Sobering tales of apocalyptic battle, where good and evil fight to an end-of-history finish, pervade religious texts. Romantic variations energize the arts, particularly literature, drama and film.
The final battle is a resilient plot device. Boy meets girl tops it ... maybe. Hollywood's classic Western version pits an honest sheriff against a cruel, devilish gunslinger. When good guns down evil, the film ends with an up beat. You may now turn on your smartphone.
Inspiring good, confronting, then defeating destructive evil has poetic power and fundamental spiritual authority. Unfortunately, propagandists hell bent on ghastly slaughter know how to employ the "final battle" narrative as a political tool for galvanizing minds and hardening souls.
In April 1945, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had to estimate the on-the-ground impact of the Nazis' final battle narrative. Since Stalingrad, the Nazis had fought scores of final battles. They had suffered defeat after defeat, but no soldier was laughing. According to Adolf Hitler, his December 1944 Ardennes offensive (the Battle of the Bulge) would be a transformational battle. Stunned Americans and Brits would sue for peace, then help Germany fight the Bolsheviks.
Delusional? Sure. In March 1945, American tanks were overrunning Western Germany. However, Nazi fanatics still pursued millenarian ends. Extremists continued to believe that humanity would undergo a fundamental if not overwhelming transformation if they just continued to fight, to resist, to gun down Tommies and GIs.
Nazi leaders hinted that they intended to fight two final battles. Joseph Goebbels swore that Germany had fortresses in the Alps stocked with supplies. Nazi big-shots and elite forces would retreat into the Alps, extending the war. More GIs would die.
Berlin would be the great killing field. Hitler saw Berlin's defense in apocalyptic terms. He vowed to defend the city and his bunker to the very last.
On April 12, 1945, U.S. Army units crossed the Elbe River. Though only 50 miles from Berlin, U.S. forces stopped. At the time, the British objected. Ike countered that attacking Berlin would have cost 100,000 casualties. Some post-war critics accused Eisenhower of letting Communist Russian forces seize territory. Ike said Berlin fell within the post-war Russian occupation zone. Why take it then give it up? Fanatic Russian Communists wanted to fight fanatic Nazis. Berlin was not worth sacrificing Allied lives.
Ike did order U.S. forces to block routes to the Alps. The fortress story proved to be a lie. So did Hitler's vow to fight. He committed suicide.
The Red Army suffered enormous losses in The Battle for Berlin. However, Russian tenacity, armor and firepower overwhelmed Nazi fanaticism.
Communist millenarians believed if socialist governments just got the economics right, human nature would transform and human kind would enter workers paradise. Marxists world-wide touted the Red Army's Berlin victory as a sign that Communism would eventually rule the world.
They would have been better off lauding the guts of Russian soldiers and praising Red Army firepower. Berlin 1945 was no final battle. Time did not end. The Communists controlled East Berlin and East Germany until the Wall cracked in November 1989.
April 2015: Isalmo-fascism echoes Nazi propaganda and fanaticism. The Islamic State says its global caliphate will bring peace and justice to Earth. The latest Islamic State propaganda video (the faithful behead Ethiopian Christians) sends the message that they will murder with impunity to achieve these millenarian goals. Islamic State recruits swear to fight with apocalyptic fanaticism. However, vows to kill or be killed have obscured the growing list of "maybe next times." In Kobane, U.S. air strikes and Kurdish peshmerga drove the Islamic State from Kobane. Then U.S. airpower gave Iraqi forces the edge at Tikrit.
Fanaticism? I'll take guts and firepower.