When a young man during the Great War of 1914-19, Hitler was a soldier in the Germany army. He was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and Second Class. He was recovering from a poison gas injury to his lungs (mustard gas) in a hospital at the time of the armistice, in November 1918. A weeping elderly local priest there announced that the war had been lost. Corporal Hitler was to write in his memoirs, Mein Kampf:
I staggered and stumbled back to my ward and buried my aching head between the blankets and pillow.... So all had been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations, in vain the hunger and thirst for endless months, in vain those hours that we stuck to our posts though the fear of death gripped our souls, and in vain the deaths of two million who fell in discharging this duty.
Hitler believed in the superiority of the German army. He was not scholarly and inclined to accept simple explanations at hand that more scholarly persons might label conspiracy theories. Hitler accepted the belief that his army had not been defeated, that it had been stabbed in the back on the home front by people on the home front who had been unwilling to fight – people he was to describe as the "November criminals." Hostility to traitors became the essence of his politics from then on. Among the traitors were the Social Democrats, whose leader, Friedrich Ebert, became chancellor on the day the Armistice was signed.
Hitler lumped the Social Democrats together with the communists — no matter that the Social Democrats made war against the German communist (Spartacist) uprising and Communists hated the Social Democrats. And with these so-called traitors he put the Jews. Hitler saw Jews as driving the Marxist revolution that had occurred in Russia, and he saw Jews as driving the communist risings at the end of the war in Germany. He believed that Jews in Germany were not really Germans, that they were outsiders, that they were insufficiently patriotic because like other Marxists they were internationalists, traditionally wanderers without a love for Germany as their homeland. He would like to have seen them expelled from the German fatherland.
Hitler became politically active and one of Germany's most angry voices. He was leader of the National Socialists (Nazi) political party, which suffered ups and downs. The party benefitted from the suffering and insecurity that arose with the Great Depression – worse in Germany than it was in the United States. In elections in the early thirties, Hitler appealed to voters with posters that read:
If you want your country to go Bolshevik, vote Communist. If you want to remain free Germans, vote for the National Socialists.
Hitler was appointed chancellor by the conservative President Hindenburg (former head of German army and lying stab-in-the-back theorist). Hindenburg saw Hitler and the Nazis as an alternative to the Social Democrats, who were big in parliament. As chancellor, Hitler won emergency powers as security against what was widely perceived to be the Communist menace. Social Democrats, Communists and others perceived as traitors were put in concentration camps.
Hitler wanted to undo the injustices done to Germany in the 1919 war settlement signed at Versailles. This included taking back territory taken away from Germany by the settlement (which Germany's Social Democratic government, in power at that time, felt was forced on Germany). In the late 1930s the territory in question was the city of Danzig and a corridor to the Baltic Sea for Poland, and this led to Germany making war against Poland, Britain and France declaring war on Germany, and eventually World War II.
Wartime passion was again an inducement to genocide (as it was against the Armenians during World War I). In his book The Origins of the Final Solution, Christopher R. Browning writes that enthusiasm for Hitler's regime in the 1930s increased with the return of "political order, the return of economic prosperity, and the revival of national grandeur." Browning writes:
As of 1938, aside from a minority of [Nazi] party activists, most Germans were not yet ready or willing to visit physical violence upon their Jewish neighbors but neither were they interested in coming to their defense.
But this changed with war. Browning writes of the commencement of Hitler's "racial empire building, first in Poland but above all on Soviet territory" and a decision to exterminate the Jews of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. He concludes,
Once underway on Soviet territory, this ultimate of Final Solution beckoned to the Nazi regime as a solution for the rest of Europe's Jews as well. Already in the midst of committing mass murder against millions of Jews on Soviet territory, "ordinary" Germans would not shrink from implementing Hitler's Final Solution for the Jews of Europe as well.
In short, the genocide committed by Germany went hand in hand with war and territorial expansion.
Hitler continued to see the war as a war against Jewish power, centered in Moscow and Washington. He believed that Germans were in a Darwinist struggle between nations and races and that Germany was superior racially and as a nation. He saw Germany's failures in the war as a loss of will power – against circumstances he had helped to create (war against the Soviet Union, Britain, the US and others.)
The German nation needed more than will power. It needed at least a roughly accurate assessment of circumstances. But Hitler was more of a demonizer than he was accurate in his assessments. His racism (he believed Jews to be a race) had distorted his judgment to the end.
He had not been without some human qualities: he loved his mother – who had died when he was eighteen, leaving him distraught. He believed that eating meat was disgusting, and he had enough sense not to smoke. He was above average in intelligence. He stood up for what he believed in.
What made Hitler odious was his making Germany a police state, his belief in a Darwinistic struggle among the races, his undoing of the Versailles Treaty into military conquests, and his fight against perceived enemies into genocide.
Had Hitler been born in 1989 instead of 1889, identical genetically, he would no doubt be different in his view of the world. He would probably be like most Germans today: skeptical or disapproving of anyone who had led the German nation as he had.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.