In 1969 in Palo Alto California, a history teacher by the name of Ben Ross decided to answer a question that many have asked concerning the Nazi rise of power in Germany prior and during World War II. The question at hand: How did an entire populace find themselves following to the letter the orders of a single man and even though the Nazis themselves were a minority party within the country, just how were they able to perform the atrocities they did without the rest of the country doing anything about it? And, in the end, how could the country claim lack of knowledge surrounding the events?
This very same question was raised after Ross showed one of his history classes a film depicting the death camps of Nazi Germany. Ben Ross realized he didn't have these answers his students were asking. And being one that is interested and who cares when his students ask him questions and show interest in their studies (quite lacking in most of today's school systems, it seems), he began to research these questions only to find that no books or other media had the answers either.
What followed was a sociological experiment that Ben Ross attempted with his class. Beginning with simple slogans like "Strength through discipline! Strength through community!" he began a short lived movement that he dubbed The Wave. The result was quite fascinating. The students began to react and believe in this movement as something more than an experiment. They became willing guinea pigs under the leadership of Ross, who himself also began to succumb to the thirst for power that a small taste of it gave him.
The Wave swept through the school. Shortly thereafter, other classes were joining. Then other grades. Then violence began to erupt as those who believed in the movement began to push against those who didn't want to join. Some didn't want to join because they found it scary or creepy, while others didn't want to join simply because they didn't find an interest in it. School functions and football games became segregated, members of The Wave having to salute to gain access. Those not part of the movement began to be shunned and ostracized. The school newspaper printed stories about the bad side of the movement, and the high school editor received threats and scare tactics to be forced not to print any more information against the movement - freedom of speech is usually the first to go to silence the critics.
And so Ben Ross created a monster - and in the interim the experiment helped answer the questions that began the ordeal. The closing rally that ended the movement was catastrophic to some of the members. It took a monumental shock to show the members just what it was they had become. But one question does remain - just how far could The Wave have gone if left to continue? Already the ugly beasts of fascism and fear were rearing their heads - would it have gone all the way?
The Wave is a rather short novel. Generically written, it is nonetheless a fascinating story. I first came across it as a made-for-TV movie in the 80's, though I can't recall if I had seen it in one of my high school classes or at home. But I remembered seeing it when I came across this short book in a library somewhere. It just found its way back to my new house recently, and looking for something quick it became good commute reading.
The Wave by Morton Rhue
Copyright © 1981 by dell Publishing Co., Inc. and T.A.T. Communications Company
Published by Dell Publishing Co., Inc.