The central theme of The Wave is the dynamic of fascism. Loosely defined, fascism is a dictatorial governmental system characterized by militarism, extreme patriotism, and the relinquishment of personal liberty on the part of the citizens. Ben Ross's lesson on Adolph Hitler's fascist regime evolves into an exploration of the nature of the system through an innovative experiment in which the students are the subjects, and results in the initiation of conditions which create the phenomenon of The Wave.
The Nazis in Germany in the mid-twentieth century numbered "less than ten percent of the German population," and Mr. Ross's students cannot understand how the group was able to pursue its evil agenda with such apparent impunity. In response to his students' incredulity that the German people could claim ignorance to the fact that something as wide-scale and horrific as the Holocaust was taking place, Mr. Ross tries to recreate an environment similar to that which proved so seductive that the vast majority of the German population remained oblivious while over ten million human beings were systematically slaughtered. Mr. Ross begins by demanding militaristic obedience in his classroom as an exercise, stressing the power that can be achieved if students submit to disciplining themselves in pursuit of a common goal. The feeling of group unity created by the experience is eerily akin to a heady rush, and the addition of symbols, salutes, and slogans results in an emotionally charged atmosphere in which everyone is purportedly equal, but no one thinks for themselves. Very quickly, an environment of fear and coercion develops as pressure is exerted against those who do not wish to participate in The Wave. To their dismay, the students who could not understand how the Germans could have allowed their country to descend to the depths of depravity before and during World War II soon discover just how easily they themselves can be manipulated to act as pawns...
(The entire section is 766 words.)