Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Great War, its affect on Hitler, and it's aftermath

Despite Hitler's often unhappy childhood and his disappointment at not being allowed by his father to attend a school where he could pursue his love of art, I am convinced it was the circumstances during and following WWI which were really to shape Hitler's subsequent path.

Here we should pause to note that Adolf Hitler was an Austrian by birth, not a German. However, even though he wouldn't become a German citizen until 1932, his loyalties, since he was a very young man were always with Germany and against the Austrian monarchy. Except for his birth, Hitler never really identified with Austria or the Austro-Hungarian Empire as it was before WWI.

Another reason that occurs to me for Hitler's lack of love for Austria was simply because his father was such a loyal Austrian civil servant who was also loyal to the Austrian crown. Just a thought. He was rebellious sometimes simply for the pleasure of being rebellious.

Of course, most people who lived along the border considered themselves "Austrian Germans" rather than simply Austrians. But Hitler went further and considered himself German. Period.

For all that, he did spend much of his formative years in Austria, and Vienna was at the time the most anti-semitic city in Europe. Hitler himself said it was there he first became an anti-semite.

The undereducated Hitler had a hard time of it during his time in Vienna. He struggled to support himself as a painter. He copied scenes from postcards and tried to sell them to tourists and Merchants. Ironically he was aided in these efforts by Jewish merchants. He was rejected for a second time by an art school. He ran out of money. 1909 found him living in a homeless shelter, then moved to a workhouse for poor men. He regretted his purposeful failing in school to spite his father; the lack of those courses were the reason he kept getting rejected for art school. They told him he was better suited to be an architect, anyway ("Your painting stinks!" I imagine was the underlying sentiment.) Indeed, Hitler did love architecture, but, again, his lack of the educational basics stopped him cold. Then came war.

In the end, though, Bavaria was Hitler's love and it was Munich, not Vienna, that became his stomping grounds. To underscore (for me) his lack of allegiance to Austria, Hitler refused to serve in the Austrian military when the war broke out, running off to Bavaria instead. Unfortunately for Hitler there was a strong alliance with Austria at the time and the Munich police arrested him. Oddly, he was found unfit for service and was allowed to return to Munich. I say "oddly" because there wasn't anything wrong with him. Unless you count being crazy.

Another coincidence I find striking: the judge who decided Hitler was unfit for military service was the SAME JUDGE who, years later would sentence him to prison for treason.

As soon as he was excused from military service to Austria, when Germany entered the war in August, Hitler petitioned King Ludwig III of Bavaria to enter military service under Bavaria, and his petition was granted. So Hitler went off to war.

Hitler served in France and Belgium in the
16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment. Here he is
(left) with some of his comrades in arms.
(click to enlarge)
World War One didn't have to happen. That's hardly earthshaking news; I can't think of any other war that had to happen, either. If there were ever a textbook example of entangling foreign military alliances, WWI was that example.

So why DID it happen? Serbia had humbly apologized and groveled sufficiently to the Austrians, even enough to satisfy Austria's ally the German Kaiser. Yes, even the Kaiser thought war would no longer be "necessary." But.

Here I must resist going back even further in history to talk about how the Serbs felt themselves put upon by the hated Turks, and Muslims in general, and vowed to retrieve their beloved Kosovo, lost in the 1300s, but Serbs never forget. More recently they made another attempt to reclaim their stolen territory (in their typically clumsy way) but were again rebuffed when Bill Clinton kept bombing Belgrade. They still haven't forgotten, make no mistake about that. So I won't go back that far in history. Sufficient for you to know that the Serbs had no love for the Ottomans OR the Austrians (who were looking to consolidate their ambitions in the Balkins.)

Bottom line: Austria wanted to attack Serbia. Serbia was a hot bed of bomb-throwing terrorists - trained by their buddy Russia, of course. Terrorism was their only weapon against Austria, really. Not much has changed in the world when the underdog feels oppressed. Anyway, Russia has been Serbia's ally forever. Russia is largely Slav, see? In fact, had Russia not been weakened by the fall of the Soviet Union and pretty disorganized at the time, you can bet Bill Clinton et al would not have been bombing Serbia 20 years ago. Back to WWI and Hitler.

Sarajevo in June of 1914 was a lovely city, the capital of Bosnia. Generations later, this beauty would be highlighted when the winter olympics were held there, in 1984. Then came another war, and the city became a devastated hell on earth. Then another recovery: life goes on. But in June of 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne paid a diplomatic visit to the beautiful city of Sarajevo. This visit was just too attractive a target for the Russian-trained Serbian terrorists to resist, and so it came to pass three of them were in Bosnia watching the parade in downtown Sarajevo that Sunday.
The terrorists were pretty inept, as terrorists often are. Two of them were supposed to bomb the archduke's carriage but were thwarted when the parade took an unexpected turn. But a 19-year-old devotee to the Serb cause was where he needed to be and blasted away with his gun at the carriage as it passed, killing Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

Suddenly, the old Emperor Franz Josef's prayers were answered and he had his excuse to attack Serbia. Not that he cared that much that his nephew had just been killed. The old man didn't even like his heir-apparent and his commoner wife. Franz Ferdinand had become crown prince only after the Emperor-geezer's own son Rudolf had blown the top of his head off in a suicide pact with his mistress Marie earlier on, and had to wear a bandage turban to his own funeral. But I digress.

So it came to pass that Austria sent Serbia an ultimatum so insulting and so degrading in its terms that no country with any pride could possibly endure to be so insulted. War was inevitable.

But the Serbs agreed! They agreed to all the major terms and only declined a few of the unimportant terms. Surely this was an opening for diplomacy. Even the Kaiser assumed that war was averted.

All of you know what REALLY happened though. Picking on the minor points of the demand that Serbia declined, Austria attacked Serbia anyway, and those tangled European military alliances kicked in to start Armageddon:

Austria attacked Serbia;
Russia declared war on Austria;
Germany declared war on Russia;
France declared war on Germany;
The UK joined France.
Since all major participants had colonies, the conflict soon spread around the world.

The treaty binding Russia, France and the UK was called the Triple Entente. Austria and Germany and Italy (no, I don't know why Italy) and the Ottoman Empire were called the Central Powers. The millions of soon to be dead people of Europe called it a nightmare.

Next: Hitler's service in WWI. Did mustard gas blindness produce his first epiphany?


  1. Why the sudden interest in Hitler? Am I to presume you will be making some sort of comparison to current events, to the effect that would make Glenn Beck proud?

  2. Actually, I think my discussions on writing villainous characters might have prompted this whole discussion.

  3. The Great War had been brewing for many years. Patriotism, greed for colonies and 'empire, a weak Kaiser & and aggressive Prussian officer corps, French revenge, Russian Tsars stupidity, it all played a part. The Serbs were merely the fuse that had been coming.

    During his vagrant years Hitler did read a great deal but always found the proof for his own opinions! His inability to relate to women showed up at this time also, weakness or an attachment to his mother?

    Excellent posting Max!



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