Someone should tell the mullahs in Tehran that there’s no way Hitler could have lost that war, if only he had had the Jews on his side. There’s more than a modicum of truth in the joke. Killing six million Jews diverted resources from the German war effort. More importantly, Jewish physicists, including Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Robert Oppenheimer, David Bohm, Rudolf Peierls, Otto Frisch Felix Bloch, Niels Bohr, Otto Hahn, and Edward Teller, led the American effort to build an atom bomb. Enrico Fermi, whose wife was Jewish, left Italy for America after Mussolini imposed race laws in 1938. Albert Einstein had spent the First World War in Berlin; at the outbreak of the Second, he helped persuade Franklin Roosevelt to fund the Manhattan Project.
100,000 German Jews had served in World War I, 12,000 died on the battlefield, and 35,000 were decorated for bravery, a higher proportion than the general population. Jewish loyalty to Germany was not in question in 1933. The Jews of Eastern Europe, moreover, were in general more sympathetic to Germany than to Russia. Killing Jews served no rational German objective. Yet no-one can argue that Jew-hatred was merely incidental to the Nazi regime. On the contrary, it was the raison d’etre of National Socialism.
Hitler was crazy, if by crazy we mean that his obsessions caused him to act repeatedly against self-interest. He made costlier mistakes in the conduct of war to be sure, for example, declaring war on America after Pearl Harbor, as Andrew Roberts observes in his 2011 study The Storm of War. But his Jew-hatred defined a deluded mind. In 1933, the vast majority of German Jews (including the Orthodox Jewish leadership) thought Hitler’s raving were just rhetoric. They learned better.
In the Nazi mind, race theory replaced the old religious notion of national election. Germany was the last of Europe’s great nations to arrogate unto itself the status of Chosen People, three centuries after Richelieu’s France and Olivares’ Spain fought it out during the Thirty Years War. For Germany to be the Master Race, the historic exemplar of national election had to be eliminated, namely the Jews. That is a big assertion, to which I devoted the much 2011 book How Civilizations Die. After 1930, Germany’s total fertility rate fell below replacement for the first time in its history, to just 1.7 children per female when Hitler took power in 1933. His apocalyptic fears of the disappearance of the Germans were not unfounded. Germany had begun to die, and Hitler proposed a messianic, megalomaniac vision to restore it. Hitler may have been crazy, but even paranoids have things to worry about.
Israel was Iran’s ally under the Shah, and the alliance continued covertly during the first years of the Iran-Iraq War. By some accounts, Iran obtained 80% of its weapons imports from Israel at the onset of the war, and bought a total of $500 million in weapons from Israel between 1981 and 1983. Israeli technicians kept Iran’s Phantom F-4’s flying after America cut off spare parts. It did so with American sanction, to be sure. The Reagan administration wanted to forestall a decisive victory by either Iraq or Iran.
The last thing Iran should want is an alliance between Israel and its Sunni opponents—Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but potentially Turkey and Pakistan as well. An open alliance between the House of Saud and the State of Israel is improbable in the extreme, but in the fluid and opaque fields of perpetual warfare that stretch from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, there is ample room for covert collaboration. Shia communities from South Lebanon to central Iraq are vulnerable, and the last thing Iran should want is an Israeli role in the Sunni-Shia war.
But Iran’s leaders talk about the destruction of the State of Israel obsessively. The veteran Iran analyst Amir Taheri last week reviewed a new Persian-language book under the signature of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that offers an intricate scenario for Israel, which he calls “a cancerous tumor” subject to “annihilation” and “effacement.” No land that once belonged to the Ummah may be left in infidel hands, Khamenei insists, much less a “hostile infidel” who has waged war on Muslims. He proposes a low-intensity war that will make life in Israel so unpleasant that most Israelis will leave. Taheri reports that “Khamenei boasts about the success of his plans to make life impossible for Israelis through terror attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. His latest scheme is to recruit ‘fighters’ in the West Bank to set-up Hezbollah-style units…Khamenei describes Israel as ‘a cancerous tumor’ whose elimination would mean that “the West’s hegemony and threats will be discredited” in the Middle East. In its place, he boasts, ‘the hegemony of Iran will be promoted.’
Iran’s national megalomania trumps rational self-interest. This is not a uniquely Muslim characteristic, nor a peculiarly Shi’ite one. Persian identity is imperial. It has been since Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in B.C.E. 539. There is a scenario under which Persia might become a shrinking but successful nation of modest regional importance, but that is not accessible to the Persian psyche. Khamenei’s existential problem is to persuade the Persians to continue to exist at all. The collapse of Iran’s fertility rate from 7 children per female in 1969 to between 1.6 and 1.8 children at present ranks as one of history’s great examples of genosuicide.
Iran’s reality is galloping demographic decline. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Iranian females between the ages of 20 and 24 – prospective young mothers – will fall from 4.595 million to only 2.583 million, that is, by 43%. The number of women aged 25-29 will fall from 4.63 million to 3.47 million. That is the result of the unprecedented collapse of Iranian fertility after 1990. Iran’s present fertility rate is estimated at 1.6 to 1.8 children per female, and the number of Iranian women between 20 and 30 will fall by a third over just 10 years.
million by 2050. At current fertility, Iran’s population will reach about 80 million by mid-century, but 30% of Iranians will be over the age of 60, against only 8% today. To produce another 70 million Iranians by 2050 would require every Iranian woman between 20 and 40 to have between 5 and 6 children. The regime now offers incentives to prospective parents and has withdrawn public subsidies for birth control. It is probably much too late.
Before him, Ayatollah Khamenei visualizes a Shia revival and a reborn Persian empire; behind him, he observes what may be the most demoralized people in the world. Looking into the Persian future, Khamenei sees what Hitler saw in 1933.
Between 23% and 25% of Iranian couples claim to be infertile, which might be an excuse not to bear children. It also might be the result of the world’s highest reported rates of venereal infection, associated with Shi’ite “temporary marriage,” or clerically-approved prostitution. Iranian studies report Chlamydia infection rates of 12.6% in Tehran and 21.25% in Isfahan, vs. 0.6% in the United States and 4.3% worldwide.
Iran also has the worst drug problem of any country in the world. According to Iran’s interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, six million Iranians (20% of the population over age 15) have been affected by drug abuse, and 1.3 million (or 4.3% of Iranians over age 15) are addicts, using heroin as well as crystal meth. Only 36.7% of Iran’s population is economically active, one of the lowest counts in the world.
The clerical regime has ruined Iran and reduced its people to despair. It has nothing to lose and nowhere to retreat, because to continue in the present direction means that gradual extinction is inevitable. Asia Times’ Chan Akya observes that there is a precedent for the self-extinction of Persians, namely the Zoroastrian, or Parsi, community in India, whose numbers have fallen by half since 1940, and will fall again by half by 2020 as the aging community dies out.
The mullahs are crazy, and will act like crazy men. Like Hitler, they have good reason to do so. By David P. Goldman