and Portuguese colonies in Africa would be seized as part of a new world power.
Robert E. Howard was paying attention to the German elections in 1932 as he had this to say in a letter to Lovecraft in March 1932:
“I note that in Germany, by the way, the citizenship of Hitler has been questioned to the extent of forcing him to withdraw from the presidential race. I hope Von Hindenburg carries the election. During war days I would cheerfully have lighted a torch to burn him at the stake, but now I think he is one of the strongest stabilizing factors in Europe, and that his re-election would be to the advantage of not only Germany, but the entire world. He was doubtless the ablest general of any nationality in the Great War, and now seems to be about the most level-headed statesman on the Continent.”
The Hindenburg-Hitler coalition government had him worried:
“And in Germany the steel helmets are goose-stepping.”
Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, right when the first Conan stories were appearing in Weird Tales. He had taken over effectively as dictator by the end of March 1933 in the wake of the Reichstag fire and new legislation granting him sweeping powers.
Howard was suspicious of Fascism and National Socialism from the outset. In this passage from December 1932, Howard had a distrust of ideology in general:
“I do not expect a permanent state of slavery, but I do look for a period of more or less length, in which class and individual liberty will be practically unknown – oh, it won’t be called slavery or serfdom. They’ll have another name for it – Communism, or Fascism, or Nationalism, or some other -ism; but under the surface it will be the same old tyranny, modified, no doubt, to fit modern conditions. The victims probably won’t realize they are slaves for a long time, until conditions get too utterly hellish. They they’ll doubtless rise, overthrow the existing rule, and institute another regime, in which the people will for a short space held [sic] the reins in chaos and confusion, then natural rulers will institute another mode of government – different in name and outward aspects, but fundamentally the same as the old, or capable of becoming modified to resemble the old type: and which will itself drift irresistibly toward eventual serfdom and ultimate dissolution.”
Howard knew war would be the result of the clash of ideologies in a letter to Lovecraft December 1934:
“Yes, you’re right about Europe being a stewing caldron. I don’t believe any of them really want war, but their combined stupidity and cowardice will eventually result in an explosion.”
Howard was aware of potential German aggression when he brought up to Lovecraft:
“What objection could we offer against Germany’s grabbing Austria, Finland, Poland, Scandinavia?”
Howard seemed to view Fascism as a front for international banks and corporations:
“As for war, that will come when international capital is ready. I do not believe, and have never believed, that Mussolini, Hitler and the other European strong-arm, he-man dictators are anything but figure-heads and tools for international capitalism. The same crowd that recently approached Smedley Butler with a proposition to overthrow the government and set up a Fascist dictatorship”
Hitler’s Third Reich was actually a mirror image of the Soviet Union. The police state, the concentration camps, the mass executions; all were pioneered by Joseph Stalin. The Soviet Union supported an internationalist revolutionary ideology of class warfare. Hitler was an ultra-nationalist and hated communism and any international movements. The Soviet Union was a rural agrarian nation attempting to industrialize. Germany was an industrial nation that could not produce enough food for its population. Hitler envisioned a Greater Germany encompassing Poland, Ukraine, and Belorussia as its bread basket.
Hitler himself had this to say about capitalism:
“We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”
Hitler skillfully used capitalist bankers to bankroll his projects during the 1930s, which in a few years included building Germany’s military might. Howard was correct that there were interests backing Hitler though in the end it was Hitler using industrialists and businessmen.
H. P. Lovecraft had a love for the strong man restoring order whether it was Mussolini, Hitler, or Roosevelt. This theme ran in the barbarism vs. civilization debate between the two. Howard had this to say in January 1934:
“You seem to take it for granted that Fascism would guarantee absolute freedom of thought and mental research. I wonder if this faith is justified. I don’t notice any hilarious renaissance emanating from Germany or Italy or Austria resulting from the exhilarating freedom of dictatorship. It had always seemed to me, erroneously perhaps, that suppression of speech and thought generally accompanied dictatorship.”
Howard maintained his stance:
“You accuse me of ‘hating human development’ because I mistrust Fascism. Well, there can’t be much tolerance about a system whose advocates denounce as ‘enemies of humanity’ anyone who disagrees with them. According to that, you consider as ‘enemies of humanity’ every man and woman in the world who is not a Fascist. I do not condemn the reforms you say would be possible under Fascism.”
There were authoritarian conservative regimes in Europe such as Admiral Horthy in Hungary, Salazar in Portugal, and de Valera in Ireland. Most were all reactions to the threat of communist revolution. Mussolini and Hitler both used socialist/communist ideas of creating a new man, a new era. Howard knew that you could not remake man into something new:
“I simply do not believe they would exist under a Fascist government. Of course you can draw glowing pictures of a Fascist Utopia. But you can not prove that Fascism is anything but a sordid, retrogressive despotism, which crushes the individual liberty and strangles the intellectual life of every country it inflicts with its slimy presence…And Fascism is nothing but a new fad-name for industrial tyranny. It’s the final step of entrenched special privilege-holders, which would peon the people beneath them beyond all hope.”
You can’t remake a people without the threat of the iron fist. He laughed at Lovecraft’s attempts to come up with a compassionate, kinder, gentler Fascism:
“You say that the type of Fascism you advocate is without despotism and persecution of intellectual freedom; you might as well say you advocate a cobra without its venom, a skunk without its stench, or a leper without his scabs.”
Howard knew bad things were coming in the next few years and it was not going to be pretty. It all fed back into his view of rise, decay, fall, and regeneration, repeat:
“You are right economics will have to revolutionized entirely if the nation is to continue, and the choice seems to lie between fascism and communism – both of which I utterly detest. And doubtless the world will eventually, as you say, sink back into barbarism – if any humans are left alive after the next war. And since the inevitable goal of all civilization seems to be decadence, it seems hardly worth while to struggle up the long road from barbarism in the first place.”