Nearly all German teenagers read this book about how easy authoritarianism can take hold. Americans might want to read it too — because it happened here.
The book is based on an experiment at a high school in Palo Alto, California. Students in Ron Jones’ high school history class couldn’t understand how the German people could let the Holocaust happen. So Jones started an experiment, he created a group—in the book it’s called “The Wave” —and instituted some simple discipline routines. The group caught on quickly with hundreds of students participating, initiating new members and reporting on each other over infractions. Jones ended the experiment by telling the students they were students they were part of national movement and promised to reveal their leader at an assembly. With hundreds of students attending, he played footage of Hitler speaking to Nazi Youth.
Today, generations of German students read Strasser’s fictionalized account of this story in high school to bring home the point that authoritarianism isn’t just some relic of the past. Something that can happen again if we are not careful.
It would be interesting to see this book read and discussed on a wide level in American society. I highly recommend it for kids and adults, especially parents and educators to read and discuss. There’s also a German movie made in 2008 called Die Welle with subtitles and Netflix is planning a series.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be recommending some of the many books that influenced Achtung Baby. Check back here for more.
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