Friday, February 5, 2010

Adolf Hitler: Patriot? German Teabagger? Or simply your average monster?

If this gets too long, I will stop and do another post later.

I had intended to do a "time line" post on the space shuttle Columbia in this space, but that can wait until I get riled up again about it.

There is a debate of sorts going on about Adolf Hitler, between a reader of this blog and myself, but I sincerely hope the debate is joined by other readers with an interest in history after this post; I need some fresh input.

The debate stems from two different interests. My own is mostly my deep interest in history, and her interest MAY stem from an interest in the character development of fictional villains. She can speak for herself. Either way, there is a debate regarding the motivations and circumstances of Adolf Hitler; we speculate on why he turned out like he did. If any of you would like to add to the debate, or mention things I have left out, I hope you will.

For my part, I am trying to put forward and support a theory that Adolf Hitler's rise to power, or his DESIRE to rise to power in Germany, was, originally, at least, more to restore or rescue Germany from its national humiliation from its defeat in World War One, than it was some sort of deranged megalomania or superman complex.

This is one of those subjects that, when you try to find the root causes of this or that part of his personality, you find yourself having to go further and further back in his history. I wanted to find a starting point later than simply his birth. I would have liked to start at the beginning of WWII and simply say Hitler was a German nationalist who hated Jews, but how can you make statements like that without offering some background? After all, it was trying to come up with the backgrounds that makes a "villain" either merely a bad person or a truly evil person that started this debate in the first place.

I think there are 4 points that need to be considered if we are to understand what underlying forces and beliefs drove Hitler, and I don't think being a big man in the eyes of others had much to do with it. I don't think one can kill 6 million people - and many millions more when you count the people killed in the actual fighting - simply because one is on a power trip, or because he was beaten by his father as a child.

1. German nationalism.
2. Hatred of Jews.
3. His interest in war and things military.
4. How - no matter what his beliefs - could such an insignificant person rise to national power.

A few of the things I am going to assert in my assessment of his beliefs, motivations, and his rise to power come simply from Wikipedia articles, but mostly I relied on biographies and "expert" analyses of historians (there are dozens), both online and in my personal library. My historical facts regarding the earlier events leading up to WWI come from C. L. Sulzberger's magnificent account detailing the end of the imperial era, "The Fall of Eagles."
I'm going to stop here at the end of my introduction.


  1. I can believe that Hitler started out with a sense of frustration that Germany had lost all its sense of pride in itself after the first world war, and that the restrictions placed upon the country were unfairly crippling its rebuilding.

    I can also surmise that following the war, vast sums of money which the country could ill afford were being syphoned off to bankers and investors as interest payments on debt. In that time, a significant number of european bankers, financiers, and investors were Jewish. It's not hard to see that Hitler believed that an internatinal group of jews were behind his country's ills, and that by suggesting blame for the average german's hardships might be laid at their door, he found a useful scapegoat, to distract the public from the reality that their plight stemmed fully and absolutely from the late Kaiser's empire-building aspirations. The Kaiser's supporters, the Junkers, had desired a war, as a way to further riches, and whilst Gavrilo Princip's bullet started the first world war, it was Germany's power aspirations that fuelled the fire.

    Following the war, Germany was humbled, stripped of power, its wealth grabbed by its wartime enemies, but it was still a powerhouse of science, engineeering, medicine, a leader in many fields. Hitler's rise was ensured by making ordinary Germans feel proud again, feel that they were a special, chosen people.
    Hitler offered them a land of milk and honey.

    France and Britain were very troubled by fears of German expansionism, and the invasion of Poland provoked war. Britain and France gave Germany 48 hours to withdraw from Poland, or war would exist between them.
    On the Third of September 1939, the Allies declared war on Germany.
    Hitler had not wanted war with Britain, he had attempted to avoid it, but Poland, or more exactly, the sudetenland was key to his plans.
    In America, there's a tendency to think that world-war II began at Pearl Harbor, but the fight was going long before the japanese prodded the U.S. in the eye.

    Was Hitler a derangedly evil man? Yes, I think he was, but he was also corrupted by absolute power, and was surrounded by clever and ruthless people who would do anything to further their own ambitions.

    However, our own forces bombed and killed countless civilians. It's not hard to see that they might be regarded in just as bad a light by the people beneath those bombs, or in the line of a ground advance.
    Although the victors get to write the history, I find it hard to believe that our own troops were always seen as the good guys by the civilians they encountered.

  2. What were his feelings about Austria? He was actually Austrian, as I am sure you know. But I suspect that they were in the same sort of economic/social depression as the Germans, no longer being the Austro-Hungarian Empire etc (forgive me if this is wrong, I am writing from my memory of European history which has its weak spots, alas).

    I am very interested in what you are/will be writing, this has always interested me a great deal too (despite the weak spots, etc).

    I intend to refresh my knowledge of German history so that future comments can be a little bit better than this!

  3. When I was 14 years old I went on an exchange trip to Austria, staying with a family for a month. I can't remember how the subject came up, but I do recall the father of the family saying to me, "Of course everything you did seems a little bit right to you, and everything we did seems a little bit right to us". I was stunned that anyone could think anything they did could possibly be a little bit right. Speechless even. This was an intelligent man, Austrian, a doctor in fact, who thought Hitler had some right on his side.

    I'm waiting in considerable anticipation for the future posts because I'd really like some insight into the whole situation.

  4. I spent some years looking into this and it is a very complex subject. The books by Bullock and Kershaw are excellent ways to understand this man.

    He was an opportunist of course, circumstances aided him, German nationalism, attitudes after the war, resentment, deep flaws in character both his and the nations, and a variety of other reasons combined.

    I think his upbringing is important (I sound like a psychiatrist!) his fathers aggression and his mothers care of him (He kept her photo with him at all times) and there is no doubt in my mind that he had deep psychological problems. He was a twisted soul with many problems.

    Did he make the situation or did the situation make him, I confess I have no idea, but at the centre is a character which is psychotic,and I believe he was born with this and situations made things worse.

    As A has said, the peoples attitudes are important and he shared them. Not all were Nazi's but many who were, still are! It is important to remember that after 1945Austria was not regarded in the same manner as Germany, it became independent again and we forgot their guilt!

  5. Hitler's birthplace was Braunau am Inn, in Austria, and over the other side of the river Inn was germany. But at the time Adolf was born, Germany and Austria were closely allied. Half of Austria's population considered itself German...
    Germany itself had only recently, 1860-71 been formed, out of an alliance of almost fourty separate kingdoms and principalities, it had never existed before as an entity. Merely a collection of germanic states.
    So Hitler considered himself German, far more aligned with Munich and Bacaria than Vienna, much further away.

    Leaving all the rest aside, the Nazi party under Hitler had the most awesome corporate branding, they really knew how to stage-manage a spectacle, didn't skimp on flag material, drapes, badges, a distinctive house-style throughout.
    Their military was much better equipped than its opponents at the outbreak of war, their weapons and tactics were superior.
    All the theatre, the uniforms, the modern military weapons, badges, eagle standards, the myth of the master-race, recruited young germans (and many othe europeans) to the cause.
    Hitler's rise to power was as much a triumph of corporate branding as it was political.

  6. I don't discount your theory.

    I *think* he ended a megalomaniac consumed with power, but even that is just an opinion and can't be proven. When it comes to how he started, I'm even less sure. Did he orchestrate the holocaust (11-17 systematically killed, not just the 6 million Jews, not counting regular warfare) because of his life-long effort for ultimate self-aggrandizement? Or was he shaped by the events into a monster?

    I don't know the answer. I don't even know that there's one answer but a complex mixture of many factors.

    Either way, I expect it will be an interesting discussion.

  7. I found a bunch of old Readers Digests one time from the 1940s. One of the articles talked about the Hitler Youth and how many children were distraught and filled with sorrow when they could no longer hear the comforting voice of The Fuhrer on the radio.

    One my all time favorite takes on the subject was expressed in an HBO movie. Someone asks one of the Nazi's on trail at Nuremberg if he knows why he is on trail and he says-Because we lost the War. History is written by the victors.

    My own opinion on what went terribly wrong with Hitler, aside from just your average wrong, was that he was given all manner of drugs for all manner of ailments-and this pushed him over the edge into madness. But since he was The Fuhrer, there was nothing to do but just follow orders-as so many of Hitlers willing followers liked to say.

    I like your questions and no 4 is the most intriguing, aren't ALL people of insignificance before their rise to power? I never heard of Barrack Obama before he ran for President, I know he is hardly on the same level of world influence as Hitler, but he is the President.

  8. @Soubriquet - It is so true that the victors write history. But, in the end, each country decides what goes into the history textbooks for its own future students, and what gets left out, victors or not.

    Americans were aware when WWII really started; Churchill came over every Friday and reminded them. :)

    As you know, I don't have any problem with who bombed what. It was a war. War is chaos and total destruction. Until "smart bombs" came along. I don't think you can have clean wars though. Nor do I think you get any "points" from the world at large for trying to avoid civilians. Not in the end. No one who is at war is pure of heart or true to their principles anymore. War is hell, he said. And so it is.

    @Lidian - Probably he felt there were too many strange animals there. Kangaroos and such. But I don't think his feelings about them had too much to do with his war plans. Oh... AUSTRIA. That's very different. Never mind.

    Please don't refresh your memory so much that you make me look worse than I look already.:)

    @A. - That is hard to imagine. But many were like him in that regard, I suppose. I wonder exactly what he thought was good about what they did? They resurrected Germany, but then caused it to be torn down again.

    @Adullamite - Yes, so many factors had to come together to produce a Hitler. I must apologize for these postings taking so long, and being so long-winded, but I must carefully lay the groundwork for my grand theory! :)

    @Soubriquet - I agree 100%. And I can't believe I just said that!

    @Stephanie B - You are very wise not to discount my theories. :) And of course you were right about many more people killed than only Jews, though that itself was bad enough. Upcoming post will touch on just what kinds of peoples were considered "undesirable" by the Nazis, and how many of them were killed.

    @Descartes - Thank you for following this. The HItler Youth were his investment in the future. The same technique is (my opinion) being used in Muslim elementary schools right now to ensure future terrorists. You may not agree with that comparison. But a child will believe what authority figures teach him.

    As for question #4, yes - no person is famous or infamous until he becomes so, of course, and they were all insignificant before they came on the big scene. But I believe something special happened to Hitler to make him suddenly a great persuader where he had none of those characteristics before. You may not agree, but I hope you will come around and read my theory as this unfolds.



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